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

Friday, March 18, 2011

Here they go! The November missionaries wrap it up and are headed for home early this November morning. They are Hermanas Pech, Anguiano,and Frausto, Elders Muñoz, Pérez, Caballero, Sosa, Redfern, Rosales, Gaxiola, Cifuentes, Haro, y Contreras.

They look ready to go don't they? Sisters Frausto and Anguiano, Elders Haro and Cifuentes.

Their shoes looked pretty good, except for Elder Redfern who usually didn't get around to that part. But, what a missionary! I would trade shiny shoes anytime for missionaries like he was. The sisters usually buy new ones to wear home. They love their high heels.

Bauti-strito Tierra Blanca! The bautistrito is when every companionship in the district baptizes in the same week. Elders Poe, Gutierrez L, Hunt, Tovar, Nelson, and Resendez did it. The man in the back with the goatee stands by his wife. He went to church in Utah for a long time. Nobody invited him to be baptized.

Tierra Blanca means White Earth. It isn't. But the climate is white hot. They have nicknamed the area la novia del sol, or, girlfriend of the sun. The name is very well-deserved out there. The missionaries cool down by baptizing.

While we waited for their plane to come in, Elders Holman and Checketts worked on their Spanish.

Missionaries keep on coming. This is the generation of November 1, 2011. They are la Hermana Morales, Elders Resendez, Rogel, Lastra, Solomon, Marin, Alavez, and Hernandez.

Here they are with their trainers.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Elders Gil, Taufa, and Cabacungan had an investigator in Cardel. Mom and I went with them to visit. This is the town hit hardest by the front of Hurricane Karl. The flooding after the hurricane was incredible. You can see the "bathtub ring," the high water mark, on the wall. Elder Gil, the tallest of the missionaries is about six feet tall. The amazing thing is that this house sits three full blocks from a now dry riverbed and it at least fifteen feet higher than the riverbank. The cement house was not damaged. The people knew what might be coming and evacuated in time. Just say "no" to post-hurricane flooding.

This post marks the last one for the month of October, 2010.

Elders Vargas and Redfern worked for six weeks and finally baptized their first convert in Teteles. Elder Frey, a new missionary from Utah, arrived just in time to participate.

On October 24 we received a shipment of wonderful missionaries. They are Elders Anderson, Hales, Barnes, Ponstler, Zoltz, Jerrett, Cabacungan, Vaa'i, Frey, and Senior.

Here they are with their trainers.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Remember that little branch we created in Paso del Toro on Sept 12th? Mom and I went to church out there a month later. Their little house of prayer has room for maybe 20 people. They crammed in 43. Ten of them were these investgators. The missionaries are Elders Dominguez and De Jesus.

This is part of a letter from Elder Holman who is from Tigurd, Oregon. He has been serving as secretary to the president and after this baptism went out to be a district leader in Tuxpam.

"Last Saturday was the baptism of Rodolfo. I have been waiting 5 months for this baptism. Rodolfo came to church with his cousin Sandy (the one in the pink and black shirt) back in April. He came two weeks in a row and we went to go visit him. He accepted the baptismal date in the first lesson and was really excited to get baptized. However, he is under age and his mom wouldn't give permission. He kept coming to church every now and then but just recently started to come on his own and more frequently. We kept visiting him and teaching him to prepare him for baptism. We always had it in mind that we needed to talk to his mom and get permission. Well, the Friday that the hurricane came into town, the back part of their house flooded and the power went out so they couldn't use their pump to get the water out. Elder Canseco and I, Elder Campos and Elder Ray started hauling the water out with buckets. We didn't lower the water much but we were willing to help. The monday after the hurricane is when the new missionaries got here. Elder Canseco went with one of them to go see Rodolfo. It just so happens that his mom was there. Elder Canseco talked with her and explained the Restoration and that we have been preparing a baptism for her son for five months and before you know it, we got her signature on the form.

