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, May 30, 2010

These are on the highway from Acayucan to El Paraíso and are near the Media Aguas (Middle Waters) site. You can see one of the pyramid-shaped hills overgrown with grasses and the wall beside it.

This is called El Remolino (the Whirlpool) and sits on the banks of the San Juan River. The foto was taken from a bridge on the freeway.

Now that we know what we are looking for, we see pyramid-shaped hills everywhere. These are taken from the freeway and are only a couple of hundred yards from everyday traffic. The region is near Isla, and only a few miles from Los Tuxtlas and the Hill Vigía. On a clear day one could almost see these from the top of Vigía.

The inside of the church was surprisingly light and bright. The padre had just finished baptizing a baby. The font, or baptismal baptismal basin, is on a rollaway table.

This big sign talks of the requirements for five of the Catholic sacraments. Presumably, Greg Olsen has given permission for his painting of Jesus sitting on the Mount of Olives to be used in this church in Cuetzalan.

Click on the picture to enlarge

Driving along the highway we saw in the distance a town, Cuetzalan. It is a pretty good-sized community compared to tiny Yohualichan. We found our way over there primarily because we wanted to see the huge church you can see in the picture. It seemed so odd that such a large and ornate church would exist in such a very remote area. The town center is the church.

In front is a tall and ancient tree which was brought in for the voladores to climb up and swing from upside down, suspended from the top by ropes. It is a crazy event to watch on a metal pole, but on this dead old pine? No thanks!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Those who go to church in Yohualichan go to this very old Catholic house of prayer which sits at the base of the ruins.

The architecture is strikingly similar to El Tajín. That major archaelogical site looks like it is about 30 miles, as the crow flies, from Yohualichan. But to drive there would take many, many hours.

Always adventuresome, Elder Collins decided to crawl into the one of the pyramids hoping to find some ancient trinket. The hole was part of a water channel. Did they have indoor plumbing? He found something all right, but we decided it was probably a piece of really old rock.

The ruins, as you can see, were impressive. They were built by the Totonaca in about 400 A.D. The Totonaca were there between 400 and 800 A.D. This same people built El Tajín and the world famous Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon of Teotihuacán at Mexico City. The Toltecs attacked Yohualichan in 800 and ruled there until about 1200 A.D. Then the Nahua overthrew the Toltec at this site. They still live there. Everyone in the town speaks Nahua and many also speak Spanish, especially the younger people.

The Saturday after the baptism, we drove two hours out of Teziutlán to a place called Yohualichan. The ruins there have been nicely restored. The town is tiny. On the way in we were met by the young boy on the left. He chased us for over 3 kilometers down a rough cobblestone road.

He wanted to guard our car for us and be our tour guide. We pulled into town and were met with the other boys. They all wanted to guard the van. We gave them each ten pesos to do that. Nothing was going to happen. Tiny town, somewhere between low and no crime. When we came back from walking around the ruins, these two little guys ran over to the van and leaned on it just to show that the had been guarding it. They got a bonus couple of pesos. The other boys had vanished.

Elder Teisina came here from Salt Lake and was assigned to work with Elder Gil Jimenez in Teziutlán. Part of their area includes the San Juan Xuitetelco Ward. This young man, aged 14, was baptized on a Friday evening after zone conference. He is of a part member family. It is always a little nervous when our missionaries sing, but they love to do it and most of the members don't seem to know the difference. These four, Elders Collins, Ricks, Gil, and Teisina did a very nice job of "I Know that My Redeemer Lives," unaccompanied. After the baptismal service the members had a big feast of real Mexican food. We left.
The letter below this picture was written by Elder Ostler from Eagle Mountain, Utah. He is the one with his pants rolled up so that he cold go out into the water to witness the baptism in Antón Lizardo. His companion is Elder Stewart from Kanab. I have copied Elder Ostler's written account of the conversion story. It is a great story. Part of the fun will be to read it and realize that Elder Ostler writes some things in English translating literally from Spanish. It is not always really smooth, but is fun.

About two weeks ago we were walking down the street. I saw some kids playing outside, and decided to ask them where they lived so we could go and talk to their parents... they pointed to a really poor, humble house. So we went and knocked. An older lady came out, and when we told her we were missionaries, she let us pass by. We started talking with her, and then a lady came out. She joined in with the lesson. At the end we started to ask them what they did on Sundays, and if they were married (typical things we do to find out if somebody will progress or not). Turned out that the lady that had joined in wasn`t married with the guy she was living with, and she worked on Sundays. We invited her, as always, to church. We made an appointment to go back another day, but when the day came, for some reason or another, we weren`t able to go, and we decided just to leave her, thinking that she wouldn`t progress.

