Growing up in Colombia, Margarita García always considered herself a woman of faith. But no matter how many religions she explored, she couldn’t find the right one.
It wasn't until she got baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — also known as the Mormon Church or the LDS Church — that, she says, she found a perfect fit.
It all started when a pair of clean-cut young men wearing suits and ties showed up on her doorstep. She was unsure about their message but started asking questions.
And she kept asking questions.
“I felt so satisfied with their message,” she said. “That I ended up getting baptized.”
García is part of a growing trend in Latin America – more and more people in the region are converting to Mormonism. And the growth can be seen in the numbers: Since the church built its first Latin American temple in Säo Paulo, Brazil, in 1978, 31 new temples have been built in Latin America and nine others are underway.
Recently, the Mormon Church announced plans to build new temples across the world, including one in Barranquilla, Colombia. The church builds temples based on the number of Latter-day Saints living within a certain geographic area, so the construction of new temples means the church is growing.
"It is very exciting because when a new temple is announced, it indicates there is a real growth happening, not just in numbers," said Brad Wilcox, who served two volunteer missions in Chile, once as a child and once as an adult. “A new temple reflects a growth in meeting attendance, tithe paying and overall spirituality.”
For Mormons, temples are special buildings where members go to worship, learn, and perform sacred rituals called ordinances.
A primary focus of the church is to introduce people to its beliefs through missionary work across the world. While the missionaries serve in many countries, church officials say Latin America is among the regions in the world with the highest Mormon baptism rate.
University of Florida religion professor Dr. Manuel Vásquez said that apart from their strong missionary efforts, Mormons propose a lot of beliefs that really fit the Latin American culture. This is what gives them their success in the Americas.
"It comes from the combination of effective outreach of well trained missionaries who know the culture and the languages of the society they are missionizing in. They are proposing practices and doctrines that really resonate with the local cultures," he said. “Seeing a clean-cut young man that’s energetic, wearing a tie, there's a kind of projection of modernity and cleanliness. That's appealing.”
Vásquez said the importance Mormons place on family, ancestors, self-improvement, cleanliness and respect for the law hits home for many Latin Americans whose culture already reflect those values.
According to church, t here are now more than five million Mormons in Latin America, compared to around 200,000 when García joined the church in 1980.
García said there were few Mormons in Colombia when she was baptized three decades ago. Since then, she has seen more and more missionaries, more people getting baptized, more chapels being built and temples popping up.
But she said while she’s pleased with the constant pattern of growth in her church, she wants to see more.
“I think we should have more temples here in Colombia,” she said “We’re behind.”