Monday, December 29, 2008

Our Holidays in Mexico

The Holidays in Mexico

We are just completing our first holiday season in Mexico City and it has been a very memorable one. The Mexican people love color and lights and celebrations and there have been plenty of all.

Immediately following the open house of the Mexico City Temple the gardeners began planting poinsettias (noche buenas as they call them here in Mexico). I don't mean just a flower here and there but I mean thousands and thousands of flowers filling every flower bed on the manzana and more in pots in the Visitors Center. It is truly an amazing site!

After the flowers were planted, the lights began to go up, every tree and bush covered with lights. Some large, some small, some white and others colored. In addition to the trees, there were animal sculptures made of lights on the walls around the parking lot and areas of lights on the lawns. From our apartment window we had a great view .

In addition to the decorations there were choral groups that came and sang on the manzana every weekend. They had an area set up under a tent just outside the MTC and usually we had two or three groups perform on Saturday and Sunday. There was always a good attendance and it really added to the Christmas spirit. Each night many people came to walk around the manzana, listen to the music and visit the Vistors Center.

Our holiday celebration began with a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at the Garvins. Everyone contributed to the feast and it was quite traditional: appetizers, turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, corn and peas, salad, orange rolls and lots of pies for dessert. Everyone was full and happy by the time we finished.

On December 1st we began our Christmas season in the Visitors Center by meeting with all the sister missionaries at the Center, decorating the trees and giving them small gifts. We then all went to the cafeteria for a wonderful Christmas meal. It was a very fun morning and you could see the joy on the missionaries' faces.

The week before Christmas we went down to the Zocolo (historic center of town) with some of the other senior missionaries. It was a fun outing to see all the lights and the skaters in the center of the square. There were also many people dressed up in unusual costumes, one, a very tall angel. When the Mexicanos decorate, they really decorate and the lights were unbelievable. After walking around and seeing the lights we had a fun dinner and then took the metro home.

On Christmas Eve we gathered at our house for appetizers (16 people total), then to the Scotts for soup and bread, then back to our house for dessert. We took turns telling of family Christmas traditions. We also read the Christmas story from Luke and sang Christmas songs. Afterwards we watched a short DVD prepared by Temple Square missionaries in the Salt Lake area. It was a great evening. Our house is not greatly decorated but we did find a few Mexican ornaments to
give it some feeling of the holidays. No tree but a wreath and some garland did the trick.

Christmas Day was a very quiet one for us but very nice. We talked to all the kids and most of the grandkids on our internet phone and just took it easy. That night we helped present a family home evening for the missionaries in the MTC. There was a spiritual program with readings and songs and then we played charades and pictionary. It was very fun. As you can imagine, some of the missionaries really got into it.

A couple of days before Christmas our ward held their annual Christmas party. Unfortunately we worked and missed the Ward Christmas Party but from what we hear it was a winner. We were told that there was a talent show which included the young adults re-enacting the Christmas Story complete with angels with halos and wings, devils fighting with Mary and with the angels, Joseph dressed in a green metallic suit with a gold waistband and a variety of unusual animals including a Cheshire-like cat. It seems they took a large dose of poetic license. There was also a lot of jokes told, hip-hop dancing, music with a South American flavor and traditional Mexican food. When we got home from work after 9:00 pm, the program was still going strong, but we were too tired to join in the fun.

All in all it has been a great holiday, one we will certainly never forget. Our best gift came on December 29th when Patrick, Monique and the kids came for a visit. That however is another post.

A Joyous New Year to all of our loved ones.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Rest of the Story

The Open House for the rededication of the Mexico City Temple ended and on the last day, Saturday November 8th. Over 4300 people visited us at the Visitors Center and over 13,000 at the Temple that day. The final numbers over the three weeks were 91,000 visitors to the Temple and more than 21,000 to the Visitors Center. There were more than 9000 referrals from non-members, nearly 5000 requesting missionaries or materials or both. Reading the comments was really exciting, hearing so many testify of the spiritual experience it was for them and the peace and tranquility they felt in the Celestial Room. We are still very busy processing all the referrals. We have to look up their addresses on a map and figure out mission, stake and ward they belong to so that the missionaries can visit them.

