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

Saturday, June 19, 2010

You will love this story. Elders Villalobos and Chavez had been teaching the younger lady in white. The home, which is in Ciudad Mendoza, was small. As is sometimes the case, there was a room divider separating a common area from a sleeping area. The divider in this case was a blanket. Unbeknownst to them, the lady in the wheelchair was sitting behind the blanket listening to the lessons which were being taught to her granddaughter. They finished teaching all the lessons to the younger lady. Together they made the plans for her baptism. As they were about to leave and much to their surprise, the lady in the wheelchair wheeled past the curtain and into the other part of the small home She said, "I have been listening. I would like to join your church. I have learned that baptism is required. May I be baptized?" A couple of weeks later, she was.

We love Mexico.

Elder Castañeda and Elder Hernandez A. work in Los Tuxtlas, Jardín Branch. They taught this little family of four, three being baptismal age. The boy decided at the last minute that he did not want to be baptized. He just got cold feet for some reason. But, he came to the baptismal service of his mom and sister. Elder Hernandez baptized the mom. Elder Castañeda entered the font with the daughter. As he was getting ready to perform the ordinance, he looked to the front row where the boy had been sitting but he wasn't there. After the girl was baptized, he found the boy hurriedly changing into whites. He looked up and asked, "Is it too late?" He was also baptized. The missionaries reported that after the service there was a very emotional and tearful family hug. Sidenote: Elder Castañeda's father will be the new president of the Villahermosa Mission.

But, before he went home, Elder Collins baptized one more time. This was between sessions of general conference and on Easter Sunday. The missionaries are Elders Cerano, Bullock, Ricks and Collins.

Earlier that morning Mom invited all the office elders to the mission home for an Easter breakfast. I think she went through four loaves of bread making French Toast for them. Because of training new staff, we had extra office missionaries that day. The missionaries are Elders Hernandez Loyola, Campos Aranda, Cifuentes, Yebra, Holman, Collins, Amador, Ricks, Brandt, Jimenez, and Sosa. A couple of days later, Elders Brandt, Sosa, and Cifuentes were in the field and Elder Collins was home in Utah.

We were attending a baptism in the Villa Rica Stake Center in Veracruz between general conference sessions. My phone rang. It was Elder Villalobos in Ciudad Mendoza which sits at the base of the extinct volcano, Pico Orizba about two hours to the west of Veracruz. They were also preparing to perform a baptism but encountered a problem. The man who desired baptism did not fit into the traditional white baptismal overalls. What to do? The missionaries asked if they should baptize him with the overalls covering as much as possible but with no shirt. Not a pretty sight to imagine. This suggestion came from the bishop's counselor who was presiding at the service. He thought they could do that with the doors in front of the font closed. That didn't sound right to me. We don't do secret ordinances without witnesses. We perform sacred ordinances with witnesses. I suggested that the man wear the white shirt he wore to conference. He came in a blue one and does not yet own a white shirt. Elder Villalobos said that he could lend the good brother his own shirt. Elder Villalobos is the one on the right in the picture. What were the chances? Zero. (The other missionary is Elder Chavez.) I told them to baptize the man in his light blue shirt. I could think of no policy which states that you absolutely must wear 100% white in the font. I know it is recocmmended, but . . . So, that was the plan--or so I thought. When the baptismal photo arrived, this is what we saw. Looks like overalls part-way on, someone's white shirt on backwards, and a towel or two draping the expanse. Pretty inventive, huh? And all in white.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Then the Camarrillo's, the new familia mormona, walked from the beach back to the humble little home of the host member to change and drive home to Piedras Negras, almost an hour away.

(This is the last post for March, 2010.)

She dreamed that she was dressed in white walking along a beach. She had to walk through a lot of boats and then walked into the surf where she also had walk through a series of many small waves with her husband, also in white, until the water was deep enough. There, she was baptized by him while two missionaries, also dressed in white, stood and watched.

To get to the water, to where she was baptized, we pass by many, many small fishing boats which are all up on the beach. She walked through several sets of small waves to get out to where the water was deep enough. Her husband walked her through the waves with his arm around her shoulders. The elders were dressed in white and were in the water to witness the baptism. Interestingly, when the elders called me to confirm that the baptism was set for a date and time certain, I told them to suit up in their whites so that they could go out into the water to serve as witnesses. I knew nothing of the dream.