A couple weeks later, we ran into her in the street. She stopped us and started talking to us, asking why we hadn`t gone to her house. She told us how she had read the folder [pamphlet] we left and really liked it (to tell you the truth, I didn`t even remember who it was, and neither did my comp). We made an appointment to see her, and as soon as she had left, we remembered who it was. So we went to her house, and while there, her husband came out of the room and joined in with the lesson, the same as has happened the first time with the sister. We taught them about the gospel, and when it got to the time of inviting them to get baptized, we asked both of them if they would get baptized just like Jesus Christ had done. To our great surprise, the brother told us "yes" right away. The sister was a little unsure at first, but then also responded with the same.

Just a few moments later, one of the brothers came into the room also, and told us that he had already been baptized by the Mormons about twenty years ago. He also told us that his brother, the one who had accepted the baptism, had been baptized as well. What a surprise! Well, the wife and daughter still had to get baptized. As I mentioned before, they weren`t married... and the sister didn`t have her birth certificate, which is needed to get married. She had been trying to get it for some time, but was never able to. We got her info, and that day we called the mission offices to ask them to help us with her certificate... we ended up getting it just a few days later, which is a huge miracle. I`ve asked for them before, and it`s taken up to three months to arrive. The best part is that a couple weeks ago they were doing free weddings for Valentines Day, so we were able to have everything we needed on time. When we told all this to the family, that we had got them their birth certificate, and that they were going to be able to get married really soon, just a week after we had told them we would help, they became very happy. At the end, we asked the sister to give us a prayer. She gave thanks that we had gone to their house, and that they were going to be able to get married so soon, that their "dream was going to come true so soon." At the end of the prayer, they both lifted up their heads, with tears in their eyes, which they blamed on the smoke from the fire.

The brother received the priesthood two weeks ago, and was able to baptize his wife two days ago, on Saturday. What a wonderful family! I truly consider them as a miracle, a great gift, from God. It´s amazing to see the Lord´s hand in this area, Antón Lizardo. I know that he truly is blessing us, and everybody that lives here!

-Elder Ostler

We drove up the Hill Vigia in the mini-van. It was a great ride. The road, when there was one, was these parallel ribbons of cement. Some folks were a little nervous but it was no worse than some of the places we have been in Grandpa's old red truck. By the time we got to the top, clouds had moved in and we could see nothing. Still fun though, and a great memory.

While the ladies were looking through the local market Elder Allred, Pres. Johnson, and I opted out of the witchcraft and got our shoes shined for 10 pesos.

The first weekend of March is the brujo (witch) festival in Los Tuxtlas. The epicenter for all of Mexico and much of Central America is Catemaco. They gather for a couple of days and do ritual cleansings of themselves. Then, out they go to sell their power to believers. They set up booths, like these in Santiago and do their thing.

The sign says that this witch, Francisca Vergara Mendosa, is prepared to do card readings, palm readings, has potions to sell, removes bad spells, and also sells amulets and other "magical" junk jewlery. Groovy.

On preparation day the Los Tuxtlas Zone hiked up the Hill Vigia. The southern stretch of Santiago Tuxtlas is in the valley below. They are Elders Tryon (TX), Taylor (CA), Castañeda, Gutierrez C, Orozco (San Diego and Mérida,MX), Amador, Edgington (UT), Hernandez A, Sierra L, Favela, Coronado, Degollado, Gutierrez, Preston (CA), Dominguez, Antuna.

In the first week of March, 2010, Elder Daniel Johnson of the First Quorum of the Seventy visited us. His brother served in Veracruz as mission president just before we did. Elder Johnson is our area president. The other man is his cousin, Clyde Allred who serves as executive secretary to the area presidency. They are both from the Mormon Colonies. The mother of Elder Johnson's wife and my mom taught elementary school together in Sugar City, Idaho.

They came to train the zone leaders. The zone leaders are: Elders Edgington (UT), Divildox, Del Rincon, Haro, Solesbee (CA), Castillo, Reyes (Perú), Judd (AZ), Vazquez, Larsen (UT), Gumeta, Moyar (UT), Amador, Carter (CA), Minetto(OR), Ricks (CA), Tobler (IL), Watts (UT), Yebra, Collins (UT).

We really like the Hill Vigia. This picture is taken just down the street from the Santiago Tuxtlas Branch.

In Catemaco there is a large lake. It is deep and fresh. The local fishermen bring in a variety of mariscos, seafood, including white-fleshed fish and fresh water shrimp. Everywhere in town there are little booths where you can buy togogolos or snails. They are quite chewy but very edible. This picture is a gilded fisherman. The local members call him the Angel Moroni.