So Saturday we had the baptism. It was just the bishop and Rodolfo's family there but that is all who needed to be there. We had the opening song and prayer (offered by Sandy). I gave just a quick little talk and we followed with the ordinance. Before entering the water I asked Rodolfo what he was feeling. He told me that he was feeling good and he knew that this is what he should be doing. I had the wonderful opportunity to perform the ordinance. After it was done, I asked Rodolfo how he was doing. He told me that he felt emocionante. He felt good. He felt at peace. After we changed clothes, Sandy spoke a few words. As soon as she started to speak, I started to tear up and she started to cry. You could feel the spirit so strong in that room. It was one of the greatest services that I have had the joy of seeing. It was kind of a bittersweet moment. I was happy that I was baptizing, that I was fulfilling my purpose as a missionary but I was sad that I don't have much more time left to do it."

Elder Holman went home in January. Like him, Mom and I are sad that we will one day have to leave this mission. We love it like nothing we have ever done. In spite of opposition and challenges, there is nothing like seeing obedient missionaries grow and develop and put themselves into the position to be able to receive rewards for their good works.

Elder Roberts of the SLC area and Elder Lopez work in Xalapa. The picture is of a true convert whom they recently baptized. This is the story. A few months ago this young lady, who is an attorney, was taught by missionaries in Papantla. It didn't take. She kept and read the Book of Mormon, however. After time, she had completed the book. She prayed about it and about the truth of the gospel. The Lord answered her prayer. She knew it was true and desired a baptism. She now lived in Xalapa.

After having received an answer to her sincere prayer, she immediately set out to find a chapel and missionaries to help her. It was general conference Sunday. Church was held in only one chapel that day in this city of 500,000. There are four LDS chapels. The stake center, where the broadcast was received by satellite, is the one most difficult to find. It is not near any main road. She found it. She sat through conference and then spoke to missionaries explaining her situation and testimony. Of the 14 missionaries attending the conference, she spoke to Elderes Roberts and Lopez, the missionaries assigned to the ward where she lives. She was happily, as you can see, baptized a couple of weeks later.

Miracles happen.

The next day we headed out from Poza Rica toward Veracruz. Life was very normal, tranquil as always, fishermen casting their nets, as we crossed the river at the Costa Esmeralda town of Casitas.

The slogan of Veracruz is "The State that Smiles." Life here really is tranquil. We hear of problems up on the border and can hardly imagine it. Once in a very rare while though, something crazy happens. These pictures show a big truck with some bullet holes and a tire flattened because of a balacera, a shootout. This is the story.

We were sleeping soundly in the Rio Vista Hotel in Poza Rica. At 5:40 a.m. the phone rang. It was Elder Amador. He greeted me cheerfully. He sounded very awake. I asked what was up. (Not who...I knew that.) He said that right out in front of their missionary house was a balacera, a shootout. I asked what he and his companions were doing. There are four living in that apartment. He said that they were all lying down on the floor. Cement houses are good if there is a balacera in the neighborhood.

There are two major drug cartels in Mexico. One is generally located in the north and work the border states. The other is the Gulf Cartel. The locals refer to both of them, and most other drug gangs as Los Zetas or the Mafia. The word is that the northern guys came to town to shoot it out with some of our hometown Gulf gangsters. They go into homes and yank people out of beds demanding to know where a suspected rival is. Sometimes they hurt people. Sometimes they don't. If they find whom they seek, he is a dead man. It is not personal. It's just business. Don't worry about visiting Mexico unless you are in the illicit drug business, if you ARE in the illicit drug business stay near California where they are trying to legalize that stuff!

The local police got involved, who knows from which of several legal or less than legal positions. Then a chase around town started. The army joined in. That can be either good or bad, as well. There was shooting. Finally. the chase stopped in front of the missionaries' house and the real balacera began. So, I told the elders to keep their heads down and call me back in a few minutes when the shooting stopped. They did that many minutes later.

Elder Amador reported that all was tranquilo. He said that the police were still outside and that he could see a patrol truck and a big Chevy all shot up. At 7 a.m. the army banged on their door and wanted the keys to the church. It was about 1 block up the street. I asked him to see what was going on. He went out to talk to the police who were hurrying pedestrians along. Traffic was not passing by. The street is a hard dirt backstreet with minimal vehicular traffic. He told me that the police were inside the church. I asked him to hustle down there and see what their plans were, if it were safe. He said that it was, and he did that.

When he and his companion arrived they found that the big gate to the church parking lot had been forced open. Four of Los Zetas were handcuffed and sitting in the middle of the outdoor basketball court. More officials were inside the church searching for more bad guys. Then, the shooting started again!