Bro. Camarillo baptized his wife and three oldest sons on Wednesday afternoon. Afterwards he said to me, in English, "How do you say? Mission completed!"

Bro. Camarillo is a wonder. He was 100% active the whole time, gave talks in church, and was called as the young men president. Sis. Camarillo started coming to an occassional activity. But the women in the branch bugged her about getting baptized, so she backed off. Then, she decided that she couldn't get baptized because they would talk about her. She was right, of course, that they would talk about her. But, she suddenly became very active, going to services and acitivties with her husband and taking they boys with her. Then, one night 15 or so days ago, she was at Relief Society activity. She swore the women to secrecy, not to talk. Now, that was a gamble! She said that she had decided to be baptized and that she would announce her decision in church on Sunday! But, one of the sisters broke the oath and told the elders who called the district leader, who called the zone leader, who called the assistants, one of whom was the aforementioned Elder Collins, who called me. But, we didn't tell anyone. She announced in church as was planned. She wanted to get baptized at the same beach where her husband was baptized. No one cared. Water is water. And the water in the gulf is probably both warmer and cleaner than the water in the font.

Wednesday we met at the beach. A member has a little shack of a house a couple hundred yards off the beach. There, Sister Camarillo and her three boys changed into whites. So did her husband who was to perform the ordinances on his entire family and the two missionaries, Elder Dunn from Louisburg, Kansas and Elder Gonzalez Ochoa.

Before the baptism, I interviewed her again. I asked, "Why now?" She said that she had always wanted to do this, but just had to work through some personal stuff. She knew it was right and that now is the time. I told her that I have thought of her dreams a million times. I asked why she had chosen that her husband should baptize them. She said, "Well, because about 20 days ago I had another dream."
I wrote in a family letter about the Camarillo's some months ago on August 30, 2009 and included this photo of Elders Quintanr and Bradshaw.

"Thursday we drove a few places in the mission to conduct interviews for baptismal candidates. One place was Piedras Negras, a small pueblo 90 minutes away from Veracruz. They have no chapel, but a decent branch of the church meets there. The father of the Camarillo Family was baptized two weeks ago at the beach. His wife hadn't been to church enough to qualify and was trying to work through her guilt for leaving Catholicism. Their three sons decided to wait until she was baptized. The interview was strong. She was ready and worthy. Before I continue the story, let me quote this to you.

"As he talks of the last days and some of their signs, the prophet Joel wrote, 'And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions' (Joel 2:28).

"Of course, the scripture writers famously wrote favoring the male gender, but certainly almost all scripture applies to both men and women. It is amazing the number of people who have told me about their dreams. I have never heard anything like them, especially with such frequency. Sis. Camarrillo had a series of dreams.

"At the end of our interview (she had been interviewed earlier by the zone leader but was in need of a special interview) I asked, 'Hermana, ¿porqué quiere bautizarse?' 'Sister, why do you want to be baptized?' She said, 'I have enjoyed the teachings, I have read a lot from the Book of Mormon, I have prayed. But, the dreams. That is it.'

"She explained that the missionaries have wanted her husband to baptize her. He will baptize the boys, aged 15, 14 and 10. But, not her. It is because of the dreams. She has not explained the dreams to the missionaries because she says she is a little cerrada, closed, about this. It is spiritual to her and unique. But, she opened up immediately and told me about the dreams. I didn't ask to be told. She volunteered.

"She had dreamed several times, during the teachings, that she was standing alone in a river, up to her waist. She was all alone. She didn't understand. That was all there was to the repeated dream. Then, she was interviewed by Elder Collins for her baptism. That night she dreamed again. It was different. This time she was dressed in white. She was not in the river, but was inside a church. She was standing in a baptismal font and her two missionaries, Elders Bradshaw and Quintanar, were also in white preparing to baptism her. A lot of people were standing around in a semi-circle watching. She told me that the missionaries should baptize her.

"After the interview I went and talked with the husband and boys, congratulating them on becoming a familia Mormona. He said yes, it will be good, but lately the demónios, demons, have been bothering them. I explained that now that he had been baptized and received the Holy Ghost, and that his wife and sons were about to do the same, that this would strengthen them against the adversary. He went on to rant a bit, saying that the demon hadn't even spoken to him for over ten years, and now that he was baptized LDS, now that his family was about to do the same, the demon was molestandoles, bothering them almost every day. But, he said, it doesn't matter because his family is going to be baptized and they will not go back to that church. Then, I realized that the 'demon' he referenced was the priest at their local parish!"

