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, January 4, 2009

San Cristobal is a humble place. They don't use much money because they raise their own chickens and turkeys and some vegetables. Horses walk around town. There are no paved roads. There are one or two street lights. We hear that there is a telephone in town somewhere. There is no internet service. Most people draw water from wells to cook, wash, and flush toilets. Some have outhouses. There is cell phone service in one or two higher points in town, but you can't move your head or you will lose the signal. We sent missionaries on December 30th. The first meeting was January 4th. The missionaries, Elders Hunter and Edgington, had worked hard all week. They invited lots of people. 38 members were there. 9 investigators were there. They have 19 new investigators. First week. The Principle of Proximity . . .

Some of the people we met were Hermana Carmen. She is 70 years old and live in this shanty. He happiest moment was several years ago when she was able to go the the temple. The closest temple must be 4 or 5 hours away, but thankful are we that the Brethren have built so many small temples. If that were not the case, her temple district would have been the Mesa, Arizona Temple or later the Mexico City Temple. Services have been held in her house. After we visited, we offered a blessing on the house. During the prayer, baby chicks walked across Mom's feet and picked at her shoes. The second picture is of Elders Divildox and Olvera with Hermana Preta and her grandchildren. They were baptized in the river shortly after this picture was taken.

Elder Packer spoke to mission presidents in their seminar about what he calls "The Principal of Proximity." Sometimes to understand what you need to do, to receive the correct and direct inspiration, you must go to the place and look for answers rather than sit in the office. That is what we did. We are on the ferry with Pres. Rojas and Bishop Reyes. Both are a little over 30 years old and are great leaders. The building on shore was not visible during the floods. The stake president says it was completely under water to the point that you could not see the roofline. It became immediately clear that we needed to send missionaries to work with this tiny pueblito.

San Cristobal. To get to San Cristobal you have to swim, ride a canoe, or ride the ferry. We chose the ferry. It cost 20 pesos to cross the Cuichapa River. In October, the rains were so heavy that the river rose and flooded miles and miles of land. Minititlán, the stake center, is about an hour to the north-ish. Stake President Rojas asked that the missionaries be allowed to go out the San Cristobal and give service to the few members. To get there was a 2 hour ride in a boat. The water across the flat land was only about a foot or two deep, but all the roads were covered and ruined. The experience was semenal for everyone involved. The floods have subsided. Pres. Rojas asked that we send full-time missionaries there to establish a grupo familiar, a priesthood group, which would be dependent on the Hidalgo Ward. So, Mom and I met with him and went to San Cristobal to take a look.

In La Venta there is a small convenience store where they sell abarrotes, which are groceries and hardware but mostly groceries. The store is called El Mormón. So, we stopped into El Mormón with Mormon missionaries Minetto (Tigard, OR) and Sanchez U. They knew the owners who are active members of the branch. A young man greeted us, about 17 years old. I asked him where the beer was. He exclaimed, "Oh no! We don't sell beer here!" So we bought soft drinks and cookies. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

The southernmost unit of the Church in the Veracuz Mission is the La Venta Branch of the Coatzacoalcos Mexico Stake. It is in the State of Tabasco. The branch does not have a chapel, but it the Church owns this casa de oración. It is quite nice. We arrived there at about 4:30. The branch president, a convert of 8 years, is alos the seminary teacher. He is teaching New Testament to his class of 3 students in his office. The class was being taught in Spanish.

Elder Guillermo Miros Herrera is a missionary I set apart to serve in the México Tijuana Mission. He was set apart on December 2 in the mission president´s office. He is from the 1st of May Branch in the Los Tuxtla District. His mom joined the Church only a few months ago. He was so excited to get going!