On the last day of the Open House one of the PR people came in and said they had just received word that on the following Monday, after the open house was officially over, Margarita Zavala de Calderon, the first lady (Primera Dama) of Mexico would be coming for a visit. During her visit the Manzana was closed for about three hours. As expected, she arrived with much security. The tour started and ended at the Visitors Center. The Area Presidency and their wives and an LDS business leader who had arranged the visit acted as guides. Before starting the tour, they watched a film about the Temple. After going through the Temple she came back to the Visitors Center where she was given a copy of the Book of Mormon. We were working that day and enjoyed being observers. She was a beautiful and gracious woman. She was very warm and relaxed, taking time to pose for pictures and giving the usual Mexican kiss on the cheek to the women as she left. Her comments about the Church were very positive.

Elder and Sister Grow, Elder and Sister Tenorio, unknown lady, The Jones', The First Lady, Hna and Elder Mickelsen, unknown man

During the rest of the week we watched the gardners plant thousands of Noches Buenas (Poinsettas) around the Manzana. Then on Saturday we had a pizza party to thank the sister missionaries for all their hard work during the Open House and to bid farewell to the Steers, a VC couple who were leaving for home. We are certainly going to miss them. Sister Steers was "queen of the maps" and could find places none of the rest of us could. She was also an amazing crocheter and made hundreds of baby caps for our service project. Elder Steers was our "goodwill ambassador". He loved passing out invitations to the Visitors Center to taxi cab drivers and to all the people he met.

The hermanas enjoying their pizza (Elder Garvin and Foley tambien).
They really like to load them up with chili peppers

The Steers at their last mission event

After the pizza we were loaded onto a bus and off the Estadio Azteca for the grand Cultural Event. It has become Church custom to hold these events before every Temple dedication. It was amazing! There were about 100,000 people in the audience and 8500 youth performing. Of course the highlight of the night was having President Monson and President Eyring present. The youth were incredible. They did such a great job and looked so beautiful in their costumes. They recreated the history of the Church in Mexico and performed regional dances from all over the country.

We missionaries were also a part of the program. At the very end the missionaries from the four Mexico City missions as well as Cuernavaca and Puebla missions and all the missionaries from the MTC marched out onto the field. Each mission marched out single file with the senior missionaries in the lead. It was quite a sight. We sang "Called to Serve" (Llamados a Servir) as we marched out and then everyone waved their white hankies at the prophet. It was really a thrill. I am sure we will always remember it. There were over 1500 missionaries on the field.

During the course of the evening the Prophet spoke and even sang a Spanish song he learned as a youth. He said it was the first and last time he ever sang a solo in a conference. He told of growing up with his best friend Juan, who was from Mexico. He said they would be late for school each morning because Juan's mother would make him sit down and eat tortillas with them before they left. He gave wonderful encouragement to the youth and told them always to remember that night.

The hermanas on the long bus ride to the stadiumElder Foley and thousands of others waiting to get into the stadium

Elders and dancers heading into the stadium

Some of the performers in their colorful costumes

More excited performers

Our seats were right down next to the fence with a pretty obstructed view so we were glad for the giant screens in the stadium. We did take our binoculars which Heather gave us before we came so we could keep an eye on President Monson in the VIP box. The binoculars were also a big hit with the elders seated around us.

Not too good of a view from our seats!!

Elder Steers, the Thomas's and many elders from the Mexico City East Mission

Missionaries waving hankies to President Monson

The dedication the next day was a spiritual feast. We went to our Stake Center (next door to our apartment) and watched it. President Monson spoke again of the Mexican families in his neighborhood and his love for them. He said when he was a bishop they had a Mexican branch that met in their same building. He also said "I am just a simple man". President Pinon, the MTC president was translating for him and became quite emotional at that point; however, he recovered quickly. He did such a good job of interpreting. It was a very spiritually charged meeting. Both President Monson and President Eyring became very emotional during their talks. They really showed love for the Saints here. From our apartment window we could see all the beautiful Mexican saints lined up to go into the dedicatory sessions in the Temple.