Well, Sis. Camarillo was never baptized. The demon continued to visit. There were times that the missionaries would go by and she would not come out. She was sick once and they offered a blessing, but she would not come out. I told them to back off. They needed to let her make the decision. We are not here to force our agency upon someone else. That is a violation. I asked them to go by every week or two but never to mention the word, "baptism." They did that.

On the afternoon of March 31, 2010 we drove to Anton Lizardo to a beach baptism of a lady named Berta Camarillo. We met at the humble home of some members. They have no windows, but can close the shutters when the wind is too strong.

The host family had been on the beach early the morning and helped some fishermen pull in their nets. They were rewarded with some small fish which they hurriedly cooked up for the baptismal party.

On the inside of the door of the home was a family home evening chart.

This is a letter which Hna. Flores from Mexico City wrote with the attached photo.
"We have had grand miracles this week. We are applying the phrase 'Have faith even if it is late!!!' We have worked for a long time with Juan and Dina, I think since the beginning of the mission. We have left behind many people, nevertheless, there has been a strong feeling to not drop them, and it was for a great reason. Juan has a great testimony but also sometimes doubts his answers and he wanted to ask and ask if it was true!!! Even up until 2 days before his baptism he kept on doubting and his mom also, however, both had a lot of faith. Finally, Saturday came, Juan's baptismal day!!! Now Dina, his mom, didn't want to be baptized until the 27th. So, we went to pick him up and his mom began to ask a lot of questions about baptismal clothing, but my companion and I did not imagine what would happen. We arrived at the church and got Juan ready and Dina said to us, 'If I want to be baptized now, can I do it?? We said, ?Yes hermana!" She said, 'That's good because I brought my baptismal clothing!!!' WOOOOOOW¡¡¡¡¡ My companion and I were very happy and she [Dina] immediately talked with the zone leader in an interview. The thing which impressed us the most was that we asked her, 'Why hermana, why did you decide to do this?' She said, 'Because of faith.' Such simple yet powerful words, 'Because of faith.' I am so very happy. The best part is that exactly one week earlier my companion was praying before we went to sleep and she said, 'We thank Thee for letting us see Juan y Dina dressed in white.' [We are teaching our missionaries to work with the 'eye of faith' as described in Ether and Alma, to see their investigators dressed in baptismal white and in temple white.] After the prayer I said to her, 'Hermana, how did you know? I, too, saw them dressed in white,' and we wept together. We didn't know how, but we knew that they would be baptized. And it happened!"

There are beautiful miracles in spite of tribulation which happens in our lives. IT IS WORTH IT!

Some of our missionaries are really pleased with their physical development on their missions. Two such are Elders Ricks and Cifuentes.
Our missionaries pay attention. As drove through San Lorenzo, down a steep hill, we saw a man on crutches struggling up the hill. He had only one leg. He was truly struggling. I watched through the rear view mirror as the man crumpled to the ground and slumped in the gutter. He was not drunk. It was very hot and humid and he just couldn't go any further. Elders Ricks (El Dorado Hills, CA) and Collins (Centerville, UT), the assistants, were in the van with us. They were watching out the back window. Before I could stop the van and say, "We need to help him," they were out and running back up the hill. I got turned around and the pictures show what we saw.

They carried him, piggy-back, up to the top of the hill and about a quarter of a mile down a side street to his home. Elder Collins carried him in. The elders reported that they walked into the house carrying the man. There were 3 or 4 adults sitting around watching soccer on TV and eating. They just looked at the missionaries. Here were two young white guys helping a handicapped non-white guy, one carrying his crutches and the other carrying the man on his back. Unbelievable to them, I am sure. The missionaries took the man to his room and lay him on his bed. He wept as he thanked them. They walked out, picking their way through the family members who said nothing, but stared apparently amazed.

In San Lorenzo, a much bigger town, we stopped to make a U-turn. What appeared to be a wedding was just ending. This little girl saw us and ran up to our car and knocked on Mom's window. She stared at us and smiled, asking us questions so fast that we couldn't answer them. It is possible that in her nine or ten years that she has not seen a white person. We really were way out there. As she talked and smiled, I again thought of Clay and wondered what he could do for this sad little mouth. The stubs of teeth that you see go down to the gums and are black. As we drove away we wondered if she had been weaned on a bottle of Coke.