Elder Amador and Elder Martinez Barrios made a dash for the church. Los Zetas had returned, presumably to attempt a rescue of their captive amigos. This round was short-lived, only a few dozen shots were fired. The attempt failed. After all was quiet, the officials returned the church keys and sped off with the arrestees in tow. Elder Amador and Elder Martinez sprinted back to the safety of their bunker.

By the time their regular morning studies were done, the missionaries all left for work. They worked in areas away from their houses. At 6:30 that night we went through the neighborhood. People were out in the streets as usual. Life was normal. The missionaries returned home and baptized the following Saturday.

There are some procedural things that I do. I inform the Area Presidency. They talk with SLC, with their first point of contact who is an Apostle. The Brethren want to know when a missionary is in a dangerous situation. Church security called me for followup. It was back to business as usual after a couple of hours.

It is amazing to us how hard this people work to earn a living. These men are loading oranges for shipment. They must be handpicked in orchards. Most citrus trees have long spiny thorns. It is hot, hard, and oftimes bloody work. They are loaded by hand into large, but smaller, trucks. The white truck with the red rack is an example.

Then, they unload the organges into huge, handmade baskets. They are carried on the back of the laborer. I have no idea what one of these full baskets might weigh. Imagine the weight of a box of oranges and then estimate how many of those boxes would fit into one of the baskets. Incredible.

He scales a ladder, best seen in the first photo, with the basket on his back and dumps it into the huge truck. They are then delivered to packing houses and shipped to various parts of the world. The next time you are in the supermarket and buy fruit you will note that a great deal of it comes from Latin America. These guys picked and packed it for you for 10 pesos an hour. That is about 75 cents, American, by today's exchange rate.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

We got detoured around this bridge which had been undercut by flood waters. Good decision by the traffic control team.

These are pictures of a place called Coxquihuitlán. We have no missionaries here because there is no unit of the Church. It is too far away for people to afford coming into town where there is a branch. But, we wanted to check it out. The Catholic church is very old. We have wondered how many people and how much time it took to build this building three hundred or more years ago.

This is the bell tower of what looked like an old school.

Below the blue tarps in front of the old school is a typical open air market.

The Salazar family run a small grocery store next to the open air market. They were very interested in us. We were asked if we were güerros, white people. We were and still are. We bought some drinks and chips from them and moved on, perhaps the first gúerros in this town for a very long time.

Mom loves to deliver brownies to the missionaries. They were cooked and inside the box. At the end of all this, we will try to estimate the numbers of brownies she has baked. It will be in the thousands. Elders Redfern and Vargas look pleased.

This is the new chapel, not a chapel but a casa de oración of the Teteles Branch. It is actually located in Atempec.

Elders Vargas and Redfern are making a followup visit to an investigator just up the street from the Catholic church while the dog watches over the missionaries. It was a colder and misty day up in the highest, by elevation, area of the mission. The temperature was around 45°F.

We have talked about missonaries eating armadillo once in awhile. Actually, it is illegal to kill an armadillo so we have never tasted it. But, when we saw it on a menu in a restaurant, I was excited. The meat was shredded. It was smothered in a pasty, overpowering, and hot adobo salsa. When I could taste the meat, it was gamey. The light colored, shiny things in the meat turned out to be light colored, shiny and very hard. They were little, tiny bones. Basically, I think I will now be able to say I have eaten armadillo. That was the last time, I am pretty sure.

Finally, a Taco Bell! This is in Teziutlán. We didn't stop to check out the 10 tacos or bean burritos promotion like they have at the Taco Bell in Pacifica (CA) at Taco Bell Beach. These tacos are soft corn tacos, your choice of things like tongue, slimy soft pig skin (cooked), heart, and other interesting meat selections. We don't go there.

This tire represents 7700 pesos. We were driving between Posa Rica and Papantla to an early morning meeting with the zone. As we hustled around a sharp corner their was a bache, BAH-chay, a hole in the road. This one was very sharp and steep and deep. I saw it at the last second and had to choose the bache or the oncoming bus. The bus won and so did the bache. You can see the blowout at 3 o'clock on the tire. The rim is bent. This was the right rear tire. The right front didn't blow out but it separated. A taxista, taxi driver, was kind enough to stop and help us. Mom talked with his passengers and we passed a referral to the missionaries. After the zone meeting, we limped back to Poza Rica (20 km) and 7700 pesos later had two new Michelins and a straightened rim. We were protected on this one.

