Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back among the living

We are slow updating our blog due to illness. Both Janice and I were hit pretty hard with the flu. However, the last few days we have felt pretty good and think that it is a closed chapter. We are looking forward to being among the living again.

On Monday June 2nd we went to our first TIANGUIS which is like a big open air market. Several of the smaller streets are blocked off and vendors set up tables and bright red overhead awnings where they display their wares. It seems like they sell everything from nuts to bolts. The food goods include fresh vegetables and fruits, meat, dried herbs, and candy. You can also buy cooked foods, household goods, clothes, shoes, electronics, flowers, spare parts and tools, to name a few things. The prices are reasonable and it is a fun adventure. We hear that there are Thursday and Saturday tianguis in other nearby neighborhoods buy we have not gone there yet.

That night we attended our first family home evening. This is a custom among the senior missionary couples living in our apartment complex. Usually the three couples assigned to the Visitors Center, the medical doctor and the mental health advisor and their wives and a couple working as office missionaries in the Mexico City South Mission attend. There is a young couple living in our complex who also attend. We just got the news that they are moving and everyone is sad. We all take turns hosting the family evening and presenting the lessons. Besides the good lessons that we hear we also enjoy treats afterwards. Next Monday will be our first turn.

On June 5th we celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. We took a bus to a nearby shopping mall that has an Italian restaurant we had heard was good. It was really fun and the food was delicious. We asked a waiter to take our picture and told him it was our anniversary. We decided to share a dessert and when he brought it they had decorated it with Happy Anniversary. (We want you to know the wine bottle on the table is part of the décor and is on every table – we certainly want to clarify that!).

The Visitors Center has a tradition of inviting musical talent to perform in the Center. These events take place on Sunday evenings in the large reception area next to the Christus statue. If visitors come for a tour, the performing group waits a few minutes until the presentation is finished. One of the outstanding groups is the Garza family from a neighboring stake. They have been performing in the Center since May 2007. The family consists of a mother who had a career as a professional singer. She directs the group. The father is the pianist for the group and also is one of the vocalists. There are four girls and one boy, all under 14 years of age, who take part. They often do their own arrangements and perform in different combinations. Sometimes friends of the family accompany them. The family has phenomenal talent, particularly the mother, the 11 year-old girl, and the 12 year-old boy. Their concerts add to the beautiful spirit at the Center and are enjoyed by all who attend.

Working at the Visitors Center has given us spiritual experiences that we are beginning to cherish. The Christus presentation centers on the teachings of Jesus Christ. The missionary sisters start the presentation by welcoming the visitors to the Center. A recorded message is then played which quotes several scriptures about Christ told in the first person. The sisters conclude by bearing testimony of Christ and then they take the visitors to different parts of the building for teachings about the Restoration, Plan of Salvation, Book of Mormon, and Temples. Many times the Spirit is heavily felt both by us missionaries and those on the tours. One of my assignments is to compile a history of the Center. I am collecting stories from the sisters of their most special experiences. These are truly heart warming and a source of joy to read. Many of these sisters have been members of the Church for short periods of time and sometimes are the only members in their families. It is also a joy to feel their strong sprits and see them grow in the Gospel.

Another example of the sweet sisters was on Monday, June 16th, Larry’s birthday. The 4 sisters working that evening knew it was his birthday. At 8:30 pm we close the center and have a closing devotional with a prayer and song and relate any special experiences of the day. This night about 8:15 two of the sisters called me to the back of the center and asked me if they could run to a nearby restaurant and buy a little cake for Larry. It was raining and dark but they were insistent so they ran somewhere close by and came back with a tin of sweet rolls. When our meeting started everything seemed as normal, but when Larry asked what song they wanted to sing they loudly started singing a Spanish birthday song. They then opened the cupboard and brought out the sweetrolls with matches in them for candles. They lit the matches and were so excited. They all took out cameras and took lots of pictures, it was such a fun surprise.

