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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

We couldn't resist this picture. It is of a grade school in Queretaro, north of Mexico City. In Mexico all school children wear uniforms all the way through high school. They look really nice. This picture is fun for us because it shows two of our missionaries about 10 or 11 years ago. Elder Zárate is currently serving as a zone leader in Tuxpam and Elder Amador was an assistant to the president until recently. He is currently training a zone leader and a new missionary in Los Tuxtlas.

This post marks the end of July, 2010.

We created a word in the mission. It is bauti-strito and it signifies that each companionship in s district all baptize in the same week. The first bauti-strito in the north of the mission was in the Papantla Zone. The baptizing missionaries met for a photo in white to remember the historical event. They are Elders Cook, Castellanos, Gil, Miguel, Ruiz, y Teliz. We usually have three or more bauti-stritos in the mission each week.

Elder Anderson came in all alone one night from Vernal. He is tall. He is also a fully-papered diesel mechanic. His trainer is Elder Gates, when he came to Veracruz he wouldn't eat anything! No he eats everything in sight. The other missionary is Elder Santamaria who received a new Mexican missionary to train a few days later.

Sometimes it really rains here. This was on Saturday morning, the 24th of July. We had a breakfast meeting with the zone leaders, Elders Selvas y Courtright, in our hotel in Poza Rica. Afterwards, we gave them a ride to their area. We stopped on the road. The rain was coming down like buckets emptying all at once. We commented that they needed to be careful not to drown. All of a sudden one of them yelled, "That doesn't matter! We have an appointment to go and invite a family to get baptized"--and away they went.

Later on the 23rd, Elder Quintero and Berrett baptized David, a young man they had taught. He is studying to enter medical school, but is excited to serve a mission before completing school.

In the same service they baptized this cute little 10 year old. His mom and sister are LDS. Now he wanted to be baptized, too. Elders Selvas and Courtright, the zone leaders, were there also. Elder Selvas taught the family a few weeks earlier when he was in that area.

This was one of those unique experiences. Somehow, we all ended up at the Poza Rica Burger King one night. There was a promotion. If you bought one of a variety of combination meals, you could also buy a Star Wars watch for 30 pesos. That is like $2.25 American. So we did. The watches actually worked!

On the July 23, 2010, the balance of the "extenders" gathered at the airport and sat on their bags waiting for their plane to Mexico City and then to the USA. They are Elders Moyar, Moeller, Larsen, Ricks, Brandt, Watts, Minetto, and Menet. These were some of the missionaries we met in the MTC the day they arrived and they night before we flew to Mexico. Others of them returned home about a month before. We had a spiritual bond with all of them and many unique and special experiences.

Then, they waved good-bye and got on the plane. Elder Menet got to Mexico City and his exit visa was not in order. It wasn't his fault, but he had to wait a couple of hours and fly home alone. Sheesh! But, they all made it safely.

Meanwhile, Elder Ricks spent the last few days of his mission not in the office as an assistant, but happily serving in Cazones (that spider place) with Elders Hernandez Martinez y Roberts. I think it is the dream of the assistants to just go out and work after a couple of months in the office. That is what we do now, giving them a couple of months or more to go be a trainer or some other position in the field.

The Cazones missionary house may have been the worst in the mission. Elder Roberts seems not to be worried, however. But, we were. They are now in a much more waterproof, if not all-around nicer, place.

Elder Carter walked out to the plane, took one last look and from Poza Rica flew to Mexico City in a prop plane to wait until he boarded a big jet. Very odd, but it seemed to work.

Elder Carter finally had to go home on July 21st. It was a difficult moment. He went home two days ahead of others of his generation, Elders Brandt, Larsen, Watts, Moyar, Moeller, Minetto, and Menet. They would all haved stayed for another 2 years if it had it been possible. They already extended for four weeks, as long as we could stretch it.

