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.
Pdte. y Hna. Pete and JoElla Hansen
Pdte. y Hna. Pete and JoElla Hansen
Saturday, November 14, 2009
One Saturday Mom and I drove to Santiago Tuxtla. The elders there had a special interview lined up with a husband and wife, the Gutierrez. You may recall that Santiago is the branch we organized in March. There has not been a family baptized there since we have been around. The baptisms have all been singles. This couple was incredible!!! The elders said that this man would be the branch president someday. There is no doubt. The interviews were powerful and they were baptized that afternoon. They said that they were drawn to the Church because of the Church message and position on the importance of family. Included is a picture of the little alleyway leading to their very tidy and well-appointed home. The door to their home is the white metal on the left past the potato chips and across from the potted plants.
The first foto is of Elder Carter from Bakersfield, CA and Elder Courtright from West Valley City flanking the Familia Gutierrez on their couch. The second is of their baptism day. The members include her brother who is behind Elder Carter. They are members and live in the town of Moctezuma which is a very long two or three hours away. Elder Courtright arrived in the mission field on the Tuesday before the baptisms.
Elder Carter told me that a gospel principle which has really motivated Bro. Gutierrez has been his learning of the priesthood. He is fascinated by all of that. On Thursday night before the baptism, the elders called. They had just left the home and were very sad. Sis. Gutierrez had decided not to be baptized for awhile. She felt that she needed to beg forgiveness from her mother-in-law for leaving Catholicism. That is the mother of her husband who is excited about the priesthood, get it? I don't.
Anyway, I told the elders to get back over there and give her a blessing to fortify her and to teach them about the power of the priesthood. Tell them that you love them and that the most important moment in their life will be to be baptized as a family. They did that right after their next appointment.
They went to the Gutierrez home. They were surprised to see the missionaries again. The elders said that they needed to visit them again. They told them that they loved them. They talked about the temple and about sealing. They taught them about power in the priesthood. They asked if Sis. Gutierrez would like a blessing. She consented. As soon as they closed the blessing and lifted their hands from her head, she said, "Yo voy a bautizarme con mi esposo." "I am going to be baptized with my husband." The elders called and reported weeping.
In his interview, I taught Bro. Gutierrez that he would be able to baptize his children. He was amazed and thrilled by that, and also to learn that soon he could give blessings to his family like the elders did to his wife.
Sis. Gutierrez serves as first conselor in the Relief Society presidency. Bro. Gutierrez has now received the Melchizedek Priesthood and is first counselor in the Santiago Branch Presidency
It is good to be a Mormon.
We received a request from some sister missionaries to see if the Book of Mormon might be available in Spanish Braille. We found that is is available, the newest edition being 1992 with selections originally in 1875. We bought three copies, knowing that we had two blind investigators at the time. They cost, are you ready for this?---42 pesos a copy. On today's exchange rate that is $3.15 American. The Book of Mormon comes in four binders. Amazing.
This is one of the brethren who received the Braille (Spanish) Book of Mormon. That baptism, in a place called Tres Valles, included an alcoholic, a blind man, and a young boy. The missionaries are Elder Decker from Pleasant View, UT and Elder Estrada.
Pico Orizaba is an extinct volcano which marks the border between the Veracruz and Puebla Missions. It is the highest point in all of Mexico at over 19,000 feet. 70 miles due east lies the Gulf of Mexico--sea level. On his homeward flight, Elder Blanco was able to shoot this photo of Pico Orizaba as he left his mission. Click on the foto to really see the crater.
On the way out, assistant to the president Elder Blanco handed over the keys to the kingdom (and the cell phone, and a stack of stat sheets) to the incoming assistant to the president Elder García García in an in-office ceremony we knew nothing about...until we saw the foto.
New zone leaders, 31 July 2009. We hold zone leader council in the mission office council room every six weeks on the Friday of transfer week. It is a great meeting. This is where we set and reset the direction of the mission each six weeks. We look back at fotos of these young men and weep while we marvel at all the good they have done as faithful missionaries. Standing are Elders Barrio, García García, De La Cruz, Bowen, Rodriguez, and Bada who was filling in for Elder Rusk. He was in the hospital suffering from dehydration as a result of lots of fluid loss. Get it? Sitting are Elders Minetto, Page, Nieves, Norcross, Morales, Collins, Perez, Solesbee, Ficiur, Martinez, Stojic, Eduardo, Lindsay, and Esquer.
I had a baptismal interview with this wonderful man, Martín Jaime Guevarra de Castillo. He lives a couple of blocks away from the Estación Chapel in Xalapa. For years, he told me, the people on his street would say, "Here come the Mormons" and he would hide not answering the door when they knocked--kinda like I do when the TJ's (Testigos de Jehová) knock on our door. Kinda exactly like that.
