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, July 26, 2009

So, the Swine Flu scare continued. All schools were ordered closed by the government. All public gathering places were closed--museums, libraries, tourist stops, government offices, most other office buildings and businesses. Cathedrals were closed. They even closed the bars and pool halls there, and those guys are all sterilized by alcohol! Our friends in Mexico City said that it was a ghost town. It was not taken so seriously in Veracruz, but still the Church, Mexico-wide, respected the law of the land. This is the oldest chapel in the State of Veracruz. It sits across the street from the mission offices. The sign says, "In attention to the bulletin emitted by the Presidency of the Republic the chapel remains closed until May 6th and there will not be any type of activity." So, no one went to church in all of Mexico on May 6th.

Friday, July 24, 2009

This handsome couple stopped by the office. That would be the couple on the left. Pres. Don Hunter was mission president in 1993-1996. He and his wife lived in the same mission home we do. They had one live-in maid and another who came in daily as well. No thanks! The first words out of his mouth were, "Are you still the number one baptizing mission in the world?" I answered that we are far from it. He responded, "Good." Apparently before he began his term of service, there was a lot of goofy stuff going on which he stopped. Our focus is to baptize what we call "true converts." He had 105 missionaries, 36 of them sisters. The sisters all served in Veracruz. He averaged 25 Americans. The mission has surely changed. We have 192 missionaries, 20 sisters serving all over the mission, 66 non-Latin Americans, and a housekeeper who comes in 20 hours a week when we are not here. Perfect.

So, we decided to have a little fun with it. Not much hair here. My grooming cost 50 pesos. Whose looks better???

We have 5 Peruvians in the mission. Four of them were together in a meeting for the first time during their entire mission, so we snapped this moment in Aztec history. They are Elders Huaman, Reyes, Chacacanta, and Bada. Elder Reyes got his haircut a couple of days before but the job was so horrible that he decided to buzz it (which is against the rules). The first haircut cost 20 pesos, about $1.50. The second one he did himself for free. You get what you pay for. These are all excellent missionaries. You can tell that by their happy spirits which show in their eyes and smiles.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The icon of the Misión México Veracruz is the lighthouse, faro. It sits just off the shoreline of the City of Veracruz about 1/2 a mile into the Gulf of Mexico on the Island of Sacrifice. The shoreline is built up with a seawall and levee called the malecon. This foto is taken from the malecon at about 6:30 one morning and looks into the east. The faro is symbolic in the mission tradition because we sometimes refer to ourselves and what we do as "The Lighthouse of the Lord." Our mission hymn is Brillan Rayos de Clemencia, "Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy," which is sung powerfully and oftimes emotionally at all zone conferences, at all the new missionary training sessions, and of course, at the final gathering of missonaries as they leave to return to their loved ones at the end of their missionary service. El Faro.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Baxcaxbaltepec, which translated means Cerro de las Iguanas, which translated means Iguana Hill is a town of a couple of hundred people. The legend is that ten years ago missionaries went in and baptized the nearly whole town. Then, a beautiful chapel was built. The missionaries left at some point in time. The members got mad at the Church because promises were allegedly made by the missionaries which were not kept. Perhaps some financial and employment-related promises were made. The district president wanted to donate the chapel to the community because only 12 or 15 people ever show up for services. I did not see things that way and we sent Elders Villalobos and Eduardo to the Cerro to reactivate the town, to reclaim the people. This is a photo of their first Sunday there and of the chapel. Good things will certainly happen there.

Did you know that some genius decided that the influenza porcina, swine flu, actually started in the State of Veracruz about 3 or 4 hours away from nowhere? If so, it did not happen like this. The missionary is Elder Bada from Peru at a meat market in Minatitlán. They make tacos of that which he is paying close attention to. The child is likely someone's grandchild, but not ours.

But, I know why we took this one. The swine flu panic was in its early stages. We came to work and all the office elders were wearing cubrebocas or mouth covers. They even had one each for Mom and I. So we decorated the white board with nuclear warnings and dead cockroaches and snapped away. The missionaries are Elders Barrio, Blanco, Judd, Page, Eduardo, Huaman, y Lopez.