Here, we were several miles and many kilometers due south of nowhere. It is in an area where we are not allowed to proselyte because it is too distant from any church center. The tiny town is called Loma Bonita. We were exploring on our preparation day with the office elders. We were in uniform, but they were in civvies with permission, regulation name tag attached to the T-shirt.

As we drove through Loma Bonita on the mostly dirt road we saw these boys walking along. One was carrying what I thought was a large iguana, probably for dinner. Turns out it was a different variety of lizard. It was a crocodile, quite alive.

I slammed on the brakes and jumped out yelling "¡A ver! ¡A ver!" "Let's see! Let's see!" I asked to hold the beast. This was another "first" for me--holding a live croc! It was actually over 3 feet long. It had teeth, too. Zoom in a little and you can see a few of them hanging out the front of its mouth. (Clay is saying, "Stop by the office. I can fix that smile.") So, I was pleased that the kids had its mouth bound shut.

The owner is holding the clothesline cord which is attached to the reptile´s leathery neck. I guess that makes it easier to take the croc for a walk. I asked where they got it and they pointed over there to a small lake. Look closely and you will see that some of them have wet hair and damp clothes. Yup. They had taken the crocodile for a swim. Of course they had! You don't play fetch with one of these guys. Their teeth would ruin the ball!

The owner then told me that it actually belonged to his grandpa who would be glad to sell it to me for only 900 pesos. $67.50 American is probably a heckuva deal for a year-old crocodile, but our bathtub isn't all that big. That, and we got a memo from the Area Presidency just this week reminding us that pets are not approved for mission presidents. Exceptions are granted, but only by the First Presidency. After a brief evaluation, Mom and I decided not to bother el prophet with this one. Honest, that memo really came by email earlier in the week.)

After the photo shoot, I reached into the van and found a 10 peso piece to give to each of the little boys. My favorite muchacho is the second from the left of me, the one with the Bette Davis eyes and the Arnold Schwarznegger chest (still developing). He stood with that coin in his hand and just stared at it, mouth hanging wide open. Then, he looked up and me with those big eyes and said quietly, "I never expected this, but I am very grateful."

They all walked toward the little town store, presumbly each to buy a Coke. Coke takes me to the next story and picture.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The final San Lorenzo picture is a little boy in a shop on the museum property. They sold handmade souvenirs. He made this one himself, so we bought it. It is a little bowl to put salsa into. It cost 30 pesos.

We took him to his humble home. His family was wonderful. The mom was teaching one of the daughters how to make hand made tortillas. They are cooked, in this case, on a piece of bended steel over hot coals. Kernels of corn were soaking in a broth to then be mashed and kneaded with lard to make the masa from which tortillas are made. Really delicious. They had a glass cage full of baby chicks. After a few months, when they are big they will be used to make the broth and also baked, roasted, grilled, stewed, and many other varieties of excellent chicken dishes. The house was spotless. The cooking area has a shade and the dirt below is shiny and hard. Very clean, actually. I would eat there, no problem. We gave them a Book of Mormon and talked with them about what it was, that it is the history of the people who lived anciently in the general area. We can't proselyte in San Lorenzo; we can't invite them to listen to the missionaries. It is way too far from a church center, from priesthood support. But, someday as the Church spreads outward from the centers . . .

We were very hot, sweaty, and dirty. We were done. (But the campesino wore a jacket.) Our amigo walked back to the van with us. We offered him a ride back to town. First though, he hustled off to check on a cow and then returned with a couple of oranges. He peeled them with his machete like you might with a paring knife, cut one in half and shared it with Elder Collins.
We were leaving the mesa and saw a campesino, field laborer, riding his old bike up the dirt road which ascends the mesa. We stopped him and asked if he knew where any artifacts were. At first he played dumb, but as we talked he seemed to trust us and led us to the big altar slab and to this.

Why in the world this artifact is still in the wild is almost a much of a mystery as what it really is. Obviously it is a very large disk of stone. It is corroded, or better stated, it is oxidized. Look closely and you can see lines and carvings--designs of some kind. Click to enlarge.