Elder Favela and Gutierrez Cadena contact a man with a machete in the tiny pueblo, Baxcaxbaltepec (Cerro de las Iguanas or Iguana Hill). Brave missionaries, huh? And successful ones, too.

This is Alan Borg. We served together in Las Vegas during the war (Vietnam). He was an incredible companion. Lots of fun AND we had a little success together, too. He emailed and said that he was flying his homemade airplane to Veracruz from Salt Lake and asked if there was anything we needed. You can't get Frosted Mini-Wheats or any of the Chex cereals here. So... Thanks, Elder Borg!

(This is the last entry of February, 2010. Posted on May 25, 2010.)

One of my favorite parts of that day was to take off my socks that night and find this critter getting ready to drink my blood. I had about ten of them. Yes, it is a tick. Elder Ricks said he had fifty. Mom had none. They only like warm blood. That was a joke, okay??? (Click to make him bigger.)

The first two pictures are taken from the tallest pyramid. The elders are standing on top of one which is west of the plaza. But, it might be a ball court where they played that Mesoamerican ball game--winner take all, loser sacrificed by removal of the head or the heart. In some applications of this really fun game, the winner was sacrificed because it was an honor to be sacrificed to those gods of stone, clay, metal, or wood who do not hear, speak, or see. So, it makes sense to give your heart and mind to a game like that, doesn't it?

I panned back the zoom lens so you can see three pyramids at once. Interestingly, we could hear each other talk from that distance. If you shouted a bit, you could really understand. Mom hearkened back to the story of King Benjamin. They gathered their families, faced him during his speech, and relayed it from group to group by word of mouth. That is what we did with missionaries stationed on top of each of the pyramids. Very interesting.

Always click on the photos to make them bigger.

This is our mission archaelogical team leaving the site: Elders Ricks (CA), Collins (UT), Sosa, Hernandez Loyola, Brandt (UT), Cifuentes.

I woke up about 6:30 one Saturday morning and lay in bed for a few minutes mapping out all the stuff I had to do. Mom awoke about 6:45 and we talked. She commented that we were running out of time. She was right. Yesterday marked 20 months since we arrived in Veracruz. She pointed out that we have a long list of places we want to see but are not doing a good job of it. She also reminded me that a lot of things we want to see will be out of reach in four months when the bottom half of our mission drops off into the new Villhermosa Mission.

She was right. It was a beautiful morning. I had a mountain of work, but that is no different than any other Saturday. So, we hurried and got cleaned up for the day. I answered and wrote a couple of mandatory emails. We grabbed a brief breakfast and headed off to Los Tuxtlas. We knew that the office elders were there. They had permission to go down down there and visit a couple of places. We had read about a remote and largely undiscovered ruin and pyramid area called Laguna de los Cerros, Lake of the Hills.

We have a book called "In Search of the Book of Mormon" by David Palmer which Kari Berejkoff, the Pleasant Hill Institue Secretary, sent me. I surely haven't had time to really study it, but I did find a footnote many months ago which reads llike a treasure map:

"Just before arriving at the town of Corral Nuevo, there is a kilometer 194 sign. Go thirty meters past the sign and turn left onto a dirt road. Follow it for 0.2 kms. At a fork in the road, go right and travel . . . for 1.4 kms. The road then turns left. Follow it in a westerly direction for another 1.4 kms. The road then swings to the left, heading south. The largest of the pyramids are the to right, about a kilometer further. From the top of one of them a ballcourt can be seen, and scores of mounds stretch off in a southwesterly direction. The ruins probably date to the . . . late Jaredite period."

Excited? We were. So off we went to find mile marker 194 with a dirt road 30 meters on the other side of it. The road was very easy to find. The other directions given were way off, but all of a sudden there was the large pyramid on the right. We found it! It was surrounded by open fields, other smaller pyramids, and Mexican Brahma cattle--a couple of which were bulls, but we all speak Spanish so it was okay.

The first picture is an aerial photo of the place taken by my old-time missionary companion, Alan Borg. He visited us here the next week in his homemade plane. We all scaled the tall pyramid. It was crazy! Mounds, other pyramids, unreal. Obviously, we all loved it. You can see the big pyramid on the left end of the two parallel walls in between which would have been a plaza with a sacrificial altar in the middle. A smaller one is on the other end. Both have holes in the top. It is likely that excavation teams took stuff out of them

This site is one of four Olmec sites in the world. All the experts say that the Olmec are the first civilization in the Western Hemisphere. Their arrival dates roughly to the Jaredites leaving the Tower of Babel, but who knows for sure? Not me. Anthropologists date Laguna de los Cerros starting around 1400 BC. It thrived for nearly 2,000 years and then suddenly died off. No one has figured out why.