We feel so blessed to be serving this mission, and especially blessed that we were here during this special time. It is something we will never forget.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Temple Open House

Well, the big day has finally arrived. Last weekend the media and VIP tours of the temple were held and starting Monday it is now open for the public for the next three weeks. It is such an exciting thing just to see the Temple look like a temple again. During the construction everything was torn apart and the landscaping certainly suffered due to all the heavy equipment and materials. But little by little we saw the changes occur and now we look around and see much beauty. The outside of the building is fresh and white and the Angel Moroni is beautiful new gold leafing. The fountains are once again flowing and a large Mexican flag once again flying.

Not only did the temple get a facelift, but the Visitors Center had much of the outside paneling replaced due to damage from the polluted environment here in Mexico City. We even got a new banner in front of our building to tell people who we are. It didn’t arrive quite in time for the beginning of the open houses, but today it went up and looks great.

The MTC, the building housing the Distribution Center and the missionaries’ cafeteria, as well as our apartment building all got new paint jobs. Many new flowers were planted and the trees also got a great trimming. The view from our apartment window is wonderful as is the view from the Visitors Center looking toward the Temple. It is now so pleasant to walk around the Manzana, something we have looked forward to.

To accommodate the visitors many awnings were put up between buildings to protect them from the sun and rain. Originally the media and VIP’s were to begin and end their tours in the Visitor's Center and we were excited to show off our building. A very last minute change moved them to the MTC and although we were disappointed, a number of them still came to take our tour. We recently acquired a collection of Walter Rane Book of Mormon prints that certainly add to the beauty of our building. They are on loan to us but we hope to extend it for a very long time.

Monday was the first day of the public tours. Mondays are usually very slow for us but we had over 250 people during the first four hours and it was quite exciting. In addition to our tours and the references we receive, we are processing all the references received from the Temple tours. It is wonderful to read the comments of our friends of other faiths (Catholic mostly), and see how touched they were by the Temple and how many are requesting additional information and/or missionaries to visit them. We will be very busy during the open house but it is a good busy and we are truly enjoying it. Yesterday, the first Saturday of the open house we had over 3500 visitors in the center. We have never seen anything like it. Bus after bus kept arriving and it was great. We were very tired last night but it was well worth it.

Of course, we look forward to the large cultural event on November 15th and the re-dedication of the temple on the 16th. We learned last week that President Monson and President Eyring are scheduled to preside so we are all very excited. I am sure we will write more about that at the time.

We love this work and know it is the work of the Lord. It is such an exciting time to see new temples being built around the world. We know that the Church is true and will continue to move forward under the guidance of the Lord.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Templo Mayor

On Aug. 13th we visited the Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City. This archaeological site unusual because it is literally a stone’s throw from the Zocalo, the central plaza in the Historic Center of Mexico City.

When I visited the Zocalo after my first mission in 1964 there was no Templo Mayor, just old colonial buildings. In 1978 workers from the power and light company unearthed an eight-ton stone disc of an Aztec goddess while they were laying underground power lines. The Mexican law dictates that in such cases all work cease and that it be reported to the government.

Subsequent exploratory excavations revealed that this was a major archaeological site. Old colonial buildings were demolished and for the next nine years the site was excavated. It was officially opened in 1987. Excavation of new areas continues today.

According to legend the temple was built on this spot because an eagle was seen perched on a cactus devouring a snake. The Aztecs began building the temple in AD 1325. The Templo Mayor became the center of religious life for a city of 300,000. After the Spaniards arrived in 1521 destroyed the temple and built over it. The serpent was a major theme in the construction.

The Templo itself is a large stone pyramid with wide staircases similar to many seen in other parts of Mexico. On the upper part are twin temples dedicated to the god of war and the god of rain. It is here that victims were sacrificed and then thrown down the staircases after their hearts were cut out and placed in a statue of a stone eagle.

In the temple site remnants of wall murals have been restored to display some of the original colors. Carvings of serpents and frogs are repeated in many of the structures. Probably the most notable artifact in this area is the Wall of Skulls, a panel of human skulls covered with stucco.