A few months ago he noticed people coming out of the church. They were clean, happy, smiling, families, and he wondered why. He wife drank too much. They were struggling because of that. He would take her out of the house on Sundays to watch people leave the church. He would say, "Look. Why can't we be happy like they are?" They had discussions about these things, but their family problems got worse.
When the missionaries came by the next time, he let them in. His wife hid upstairs. They began to share with him a brief message of the Restoration. He became very excited and asked his wife to come down. Hestitating, she did.
He asked the missionaries to tell her everything that he had heard. They did. She started to cry. The missionaries asked if she was okay, if there were something they could do for her. She said that she was fine, but that she had never felt anything like this before in her life. She said that she had a drinking problem and now knew that she would never drink again in her life. That was all in the first visit. She begged them to return. They did. The family of four was baptized on 18 July 2009. A month later, Bro. Martín baptized his 20 year old son, rescuing him from the streets.
This is that joyful July generation just before they passed through security to fly home. It was a hard moment for the two of us. We have some eternal friends in this group. They are Elders Hernandez, Garza, Lopez, Blanco, Carmack, Ling, Sierra, Bangerter, and Sister Ramos.
On July 30th we bid farewell to some outstanding missionaries. Here they are standing in line trying to get through the red tape of getting on the plane. They are Elder Carmack, Sis Ramos, Elders Garza, Lopez Balderas, Sierra, Bangerter, Ling, and Hernandez.
In the second picture you can see that Elders Ling and Carmack are searching. Elder Carmack's family was in Veracruz and he could not keep his eyes of the doors just in case they showed up at the airport. They didn't, but it was a joyful reunion later at the mission office. Elder Carmack´s dad serves as his stake president. He released Elder Carmack from missionary service in the mission president's office and then they toured for a few days.
Sis. Ramos was one of our most successful sister missionaries. At the end of her mission, someone gave her a turtle. They are illegal to possess without a license--protected species. She returned from the temple the last night of her mission. She stayed in the mission home. Sheepishly, she came out of her room and said,"I can't find my turtle." Turtle??? We didn't know she had it. Thankful we are that she found it.
She packed it in damp toilet paper, put it in her purse, and carried it onto the airplane. Yes, her purse went through the X-ray machine. Either security didn't notice it or they are used to seeing bones in purses.
On 4 May 2009 we sent these two missionaries, Elders Villalobos and Eduardo to the Baxcaxbaltepec (Cerro de las Iguanas or Iguana Hill) Branch in the Los Tuxtlas District. There were 12-15 people regularly attending, no men. The date of this foto taken after Sunday services is 26 July. There are now about 30. We see the little elderly lady with the cane everywhere that there is a church activity in the district. She has no car. She has very little money. She mostly walks, slowly. She is a 100%-er. More good news to follow!
Right before the previously mentioned Xalapa bautizona, it was my privilege to interview two people for baptism--a husband and wife. The elders had told me that the woman had an abortion. Her interview was very smooth and she was authorized to be baptized. The man had told the missionaries that he had killed someone. That is a tougher interview and these folks have to receive First Presidency approval to be baptized.
The man told me that he lived in Galveston, Texas a little over a year ago for 9 months. While there, he was taught the gospel by sister missionaries. He bore his testimony to me and expressed disappointment that he was not able to have been baptized there because he was not married. He returned to Mexico and told his wife about the Church. He told her that they needed to find the Church, find the missionaries, get married, and get baptized. They went to church in Acayucan, 4 hours away, and Catemaco, 3 hours away. Finally, they found a chapel in Xalapa where they live. The missionaries taught them for a long time. The wife was slow to decide because of family pressure. The children were baptized a couple of weeks before. When she made the decision, the missionaries helped them get married which they did on Thursday. It was Saturday evening. Now all that was lacking was this pesky homicide problem.
Bro Maín had told the zone leader in his baptismal interview that he had killed someone about six years ago. Normally, the zone leader doesn't ask a lot of extra questions, and in this case they asked none. I had interviewed the wife afew minutes earlier. Her abortion was six years ago. As I interviewed the Bro. Maín, I simply asked him if he had helped his wife get an abortion six years ago. He hesitatingly and very emotionally said that he had. I asked if that is what he meant when he told the elders that he had committed murder. He said that was it. That was it! He considered the abortion a murder. ¡Wow! I have never had an experience like that.
He committed to never be involved in an abortion again. What a joy it was for me to tell him, "I have good news for you. I authorize your baptism today with your wife. It will take place as soon as you can change your clothes." We embraced and off he went to prepare himself for the waters of baptism.
The missionaries are Elders Castro and Zárate.
