31 October 2013

Happy Halloween!

Yes, Halloween happens in Monterrey, too. In fact, the stores were filling up with Halloween treasures by the first part of September. Mexico has adopted some of our northern traditions to flesh out their three-day holiday called "Day of the Dead." This is what Halloween looks like here:

 In the Mall:

In the grocery store:

In the department stores:

And the blending of the two holidays--witches on the left and dressed skeletons (calaveras) on the right.

These skulls are made from sugar and are a favorite delicacy.

One of the local traditions is to write poetry about a person's life with a humorous twist. One of our friends, Jaime Meneses, wrote the following for us:

2 de Noviembre 2013 (Día de Muertos)

Ciudadanos del mundo fueron,
Por este México pasaron,
Gracia, simpatia e inteligencia
A su paso derramaron.

En su misión eclesiástica,
Con celestial música
A todo el Barrio Central,
Gozosos Hicieron Cantar.

Mas, a la muerte convencieron
Y ambos le prometieron,
Qe sólo con sus taladros,
Sus tumbas ellos cavaron. 

Very loosely translated it says that in our world travels we passed through Mexico with grace, kindness and intelligence (poetic license at its best!). On their mission they helped Central Ward sing celestially and then convinced "Death" that only with their drill bits would they dig their graves. 

For Halloween we said goodbye to the Machuca's (temple president and wife) and hello to the Albaradejos who are taking their place tomorrow (more on this later). We will celebrate the Day of the Dead tomorrow and Saturday working for our ancestors--a tradition that fits in perfectly with the real spirit of the Mexican holiday. 

20 October 2013

Hermana Serna

Hermana Serna is one of my favorite temple patrons. At 79 years of age, she stands about four-foot seven-inches tall on a strong, thick frame. Her light-auburn hair is only lightly touched with occasional strands of grey as it weaves its way through the long, thick braid she can sit on. Her eyes are lively and bright and her honey-colored face folds into a hundred smiles as she talks. She loves telling stories about her childhood out on the ranch in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. It is easy to believe that she really was better than any man in the family at training and riding the horses, as she claims. This rugged little jewel of a woman bore 12 children. She can't remember how many grand-children she has; but she is absolutely sure that she has ten great-grandchildren--so far!  

When asked how she came to join the church, she started to laugh. She said that she was a terrible trial to the Elders. Her husband was taking the lessons, but wouldn't get baptized without her. He and the Elders tried everything, but she refused to listen to the lessons. They would try to surprise her at home to sneak in a lesson, but her house is on top of a hill and she could see them coming from blocks away. As soon as she caught site of them working their way up the hill, she would go out the back door and down the street to hide in her mother-in-law's house. Finally, she gave in and listened to the Elders because her husband would not give up! She not only listened, she believed. She says now that it is the very best thing that has ever happened to her and she will be forever grateful for her husband's persistence. 

With all the trouble she caused the Elders, I wondered out loud if she remembered who it was who taught her the gospel and baptized her. "Oh yes," she said. "It was Elder Joel Brett Smith, a cowboy from Idaho. He baptized me in Monterrey in 1972. I have tried everything to find him, with no success--oh, how I would like to thank him!"

The night I spoke with her, Hermana Serna was in the temple with two very handsome young men. She introduced one as her grandson, who was leaving to serve a mission in Coahuila, Mexico the next week; and the other as his brother, who had recently returned from his mission. You have never seen a prouder grandma anywhere in the world.

I want to take Hermana Serna home with me!  

13 October 2013

John's Temple Buddies

José Francisco

I have been meaning to write about a couple of my temple buddies for some time. I have some wonderful friends in the temple, but my two week-day coordinators are my favorites. 
The first is my friend Pepe Pancho or P2 (short for Jose Francisco). As usual, I was the one that came up with P2 or P-cuadrado for him. I realize such naming is highly “un-temple-like”. However, this guy is such a good guy and such a fine man, that I had to give him his own handle. Don’t worry, I am discreet in it’s usage......generally. 

José Francisco Torres

P2 is a long-time member of the Church. He grew up in a family that converted when he and his four brothers and three sisters were young*. Although his parents were participants during most of their life, P2 quit participating in his teens and did not return to Church for some time. He married and began his family. His work was as a bus driver for a private bus company here in Monterrey. He did that work for 40+ years. You’d have to live in Monterrey to appreciate what 40 years of bus driving could potentially do to a man. 

P2 has served in the Church since early in his first marriage, becoming a bishop and stake president. He began working in the temple shortly after his release from being stake president. Prior to that, his wife left him, and he later met his current wife, Mirna. She was attending another ward with a large group of young single adults. However, the stake president told them all one day to find their way back to their home wards because that is where they were needed. When Mirna returned to her own ward, he was waiting.

They currently have a son on a mission in Hermosillo, who is a son from his first marriage.
P2 makes 7000 pesos a month or about USD 540.  Except when I substituted for him twice so he could go to the doctor, he hasn’t missed a shift. He runs the shift in an orderly, kind but efficient way. He has taught me much about how to make the temple experience special for the patrons. I so look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays with P2


On Wednesday and Friday, my coordinating supervisor is Pablo Aguirre. Pablo is a long-time Monterrey resident. His wife died when his three children were very young and he raised them himself. He retired from the railroad a few years ago on a 7500 peso/month pension. He lives alone, but his children are nearby. He became acquainted with the Church after his wife died. In order to make ends meet, he played in bands around the area as a guitarist. For years he wore his hair shoulder-length because of his moonlight work. He was quite the partier during the years leading up to meeting the missionaries. Shortly after he joined the Church, he played for the wedding of a young couple, both returned missionaries. He didn’t see them again for several years. When he did see them again, he was officiating in an endowment session and they were patrons. He said the couple were making signals to each other about his lack of hair and changed demeanor from when the knew him as a rock musician. They were both rather shocked to meet him in the temple.

