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

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In a zone conference in Los Tuxtlas, the missionaries were practicing contacting people. Mom and I decided to play the part of a couple in the street. I think I told them that my name was Jose y María Miranda de Ayala Mendoza. I am not positive what Elders Bangerter from Mt Pleasant UT, Elder Rusk from Merrit Island FL, and Mom are laughing at. It might have been the part when one of the missionaries asked, "What do you do on Sundays?" I responded, "Pues, yo tomo y ella cocina para mí." "Well, I drink and she cooks for me." Or maybe it was when they asked, "Are you married?" and I answered, "Claro que sí, pero no por la ley pero por el amor." "Clearly yes, but not by the law, just by our love." What's so funny about that? That's the way it is! Well, not at our house, you understand, but that is the way it is.

Las Choapas is way south and sits on the border of the State of Chiapas. The missionaries, Elder Gardiner from North Ogden UT was one, found the Ruelas Family. David Ruelas was hesitant as was their daughter, but his wife was baptized. A couple of months later, David said he was ready. A district leader interviewed him but didn't feel good about the interview and told he him needed a couple more weeks to prepare. The missionary left some papers at the house and returned a few minutes later to retrieve them. David was smoking. The missionary was stunned. David said that he was so nervous for having failed the interview that he just HAD to have a smoke. About three weeks later we went to Las Choapas for a followup interview. It was tremendous! David was baptized the next day. The daughter still put it off, but José, 7, could hardly wait until his 8th birthday. That day in January came and David baptized both José and their daughter! The baptismal photo is submitted by Elder Morales and Elder Hart from Phoenix.

April conference arrived. Elder Gardiner had been transferred to the Veracruz area. We went to conference at the Mocambo Stake Center by the temple. There we unexpectedly saw the Ruelas Family. They had come to Veracruz to visit family, but determined to find a church and watch their first general conference. We had a joyful reunion with them there.

We had a little project going to help a couple of our missionaries get eyeglasses. One of the branch presidents is an optometrist. He brought his gear to the office and examined some missionaries. Elder Eduardo posed in the equipment. His real glasses really to look a bit better than these.

On March 23, 2009 we received 16 new missionaries. Seven were from Mexico. Here we are at the airport with some of their luggage. Back row: Elder Reidhead, Taylor AZ; Elder Curiel, Cd. Juarez; Elder Alvarado, Queretaro; Elder Baas, Yucatán; Elder Steffen, Kevil KY; Elder Munson, Escalante UT; Elder Holman, Tigurd OR; Elder Bowen, Draper UT; Elder Stevens, Orem UT; Elder Dunn, Louisburg, KS; Elder Peterson, Riverton UT. Front row: Hna. Perez, Durango; Hna. Arciniega, Tultitlán; Hna, Castellanos, Mexico City; Elder Arnett, Vancouver WA.


I also got to interview Rubi, the 20 year old. She had not yet been taught the law of tithing, so I did that. Then I reviewed with her the other commandments. She understood perfectly and explained them all to me. Finally I asked her it she had heard of Joseph Smith. She smiled and told me the whole story commenting that it was most precious to her. I asked her if she wanted to be baptized. She beamed and her eyes glistened. "Sí, con mi familia." "Yes, with my family."

The first picture is the Silvestre Family in their side yard. They are Maria, Diana, Adrián, Rubicela, Elder Ventura, Victor, Elder Martinez. The second is the day of their baptism. Victor is preparing his papers to serve a full-time mission.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

We love this family. They are the Silvestre Family and the live in Huatusco which is 40 kilometers north of Córdoba, the nearest chapel. Their story is interesting but is kind of long. Here goes.

In an interview with Adrián Silvestre Marinero, the father, he told me about the day Victor his firstborn, came into the world. Hno. Adrián held Victor in his hands and lifted him to the heavens calling upon God and dedicating his son to the Lord. He told his Father that he did now know what the future held for the boy, but that he felt at that time that Victor would someday leave home and not return, perhaps for a long time. He dedicated his son to that.

