26 September 2013

Elder and Hermana Salinas

Elder and Hermana Salinas, from Mexico City, spent a week with our Monterrey West Mission (think  mission tour/review) last week. We met them the day before our "training" when the Mission President invited us to join the four of them for lunch. He wanted us to hear about Elder Salinas' job, where he is in charge of the new "Self Reliance Program" the church is developing here in Mexico. Apparently,  "Employment" and "PEF"are being merged into this group called "Self-Reliance" which includes all enterprise, employment, and education support. It is already active in the US and is being introduced now in Mexico, Brazil, Ghana, and the Caribbean.

He is basically recruiting Senior Missionaries to help with this project--so here is the plug: Senior Missionaries are needed to run the whole program in each country, manage the program in various areas of each country, and help with teaching, mentoring and set-up in each stake. They need hundreds of Senior Missionaries! You can even serve by telephone or Skype from home--So, tell your friends, especially the Spanish and Portuguese speaking ones.  As Elder Salinas described the scope of this program, it is going to change the world--really! So, get your papers in and come and help!

Hermana & Elder Salinas

The following day, we had a great training last week from Elder and Sister Salinas in our Zone Meeting. We were especially touched by Hermana Salinas. She taught eloquently and specifically of real service: "Do NOT ask someone what they need done! Look, listen, pray for guidance. Announce what you will do and then do it." 

She told a story about a missionary that asked a sister who was cooking for them, to teach him how to scrape the needles off of the cactus* that she was preparing for dinner because he had always wanted to learn. She was very surprised because no one wants that job! She proceeded to teach him the technique and soon he was working alone while she finished up the other dinner preparations. As they prepared to leave her house, she told the Elder that he had done such a good job that she was going to buy a whole crate of cactus leaves for him to do the next day. He replied, "Then I'll be back!" 

Sister Salinas promised the missionaries that if they would prayerfully seek real ways to serve, they would receive all the referrals they could handle. She then told of a missionary that received a reference every week from one of the sister's who fed them because of his service to her--but not only to her. He was serving everyone who fed him, and consequently receiving referrals from all of them. His last month, he taught and brought to baptism 29 people because of those sweet referrals. 

*The "prickly pear cactus" is a mainstay of the Mexican diet. The spines of the "nopal" (the Spanish name) must be scraped off of the wide, flat leaf before it can be cooked. Depending on what it is cooked with, it can taste much like green beans or like a slightly pickled, firm zucchini. It is the mainstay vegetable here and is served with nearly everything Mexican. Try it, you'll like it!

22 September 2013

Hurricane Ingrid

Monterrey, Mexico July 2010--Hurricane Alex

Though we were not here when this hurricane swept through Monterrey taking bridges, roads, houses, and landmarks with it, we see its effects every day. The damages were estimated at $1.885 billion dollars and the word "hurricane" puts the city and its citizens on high alert. 

The two largest freeways in the city hug the Santa Catarina river. Due to the damage from "Alex," the road on the north side of the river is now one-way going west, and the road on the south is one-way going east. Google maps still doesn't know about this exciting change and routes all interested travelers down the wrong side of the freeway. This phenomenon is repeated in GPS systems throughout the city, making travel a thrill a minute. 

Monterrey, Mexico September 2013--Hurricane Ingrid

Fast forward three years and you have Hurricane Ingrid. The huge impact from this storm was on the east coast of Mexico, especially in the Tampico area. Monterrey, though hit hard--especially in the citrus growing areas--was relatively unharmed this time around in comparison. After nearly 15 days of constant rain, the geography began to take on a whole new look. 

River: Rio de la Silla

The swimming hole before ...

... And after Ingrid

The river walk before...

...And after Ingrid

The river bed before...

...And after Ingrid.

The "Dam" in the river, which isn't stopping anything anymore...

Around town:

Everything is wet! We had to walk at the mall and discovered many, many pails, buckets and large garbage cans catching the rain water.

