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.
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