Hno. Adrián has never had money, but the family is well-dressed, clean, tidy, and are all very intelligent. The daughters. Diana and Rubicela, have been to Xalapa to study at the university there. One day Adrián was working in a local factory, a laborer. He was on his hands and knees scrubbing a floor. Another man walked up, drunk and wearing new shiny shoes. Adrián asked, "Why is it that you, always drunk and living a life of filth, stands over me with new shoes? I work hard, live a clean life, am faithful to my family, and it is all I can do to buy my family food. They have no shoes."

That was years ago. Adrián and his wife, María, now have their own little business in the front part of their house. They make salsas of many varieties for people--mole, barbacoa, picosa, lots of good things. He still doesn't have much, but I testified to him that he is quite wealthy. His family is beautiful, whole, bright, and they will soon have the gospel.

Victor Silvestre Reyes, now 24, went away to attend university in Orizaba. One Friday night in April 2008, he had a dream. He saw three churches. He went to each one. The first was large and beautiful. It was filled with candles and images. He went in, did not feel comfortable and left. The second was dark inside and people were grimacing and making odd noises. He did not go in, but left. The third was humble. He went to the door. The chapel area was filled with benches, pews. There was a table in the front covered with white linens. There were no pictures or images in the chapel. There were people at the door smiling and greeting him, one man in particular. He awoke, determined to find the churches. He set out to do that.

On Saturday morning he found a large and beautiful church. It was filled with candles and images. He went in, did not feel comfortable and left. The second was dark inside. No one was there. He did not go in but left. The third was humble. He went to the door. It was the Ojo de Agua Ward LDS Chapel. The chapel area was filled with chairs, not pews. There was a table in the front but it was not set with linens. There was only one person there, a custodian, who paid no attention to him. Confused he went about his day.

Sunday he woke up still thinking about his dream. He left his apartment again in search of the church of his dreams. He returned to the large and beautiful church. It was filled with candle and images. There were people worshipping. He went in, did not feel comfortable and left. The second was dark inside and people were grimacing and making odd noises. Very uncomfortable, he did not go in but left. The third, the Escamela Ward LDS Chapel was humble. He went to the door. The chapel area was filled with benches, pews. There was a table in the front covered with white linens. There were no pictures or images in the chapel. There were people at the door smiling and greeting him, one man in particular. The man's name was Bishop Limón. He invited Victor to join them. Within a few weeks, Victor was baptized.(We know both of these chapels very well. Ojo de Agua does not have pews. They use stacking chairs. Escamela has old wooden pews. Clay has been in this chapel.)

Victor graduated from college as a mechanical engineer. He returned home to his town, Huatusco, waiting for his certifications. There he encouraged his family to meet with the missionaries. They did. His father, mother, and two sisters aged 23 and 20 all want to be baptized. I was blessed to interview the parents.

The scripture of the month is Doctrine and Covenants 123:12 and 13. We went to zone conference in Ciudad Mendoza, Orizaba Zone, and the missionaries made a big cake and decorated it with the Angel Moroni and the scriptural reference. The missionaries are Elders Ricks from El Dorado CA, Rodriguez, Galvan, and Medina.

Guadalupe Córdoba Rodriguez didn't really know how old she was. She knew she was over 100. She was 9 years old when the Mexican Revolution started. That was in 1910according to She doesn't know the day of her birth, but Church records will indicate that she was born late in 1901. That makes her 108 today and 107 when she was baptized. She remembers the Revolution very well. Elders Minetto and Sanchez found her in November. Her daughter is a "sort of active" member. So how old is the daughter? Good question. She doesn't look a day over 70. Sister Guadalupe, as everyone calls her, took to the gospel very quickly. She was to be baptized in December but got ill. The family took her to the State of Tabasco for treatment and she didn't come back for months. Finally, here she was again in February. The missionaries had been changed, so the new ones started over. They kept talking about baptism and she would always say, "I am willing and ready to be baptized if I am alive." One night about 8:00, the missionaries stopped by just to check on her. She told Elder Alvarado, from Del Mar, California, that he was too skinny and got up, made him some tortillas and beans.