I am not sure why we took this picture, but maybe it is because Elder Eduardo was about to leave the office to go back into the field. The missionaries are the assistants, Elders Blanco and Barrio, materials secretary Elder Page, secretary of registers Elder Lopez Flores, president's secretary Elder Judd who lived to tell about it, finance secretary Elder Eduardo, and finance secretary-in-training Elder Huaman.

Isn't this a great picture? It is of Maria and her son, Oliver in the Rio Nanche near Tierra Blanca. The missionaries are Elder Perez Segovia y Elder Rodriguez Garcia.

Turned out that Elder Judd is allergic to shrimp. He loved the taste but the aftershock was...shocking. He started to swell and we hurried off to WalMart to buy Benadryl. While I was in the back at the pharmacy, Elder Judd was in the front of the store (in the bathroom) rejecting the tasty shrimp breakfast. He said that it was better going down, but getting rid of it was a very good thing. By the time I got back with the Benadryl, he was laboring to breathe. I gave him two capsful of the liquid and then called the doctor. He said 20cc by mouth and that if his breathing was not improved in about 5 minutes to get him to a hospital for a shot of hepenephrine. That is what two capsful turned out to be. Basically, anaphylactic shock was settling in on him at a rapid rate. We were 5 minutes from the mission home so we opted to take him there and give him a blessing. The blessing and the meds did the job. Elder Judd fell asleep on the couch while the assistants and I finished our meeting. Mom babysat him. All is well and he lived to tell about it. The office elders teased him about having lips like Angelina Jolie, whoever that is. What a waste of good shrimp.

This is Elder Judd. He is the secretary to the president. He is from Mesa, Arizona. For some reason, he was at our house for breakfast one day with the assistants. Mom went all out and made scrambled eggs with shrimp and avocados. You put all that on a flour tortilla, from Costco, dump on a little habanero sauce, and mmmmmmm.....

Okay. This is weird. In a neighborhood, a regular Veracruz neighborhood with houses and people and small children, only a few blocks from a beautiful new church house, there is this one house of some people who are members of the Church. Some people here have dogs for pets, some have a parrot, most have dogs--noisy, skinny dogs with lots of ribs poking out and fleas--but these folks have a crocodile. Yup. A real, live croc which is at least 8 feet long. They also have some cute little fat kids running around. The youngest we saw was about 18 months, probably. The croc tank has no cover. Why does one need a cover on the croc tank? The beast hasn't eaten anyone yet! The missionaries have fed live chickens to the croc. This is in Veracruz, I say, not out in the middle of nowhere. ¡Vive México!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Just a couple more missionary submissions for the health inspectors. Elders Norcross and Rusk were at a baptism in the gulf. Afterwards, the people all went to work and gathered up some little crabs for a lunch. These little guys are just too much work for me. Bring on the Alaskan Kings. Elder Lopez Balderas is holding an armadillo shell while the man behind him prepares it for the table with his all-purpose machete. They say that armadillo is very delicious, kinda like chicken. They also say that it is a protected species, but that doesn't seem to matter. So are turtles. We were invited to go to a member's home sometime for armadillo. We were tempted until we found out that this particular family gets theirs exclusively as roadkill. That may be more legal, but it is less tempting.

As long as we are on interesting food, here is mojarra which is a delicious but somewhat bony, perch-like fish. It is a staple along the Papaloapan River where Elder Garcia Flores works. They cook it, though. The other kettle is a turtle in many pieces. If you click on the foto you can guess at some of the parts of the creature. Everyone says it is delicious. Kind of like chicken.

Elder Garcia Flores worked in Cosamaloapan when he got try this delight meal--iguana!
He said it tasted a lot like chicken.

We went to Rancho Alvarado for a special interview. The family was a referral. Sis. Alvarado was a less active Catholic and her husband a practicing Evangelical Christian. In the beginning he accepted the missionaries wanting the opportunity to teach the youngsters something about the Bible. In the end, he and his family were taught by the Spirit.

Mom and Sister Alvarado are under a tamarind tree. They picked the fruit and fresh-squeezed the juice. In her hand is a glass of the juice and in the other hand is a bottle of honey from the rancho. Mom liked the juice. They say tamarind is a powerful laxative. I opted for water. That can be a powerful laxative as well, but this water came from a bottle. The missionaries are Elders Yebra and Nava.