Generation 27Jul2009--Elders Young from Oregon City OR, Kohlieber from Simi Valley CA, Whitely from Lindon UT, Gutierrez from Los Alamos NM, Courtright from West Valley UT, Greenfield from Ogden UT, Valle from Nampa ID, Ruiz from Delta UT, and Bullock from Purcellville VA. We received no Mexican missionaries this time because the Mexico MTC was closed for remodeling.
This was a great July evening in Xalapa. The zone leaders organized what we call a "bauti-zona." That means that every companionship in a zone baptizes the same week or day. A bauti-zona is rare. In fact, in this one someone changed his mind about receiving baptism, so one companionship did not baptize. But, still it was a great evening. The service was very well organized, highly spiritual. They had special numbers featuring a cello and violin. The missionaries sang that Armies of Helaman Primary song. It was moving, all singing, happy, dressed in white. After the closing prayer, the second foto was projected on the screen in the stake center as the missioaries sang "Love One Another."
The missionaries are (back row) Elders Page, Gates, Vazquez, Menet, Holman, Castro, Martinez, and Zárate; (middle row) Elders Christlieb, Phipps, and Llanos, Sisters Pech and Sanchez; Elder Hernandez kneeling in the front.
This frame contains an amazing crosstitch. It is not a painting or a photo. It was a gift for us from the mother of Elder Ezra Blanco who went home to Mexico City the next day. Elder Blanco served faithfully as a missionary, was very successful spending the last six months as an assistant to the president. He was recently hired at the MTC in Mexico City.
Friday, November 13, 2009
This is the cool "taxi," the little pickup that came in from Isla. All the people in the picture loaded into the pickup--Elder Solano, his mom and dad, his brother and his unmarried wife, his other unmarried sister-in-law, two babies, and the branch president. They sat on the borrowed chairs from the branch building. It was a really miserably hot day. They drove all the way in from Isla, 3 hours, and then all the way back. Elder Judd from Mesa is modeling the seating arrangements.
Elder Eloy Solano Sosa. Some months ago the elders in Ciudad Isla called me and begged me to come meet him. They told me that he was a great guy who joined the Church with his wife a little over a year. She developed a fatal heart disease. I don't understand if it was fatal because their was no local treatment, no money for the treatment, or if it was hopeless. That aside, Eloy and his wife decided to be sealed in the Veracruz Temple and did that. Two weeks later she passed away. Eloy really wanted to serve a mission. Two problems. He was already 25 and he had been married. But, we went out and met him. What a great guy! So, I determined to plead for an exception to policy through the First Presidency. After time we got the word and he was approved to serve.
Elder Sosa was called to Uruguay, Montevideo. He had no money. But, he had a little pineapple machete. So, he went to work in the pineapple fields of Isla. He harvested pineapple for 14 hours a day, six days a week, to earn 120 pesos a day so that he could get ready to serve his mission. When it was time for him to fly to South America, his branch president loaded Elder Solano and his whole non-member family into the back of his little pickup and drove 3 hours with them into the mission office so that I could set apart the missionary. It was really something special to meet with them and set him apart.
You can see that they are far from wealthy. But, they are humble and the missionaries continue to work with them. They are trying to help the younger couple get married so they can be baptized.
One of the assistants, Elder Barrio, knows Eloy because he started his mission in Isla. He also knows the financial situation. He gave Eloy his own digital camera. Now he has none, but he knew that Eloy would never be able to buy a camera. "Besides," Elder Barrio told me, "I am going home soon and I already have lots of pictures." Mom learned of this and hurriedly contributed her new and unused USB memory chip so that Eloy can backup his photos. We have tried to help Eloy a little bit financially, but he is not very good at receiving.
He gave me a significant keepsake. He brought me his machete which he used to harvest pineapple and finance his mission preparations. It is hanging in the office in between my picture of Joseph Smith translating from the plates and the Lehi Stone which Dad gave me a few years ago.
Anton Lizardo is a place we have mentioned. It is about 15-20 minutes downcoast from Veracruz and is a destination point for weekenders, a fishing town, home of the naval academy, and a great missionary area. It is not yet a formal branch, but is a group dependent on a ward. The members of the group meet in the home of recent convert Juan Sanchez and his family. About 45 people are attending each week. The missionaries are baptizing many young men between the ages of 14 and 16. Here are two of them before they entered the water standing with Bishop Torales of the Veracruz Lomas del Mar Ward. The missionaries are Elders Rodriguez Vazquez and Rojo Schultz. Yup. That is his name. Elder Christopher Kevin Rojo Schulz from Mexico City. His ancestors emigrated from Germany a couple of generations ago.
In the Gulf, Elder Rojo is instructing one of the converts on how to place his hands for convenience while the ordinance is being performed. Bro. Sanchez went out into the water to serve as one of the witnesses to the baptism and to congratulate the young men after their baptism.