The man standing by Elder Collins is our campesino friend. His family has run cows on this land for many years. His grandmother showed him this disk when he was a child. He sayes that beneath the oxidation it is jade. You can see a greenish color in the area which the elders rubbed off a little bit. Value? Who knows? Incredible. He showed us a couple of other interesting artifacts as well and mentioned that he knows where one of those big stone balls is, just sitting out in the field. We feel very fortunate to have seen these things. We suspect that very few have.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The man at the museum told us that we could go up onto the mesa but that it was not signed or marked. So, we did. We found, laying right on top of the ground, a piece of acqueduct just like those in the museum. Elder Hernandez is holding a stone which was cut to fit into the channel, possibly to serve as a dam or diversion for the water flow.

We also found this huge cut stone altar which Elder Collins tried on for size. The ground above it had been removed. It would have been located 2-3 feet underground when it was uncovered.
Tenochtitlán was established in about 1500 A.D. The rulers made their people build a treasure city by constructing a mesa of 300 hectares (over 700 acres) and 50 meters high. There they built worship sites and sacrifical sites. There are more than 200 mounds in the immediate area. We saw some of them and a couple of pyramids, as well.

The land is generally flat. You can see the mesa from quite a distance.

The man on the left hand of Elder Collins says that he was part of the team which excavated the Olmec head in 1994. Most of the artifacts are in larger museums in Mexico City and Xalapa. The missionaries are Elders Jimenez, Brandt, Holman, Sosa, Hernandez, Collins, Ricks, and Cifuentes.
On a Saturday we took the office elders on an adventure to a remote archaeologocal site called San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán. It is way out there, south of Acayucan and Oluta in that narrowest area of Mexico in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán is one of the four major Olmec site which have been discovered. The other are La Venta, Tres Zapotes, and Laguna de los Cerros. It was a gamble. We did not know what we would find. Whoa! What a find it was!

In the small museum in the very, very small town there were some great artifacts. There were pieces of aqueduct.

There was a spherical stone which is about three feet high. One of these also sits in one of the quads on the BYU campus. There it is labeled "Pre-Colombian Ball." No one has figured out the purpose of these huge spheres cut from stone.

There was an interesting cat and human figure. The human, which the label in the museum said was a mythical Olmec, seems to be descending head down from above. You will have to click on the picture to make it big enough to see the human figure. He is wearing a loincloth, a bird hat, and is carrying a scroll. The feline's eyes are large discs and its eyeteeth are enlarged and curved. The sign said that the meaning of the carving is unknown.

The Olmec head is in nearly perfect condition. It is 1.80 meters (5.9 feet) tall and weighs over 8 tons.

This picture is taken from the highway bridge which crosses the San Juan River. In this area we have found, right along the side of the highway, a couple of dozen pyramids. This area is called El Remolino, or the Whirlpool. There are several pyramids and montículos very nearby. You can see one of them and a wall to the left of it. We would really love to know who lived here and what went on. Click on the picture for a closer view.

We left Paraíso and headed back to Veracruz which is a solid 3.5 hours away. On the dirt road leading from Paraíso to the hard road, we passed this cement house. Electricity is very hard to come by. A very few people have generators when they are so far away from even a small town. Many just rely on sunlight. But this man, whom you can see sitting on his hammock, has solar panels! Now he can watch soccer all day long.

The first foto is of Mom standing outside the metal meeting house with two member sisters who were spending the entire day at the property with another sister and her little boy. They were cooking pozole, a chili and chicken soup. They were very proud to tell us that the whole chicken floating in red broth in the huge 10-gallon pot over the open fire was puro pollito de rancho, or pure ranch chicken. None of this store-bought bird. They were cooking for a branch party that evening. In California, we might call this plucked pollo a free-range chicken. Very expensive, that free-range chicken, but not in Paradise (Paraíso). They are all over the place.

As we drove back to Veracruz that afternoon Mom marvelled, and she was right, at how the Church works. On the board hanging on the wall of the meeting house is written "Isaiah" and "2 Nefi 9:6." It seems that someone had been teaching the Isaiah chapters of the Book of Mormon all the way out there in Paradise. They are too distant for the stake to really help them a lot, but not too distant for the spirit of the Book of Mormon to open up to them. So, now we will send missionaries to try to help for awhile.

It is all about timing. Timing is influenced by the numbers of missionaries we have. SLC is sending a lot right now. I have talked with them and they are trying to get us up to a full complement before the mission division. That gives me the opportunity to do some things I have wanted to do for some time. Fun!