Adjacent to the site a beautiful museum has been built to display more than 6000 pieces from the excavation. Among the many exhibits are found two identical life-sized clay statues of Aztecs warriors in eagle costumes. The exhibits do a superb job of depicting the variety and splendor of the Aztec Empire.

As I conclude my visit, I could not help but thinking about the contrast between this corruption of the use of temples and our understanding of the true purpose of temples . The concluding chapters of the Book of Mormon describe the fallen and depraved state of the Lamanite and Nephite peoples. The similarities are striking. What a contrast to temples built to the Holiness of the Lord.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Wednesday, August 20th was an exciting day on our Manzana del Templo. Missionaries from the four Mexico City missions, the Mexico City MTC, and mission presidents from more than 20 Mexico missions gathered at the MTC on the Manzana del Templo for an address by Elder Holland. You can imagine how excited the young missionaries were to see and hear an Apostle of the Lord, a rare opportunity for most of them.

Almost everyone was in their seats at least an hour early and some more than that. As early as 7 a.m. we could see a stream of young missionaries entering the Manzana and heading to the MTC. It was quite a sight! We arrived about 8:45 and the Chapel was full with chairs extending clear to the back of a large adjoining cultural hall. As we looked around we could see a sea of white shirts and suits. There were more than 1000 in attendance. Luckily we senior missionaries had reserved seating up front which turned out to be a great spot. This is one of the blessings for being one of the "old folks".

In the choir seats were the mission presidents, and the MTC president. On the front row of the stand were seated Elder Holland, Elder Clayton, one of the presidents of Seventy, and the Area Presidency. All the priesthood leaders were accompanied by their wives. The MTC president's wife played the piano and the MTC president interpreted for Elder Holland.

Elder Clayton and the Area Presidency both spoke in Spanish. Janice is sure they gave great talks but didn't follow too well. However, Larry enjoyed them and wrote notes to Janice explaining the main ideas of the talks. Of course, the highlight was Elder Holland's talk. He made some brief introductory statements and closing statements in Spanish but the bulk of his talk was in English and was interpreted by Elder Piñon, our delightful MTC president.

As usual Elder Holland gave a very powerful speech. It was amazing to both watch and hear. He would get so animated that sometimes he would not even stop for the interpreter, but President Piñon seemed to keep up somehow. It was fun to watch how President Piñon, who is a very animated man by nature, would literally hold his hands together to stop himself from using them to talk. He did use facial expressions though and it was priceless to see. At one point near the end of the talk when Elder Holland had been gong on at a very fast rate and Elder Pinion was rushing to keep up with him, Elder Holland stopped, turned to President Piñon, and gave him a big kiss on the cheek and said "I love you". President Piñon without missing a beat translated it then got a silly look on his face and said "I love you too."

One of the main points of Elder Holland's talk was the concern that Church leaders have for the missionaries. He said that one of President Hinkley's recurring themes was that the Church is not doing enough for the missionaries and that too many missionaries come home from their missions and become inactive. He said, "This church cannot live with the loss of a single missionary." He talked of how the missionaries need to teach with the Spirit but in order to do so they have to be fully converted themselves. He told us that the most important convert in all our life will be ourselves. He also said missionaries should be the evidence of their missions. He added that none of us can control someone else's life, i.e. whether they will accept or reject the Church, but that we can control what kind of a missionary and returned missionary we are.

To our surprise after the meeting Elder and Sister Holland and several of his party came in through the back door of the Visitor's Center. Unfortunately we weren't there at the time but we certainly heard about it from the sisters that were working. The group just walked through quickly and took a general look at things. All of us had previously been given very clear instructions that we could not take cameras to the meeting. But, now they were on our grounds. One of the sister's quickly got her camera out and was able to get a few pictures. When we arrived later that day she was "floating on air". We were glad she was able to document the occasion for us. We did take pictures of the missionaries streaming out after the meeting and as you can see it was quite a sight.

We are so thankful for the opportunity to serve this mission and the wonderful faith promoting experiences we are having. The gospel is true. It brings joy and happiness to those who live its principles. We feel such great love from our Heavenly Father and from you. Thank you for your love and support.