Mormonism in Mexico, Part 21: Maya

As the Church became strongly established in Mexico, it spread from the historic epicenters in Mexico City and the northern colonies to reach across the full country—including among the Maya peoples of southern Mexico.

The Church of Jesus Christ has now expanded all over the world and is growing like never before—embraced, as in the times of Christ, by humble people who do not need to see and touch to believe.[1]

 ~Adrián Ochoa


This is part 21 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.

Missionary work continued in Mexico during the era of stakes and temples. This included among the Maya peoples, with some striking stories of reaching those areas.

Sixta Martínez

One example of a conversion story from the Yucatan Peninsula is from Sixta Martínez. She recalled that full-time missionaries knocked on her door and her son and daughter-in-law began to hold discussions with the missionaries. Sixta’s parents were “pureblooded Mayans” who were, “during their lifetime, slaves here in the Yucatan Peninsula.” She had become “disillusioned with my ancestral pagan beliefs” and wanted “help in finding the true gospel,” but Sixta was reluctant to show interest at first. Instead, she “would hide behind the cardboard wall from where I could fully listen to the discussion.” Her son and his wife were baptized a few weeks later, and they gave her “a copy of the Book of Mormon and that same afternoon I began reading it.” After reading three pages, she “felt and inexplicable happiness and  became convinced to have found the true Gospel. I immediately got dressed and went to the meetinghouse where I found two sister missionaries.” After some back and forth, the missionaries came to her home and did the discussions with her. Sixta was baptized in April 1974.[2]

After her baptism, Sixta thoroughly embraced The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a record of her testimony, she talks with pride about how “one of the fond memories that I have is when I used to gather my family to go to church on Sunday. … With all my family we could fill the meetinghouse.” After her son died from cancer, she had a dream that led her to understand “that he was preaching the gospel in the spirit world and the great responsibility we have of doing temple work for those who are being taught the gospel there.” Because of this, she and her daughter-in-law were motivated “to make the sacrifice of finding a way to attend the temple and be sealed. … The closest temple at that time was the one in Mesa, Arizona.” Despite their poverty, they saved 2,000 Mexican pesos though sacrifices and hard work, allowing them to purchase “fare for two seats and we made the trip to Mesa, Arizona. … Despite the fact that we had to travel sitting three or four to a seat were were very happy and fortunate. … The trip took six days it was long but we were very happy.” They decided to continue to sacrifice and work to save up enough to attend the temple annually, traveling to a few different ones in the United States. Their goal was, of course, eventually made easier by the completion of the Mexico City Temple in 1983 and the Merida Temple in 2000, for which Sixta was grateful.[3]

Agustín Gutiérrez Ruiz

Another example is Agustín Gutiérrez Ruiz, who is from the mountains near San Crist?bal de las Casas. One thing to understand going into his story is that not everyone in Mexico speaks Spanish—in some places, pre-conquest languages are still the first tongue people speak. And even among the Maya, there are many different languages and dialects. Agustín grew up speaking the Tzotzil-Mayan language, but also gained literacy in Spanish by the time he was in his twenties. He came into contact with the Church through his cousin, Fernando Ruiz, who had become acquainted with a Latter-day Saint family while attending school in San Crist?bal and, after a few years, was baptized into the Church. Fernando returned to his home village of Chojohl? and became the village school teacher, though he held meetings in the evenings to talk about his new religion. Agustín and three other boys from his family became interested and attended these meetings consistently. After Agustín moved away for work, he began walking to the nearest church services in San Crist?bal de las Casas, even though it was a 12 mile wakl each way and the services were in Spanish (which he didn’t speak fluently at the time). Agustín was baptized on December 1, 1985, with his brother and two cousins following within the next two years.

City Hall of San Crist?bal de las Casas

When the men returned to Chojohl? and rejoiced with Fernando, village elders became aware of their conversion. They met to decide how to react to “the Mormon cancer.” Acting under customary indigenous law, the village elders imprisoned then banished the five Latter-day Saints, separating them from their homeland, wives, children, and community. They received assistance from the Latter-day Saints in San Crist?bal, allowing them to file a lawsuit to challenge the ruling in the Mexican legal system. The village elders did not come to the trial, so their ruling was overturned. The five men returned to their homes with legal protections against being exiled again. It took years for them to integrate into the community, but that came with time. Agustín returned to his work elsewhere and continued meeting with the Latter-day Saints in San Crist?bal.

The five converts proved to be the seed from which the Church would grow among the Tzotzil-Mayan peoples. A branch was organized in Chojohl? in 1988 and by 2005, there was a Chojohl? district in the mission, with neighboring communities also having established branches. Agustín Gutiérrez Ruiz’s experience in learning Spanish allowed him to become familiar with the Book of Mormon and other Church literature. He wanted to make these available in Tzotzil and set to work studying Spanish more thoroughly, then began translating the Book of Mormon from Spanish to Tzotzil in 1989. The Church took an interest in his work and offered support. He worked to present it in language that would be understandable across as many Tzotzil dialects as possible. He worked with linguists in Utah to refine his work, and the project was completed in 1992. A decade later, he took the lead in translating the temple ordinances into Tzotzil as well. Just as the translation of the Book of Mormon into Spanish had greatly facilitated missionary work in Mexico over a century beforehand, the Tzotzil Book of Mormon has been important for missionary work among the Tzotzil-Mayan peoples.[4]

Stories like those of Sixta and Agustín make up the overarching story of the Church’s growth across the whole country of Mexico.


[1] Adrián Ochoa, “Look Up,” CR October 2013,

[2] Sixta Martinez: A Living Testimony (Mexico City: The Museum of Mormon Mexican History, 2002), 5–7.

[3] Sixta Martinez: A Living Testimony (Mexico City: The Museum of Mormon Mexican History, 2002), 7–12.

[4] See F. LaMond Tullis, Grass Roots in Mexico: Stories of Pioneering Latter-day Saints (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2021), 263–291.