Okay. This one is a little different, but we think it is both entertaining and speaks volumes about some of the worst of the conditions our missionaries live in. Elder Edgington (Nibley, UT) and Elder Hunter (Riverton, UT) were companions in Cuichapa which is way south in the mission, almost to the State of Chiapas. They are posing in their bathroom. This bathroom has a flush toilet. All our missionaries have that luxury. But, there is running water only a couple of hours each day, mid-morning and after they have left to go to work. The elders need to shower daily. That is a must in this tropical climate. So, they leave the shower turned on and aimed at a large 50 gallon barrel and it partially fills up. They are standing by the barrel, almost ready to jump in. In the morning, they lather up, and then rinse off. Clean and ready for the day, they go off to work.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

And if model homes aren't enough for you, some guy is building an ark on the banks of the Papaloapan River. The City of Alvarado is across the river and the Gulf of Mexico is less than half a mile to the right. We don't know why this ark is being built. I paid a security guard 10 pesos (about 78 cents) to let me sneak close enough to take this picture. I would make fun of the builder, but I know what happened to the last group of people who mocked an ark-builder. . . Click on the picture to zoom in.

You have heard of and perhaps have visited model homes. This is a version of a model home which we had not seen before. Modelo is a brand of beer in Mexico. The owners of the model built a wall of empty Modelo cans by sticking them into the wire fence which formed an outside wall. Hence, the model home. We stopped and bought a drink from them; they have a little store in the front. Our drinks were soft. We also left them a "Joy to the World" DVD. Happy Christmas! Click on the picture to see the Modelo cans up close.

Later on Thanksgiving Day the office elders came over for Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, homemade rolls, real mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, corn, three kinds of dessert including pecan pie and homemade lemon (lime) meringue pie, and banana cream pie which was the big hitter of the day by far. The missionaries are Elders Bangerter, Eduardo, Reyes R, Rangel, Lopez, and Castillo.

Mom will do anything she can for the office elders. Actually, she will go out of her way for any of the missionaries. Elder Bangerter's (secretary to the president) favorite Thanksgiving treat is him mom's cheeseball with Wheat Thins. So, mom emailed her, got the recipe, and made the cheeseball. But, she couldn't find Wheat Thins. So, Elder Bangerter's mom Priority Mailed a Family Size box of Wheat Thins to the office all the way from Mt. Pleasant, Utah. We won't reveal what the shipping cost was, but it was worth it to surprise him early on Thanksgiving morning.

Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, we held our Zone Leaders Council. Mom decided that she wanted to serve all 20 of them turkey dinner at the mission home. So she did, 24 people in all. Turkey, rolls, potatoes and gravy, punkin pie, very traditional. The biggest hit of all was stuffing. Most of the missionaries had never tasted it before. The literally licked the plate clean. The older couple on the left are Dr. and Sis. Scott. He is our Mexican Area missonary doctor. Elder Page (North Carolina), back of the table on the right, noted that he is the only güerro, white guy, in mission leadership at this level. I reminded him that Sis. Hansen and I are still güerros. We agreed that this is kind of neat and probably fairly unique.

Not far from the highway robber-- The sign says No Tirar Basura en Esta Area, or Don't Throw Garbage in This Area. Well, someone obeyed the sign. Instead of THIS area, they threw their garbage in THAT area.

This was fun. On the road to Temazcal a man decided to make some money. There were baches, potholes, all along this road. In this random spot, the man strung a rope with red flags and held them up, presumably to warn you of the baches. Then, you are supposed to pay him for the service. We took his picture and gave him a few pesos. Mom said this was a perfect example of highway robbery. We agreed that the pesos were worth the story to tell.

Remember the Bravo Family from earlier in the blog? This is the baptism day of the mom. I had the chance to confirm her a member of the Church. She speaks Mazateco, so I did it in Spanish and phrase by phrase, the Relief Society President translated it into Mazateco. It was quite an experience. We need to start teaching our baptismal candidates to smile for the camera. The missionaries are Elders Martinez J and Davis (Cedar City, UT).