This is El Paraíso, Paradise. It is quite remote, almost primitive. There is no grocery store, but a couple of abarrote stores where you can buy the essentials--Coke and chips. There is not a real town square, very rare for Mexico. There is no pharmacy, but there is a veterinarian and vet supply shop. Good enough. It is jungly and a dengue fever zone--all of southern Mexico is a dengue fever zone. The branch is very small with an attendance of 15-18 each week. There is no cell phone service for miles. There is no internet cafe for the missionaries to write home each week. They will live in a small cement house behind a bigger cement house. Neither have a toilet or shower. There is a community setup kind of in between the buildings, but it is private and clean. The picture shows zone leaders Elder Reyes and Moyar walking along a path to find the Relief Society President.

The Paraiso Branch has been in business for a long time and was once strong enough that the Church approved a building to be constructed. The members began on that project about 22 years ago. The town priest stirred up the locals against the Church. They told the members to stop building. The members continued. The opposition forces rallied and came to the property armed with clubs and threatened to kill the branch president. They stopped, but appealed to a higher authority. After a short time, the mission president, I think, came to town with a letter signed by the governor declaring the building project to be legal, reminding the pueblo of religious freedom, and demanding that they leave the Mormons at peace. The town thumbed their nose at all of that and continued with their threats. The building project stopped and was never revitalized.

There is a small metal building on the property where they meet, but the formal chapel has yet to be constructed.

Eight or nine years ago some missionaries came to town. One was named Petersen. The sisters we spoke with didn't recall the name of the Mexican missionary. The missonaries had lists of membership records. They began to work with the branch and found that about fifteen young people, who thought they were members and were all very active, were not baptized and confirmed according to the records of the Church. So, one day, they were all baptized together in the nearby baptismal font--the river. Some time after that the missionaries left. Now, years later, on April 6th, Elder Taylor from Weed, CA and Elder Rodriguez Salinas will go and reopen the area. This will be quite an adventure.

Honestly, I don't really know the story of this baptism. It happened in Xalapa and and the two missionaries are Elders Del Rincon and Tobler (O'Fallon, IL). They sent us two baptismal fotos. One was reverent and we used it in our slide show, but this was shows the huge muscles of our missionaries. You wouldn't want to mess with these two would you?
On the Friday afternoon before general conference Mom and I left the office and went home to work. I planned to doing some computer things and working on zone conference presentations, but first dinner. I had just dived into my bowl of Cheerios when I received an email on the Blackberry. It was from Salt Lake. First the setup.

On Sunday, March 7 of 2010, Mom and I attended the Acayucan Stake Conference. There lives a man, a Bro. Garcia (named changed). I had known about him for over seven months. The missionaries had found him, and he and his family desired baptism. The problem is that he had been involved in a couple of murders. He worked for a while for the treacherous Gadianton-like Los Zetas gang. I was very skittish about this man and his history because of what I know about the gang. As I sat on the stand, there he was, seated on the fourth row with his family. Before the meeting started, I was urged to leave the stand and greet him. Something very unique happened to me.

Normally, as you know, Latinos shake hands and then embrace in a traditional abrazo. I did not shake his hand but opened my arms to him. As we embraced something inside of me said in Spanish, “Háblalo.” “Talk to him.” He was weeping. So was I. I had no intention to interview him that day, but my mind was changed. After the conference I did so.

Bro. Garcia went to jail at age 16 for stealing cars. Very shortly after his release he was married. He and his wife have been married for 15 years. He is 33. They have three boys, aged 12, 6, and 4. Within a few months he joined the Mexican Army and resigned after a few years. Feeling the need to leave their native town, Jáltipan, they moved to the border. He traveled into the United States several times to work in the fruit. He said that he never did anything against the law and always returned home faithfully to his wife.

At the same time, some of his old army buddies had joined Los Zetas. They recruited him. There are levels of pruebas, tests, which one must perform to become part of the gang. That can include various crimes up to and including murder. Bro. Garcia did not actively participate in a murder, but he covered evidence of a couple of homicides. He also trafficked drugs for the gang. He was involved with them for about two months when he decided he had to escape their grasp. The only way out of the gang is to go to prison or to be killed by a gang member. Taking the risk of them tracking him down and killing him, he left in the night and returned to Jáltipan.