Elder Carter and Elder Minetto had a friendly competition. They were both zone leaders in Veracruz. Each had one side of town. When monthly stats were compiled, he who lost had to put on this dress for a photo op. Don't worry. Putting on a dress was all good, clean fun . . . I am almost sure of that.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Office elders and assistants, Elders Redfern, Canseco, Amador, Holman, Castillo, De Jesus, Ricks, y Campos Gomez. It is early in the morning and we are just leaving to go north on July 20th. Some are wearing their flip-flops. That is so that they don't get athlete's foot.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We really dislike topes (TOE-pays) which are road bumps. They are all over this place. A quote from the area president: "These Mexicans really like their topes and baches (BAH-chays, which are potholes). Buy good, wide tires."

Here some Mexicans, who love their topes, are building one in broad daylight on a federal highway. Could that possibly be against the law? Oh yeah...what law. I wondered that the heck they were doing. Mom said that they were setting up for a roadside restaurant. Sure enough, we came back through a week later and there was a little shack, a roadside restaurant where they sell those chili-fied tacos. You have to slow down for the topes, so you can't miss seeing the restaurant. And there are always locals selling fried banana chips, juices of lime and oranges and pineapple and coconut, and they sell a lot of Coke with lots of caffiene, too. You gotta make a living.

You have heard that ancient Chinese proverb haven't you?---"Don't dlink the water." There is a reason for that. We went to a baptismal service before church services in the Coatzintla Ward. The chapel is beautiful. The ward is excellent. And the water is really dirty. I have seen off-colored water in fonts, but nothing like this. The elders told us that the water to the building is pumped from the river up to a big water tank and a colonia above the church. The water comes into the chapel, and the homes, by gravity flow. That is the baptismal font. The elders say that it is always that color. Neither they, nor the Mexicans, nor we, ever dlink the water.

But, no one really cared enough to cancel the work of the Lord. That is good. We baptize in rivers don't we? (See the Calichal pictures.) Elders Butler, Tovar, and Moeller are ready to go. About 50 people attended the service and then we all went to sacrament meeting.

Look at this!

In Tihuatlán they had a service set for 6 pm. There is no font there because there is no chapel and they use a member's swimming pool--that would be the above ground variety. There is no river or ocean nearby. At 2, the member called and said that they were leaving town and the pool was not available. The elders panicked for a second and then went to work. They found out that the branch has a portable font. They set it up but there is never water in the church. Bucket at a time? Missionaries have filled fonts in churches that way. No, they called for a water truck. Mexico has water trucks that drive around and pump large quantities of water into the large containers. This fill-up cost 70 pesos. Good job. Worth the 5 bucks. The missionaries are Elders Petersen and Hernandez Nieva.
The following appeared in a family letter back in July.

"The Cazones Branch has its own building, but it is atyptical, more a long and narrow trailer. There have been 2 converts baptisms there in the last 10 months. The branch president lives 45 minutes away in the big city of Poza Rica in a different ward. (Yes, that is against Church policy. Leaders are always to be called from within the unit boundaries.) Cazones is jungly and very remote. It is hard to imagine how the Church ever started there. The missionaries are Elders Roberts and Hernandez. Elder Roberts has been there his whole mission, about 5 months. Elder Hernandez was transferred in 10 days ago. They were so excited to show us the little church which they have slaved to clean up and make presentable. There is a funny looking little baptismal font, and sparkling clean bathrooms. Because of the long drive and the chili-fied tacos I had eaten about 26 hours earlier, I was particularly interested in the sparkling clean bathroom which was set apart from the main building. It had a flush toilet, a toilet seat, and some of that blue water in the bowl. Very inviting. I excused myself. (I know. You are thinking, "Why the heck is he writing about THIS? You can skip the next couple of paragraphs if you are bored.)

"I reached for the toilet paper. It was actually in one of those official large plastic dispensers oft found in churches and other public buildings. As I reached up into the dispenser to pull out the paper I felt something light, fast, and unseen traverse my fingers. Then, I saw it.