Pedro Rivera had a little problem with homicide several years ago, but he changed his life and was approved by SLC for baptism. He was baptized in August and has remained very active, singing in the stake choir and greeting everyone at the door. He is also the designated baptizer for the sister missionaries in his ward. The sisters in the first picture are Hermanas Anguiano from near Mexico City and Cua from the Yucatan Peninsula.

Elders Moro and Andersen, who is from Veyo, UT, found these lost lambs on their way home in the dark in the pueblo, Tlapacoyan. Or were the missionaries the lost lambs?

The little lady in the second picture is Juana Luna, Jane Moon. Hermana Juanita, as everyone calls her, was imprisoned over 25 years ago for killing her abusive husband with a pipe. She got out in 1980 and is now 78 years old. She has the prettiest smile, one tooth on top, one on the bottom. When asked why she wanted to be baptized she said that when she goes to church, "I am filled." The first picture is the day of her baptismal interview after which I asked SLC for permission to baptize her. The second is her baptismal day a few weeks later, pictured with Hermanas Flores y Carrillo.

Elders Ramirez Arámbula from Zacatecas and his new missionary Elder Vazquez baptized this young man in Tuxpam. The fun part of the story is that his brother was baptized in Veracruz about 9 months before, which is 5 hours to the south. Can you guess which one the brother is? Clue: He is the only other non-missionary male in the picture.

We have talked about bauti-stritos in earlier blog posts, when each companionship baptizes in the same week. This district did it in Xalapa. The missionaries are Elders Angulo, Ramirez M., Ramos, Bullock from Virginia, Andersen, and Heinhold both from the SLC area.

This is Elder Ricks from San Antonio, Texas and Elder Gutierrez Cadena from San Luis Potosí. It was Elder Ricks' first baptismal service. He arrived a couple of days before the hurricane and we are now three weeks later. Poor Elder Ricks! He was so ill he could hardly leave the bathroom. But, he loaded up on Pepto-Bismol and held together long enough to get into the water and perform ordinances, a mom and her two children. These are two fine missionaries. Just look at those smiles!

We had a zone conference in Papantla. Bishop Ramos of the Manatiales (springs, as in springs of water) Ward is a chef. The church is just around from his restaurant which is in the house behind the missionaries. You can see menu ideas on the posters. When we have a zone conference in Papantla, we always contract with Bishop Ramos to provide us a meal afterwards. He makes some great stuff. Sometimes it is a little weird, too. For dessert he had a baked calabasa, pumpkin or other squash. It is candied with something sweet and comes complete with gooey, gross strings and seeds. I gave mine to Elder Teisina who will eat anything and a lot of it. That's where Mom's went, too. The best part of the meal is always Bishop Ramos' horchata which is rice milk flavored with vanilla and cinnamon. Papantla is the international home of vanilla. It is the best and that is what he uses. It is so fattening! And worth every kilo.

The missionaries are Elders Alder, Alvarez, Reidhead, Gonzalez Ojeda, Campos, Cifuentes, Favela, Castillo, Ruiz E., Sierra, Teisina, and Ruiz C.

Hurricane Karl formally ushered the... uh ...hurricane season. Thank you. The hurricane season is the rainiest season. Elder Bell, a new missionary from Moreno Valley, CA, is about 6 foot 6. He works in Poza Rica and it was raining this day. Someone had mercy on him and gave him an umbrella. Imagine his gratitude. Because we live in the tropics, missionaries rarely wear a coat except in the mountain areas.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Elders Chase and Checketts

Part of the missionaries with Elder Luis Hernandez Gallo, Fourth Quorum of the Seventy. He lives in Tijuana and flew over to lend his support and report back to the Area Presidency.

Some more muddy shoes, girls and boys.

This post marks the last post for the month of September, 2010.

Elder Silva

Elders Peña y Lázaro

Elders Gates and Martinez Dominguez

Elders Ramirez M. and Ahlstrom

Elder Valdez

Elders Lázaro, Peña, and Gil

Elder Taufa