The history of the Church in 20th century Mexico is complex and still needs to be sorted out and written.
First, there is the matter of two almost separate strains of Church history: the Mormon colonies in northern Mexico which were essentially outposts of Utah planted just over the international border for purposes of political refuge; and missionary work among and the Church built by native Mexican Saints, the equivalent of the local Church in any other part of the world.
Then there is the matter of Church administration in an era of great turmoil: The Mexican Revolution, beginning in 1910 and lasting informally until 1920, was followed by military upheavals throughout the 1920s and less bloody but still tumultuous civil changes in the 1930s – all of which meant that sometimes leaders called by Church headquarters in Salt Lake could work in Mexico, and sometimes they had to leave the country and administer the Church from a distance.
And then there was also the matter of language: At times the Mexican Mission included administrative responsibility for Spanish-speakers not only in Mexico, but also in the southwestern United States. In 1936 the Spanish-American Mission was created to serve Spanish-speakers north of the border, leaving the Mexican Mission label for Mexico itself.
In 1930, when this episode took place, the term “Mexican Mission” included Mexico and also Spanish-speakers in the United States. Political conditions necessitated that mission headquarters be in the United States, and those headquarters had recently been moved from El Paso, Texas to Los Angeles, California. The president was Rey L. Pratt, who had already served for years as president of the Mexican Mission, both in Mexico and “in exile.”
With his broad responsibilities for all things Mexican and Spanish-speaking, President Pratt assisted a group of Spanish-speaking Saints in Mesa, Arizona. Those Saints had worked hard to raise the funds to build their chapel, and in 1930 everything was coming together for them. They had received several contributions from general Church funds sent from Salt Lake, and they had raised many hundreds of dollars on their own. In September 1930, the First Presidency sent them a check matching the funds the branch had raised on its own.
The check was enclosed in a letter addressed to President Rey L. Pratt in Los Angeles. The cover letter noted that it was written in response to a letter written by President Pratt; it mentioned the purpose of the check; it referred to previous remittances; it noted that the check represented matching funds raised by the Mexican Saints of Mesa to build their chapel there. In other words, there could be no question at all, none whatsoever, that this check was part of an ongoing correspondence and was earmarked for a very specific purpose.
Six weeks later, the Church in Salt Lake received a letter from California Bank, Plaza Branch, Los Angeles, California.
We hold a check for [amount], executed by yourselves in favor of the Mexican Mission.
This check has been presented to us for credit by Mrs. [name] for the account of “God’s Mission.”
Will you kindly advise us at once if the check is intended for God’s Mission, situated at [address], operating under the direction of [two women’s names], or if the institution you had in mind is some other.
Trusting you will give this matter your prompt attention, we remain , Very truly yours …
Prompt attention? I’ll say. A telegram was dispatched that day:
Check in question was mailed to our Mexican Mission at 2067 South Hobart Boulevard, Los Angeles, and was not intended for mission you mention and they have absolutely no authority to accept nor endorse it.
A letter marked “Air Mail and Special Delivery” was also sent that day to President Pratt, with copies of the bank’s letter and the Church’s telegram.
This refers undoubtedly to our check [number] dated [date] and mailed to you in our Addressograph-stamped envelope, as is all our correspondence to you, so there is absolutely no question about the address.1
How the letter and check came into possession of parties mentioned by the Bank remains for you to solve.
It is perhaps needless to suggest that you recover the check and express appreciation to the Manager for calling the matter to our attention.
Two days after the special delivery letter left Salt Lake, President Pratt called at the California Bank and retrieved the check. He was not able “to find out yet how the women came in possession of the check.” But as a precaution, he suggested that
checks made payable to the Mexican Mission be further designated by putting “Mexican Mission of L.D.S. Church.” There are a great many Mexican Missions in this city.
Perhaps this is a non-story, since I can’t tell you what, if anything, happened after this. The names of the women attempting to deposit the check are too common for me to learn anything about them by Googling. I can tell you, though, having read the original letter transmitting the check, that there is no possibility that the women honestly thought the check from Salt Lake was a random donation to their organization. The purpose of the check is too specifically identified, and references to earlier correspondence that the Los Angeles women had not been involved with absolutely rules out any legitimate misunderstanding.
But kudos to an alert bank manager.
- An Addressograph was a machine that used stamped metal plates, much like old-style credit cards, to print addresses. Obviously once an address plate was made, the address was identical every time the plate was used. [↩]