"Brown, hairy, eight legs, half the size of my hand, and clinging to the wall in attack mode, looking at me. The bathroom is about 3 feet by 4 feet--very cramped quarters. The door swings inward and almost touches the toilet. I wanted to belch out some kind of a scream-like cry for help, but chose the manly part. Then, I thought to just run out of there, but couldn't figure how to do that with my belt down there around my ankles while two missionaries and my favorite wife stood directly outside the door. So, I very slowly arranged myself to depart the now growing even smaller men's room. (MEN'S Room. That is why I didn't scream like a little girl. I knew there was a reason.)

"Every move I made caused the brown, hairy thing to lurch. Every time it lurched, so did my heart. Finally, I was ready to go. As I reached for the door, I accidently touched the garbage can with my foot. So the creature ran down there near the floor on the right wall. I would now have to pass very near to him with my right leg to leave. I charted my course and took off on the other foot so that I could kind of twist my right leg around and not pass it through the danger zone. I really didn't want that thing to run up inside my pant leg.

"I escaped! When I reported my horrible bathroom experience to the missionaries, Elder Roberts walked in, took a look and said, 'That's nothin'. I found one this big (holding his hands about a foot apart) inside the pulpit one day.'

"Thanks for the comforting words."

Out to the east of Poza Rica, 45 minutes, is the little town of Cazones. It is very jungly there. There is a weak branch in Cazones. There has been discussion with the stake about pulling missionaries out because the work is very difficult and the branch has no active priesthood. Elders Roberts and Hernandez are there. The building is a funny little thing with a metal shed built over and around it on three sides. Good for rat and spider storage. They also have a unique baptismal font.

There goes Mom. She is headed for either a little religion or a little Coke, caffeine-free of course.

Right across the street from that chapel is the Ann Hathaway School of Beauty. I wonder if she knows about this? Nah.

This beachfront property was just upbeach from where the baptismal service took place. The missionaries actually live in better houses than this one. We require floors and indoor plumbing for almost all missionary houses.

We had the privilege to interview Villardo Vazquez Cano for baptism into the Termoelectrica Ward of the Tuxpam Stake of the Church. The water didn't work in the church house--this is becoming more and more normal--so we headed to the beach with about ten ward members. This was Elder Menet's last Saturday in his mission, so Elders Ramirez and Guthrie decided that he would perform the ordinance.

Elder Menet explained to Hermano Villardo how they would go about the ordinance.

In the meantime, Elders Ramirez and Guthrie rolled up their pants so they they could wade out into the lazy waves and be the witnesses to the ordinance. A lot of good that did.

It turned out that Hno. Vallardo was really afraid of the water. They explained to him that all he had to do was bend his knees after the prayer and that Elder Menet would to the rest. At the conclusion of the prayer, he would go stiff as a board. Elder Menet couldn't get him under the water. So, they moved out deeper and deeper.
One time both Elder Menet and Villardo slipped and fell into the water, but Villardo's feet came up. Seriously, Elder Menet had to redo this 12 or 15 times. But, the good brother really wanted to be baptized, so they pressed on. Finally, it was pronounced good.

The four of them happily returned to the beach. CPR was not required.

For us, one of the most heartwarming moments in the early days of the transition took place on July 16, fifteen days into the new mission. Elders Menet, Minetto, Watts, Moyar, Carter, Brandt, Larsen, Moeller, and Ricks (not pictured), were all invited to extend help teach our new missionaries and members how Veracruz does missionary work. These missionaries were all zone leaders except Elder Ricks who was serving as an assistant at the time. The worry was how these model missionaries would be received. Would the others think that they were hotshots who were going to push them around? I really think it was a little bit of a challenge for a couple of them for the first day or two, but instant increased success rates and the genuine love of these elders won the day.

I think they all slept on the cement floor, on a blanket, for 3 weeks. We did not buy extra beds for the short term. We are not budgeted to do that. They shared together all that they had. They ran when they worked. They really don't stroll. They really do hustle. They have to. They had a lot of investigators and no cars. We don't give them enough money to always take taxis and sometimes the buses aren't reliable. It was July. Our missionary houses have no air conditioning and no water heaters for hot showers. There are no microwave ovens or couches or easy chairs. Our missionaries do not live "above" the local people. But, they have testimonies, and a love for the work, and an appetite for high adventure and a fierce drive to preach the gospel.