The second photo shows the office elders running to and beginning to scale the large pyramid.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Don't you love these smiley guys! I decided to tack on a letter from Elder Kohlieber, from Simi Valley, CA, which describes the events leading up to the baptism.

"I've got a neat story that I want to tell you. Last Thursday we were feeling a little bummed out cause we hadn't had much success in the past 3 weeks. We felt inspired to look at the area book to see if there were anyone that we could baptize for the last week of February. We picked out ten names. We separated these names from the rest of the names in the area book, we prayed for insight to see which of these persons had been prepared by the Lord to accept a baptismal date. After a few moments of listening and meditation, the both of us had the distinct impression to go and visit Roberto.

"Later that day upon arriving at the house of Roberto, we found him in his bed sick with the flu. He received us with a big smile and said 'I don’t know why, but for the past couple of days I´ve been thinking about you guys.' We smiled back, introduced ourselves [Roberto had been taught earlier by two other missionaries], reviewed a little bit of the Restoration, and there on the spot invited him to be baptized. He said yes, and that he really liked the church when the last elders had invited him but the only reason he didn't accept the baptismal invitation with the previous elders was because his current job didn't have a schedule and that he often worked on Sundays. The interesting thing is that since he got sick he hadn't been able to work, and that his boss got tired of waiting for him to get better so he fired him. Without anything to impede him from going to church he accepted the invitation, was baptized soon after.

"Roberto is super excited about his conversion and about the church, he has invited the rest of his family to listen to the missionaries and is really looking forward to entering into the temple house of the Lord, too. I'm really grateful for the opportunity I have to be here in the mission, for the unique opportunity I have as a missionary to invite people to be baptized and make the first step towards the celestial kingdom, and for all the blessing I've received from my Heavenly Father including this very special refferal from the Lord."

This is the new Zone Leader Council consisting of Elders Reyes (Perú), Solesbee (Anaheim,CA), Haro, Del Rincon, Collins (Centerville,UT), Tobler (Fallon,IL), Judd (Mesa), Divildox, Castro, Minetto (Tigurd,OR), Edgington (AF,UT), Moyar (Payson, UT), Yebra, Carter (Bakersfield,CA), Gumeta, Watts, (Sandy,UT), Amador, Vazquez, Larsen (Orem), Ricks (El Dorado Hills,CA).

Every time we are at the airport this nice old guy is there. He is a porter, but we never use them. I wanted a picture with him because I like his hat. Click on the photo to zoom up and you will understand.

This is the generation of Veracruz missionaries who went home early in the morning of 25 Feb 2010. They are Elders Parra, Garcia Gonzalez, Perkins (Boise), Estrada, Hnas. Sanchez y Guzman, Elders Gaytan, Hernandez Contreras, Johnson (Canada), Martinez Haro, Wray (Rigby, ID), Olvera, Rusk (Fla), Castro, and Davis (Cedar City, UT). As of this writing (23May10) Elder Estrada is engaged to a sister from our mission who went home in April, Elder Wray is engaged to a recent find. His old flame Dear Johned him when he had about 3 or 4 weeks left. Several have "friends," and two in this picture are dating seriously. I don't want to jinx them so they will remain unnamed.

Elders Ficiur, Wray, and Perkins sport their sombreros. I have a couple of really embarrassing pictures of Elder Ficuir bawling his eyes out. He did not want to leave his mission. But, he called Veracruz on Mother's Day and all is well.

We have talked before about the Norte winds--those powerful tempests which blow directly from due north. This is the mission mini-van in the strongest Norte we have yet seen. It was so goooood that we piled the going home generation into the two vans and drove to the malecon (levee or in this case, sea wall)to experience it before we started with exit interviews.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

This is the generation of new missionaries, 21 February 2010, and their trainers. We received 2 Mexican sisters, 10 Mexican elders, and 1 Honduran elder in the morning. In the evening we received 5 gringos--well, five from America. One is Tongan-American and one is Samoan who doesn´t really speak English well. He has lived in Sacramento for 2 years. Before that, he was in the islands. So, he translates from Spanish to English to Samoan and back. What a fine missionary. If he can grasp the language, any of them, he will be among the very best. He is back row, left near the palm tree in between a little white Utahn and a big Mexican with his eyes closed.

Don't get out the calculator. That totals 18 new missionaries.

Always click on the photo to enlarge it.