We sent missionaries to the tiny town, Misantla, at the request of the stake president Hurtado, the citrus exporter. Since missionaries were pulled from Misantla 18 months ago, the branch has dwindled. We sent experienced Elder Rodriguez M and new missionary Elder Carter (Bakersfield, CA--Dodger fan, 49er fan, Cougar fan--a trifecta). They worked very hard with lots of hope, many broken promises, never stopping. They raised the branch attedance from about 10 to over 40 in 2 months. Finally, in the third month they baptized this young man and have had several others since. Elders Rojas, Carter, and Rodriguez sang a special number at the side of the Rio Misantla. In the other picture you see that a large number of the branch and the young man's entire family came out for the Thursday afternoon baptismal service. The three men on the left are the branch presidency. The first lady on the left is the branch president's wife and early morning seminary teacher. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

The area around the city Martinez de la Torre is heavily agricultural. They grow bananas and citrus for miles and miles--oranges, mandarins, tangerines, limes, grapefruits, literally thousands of acres. The stake president has a citrus exporting business. The president of the Ejidal Branch sells by the truckload and sells locally. I don't know how much he pays, but he sells for 1 peso per kilo. Some grades sell for 3 to 8 kilos per peso. A peso today is less that 88 cents American. We arrived at the church to meet the missionaries. The branch president heard we were coming and gifted us with three crates of various citrus. That was 90 kilos or roughly 200 pounds. We shared. A problem was the the president needed his crates, so we dumped the fruit into the back of the minivan, ants and all.

Our friend and assistant to the president, Elder Anaya, was running out of time and needed to return to his family and future in Jalisco, Guadalajara. We decided to have a going away dinner one Sunday evening. Elder Anaya knows how to make tortillas by hand and is instructing Mom and the other missionaries. After they are pounded out by hand, they are cooked on a flat plate grill. Very tasty. The third photo is Team Tortilla holding their handmade tortillas which are ready to cook-- Elders Bangerter (Hawaii, but his family moved to Mt. Pleasant, Utah since he came to Mexico), Anaya, Badillo, Castillo, Eduardo, and Reyes R. We had hot tortillas, homemade soup which was cooked by Elder Reyes, potatoes a la Amy Hansen, salad, and Costco steaks estilo abuelito Hansen, Grandpa Hansen style. Isn't Mom cute? Click on the photo for a zoomed in view.

We have another branch of the district in the pueblito, Baxcaxpaltepec, a Mayan word meaning Cerro de las Iguanas of Hill of the Iguanas. This is a very beautiful hilly area, heavily forested with huge mango trees. The branch had just dismissed from services as we drove into town, so we stopped to take their picture. It seems that an unusually high percentage of the population of the people in this country have experienced an amputation. We are not sure why. Nonetheless, you can see that this is a happy group. We all are happy to get out of three hours of church, true? We saw no iguanas that day. Click on the photo to enlarge.

These are two brothers that the elders found in the first week in Sihuapan. They are members, aged 14 and 15. They have never been active but came to church when the missionaries "went after them." Within a couple of weeks, both were ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood.

Mom is standing with some of the very active sisters of the Sihuapan Branch. The younger one to her right, Margarita, is not a member but goes to church every week with her little boy and mother-in-law who is on the right. She and her husband will be baptized after they are married which will hopefully be in a few weeks.

Sihuapan is a small branch of the Church in the Los Tuxtla District. There have been about 15 members attending with only one active male adult. The district president and I discussed reorganizing the branch presidency, as it were. On November 4th, we sent Elder Lopez B and Elder Bowen (Camarillo, CA) to preside, Elder Lopez as the president. They meet in a very nice casa de oración. The Sunday that they were installed Mom and I went down and attended there. The brethren are District Pres. Hernandez, Elder Bowen, former Branch President Cruz, and Elder Lopez. On December 13th there were 52 people in church including 8 adult males.