Immediately, he and his wife began to search for a religion to join. They needed peace in their lives. She was visiting to a local Christian organization, but he found no peace there. A friend invited him to the Jáltipan Branch and he went alone. He found what he had been looking for. The next week he took his oldest son with him. After a couple of weeks, his wife joined them.

Bro. Garcia has been waiting, studying, attending, and living the life of a member of the Church as best he can without having received the ordinances. They hold family home evening every Monday. They pray and read the Book of Mormon as a family every day. He has now completed it three times. He has almost finished Jesus el Cristo. He cannot home teach because he does not hold the priesthood. So, he goes out on his own and visits members. He introduced his brother and family to the Church. They have been baptized. Ten friends and family are taking the missionary lessons because he has introduced them to the missionaries. He was a true convert, not baptized.

He has not ever talked with the police about his crimes. If he did so, Los Zetas would have him killed, either in prison or out. He told the missionaries that if Los Zetas find him and kill him before he is permitted to be baptized that he knows that his wife will have his temple work done for him and that they will be an eternal family.

I wrote a letter to Salt Lake and presented his case. Only two weeks later, the Blackberry buzzed. I opened the email. His baptism had been authorized. Immediately I called the elders and told them that I was on the way to interview him again, a nearly three-hour drive.

Mom and I pulled up to the beautiful little Jáltipan Branch Chapel in the Acayucan Stake. Bro. Garcia was waiting outside dressed in white shirt and tie, pressed slacks, polished shoes, and weeping. At his side was his wife and three little boys, all baptized except the youngest. The baptismal interview was very spiritual. Particularly when we talked of Pres. Monson, he wept and said in response to the question about his belief that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet, he said over and over again, “Lo sé. Lo sé. Lo sé.” “I know. I know. I know.”

We had just concluded our interview when a little knock came at the door and Hno. Garcia´s youngest son, maybe 3 years old and just learning to talk, peered in with his big black eyes shining. His dad asked, “What are they going to do to me?” The little boy closed his eyes tight, put his thumb and finger aside his nose and squeezed it shut while pointing down the hall toward the baptismal font while smiling and peeking out through those closed eyes. “Él conoce la pila,” Bro. Garcia told me. “He knows the font.”

We were done. I opened the email on my Blackberry and translated the letter for him. Then, I showed him the letter. He wept again. We talked about his working toward his sealing with his family in a year or so. He said they would be sealed in a year, That is their goal, but, “First”, he said, “we will be there many times to do baptisms.”

That was Friday night. Hno. Garcia was baptized Satruday morning between the first and second sessions of conference. The man who introduced him to the Church performed the ordinance. The little blask-eyed boy is also in the picture. He is never too far from his dad. The missionaries are Elders Ramirez Arambula and Menet who is from Manti.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Below we mentioned the old pueblo Cuetzalan. What an interesting and old village. At the center, the zócalo, is a huge Catholic church. Huge and very old. They must have had quite a building fund a couple of hundred years ago. The elders and Mom went inside. I parked illegally and guarded the van. I guess it was illegal. A guy trying to show us where to park, for a fee, said it was. So did a cranky lady inside a little grocery store. But across the street was a very interesting store loaded with tools and TV's and binoculars and knives and appliances and everything else almost that you could think of including toilets and several kitchen sinks. The proprietor had to be Jewish. I asked if I could park out there. "Of course," he said. "Come in.... but only for 30 minutes!" In other words, "I want some of your money and then you should leave."

He knew that I was very interested in a machete hanging out front. I have looked for a machete with something other than a plastic handle. This one was steel and the handle was wrapped in leather. It was in a nice sheath, leather and was marked at 250. I asked if that meant pesos and he said that it did, but that today's price was 200 pesos. That is $15.3724, American. The best price I have seen for a decent working machete with an orange plastic handle was 550 pesos, no sheath. I pulled it out of the sheath and it was engraved! It was really more a sword than a machete. I thought for a minute that I had found the sword of Laban. Guess not. The guy had about 25 of them hanging there. The one I bought had some Spanish saying engraved on it which loosely translates, "Don't get your undies in a bunch." I will need to work on a more accurate translation. Elders Collins and Ricks returned with Mom from investigating Catholicism. The elders immediately went crazy and had to have one, too. Theirs say, "It is better to lay your burden on a burro than to carry it yourself." Wise counsel.