Every few months, like every three or four, we have a meeting called the Coordinating Council. It is a killer meeting, meaning it kills your body to sit there for 8 to 10 hours. No kidding, the meeting is always that long. The Area Seventy is in charge. The mission president must also be there. All the stake presidents in the mission are supposed to attend and the temple president usually comes for awhile. I had this picture taken thinking that it might be the last one of us together in this mission. All 14 stake presidents and the Los Tuxtlas District president were there. I would name them all but you might be bored with that. Okay here they are, if you insist. Back row: Pres. Hernandez, Tuxtepec Stake; Romay, Acayucan; Hurtado, Teziutlán; Temple President Bickmore; Solana, Veracruz Mocambo; Velasquez, Xalapa; su servidor; Hernandez, Los Tuxtlas; Gallegos, Tierra Blanca. Front row: Pres. Flores, Coatzacoalcos Puerto; Rojas, Minatitlán México; Hernandez, Coatza México; Mata, Mina Tecnológico; Area Seventy Raymundo Morales; Canaan, Orizaba; Ramos, VC Villa Rica; Meza, VC México (son-in-law of Pres. Ramos to his right); Bravo, VC Reforma.

I like Mexicans. They make me feel tall.

On Christmas Day, Elders Edgington and Favela who work in Anton Lizardo, prayed. Christmas Day is not a hugely successful day for missionaries. There is lots of focus by both potential converts and members on other things. (New Year's Day here is 100 times worse, maybe a 1000 times worse.) They prayed that they might find a family to teach. They went out to work in the afternoon after a morning of giving service. They saw a couple playing with their little boy across the park. Elder Favela, the junior companion and a missionary with four weeks in the field said, "We have to go talk to them."

The man was a member, not active. His wife, and they were married, was taught by the missionaries over a year before in Catemaco. She was very pregnant at the time. She was told by her doctor that she could not be baptized because immersion in water would hurt the fetus. (Catemaco is that place where all the witch doctors are. True story.) After the baby was born, the family moved to Anton Lizardo. Having heard that story, Elders Edgington and Favela invited them to church and to receive the lessons. They accepted both invitations. Elder Edgington was transferred two weeks later, but the second photo is of the couple standing outside the Veracruz Temple before the sister was baptized in the adjacent stake center.

Elder Chacacanta is a Peruvian missionary. He is the only member in his family, 26 years old, youngest of 17 (I think), and a great little missionary. He got a lot done in his two years. In the photo is a baptismal service on February 6th. Actually, two of the people in white were baptized. The little handicapped girl was not baptized--no need. But, the family dressed her in white so that she could feel that she was part of the deal. Elder Chacacanta is the missionary on the right. Elder Davis from Cedar City is the tall blond missionary in the back. On Feb 13th, three more of the people in the picture were baptized. This week or next, a family of three, also in the picture (the man in the back with glasses, his wife to his left and their daughter in front of them) will also take their baptism. They just have to work through that annoying "We need to get married first" problem. Rules, huh?
The other missionaries are Elder Meza and Lázaro.

This little lady is the pillar of the Baxcaxbaltepec Branch in the Los Tuxtlas Distrct. That is a dialect word for Cerro de las Iguanas which means Iguana Hill. Her name is Pilar which translates pillar. Maria del Pilar Meso Atono is 80 years old. She was baptized 2 years ago. She walks 3 kilometers each way to church and never misses. She is marvelous. My privilege was to interview her to enter the temple and receive the endowment which she did right after this picture was taken. Marvelous.

The missionaries are Elders Gutierrez Cadena and Hernandez Contreras.

Sis Perez wrote this letter which I tried to translate so that it can be shared.

Last week was very beautiful. Hna. Vergara and I forced ourselves even more. I want to tell you about Hna. Araceli who was baptized 2 weeks ago. During that week she told us that her work is that she sold bread and took home only 20 pesos [that is about 15 cents]. She wanted to make tamales so that she can make more money, but she needed a steamer. We told her that we would look around with her and try to find a cheap steamer.

She wanted to pay her tithing and asked us for an envelope. I gave her one. This Sunday we were surprised. She came late and and was not able to take the sacrament. She wept about that. So, she waited for the next ward to start and stayed for the first 15 minutes so that she could receive the sacrament. While she was waiting, a member approached us and said that he wanted to give Araceli a ride home. When she got there, she received a new steamer from the ward, money to make tamales and other things. (This is a very good result of an excellent ward council in which we presented her case.)

We could see Araceli's sincere desire to pay her tithing of 2 pesos and then receive much more that the 10%. SHE RECEIVED MUCH MORE!!!!!!! She will remember this experience all her life. It is a beautiful testimony that the Lord knows our needs and helps us to grow according to the desires of our hearts. Araceli is a true convert. This is the Lord's perfect church and He works among those who have faith.