Just to the north and east of Temazcal and Chalapa Caracol is the pueblito, Chichicazapa. The Rio Tonto runs alongside. From the bridge we watched people swimming, bathing (all lathered up with their bathing suits on), and doing their laundry. They call it the Rio Tonto because tonto means dumb. There are spots in the river where the surface is calm and the undercurrents are vicious. A few people drown in the Rio Tonto each year. You are tonto if you swim without knowing the river. The entire village and surrounding villages use this spot for laundry. The women walk to it with huge bags of clothing balanced on their heads. We are pretty sure that they use bio-degradable detergent.

Friday, January 2, 2009

On Halloween night a lady knocked at the door. She had a large bag of candy in her hand. She asked us to give it to a group of children who would be coming by to Trick or Treat. We told her that we had candy. She exclaimed that she had such fond memories of her childhood, knocking on doors and receiving lots of candy. We repeated that we were well prepared and had candy. She again said that she didn't want the children to be disappointed. We told her that we were Americans and that we understood. She said, "Oh!" turned on her heel, took her candy and left. About five minutes later we were invaded by about 30 kids all in their costumes, all happy to receive American candy from Costco.

These are photos of two of the four volcanoes we mentioned in the letters. The one on the left is Popocatépetl. It is active. In the close up photo you can clearly see the steam coming out. White clouds are in the background. "Popocatépetel is one of the most active volcanoes in Mexico, having had more than 20 major eruptions since the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. Popo is currently active. A major eruption occurred in 1947 to begin this cycle of activity. Then, on December 21, 1994 the volcano spewed gas and ash which was carried as far as 25 km away by prevailing winds. The activity prompted the evacuation of nearby towns and scientists to begin monitoring for an eruption. In December 2000, tens of thousands of people were evacuated by the government based on the warnings of scientists. The volcano then made its largest display in thousands of years" (Wikipedia). Click on any photo for a close-up.

These are two different graveywards along the highway. The tradition is to clean them and decorate the graves with orange or yellow marigolds on the Day of the Dead to welcome the spirits of the dead back to the family for an annual visit. Water is also left at the graves for the spirits because they get mighty thirsty on their journey from the parallel world where spirits live to this one as they come to visit their mortal families. Mom wonders if it is bottled water? The cemeteries all over Mexico are very busy for these two or three days. Graves are cleaned of weeds and brush and litter. Everything is tidied up and beautified with flowers. Nobody wants their dead granny mad at them!

We stopped on the freeway to take a picture of this florist. The day was near the Day of the Dead. These large bunches of marigolds and other flowers are part of a very important Mexican tradition.

On the waterfront at Temazcal, Elder Davis (Cedar City, Utah) and Elder Martinez J invited this old gentleman to come to church.

The bishop of the Temazcal Ward is Bruno Hernandez Martinez. He is a panador or baker. His panaderia, bakery, is the larger part of his very humble home. The house part consists of a bedroom/kitchen/living area combination. He does not read or write very much so the missionaries help a great deal with the administration of the affairs of the small ward. His heart is pure gold. His wife smiles warmly behind a pan of freshly baked bolobanes. A bolobán is a very flaky large type of biscuit which has a layer of delicious shredded chicken and jalapeño pepper toward the bottom. They are cooked in the all-stone oven which is fired with hardwood. The breads are sold in the street and to a few passersby. The bishop, they say, has lost 50 or 60 pounds lately because he is taking Herbalife. In Temazcal?

Another time we visited Temazcal we went to the carneceria, or meat market. Mom wanted to take a little food to the Bravo Family. Mom is smiling, but Elder Davis (Cedar City, Utah) seems to be nervous. I don't know why. This is exactly what he eats every day. The temperature was about 85. The meat hangs outside. But, it was shady and flies were minimal. Mmmmmm...tenderized.

These are photos of the inside of the Bravo home where I conducted a special interview for the oldest daughter. The cement floors shined. All was so clean. This is very typical for what we see in Mexican homes. They are usually all cement including the walls, floors, and even the ceilings even though this roof is of corrugated, reinforced plastic. Usually they are spotless. The family is fortunate to have a refridgerator and even a TV. Almost no one has a couch. The community is nearly three hours from Veracruz.