We have commented a few times about ranchos. Lots of people live outside of towns on a family ranch. Some are very small. Others, like this one are large. The Alvarado Family moved here to a ranch outside of Tierra Blanca, arguably the hottest place in the mission. They came from Xalapa where the weather is undeniably the best, cool and fresh. Bro. Alvarado's mom was dying and they decided to relocate here. That is very typical of the Mexican culture, to leave all that they have to attend to a parent who is passing away. The pictures were taken in the dry month of April. It is very green and lush there during the rain. The house has no windows. It does have shutters. The Alvarado's raise cows, which they milk by hand, and then they make yogurt. They sell it in town. They also have pigs, chickens, mosquitos, ants and a pet parrot which speaks Spanish.

In Acayucan, the Zapata Ward, we have two great missionaries. They are Elders Castro and Espinoza. This family is the sister and brother-in-law of a man who needed a special interview. The man in the back is the special interview. The man in the front is the brother-in-law and first counselor in the bishopric. To get them to smile I have them say "José eSmeeth" and then snap the picture. If you click on the foto you will note some missing teeth. Great family. The second foto is Mom doing one of her favorite things, playing with kids. These two are named Jasmín y Alison.

We didn't attend this baptism, but we love the picture. It was taken at Anton Lizardo, another place where there is no building and no font. So, they very often use the Gulf of Mexico. The missionaries are Elder Barrio from the Mexican Colonies, Elder Gardiner from North Ogden, and Elder Ramirez from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.

The missionaries call this river the River Cumorah. Elder Collins from Centerville, Utah is in the river with this baptismal candidate. There is no chapel in Santiago Tuxtlas, so they use the river. Pretty, huh?

Elders Hernandez from Mexico City and Holman, a new missionary from Tigard, Oregon work in Coatepec near Xalapa. In an interview, Elder Hernandez wept that he had never baptized or completed a family. He has been a successful missionary, but every missionary dreams of baptizing families. To complete a family means that one spouse is a member and that the other gets baptized. He asked for a blessing. He was promised that if he worked hard, was obedient, and went forward with faith that he would find a family to complete or baptize that very week. This is a picture of the family they found that week and completed in the waters of baptism.

When we go south for zone conferences we have to stay overnight. The hotel is called the Terranova. This view is from the restaurant and is taken very early in the morning. The picture was taken on March 30. This is the dry season so the grass is very brown. When the rain starts in June all will be brilliant green. The river is the Coatzacoalcos. The fisherman is headed downstream toward the Gulf of Mexico which is only a couple of miles away as the crow flies, but many miles as the river runs through the flat countryside. The beds in every Mexican hotel we have been in are hard as a board. But, at least in the Terranova the mosquitos are well fed--by us. Click on the foto to enlarge and see the fisherman.

Elder Ricks from El Dorado Hills, CA received a new companion, Elder Rodriguez from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. That is a city in Mexico you have heard about where the violence is so intense. They replaced another set of missionaries in an area which had not been particularly fruitful. It is a beautiful area of Orizaba called Ojo de Agua which translates Water Eye. Within a couple of weeks they completed these two families as members of the Church at their baptisms. Five people in one day. Good work, Elders!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hector Vilaboa looks like a great guy, doesn't he? Well, he really is . . . when he is sober. About 21 years ago he wasn't sober. He was at a college graduation party in Veracruz at a swanky hotel. Some harsh words were exchanged between groups. A fight broke out. Hector and his friend ended up on the floor. They were kicked and beaten. Finally, he had received enough and removed a large knife from his belt. It ended up between the ribs and into the heart of the main agressor. Hector and his buddy walked to the police station and turned themselves in. The locals said that it sounded like self defense to them and washed their hands of it. 28 years later the missionaries, who are assigned to work in a little sugar cane town called Tres Valles, found Hector. He loved the story of Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. He loved that the missionaries taught him to pray. He loved that the members accepted him like a brother and a friend, even though they knew what he had done. He is a big farmhand. He has his own tractor and plows fields all day long six (he used to do it seven) days a week. He wept like a little boy as he told me about all the love and peace he felt at church, that he wanted to be baptized so that he could help others as he had been helped. Well, this was a killing and it required him to live the life of a member of the Church for some months until I felt comfortable writing the First Presidency for permission to baptize him. He did his part. After nearly five months, I wrote the letter. Several weeks later, the response came. He was cleared and was baptized the first week of June.