Sometime in the early 1930s, Antonio E. Duran came across two LDS missionaries preaching on a street corner in Harlingen, Texas (near Brownsville, just about as far into the southern tip of Texas as you can go and still be in the U.S.). Antonio was the only man who stopped to listen to the elders that day, and when they concluded their meeting he stayed to chat with them for a few minutes. He bought a Spanish-language Book of Mormon from them, they gave him some tracts, and all went on their way. Not long afterward, Antonio moved to the tiny farming village of Rangerville and the elders were withdrawn from Harlingen.
Over the next few years, Antonio read and studied the Book of Mormon on his own and taught its doctrines to his family. He attended services of several churches; many times he had the opportunity of giving a lesson or short sermon – which he always drew from the pages of the Book of Mormon.
Antonio understood from his reading that he must be baptized, and began hunting for someone who shared his testimony of the Book of Mormon to perform the baptism. He wrote to the mission home in Houston – the only address that appeared on any of the materials he had – but no response was ever received. He kept his ears open to hear of any Mormon in his corner of Texas. When he heard of a Brother Plata living in the country, he walked ten miles to meet him, only to discover that the Platas had by then moved to Corpus Christi.
Still, he continued to study his Book of Mormon until it was nearly worn out. He taught his family. He and wife Juanita Ronje Duran named one of their sons Helaman.
In the summer of 1939, Antonio learned that a Brother Gonzalez lived in Santa Maria, on the far side of the county. He again set out on foot, and this time he found his Mormon. Brother Gonzalez knew how to contact missionaries in nearby Hidalgo County and promised to send them to the Duran family.
Brother Gonzalez kept his word, he himself walking five miles to Mercedes, Texas, to leave a message for the missionaries. He wrote, “Come see me Sunday, Brother Gonzales, Santa Maria,” without explanation. On Sunday, two elders accompanied by a small group of Latter-day Saints went to Santa Maria “to see what was so urgent. Upon our arrival in Santa Maria, Brother Gonzales told us a man came to his door looking for a Mormon. Brother Gonzales and wife joined the party and we all journeyed on together some thirteen miles through farming and grazing community to a little town called Rangerville. Upon our arrival there, we found our man with a house full of friends and relatives. He welcomed us with arms open and invited us into the group.”
The elders, the Mercedes branch, and Brother and Sister Gonzalez held a cottage meeting that day for the Duran family and their friends, and they blessed baby Helaman. Antonio bought three more copies of the Book of Mormon to replace his own worn copy and to share with his family.
Once each week for the next several weeks, the Mercedes branch and the elders went out to Rangerville to meet with the Durans and hold branch meetings, and on July 30, 1939, Antonio and Juanita Duran were baptized.
Afterword: When I found the missionary report of the Durans’ baptism, I wanted to tell this story. But first, I needed to know whether the Durans had remained with the Church – sometime I will write about the disappointment of finding other unusual conversion stories, only to discover that people had dropped away soon after baptism. I could not find the Durans in the Church’s genealogical database, which is usually my first indication of whether or not someone had remained LDS long enough to leave a trace on Church records. That didn’t look good. But I had enough names and places and approximate dates to begin researching the family the way a genealogist traces people.
I discovered that Antonio and Juanita’s granddaughter, Estella Luna Duran, had been a gifted young journalist in San Antonio, where she inspired her community with her determination to return to school despite the incapacitating effects of severe asthma. Following her graduation from Texas State University, Estella interned with such prominent national newspapers as the Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and the Washington bureau of the Boston Globe. She continued her education, but, one class short of earning her Master of Library Science degree, Estella passed away this July, at just 35 years of age. One of several glowing obituaries indicated that her funeral services were held at a chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I have since contacted another granddaughter of Antonio and Juanita Duran and shared this conversion story with her.