We continue to be so happy that we are in Mexico at this time serving the Lord. We love the gospel and can think of no other place we would rather be. We enjoy your comments and hope you enjoy sharing parts of our mission with us.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Down and out in Mexico City

This is Heather speaking here....we may not be getting our weekly update from my parents tomorrow because they are both down in bed with a horrible flu. My mom said she has never felt so awful! So we will have to wait in suspense and pray they get well soon!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

La Semana Pasada (The past week)

We are tired, but a good tired. This week has been a whirlwind and we are still adjusting to a new and very different life, but we love it. We are slowly learning our duties at the Centro para Visitantes (Visitors ‘ Center) and hope before long that we can function with a little more confidence in what we are doing. I find it frustrating to not be able to speak the language and am very motivated to learn. Larry, on the other hand, impresses everyone with his command of the language and has a great camaraderie with the Mexican missionaries that I hope one day I will achieve. The sweet, young sisters are very patient with me though and try to help me understand as best they can.

When we arrived in our neighborhood, it was similar to what we had known from previous trips to the border town of Agua Prieta, near our home in Arizona, and from former vacations to Puerta Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas where we saw run-down neighborhoods, graffiti on the walls, and little make-shift stores, among other things. Our neighborhood here is pretty much the same. It is not a slum area but it is in the less affluent part of the city.

The Manzana del Templo (Temple Square) stands in stark contrast to the surrounding neighborhood. It is a large gated compound consisting of the Mexico City Temple (now under extensive remodeling), the visitors’ center, the missionary training center, the San Juan de Aragon Stake Center where we attend Sunday services, housing for senior missionaries, and other Church facilities. With all of the remodeling going on the landscaping has taken a hit but I am sure that it will be restored for the Temple rededication.

The temple is closed until October. Here are the workers working on it.

Our culture shock came this week when we went to the Mexico City East mission office on Wednesday to work on our immigration papers and on Friday with a trip to Chapultepec Park to see the National Museum of Anthropology. We saw a very different Mexico in these parts of the city. We were now looking at beautiful buildings, streets lined with large trees, lots of flowers, upscale restaurants, five star hotels, and smartly dressed people.

A tree and a home near the mission office

buildings in downtown Mexico City

Our trip on Friday to the museum was with Cornell and Marlene Thomas, the mental health advisor to all the missionaries in Mexico. Chapultepec Park is truly lovely and the museum and the grounds around it are done so well. We spent 4-5 hours in the museum and only saw a portion of it. We can’t wait to go back on another P-day. We also enjoyed a good lunch in the courtyard of the museum. Afterwards we returned back to our digs in the Manzana which we truly love.

Us and the Thomas' at the museum

Museum favorites

Lunch with the Thomas'

Saturday morning we piled in a van with the driver/technician, Paul and Ellen Garvin (the Center director and his wife), and four sister missionaries. The back of the van was stuffed full with boxes of posters, TV monitors, speakers, and other equipment. We drove to the Anahuauc Stake Center, some 20 minutes away, to conduct an open house. These open houses were started when the Visitors’ Center was closed for 9 months for remodeling. They were originally conceived as an activity to keep the missionary couples busy during the downtime. The plan they came up with is really quite wonderful and has been very successful, so successful that Salt Lake has requested it be continued even though the Center is now open.
The Christus and setting up for open house

It is very interesting to observe how the open houses are conducted. Missionaries from the host stake, both elders and sisters, bring in any investigators that they are working with. They also go out on the street and invite people in to hear the message. The open house tour begins in the chapel with a large poster of the Christus. All of the tours are conducted by the sister missionaries. The recorded message given at the Christus statue in the Visitors, Center is played. The sisters bare their testimonies and then move into the cultural hall where there are 18 posters in sets of six relating to Christ, the Restoration of the Gospel, and the Plan of Salvation. They explain the posters and then take the people to two interactive screens with pull up menus where they can watch video clips about the Book of Mormon and the Bible on one screen or teachings about family life on the other. As they conclude the tour, they are invited to fill out referral cards, note comments about their impressions of the tour, and request missionary visits and a copy of the Book of Mormon. They are also given pamphlets, a picture of Christ, etc. to take with them.

The sisters and some investigators watching

With very little advanced advertising, 111 people attended the open house yesterday, of which about 80 were non-members. We received 149 referrals from members and investigators attending the open house and from other people contacted on the street who did not have time to attend the presentation. One elder and his companion brought in 34 people from invitations on the street. This included a group of teenage boys who were leaving an all night celebration of a Quinceañera (a social event celebrated when girls turn 15). They looked a little sleepy but were still interested in the presentation. Some of the referrals that we received seemed really golden.
Our impressions of the day confirm that the gospel is true. It makes us so happy to see some of these beautiful families come in and get so excited to hear the message.