Actually, it is not for 1000 days. It is just that 3 years times 365 days plus June 27 through June 30, 2008 equals 1098 days, and that is way too cumbersome to convert into a blog headline. Futhermore, our release date will not be determined until May or June of 2011. Therefore, 1000 Days sounded just about right, more or less. Having noted all that, we are humbled and thrilled (Pres. Uchtdorf would refer to the feeling as "joyfully overwhelmed") about having this marvelous opportunity to serve in La Mision Mexico Veracruz.

Con amor,
Pdte. y Hna. Pete and JoElla Hansen

Sunday, November 30, 2008

In the 1500's Hernan Cortez came from Spain to Mexico and robbed Mexico of its gold. He conquered Montezuma and took the gold back to Spain where it decorates various churches and other buildings today. He came into Mexico from the Gulf and journeyed a very short distance up a river which may be the Rio Paso de Ovejas. He landed and established his first of several settlements in Mexico at this spot which is called La Antigua. The cannon was one of his and the jungle-covered walls are part of his hacienda. La Antigua is only 10 or so miles north of Veracruz.

The second photo is of a Marimba Band playing in a small open air restaurant on the banks of the river.

Finally, a favorite missionary companion in the Veracruz Mission waiting for her lunch of breaded shrimp. She has not yet requested a transfer of the president. Good news . . .

This is a shot of Lake Catemaco one evening in August. The Municipio of Catemaco sits on the shores of the lake. It is the witchcraft center of Mexico. In March there is a huge convention there and witches gather from all over who-knows-where. This is a beautiful place as you can see. It is in the Los Tuxtla District. The missionaries are not a busy there are other places, but they work hard and are able to enjoy some true converts.

These are two of our favorite fotos. Elders Brooks and Ramirez work in the Isla Branch of the Los Tuxtla District. It is pineapple country. These two missionaries walked down this dirt road. I don't think they knew I was shooting them because I was on telephoto. Note the man walking toward them in the blue shirt. Now, in the second foto, they stopped to talk with him. Missionaries working. These two are very successful missonaries. Elder Ramirez was just assigned to be a zone leader in Veracruz. He has one year in the mission. Elder Brooks just received his first new missionary and is still in Isla. He is a trainer after only five months.

Elders Erickson and Gonzalez are teaching the Xocua Family in the Ciudad Mendoza Ward. Xocua is a Mayan name. Johnny, the dad, had been heavily involved in a local gang. He was really touched by the power of the Book of Mormon and did a complete turnaround. After a special interview, he and his family were baptized. We saw them about six weeks later at the temple doing baptisms. True converts.

The second foto was taken inside the home of the fellowshipping family. The man of the house is second row, second from left and is first counselor in the Ciudad Mendoza Ward. To his left is his daughter who is now serving a mission.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mom's first baptism is Hermana Luisa Jaoquin Alto. She lives in the pueblito Cosolapa Caracol, Oaxaca, near Temazcal. I don't know the meaning of Cosolapa but a caracol is a snail. Temazcal is a Mayan or Mazateco word meaning steam bath. That is a very fair description of the local climate. Hna. Luisa's daughters have all been baptized. She has been on the edge of the font for at least three months. We visited the very humble family home. Mom thought we should take them some food. The father died five months ago and they live on a little money they get from older sons-in-law. So, we did that. When Hna. Luisa saw us coming, she scurried out to the minivan to greet us. When she saw the unexpected food, she wept openly and warmly embraced Mom for a long time, and over and over, kissing and hugging her. The next week the elders called and said that she desired baptism. The first photo is Mom with the Temazcal Ward Relief Society President. Hna. Luisa does not speak Spanish. Her native tongue is a dialect, Mazateco. This sister translated for the elders as they taught Hna. Luisa. She also translated from me when I confirmed Hna. Luisa a member of the Church. The next foto is of Elder Martinez leading her into the "baptismal font." The last one is Elder Davis of Cedar City, Utah and Elder Orozco of Merida, Mexico preparing to witness the baptism. Thanks to Mom's charitable heart, the family is now all baptized and very happy about it.

Pedro Diaz, age 84, was my first baptism. We met him at the baptism of his granddaughter, Lupita. I congratulated him on her baptism and remarked that he must be very happy. He acknowledged that he was. The elders commented that Bro. Diaz was not a member. I felt to talk to him and did, inviting him to talk with the missionaries. He said that he would. Then, I asked him to invite me to his baptism. He said that after he was adequately prepared, he would do that. After Lupita's baptism, Bro. Diaz approached and asked me to baptize him. I told him that I would be honored to do that, but only after he was adequately prepared. On August 2, 2008 this foto was taken minutes before the ordinance.