Front: catching leaks; Back: buying the new "Grand Theft Auto" video game

Since everything, everywhere is wet and constantly dripping these days, we weren't surprised by the leaks in the mall roof. We were surprised, however, to see the aerial artist swinging around like Spiderman on ropes and pulleys as he fixed the leaks in the ceiling of the shopping center. 

Driving around town became slow, wet, and difficult. It was especially exciting driving around the geysers blowing up from the manholes in the streets. Sunday and Monday the schools and many businesses were closed because of the combination Independence Day holiday and Hurricane Ingrid. The following photo was taken on Tuesday, after the brunt of the storm had passed. 

About 4-inches of water on the well-drained streets
Today we are celebrating! The hurricane has passed. The roads are mostly drained and open. The sun is shining--a perfect thing for a Sunday! 

*For more information on the Mexico hurricanes see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-24203404

15 September 2013

¡Viva México!

Mexican Independence Day

Long live the heroes that gave us the Fatherland!
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Morelos!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long live Allende!
Long live Galena and the Bravos!
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live National Independence!
Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico!
(Shouted by Father Hidalgo, September 16, 1810 in the fight for Independence from Spain)

This is the "Grito," or the cry, of independence that is given in every city and town in Mexico on September 15th. In Monterrey it is at 11:00 p.m. in front of the Government Palace, followed by fireworks at 11:10 p.m. The real "Grito," given by the President of Mexico at 11:55 p.m. in Mexico City, is then televised around the country and shown on large-screen displays in the plazas.  

Government Palace Nuevo Leon, Monterrey, Mexico
Tonight's celebration here in Monterrey will be very challenging because Hurricane Ingrid is due to hit Mexico at about the same time as the "grito." As a result of nearly 10 days of straight rain in Monterrey, mild flooding has already begun creating challenges for drivers in several parts of the city. Tonight and tomorrow are supposed to be the worst days for rain. Because Monday is a holiday, there is no school and few people are working--that will help, since the government has requested that driving be strictly on an emergency basis today and tomorrow. 

Earlier in the week, we went downtown to check out some of the Independence Day decorations and events. Here is a sampling:

¡Viva Mexico! with the pictures of the War of Independence heroes and heroines

Souvenirs everywhere!

Yummy Food!

Colorful taco stand and colorful clothes 
Crispy, warm churros bathed in sugar
Chips, or for more fun--cooked field corn with chile powder
Creative candy selling
Fruit art on a bicycle cart

Independence Day Color


¡Viva México! 

09 September 2013

Elder Gutierres and Valle Verde Stake

Saturday: Elder Gutierres 

(John) Saturday, I spent the first five hours of the shift at the reception desk of the temple. On Saturdays, the front entrance is a very busy place. We have recently instituted a reservation system whereby unit leaders can reserve places for their youth to do baptisms at a particular time or attend endowment sessions. Consequently, the front desk has become the final clearing house for the various groups with reservations, with the job of ensuring groups are attended to, as well as freeing up surplus “fichas” or reservation tokens for those without a reservation. 

Among the people who came yesterday was a young prospective missionary named Elder Gutierres, who came to the temple with his parents and some other people without a reservation. Fortunately, we were able to accommodate them, and would have, anyway, because the elder was at the temple for the first time. Among the others with him were his “padriños”. The practice of naming “padriños” (godparents) for one’s newborn is an old practice in Mexico and in many other parts of the Catholic world. “Padrinos” have responsibility as sort of “back-up” parents to the newborn. Often, they provide an endowment or sort of financial and emotional guarantee to the child. What is unusual about Elder Gutierres’ situation is that all were members of the Church and all were eligible to go to the temple with him. Though I hadn’t seen any from the group in the temple before, it was obvious they were familiar with the temple.