Pablo lives on the other side of town from the temple and often takes two buses to arrive at the temple, some days at 0530 in the morning when the missionaries come. He also comes often on Saturday afternoons when he is not busy with his catering business. Periodically, he travels to Laredo to do some serious trading. He’s the temple go-to guy for sourcing pretty much anything having to do with cooking or household stuff. 

Perhaps what I like most about these two guys is their common touch and wisdom. Both have led tough lives, and both have ended up giving service to all kinds of people, in and out of the Church. 

Pablo is currently supporting a young kid who is on a mission in the D.F. This kid was rescued by him from a life of indolence and drugs. He got him going to church, baptized, and then coming to the temple to do baptisms. We mentioned his baptism work in an earlier blog. The young man has not been on his mission long. Shortly after arriving in the mission field, he told his president he was through and didn’t want to continue. Pablo talked with him on the phone, talked with his mission president and both encouraged the young man to hang in there. Well, he did, and he has turned out to be a great missionary and is loving his time. 

There are many stories like this that I hear often. An older fellow I was talking to just yesterday told me his story. He was branch president of a small branch in a poor section of Monterrey years ago. The congregation was only around 100 people, many with needs of all kinds. During the time he was branch president, they were able to meet all the branch’s needs from the fast offering donations as well as keep as many as 8 missionaries in the field at one time. He was asked many times how he was able to do what he did, and he said he just loved the members and worked at getting them to be self-reliant and inter-dependent rather than asking the greater Church for funds. 

Northern Mexicans typically are very proud and self-sufficient. This tradition has persisted since the area was first settled by the sephardi (descendants of Jews from the Spanish Inquisition). As with many places we’ve been and lived in Latin America, attitude trumps resources when it comes to happiness. We hear a lot about wealth inequality in the U.S. currently. It’s a favorite theme against those who have prospered and their duty to give up their prosperity for the “common good.” No one understands wealth inequality and consequent disdain from the wealthy toward the poor like Latin Americans, and vice versa. However, we’ve seen so many people put off the disdain and pride associated with social class and join efforts to take care of each other, regardless of background. It is a beautiful thing to see. Consecration is a beautiful thing when it works.

*Linda's addendum to the Jose Fransico story: After the parents became active in the church again, the children followed. The parents eventually served a two-year mission at the Mexico City Temple, and serving in the temple became a family affair. Three of the four brothers of José Fransico serve in the temple with us here in Monterrey--two of them on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, another on Wednesday evenings, and the last on Saturdays. While welcoming people to the temple at the front door one morning, Mario (one of the brothers) turned to me and said, "That is my aunt." The woman who had just entered the temple (Sister Rivera), comes twice a week and spends the entire morning serving in the temple, often bringing others with her. She is his mother's sister and is in her eighties. The father, and four of his five sons, have also all served as Bishops. They are a powerful influence for good here in Monterrey.

06 October 2013

Celebrating the Founding of Monterrey

The Fun

Right on the heels of the Independence Day of Mexico on September 16th, Monterrey celebrates its founding on September 20, 1596*. This occurred after two false starts near a spring in the center of town called, “Ojos de Agua” (where the lovely River Walk now begins). 

In honor of these two important dates, Monterrey hosts a three week cultural event called "Arts in the City." It includes lectures, educational activities, art expositions, drama, dance, and music. There are three outdoor forums where they have held drama, folk dancing and musical groups. There are dozens of indoor facilities that have had presentations, but we chose the beautiful Teatro de la Ciudad (Theater of the City) to see the building, and a Canadian performing group called “Les Parfaits Inconnus 2.” It is a combination of circus, band, and farce--it kept us smiling with the juggling, musical balancing acts, and humor. 

Les Pafaits Inconnus 2
The city was hopping with activity: folk dancing, drama, percussion, bands, symphony, balloons, gourmet hot dogs, and street vendors everywhere. We went with our dear friends the Meneses, who are always up for an adventure and make sure we are safe. 

Drama and percussion in the amphitheater outside the Theater of the City

The Flag

During this celebration period, the largest flag in Mexico is on display on top of the Cerro del Obispado (Bishopric's Hill). It is an impressive site--not only the flag, but the views of the entire city tucked tightly up into the clefts of the surrounding mountains. 

Mexico's largest flag--note the tiny people just to the right of its base.


The flagpole weighs 120 tons and is 100.6 meters tall. The flag is 50 by 28.6 meters and weighs 230 kilograms (a kilogram is 2.2 pounds!). The flags lining the walkway are flags from military campaigns or wars.  

The Bishop's residence (above) served as a fort during the Mexican-American War ( not a popular topic of conversation here) and now is a museum. The huge flag is on the hill behind this building. 

The life-size games invite you to stop and play, enjoy the view, and escape from the crush of the city for a few minutes. Since our grandchildren weren't here to play with us, we are sending them a secret message instead. 


*For more information on the history and infamy of Monterrey's colonizers, see the following links:

It is interesting that all three of these explorers were of Jewish descent--an influence that is still notable  in the culture, architecture and food of Nuevo Leon.