Our missionaries do not have cars. They walk. Sometimes they ride buses, but mostly they walk. There are not bicycle missionaries in Mexico. It is too dangerous and we can't afford to replace "missing" bikes. These are the shoes, and pant cuffs, of Elder Sanchez Urban who was serving at the time in Tierra Blanca. Our best missionaries want to wear out their shoes in the service of the Lord.

We drove one day for a long time toward Tuxtepec, which is in the state of Oaxaca. It seemed like a very long time and that was confirmed when we saw this sign! Actually, San Antonio Texas is the name of a pueblo. So the mailing address would read, "San Antonio Texas, Veracruz, Mexico."

On July 18, 2008 we had the privilege of driving out of Veracruz to the pueblo El Tejar. The purpose of the drive was to interview 77 year old Augustín Jimenez Garcia for baptism. When he was about 16 years old he shot a man off of his horse with a borrowed pistol. The man died. The man had threatened to kill young Augustín so he decided to kill the other fellow first. After he served two and one-half years in prison, he met with all the members of the dead man's family and apologized to them. That was very dangerous, but he thought it the proper thing to do. For 61 years he has not been able to forgive himself. In January the missionaries found Hno. Augustín. He heard their message and has not missed church. While waiting to prove his worthiness, he introduced the gospel to each of his children and they, along with their children, have joined the Church. The interview took place under a huge, spreading mango tree. The First Presidency gave their approval for his baptism on September 17th. On September 18th he was baptized.

This is the pizzarón or white board. This is where some of the most important work in mission administration gets done--transfers. Every missionary is on the board by foto with a record of where each has served and with whom. They are divided by zone and district. Some of the pictures are upside down because the missionary is being transferred. There are two indentical pizzarones--one in the president's office at the mission home and another in his office at the mission office. Most of the transfer pondering and praying is done at the mission home where there are less distractions.

Elder Badillo is one of our office elders. His is in charge of recording baptism records, creating memberships, bar-coding temple recommends for all the members in the Los Tuxtla Mission District, and a million other things. He is a really energetic missionary. Here we see him with his pants rolled up because he had to wade into a baptismal font to get it ready to baptize a dad, mom, and daughter. He looks pretty good in the sombrero, huh? His English is very good and his desire is to attend BYU...probably without the sombrero.

The first foto is of a multi-zone conference in a very typical LDS church in Mexico. The missionaries are all sitting in the chapel and back into the overflow. The cultural hall is behind them. The floors are tile. There are no pews. Chairs are set up in rows or moved to accomodate making the entire building multi-purpose. The second foto is a favorite and one which Mom took. One of our buildings, the Mocambo Stake Center adjacent to the temple, has carpet and pews. But, the pews are not attached to the floor and are moved around as needed. The foto shows us that zone conference is over. Suit coats have been removed. The missionaries are all in the cultural hall eating lunch provided by Hermana Costco and is shown in the third shot.

The Veracruz Mocambo Zone of the mission was small when we arrived. We took a foto of all outside the Veracruz Temple. We often meet in the stake center adjacent to the temple. The temple president is Larry Memmott and is a native of the Mormon Colonies in northern Mexico. Remember, you can enlarge the foto by clicking on it.

This is the Salta, or waterfall, Eyiplanta in Los Tuxtla not far from the Hill Vigia. Some say this is the biggest waterfall in Mexico. I don´t know, but it is the biggest in State of Veracruz.

While in Coatzacoalcos, the south of the mission, we experienced a rain storm like I have never seen. There was a tropical storm off the coast and way north, but we got hit with a deluge. The assistants I and came out of a meeting later in the night. Mom was at the hotel. We drove down a street and rivers of water blasted from lateral streets so hard that they pushed the van sideways. It felt like we were floating a couple of times. The next morning we all drove to a final meeting, but the brakes were grinding on the right side. We drove and found a reasonable looking brake shop and asked the man to take a look. He did. After well over an hour of work removing rocks and pieces of glass from the rear brake drum, he was soaking wet from sweat, but all was well. He charged us $140 for the hour and one-half or so. That was pesos--somewhere around $11.00 by the current exchange rate. That would have cost a couple of hundred in California. We tipped him with lots of extra pesos. Everyone was happy. We have been back to visit him a couple of times to try to get him to receive missionaries.