What I noticed about the group was first, Elder Gutierres was an exceptional young man. Though young, he was gentle, sweet and loving to his parents and “padriños”. He was also very enthusiastic about his forthcoming mission to Guatemala. He has a sister currently serving in Honduras, with another year left in her mission. He acted like he had achieved a very important step in his life. Though similar reactions are common among those who come for the first time, for Elder Gutierres it seemed special beyond words. Second, I noticed an unbelievable unspoken love between the parents and the young man, the “padriños” and the young man, and the two couples themselves. I wanted to spend more time with them, because I could sense there was a very deep, longstanding commitment in the relationships. Just as with any group of people that we meet in life, the implicit strength or weakness of commitment to the group can be sensed. In this particular case, The love among them was almost tangible. 

I was fortunate enough to officiate in the endowment session for the group. When I walked into the room to start, a very strong, deep spiritual sense overwhelmed me and I began to weep. The feeling lasted mostly throughout the session for me. I was able to attend to the elder’s experience in the final part of the endowment ceremony and, once again received a strong witness as to the young man’s pending opportunity. It was a very special experience for me. It was obviously a very special experience for him and his loved ones.

Sunday: Valle Verde Stake Primary 

The activity with the Valle Verde Stake Primary began Saturday morning when three busloads of children (146 children between the ages of six and 12) arrived at the temple from an area of Monterrey about 45 minutes northwest of here. The Primary leaders in the stake had been preparing the children all year for this day when they would visit the temple, something Valle Verde Stake has done every year for the last six years. The children were all dressed in Sunday dress and many of them all in white. 

They began by gathering in the chapel in front of the temple to watch three videos related to families and temples. After each video, the Primary leaders led them in a discussion of what they had seen and why it matters to them and their families. Next, working in their ward groups, the children researched and then created posters depicting information about specific temples. 

Finally, they walked around the temple in small groups learning about some of the symbolism and the meaning of the words above the door: Holiness to the Lord, the house of the Lord. In front of the temple doors they all joined their voices in singing, "If the Savior Stood Beside Me," and then entered the temple waiting room. The President of the temple spoke briefly teaching them that if they are worthy, they will enter the temple when they are 12 for baptisms for the dead, at 18 or 19 to prepare to serve a mission, and then again when they are to be sealed to their spouse. 

The following day, Sunday, John and I were invited to attend their Primary Temple Fireside to share a brief message. The program began with a song and prayer, and then went immediately into a testimony meeting. Many children bore sweet testimonies and shared specific things they had learned that day about the temple. After about 30 minutes of testimonies, each ward had one or two children come to the front to explain their ward's temple poster. This was the truly impressive part! The children presented their information with poise and clarity--without a single note. The temples they discussed included Solomon's Temple, Salt Lake Temple, Mesa Temple, Nauvoo Temple, Mexico City Temple, Nephi's Temple and Monterrey Temple. These children have a clear understanding that temples have been part of the gospel since the very beginning of time and are to bless our lives. 

Without a doubt, we were the ones that were taught that night, not the children. If every Primary and/or family taught even half of what is being taught in Valle Verde, the world would be a very different place! 

Mexico City Temple
Temple of Nephi

Nauvoo Temple

Mesa, Arizona Temple

02 September 2013

Notes about Two Weekends

Surprise behind the Temple

Saturday mornings are chaos 99% of the time. This one was no exception. The temple had a full reservation schedule--literally every seat taken--when three buses from Torreon arrived unannounced. Everyone began the "adjustment game" as we tried to find room for everyone in this very small temple. More or less we were successful, but mostly because everyone here is so kind and generous. Several of the "hermanos" offered to help with baptisms and the laundry. It was a huge laundry day with hundreds of overalls and towels to wash. In fact, there was so much activity that we ran out of towels and had to stop baptisms for a short while. When that happens, it is necessary to take clothing to a large washer and dryer that are set up in another building behind the temple. Linda filled the cart and went out the back door at warp speed. She noticed a young couple walking hand in hand along the sidewalk in the gardens behind the temple and also noticed a young woman with a camera filming them. As the scene came into focus, she screeched to a halt so she would not be in the video. It only took about a minute for them to walk to the camera; but just as Linda was about to put the cart in to motion again, the young man dropped to his knee, opened a ring box and proposed to the young woman at his side. Posters were raised, clapping was heard, and a few squeals were heard from the small gallery that had gathered. Once the camera had been aimed in a new direction, Linda slipped quietly by with her load of wet clothes. 