We held a large multi-zone conference in the north where they were all working 3 days before the first of this group went home and 6 days before the rest of them returned home. At the end of the zone conference, we gathered for food. I was helping Elder Ricks and Mom load the minivan with materials. I came back into the stake center and noticed that the missionaries from Tampcico had gathered together the group for a photo op. Then, there was a standing ovation. They, these eight and the other remaining missionaries, would never all be together again, and everyone sensed that. I borrowed this foto from Elder Larsen who called it "Elder Brandt and the Heartbreakers." I might call it "Elder Brandt and the Heartmakers."

Click on the photo to get a good feel for their true to the faith smiles.

Preparation day at the El Tajín ruins. They are Elders Brandt, Alder, Martinez Dominguez, Larsen, Martinez Barrios, Minetto, Cook, and Hill.

U can run but U can't hide. There are BYU aficionados even in Papantla, Veracruz, Mexico. Mom spotted this sticker on an SUV parked outside the Papantla Stake Center.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Elder Gil from Oaxaca, Oaxaca and Elder Minetto from Tigurd, Oregon finished their missions in Papantla in a trio with Elder Cook from Philadelphia. Elder Gil and Minetto left as the top baptizing Mexican and American missionaries in our mission. They each had a goal of cien converts. They both surpassed it. The sign says "Project Cien. We Work for a Better Papantla." That they did and that we do.

Most of all I liked the baptismal service. We gathered inside the little chapel and sat in front of large fans. The temperature and humidity were both very high. There was a song and a prayer and a couple of talks. Then, we all walked a quarter of a mile down to the river. About 30 people were in attendance. The married couple were baptized in the river. One hundred feet downstream, a family was standing in the water doing their laundry. No big deal. In the group photo you can see the branch president, the older brother, and also the missionaries. They are Elder Cook from the Phildelphia area (Can you imagine that? From Philadelphia to Calichal!), and Elder Castellanos from Oaxaca. His cousin, a sister missionary was in the Veracruz Mission, but we moved her to the Villahermosa Mission not knowing of the family tie. The counselor and the missionary each performed an ordinance. Now the membeship of the Calichal Branch is 45--42 active.

We walked back to the church. We went into the chapel to wait while clothes were changed. Sitting on the sacrament table were refreshments to enjoy after the service ended. Can you guess what the refreshements were? A bag of those sugar wafer cookies you serve with ice cream and . . . a liter of Coca-Cola. Yup. No problem here in Mexico! I was afraid to take a picture of it, but it was very entertaining.

We waited for a long time. Then we realized that the poor guy who just got baptized was locked in the outhouse. We like Calichal.

I was much more interested in the pig and the earthen, wood-stoked oven, both in the back yard. Look how clean that cement porquería, pigpen, is. They cook bread and meat (pig?) in the oven. Everything about their place was sparkling clean.

They offered some weird-looking fruits. Mom tried them. She is braver than I am. But, she eats the white death (mayonnaise), too. She said that seedy looking one tasted like gooey Gatorade. Yum?
On our first Saturday in the new part of the mission, we went with the elders who work in the fishing town, Gutierrez Zamora, to a very remote pueblo called Calichal. There is a branch of the church there. About 15 years ago, 8 sets of missionaries came to the area for a short time. There are several other small pueblos and ranchos nearby. A couple of hundred people were baptized. A hurricane came through. Much of the area was wiped out. Most of the members left for the cities. The branch presidents wife says that there are now 43 members in the branch and that 40 are active. These are views of the town.

This is the main drag. There are a few other dirt steets like this.

This is the Calichal Branch meeting house. The walls are made of metal room dividers, expanded, and are left over from the remodel of another church building. So are the wooden pews inside. The roof is of plam fronds. The little structure sits right next door to the house of the branch president.

The flora is unique and beautiful. The kids I talked with said that there are wild parrots and toucans in the trees.

The man in the photo is the counselor and son-in-law to the branch president. His wife, mother-in-law, and daughter are also in picture.