The mission offices were in remodel when we arrived and were almost completed. We share the buiding with the Church FM Group. These guys are contract workers. We took the foto from our office window. We thought the scence was kinda funny. They had been painting the fence. People here don´t really wear sombreros, but it was so hot! The T-shirt of the muchacho on the left is entertaining for someone working for the Church. It reads, "Save Water, Drink Beer." They are drinking Sprite...we think. To enlarge the foto, click on it.

Ahhhhh.....Henry´s Restaurante in Tierra Blanca. This was our first real dining experience in real Mexico. Tierra Blanca has a nickname, La Novia del Sol. That translates the Girlfriend of the Sun. It is so hot there! We had been to a Meet the Mew President Conference and were ready for food. The assistants, Elders Anaya and Castillo spotted a little restaurant. We went in and ordered the best food we had tasted in a long time. The elders both ordered pollo asado, chicken cooked on a flat plate grill. I ordered fried mojarra. We had heard about mojarra from many people. It is very common, lives in rivers, lakes, and the sea. You can see that they scale it, clean it, and fry it. Mom won. She took a chance and ordered enchildadas suiza. They are the best. This total meal including a large pitcher of jamaica drink and a bottle of water cost $240 pesos or about $20.80 American. We make excuses to eat at Henry´s whenever we can.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

We were at a Meet the New President conference in Martinez de la Torre. Like everyone else in the Republic of Mexico, we parked left side to the curb when we pulled up the chapel. We were about done. The assistants ran out to the van to get some treats with Mom. A nice local police officer was taking the plates of the mission minivan. I guess that it was my turn to bribe the locals. They ran in to get me. I tried to talk to the officer, but all he would say was $300 pesos. And the municipal office closes in less than 30 minutes and it is really hard to explain how to get there. He had totally removed the plates. So, I gave him the registration to the van. I was not about to give him $300 pesos (about $23.88 American). He read the regristration which says La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias. He looked at it and said, "¡Híjole! What am I going to do with this?" That translates very loosely, "Dang!" or "Son of a gun!" He handed me the plates and sped off on his motorcycle. In the meantime the assistants, bored by watching me get arrested, walked across the street try to convince the lady behind the white fence to join the Church. She didn't, but it was a very typical move by these two great missionaries who are always on the job.

This is a very typical street in Teziutlán taken from our hotel bedroom window and is just a block from the town square, also called the Zócalo.

THEME BLOG POST--HOTELS: These are two of the hotels where we have stayed. How about the green room in-- no, not the City of Oz, but in the City of Martinez de la Torre. The other three are in the high mountain pueblo, Teziutlán. The air is very refreshing there. We needed to cover our eyes with duct tape to sleep there. And yes, Flintstone beds. Really, really, really hard.

Our first staff meeting with the office elders was at Carl´s, Jr., their choice. It was actually very good. The famous Six Dollar Burger is $71 pesos in Veracruz. Of course, when you apply the exchange rate that comes out to $5.65 American and there is no tax. So, it is a good deal.

While we sat in the mission president´s office on June 27th, President Johnson´s cell phone kept ringing. Each time it did, he pushed it across the desk to me. I always pushed it back. I knew that if I took the phone that was like receiving the keys to the kingdom and I was, frankly, quite nervous. Finally, after maybe the dozenth call he said the this one was mine. I answered and it was a zone leader in Orizaba. He told me that the sister missionaries had a potential baptism who needed a special interview. That is how the mission started for me. Anna Maria Castro was the 30 year old sister. The interview was marvelous and she remains a very active member of the Nogales Ward.
On June 26 we arrived at Terminal 2 of the Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City. Someone from the Mexico Area Office was to have picked us up. After an hour of waiting, we took a shuttle to our hotel. Mom is patiently smiling by our heap of bags. This is all we had to live on for about 5 weeks until our shipment arrived.
One of the great blessings of this calling is the occasional blessing of getting up close and personal with some of the fine people on the earth. Elder and Sister Bednar are two of those. On 25 June we had dinner with them and six other mission president couples headed to Mexico. Elder Bednar shared some thoughts and then turned to us to say a few brief words if we chose to. This was a once in a lifetime experience for us.
Before we arrived at the Veracruz Airport and Holiday Inn, we were pretty happy to put on our official missionary name tags at the MTC. They made us feel a little more authentic.
Our very first night in Veracruz, 27Jun2008, was spent in a Holiday Inn. The local Church FM group had been remodeling the mission home for months. They were not ready for us. But, we showed up anyhow. Pres. Johnson told FM that they were paying for our hotel and magically, they were finished the next day. This is a view from our hotel window. Not bad, huh? The bed would have made the Flintstones really happy; like solid rock. . . bedrock, maybe?