A Good Place to Meet Your Spouse

The temple laundry is where we often meet the most dedicated members. The very busy Saturday morning mentioned above brought one of these beautiful "hermanas" from Torreon into the laundry. As we worked hanging, and folding and giving out clothing she told me her story. 

Several years ago, she was in the temple serving in sealings. Nearly everyone in her ward finished their assignment and decided to move on to something else--she decided to stay. She was at the altar when a very handsome young man walked into the room. He was also from Torreon, but from another ward. They didn't know each other, but both "admitted" to noticing one another. She surreptitiously asked who he was and where he was from. He also managed to find out who she was before the sealings ended. Friends who were there introduced them and they began to date. She said that the first time she went to church with him, she was inundated with people telling her how wonderful he was and that she'd better hang on tight! She said, "We were just friends for about six months. We then dated seriously for four more. We became engaged and were married 18 months after we met--we did it all by the book--and I took their advice and am hanging onto him with both hands!" She and her husband are now serving as Stake Young Men/Young Women Presidents. Who would have thought that one could meet a spouse doing sealings in the temple. 

Apodaca Ward Fireside

A few weeks ago we were asked by the bishop of the Apodaca Ward to speak to the youth as the closing fireside to the ward conference. He had heard from someone about the talks we gave at the Anahuac Institute on leadership; but wanted a slightly different theme: "The Importance of Education and Balancing it with Activity in the Church." As the date of the fireside approached, we discovered that it had morphed from a small ward activity into a fireside for all the youth of the stake. That information didn't change our talks, but we thought maybe we did need to buy more M&Ms for the attention activity. It is a good thing we did! According to the leftover M&M Minis, there were about 100 youth and their leaders in attendance last Sunday.

We were very impressed with the youth and their leaders. Just 30 minutes before the fireside was to start, it started to rain cats and dogs. As we entered the building, the bishop greeted us and informed us that the meeting would need to start a few minutes late due to the rain, but that everyone was en route and would be there shortly. We met the stake president, who said that he had just received text messages from the other wards and they would only be about ten minutes late, due to the water on the roads. At 6:05, the stake president turned to the Stake Young Men's President and said, "They are all here. I have sent a text to the Bishop. If he is not here in two minutes call him and tell him we are starting." The bishop showed up one minute later and the meeting began, just as everyone had hoped. We were amazed at the technologically savvy coordination effort that was going on! The youth looked sharp, had scriptures, were full of light, and participated eagerly. It was a very enjoyable evening for us--and as a bonus, we found a new route to the airport via this charming, old-style Mexican town.

As we greeted the youth and their leaders that evening, we were surprised to see three temple workers that we know and love from that stake who are working with the youth. Two of the young women that Linda had met before the meeting stood patiently in line afterward to thank her for the talk. They mentioned that they would be in the temple on Saturday afternoon to do baptisms for the dead, so Linda told them to ask for her when they arrived. That, however, was not necessary because Linda was working in the Baptistry on Saturday afternoon and there was a grand reunion over white overalls.

Roma Stake

Saturday afternoon was busy with several stakes besides Apodaca. Our stake, Roma, was out in force preparing for stake conference next week. Something very special happens when the temple is filled with people you know and love. Our bishop did herculean work getting our ward out. Four members of our ward who are fairly recent converts participated in baptisms. The two women brought over 20 family names with them for which they and the other ward members did the work. It was a very touching experience watching them perform those ordinances for their loved ones--and it had a profound impact on them. What a loving, compassionate Father in Heaven to connect us both forward and backward in such a tender way!