She was set for baptism the April 28,2008 but the daughter took her out of town for a visit to family. She came back on Monday. The elders set her for Wednesday the 1st of April. We drove them from zone conference in Coatzacoalcos to their area, Agua Dulce, the southernmost area of the mission.

When we arrived, there they all were waiting for us. Maybe 10-12 member ladies, the bishop, the ward mission leader, and the guest of honor, Guadalupe Córdoba Rodriguez; they were all there. She is a bright and smiling toothless little soul. Her hearing is much better than mine, and she is sharp as a tack. The temperature was probably 90+. Stepping out of the van, I was instantly drenched with sweat. But, Elder Alvarado noticed that she might be chilly and took off his jacket draping it over her shoulders. (Suits are not normally required. We had just come from zone conference. By then, I was not wearing my suit coat.)

We retired to the baptismal font room. After two brief talks and congregational "singing" the elders and others helped Sister Guadalupe into the font. Elder Alvarado was really concerned. He had tested the water and told me that it was quite cold. As they entered the water, it was warm. Yet, another miracle was about to take place. Elder Gumeta said the ordinance prayer. The ward mission leader was in the font with the two elders. They took their time. Sis. Guadalupe covered her nose. The three of them then carefully laid her flat in their arms, parellel to the water surface. She weighs less than 80 pounds, I am sure--this was all about her fragility. All at once they immersed her very gently and carefully into the water. It was perfect and highly spiritual. She was so happy. The congregation, 25 or 30 people, wept with joy.

Afterwards, they asked me to confirm her. The bishop determined that he wanted her confirmed at fontside considering her age, her health, and that the following Sunday was general conference 45 minutes north. She was blessed that she would see her ancestors, that they would greet her in paradise, and that the day would come that she would see both her Savior and her Heavenly Father. She was also blessed that through her example that other members of her family would find the gospel and enter the waters of baptism. After the baptism, outside of the building, I asked Sis. Guadalupe how she felt. "Soy libre!," she exclaimed. "I am free.!"

Lucky guys get to drive the equipment which picks up the sugar cane. They must be related to the bosses. Trailers haul the canes to the refineries. There the cane is chopped, boiled, the sucrose is extracted, they mix it with some chemicals of some kind, and you have white cane sugar. Mexico is 5th in the world in sugar production. Ugly labor, tough, tough life, though. But, it´s worth it to make Peeps for Easter.

Sugar cane season in Lerdo. Lots of people work who don't otherwise have jobs. Men work, some women work, old and young. After cane fields are burned to kill biting insects and venemous snakes, the field workers go in with their machetes and hack down thousands of acres of sugar cane. It is 100% physical labor. No machines cut the cane. They stack it in rows as long as the fields. The temperature is always 90 or higher. The humidity is up there, too. The sky is thick with haze from other burning fields and from sugar cane refineries which are called ingenios. Ash coats streets and cars and lungs. It is a big and dirty business and the labor is cheap. The harvest runs for six months every year, from November until May.

The first time we went to church in Sihuapan, Elder Lopez was installed as branch president and Elder Bowen as his counselor. That same day we met Margarita who stands beside her husband, Manuel. He is in the Mexican Army and is gone a great deal of the time. When he is there he challenges the priesthood brethren to pay their tithing, be active, live right. He did all that as a non-member. He isn't a member because he and Margarita aren't legally married. The missionaries worked long and hard with the office missionaries and the Oaxaca Mission to get her birth certificate so they could get married. The big day came on March 27, 2009. They were married at 10 a.m. at the town hall in San Andres. All they do is sign legal papers and pay money. There is no ceremony. At 11 a.m. they were both baptized. The picture shows Margarita holding a picture of the Mexico City Temple and Manuel Perez, her now legal husband holding the legal papers. In the background is his father, not a member but now receiving the missionaries. Their little boy is in the front. The missionaries are Elders Bowen from Camarillo, CA and Elder Lopez. Later that evening they held a church wedding at the Sihuapan casa de oracion with Elder Lopez performing the ceremony.

The day after missionaries go home we normally hold our zone leaders council. This is the council of March 26th which includes new zone leaders. In the council at the beginning of February there were only three American missionaries in leadership at this level. Now we have a few more. We don't select by race or by time in service. It is done, just like in the Church, by inspiration. The missionaries are, back row: Elders Blanco, Barrio, Ramirez, Garcia, Galvan, and Hunter (Riverton, UT). Front row: Elders Barrett (Honolulu), Gonzalez, Aranda, Carmack (Summit, NJ), Bangerter (Mt. Pleasant, UT), Rusk (Merritt Island, Florida), Alcantara, Norcross (Essex Junction, Vermont), Ficiur (Bow Island, Canada), Ling (Olympia, Washington), De la Cruz, Esquer, Lindsay (Centennial, CO), and Garza.

After she went to the temple, Sis. Valencia had a baptism to experience on her way home. The convert is a lady Sis. Valencia found and taught starting about 5 weeks earlier. Her companion arranged the service for 9 p.m. In the picture are Sis. Vergara, Sis. Castellanos who is the new missionary who replaced Sis Valencia and is baptizing on her first day in the field, and Sis. Valencia who is baptizing on her last.

On the way home we gather all the departing missionaries for exit interviews, a final "zone conference"--a meeting of instruction, dinner and testimony meeting at the mission home, and they go to the temple. This is the final zone conference which we convene in the council room of the mission office. The missionaries all all Mexicans except two sisters as noted. Elders Martinez Pineda, Gutierrez, Martinez, Castañeda, Villanueva, Rangel, Rodriguez, Cherón, Chan, Flores, Reyes, Garza, and Hnas. Sanchez (Nicaragua), Moreira, Rodriguez (Guatemala), and Valencia.

The missionaries are Elders Rangel, one of the assistants, and Elder Reyes the materials secretary. They went home the same day on March 25, 2009. This was the day of their final interview and is taken in front of the board that has all the missionaries on it organized by area of assignment. It changes every six weeks. Sometimes tough guy Mexicans pose with their nose in the air and their eyes squinting. Elder Rangel, who is one of the nicest young men you will ever meet, has the pose perfect. Mom is just too nice and can't do it without smiling.

Our minivan blew up. It is not burning oil but has "blow by" meaning that a ring in one of the cylinders is cracked or otherwise demolished. So, oil blows by the piston and out through the tailpipe. At least one liter of oil is required each time we gas up. The Church deals with this stuff, but this part of the Church is in Mexico City. They said to park it and rent something while they decide what to do. We contacted Hertz Rentals--I am not making this up--and told them we needed a minivan. This is what we got. We thought about parking it on the lot, but didn't want to get arrested (Ha!) for littering. To fully appreciate this Hertz Rental, click on the foto to enlarge.

Next door to the mission home is a vacant lot. It has been full of weeds and other growth higher than the fence. It is certainly a breeding ground for mosquitos and lots of other bugs and rats and vermin and. . . . In the meantime, Mom has been praying, sort of, that the city (Ha!) would clean it up. Well, her "sort of" prayer was answered. It took two evenings of work with big equipment but it was cleaned. Then a real estate company wrote a for sale add on the back wall and posted the big yellow sign which warned that litterers would be prosecuted. (Ha!)

There is traditional images of the Crucifixion and of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Inside there was also small basin to sprinkle babies at their baptism which can be seen in the center of the second picture. Over the top of the rectory was a canvas semi-circular awning type structure, white with green and red letters--the colors of the Mexican flag. It said, "¿Que te preocupes? No estoy. Que soy tu madre. Estás bajo mi sombra." "Why are you worried? I am not here. I am your Mother. You are under my shadow [grace/protection]." Worship of the virgin is a huge battle with our investigators. She is ahead of the Father and the Son in their priorities of belief, or superstition.

On the top of the pyramid we scaled is this prayer chapel. It was locked, but we could stick the camera in through broken windows and take a couple of pictures. Inside there was a recording playing two univeral Christmas Carols over and over. One was "Silent Night" and the other was "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer." Yup. That's the truth.