Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mexico City Temple

This is a really exciting day for us. This morning’s Church News announced the date for the rededication of the Mexico City Temple. Repairs began on July 1, 2007. The initial plan was to retrofit the Temple for seismic enhancements. Mexico City sits on a geological "bowl of jelly" which causes buildings to shift and lean. A lot of the buildings in town look like they are ready to topple over. Since 1983 when the Temple was first dedicated the elevation of Mexico City has dropped about 8 feet. Periodic adjustments to buildings is necessary to keep up with these conditions.

The Visitors Center was also completed about the same time as the Temple and has also suffered environmental damage. Besides shifting foundations, Mexico City is plagued with acid rain. The combination of high air pollution and heavy rainfall results in corrosive damage to the exterior of buildings. The concrete and rock chip exterior paneling needed replacement. In some places the corrosion had exposed the metal reinforcement bars. The Angel Moroni got beat up during all of this and now we get a refurbished gold-leafed angel Moroni (How many temples have an Angel Moroni facing south?)

Once these change were underway and everything was all torn up, why not make some more changes and improvements? So instead of being a one-phase project for the Temple it became a four-phase project and took a year longer than planned.

We can look out from the Visitors Center and see all sorts of activity going on over there — workers on the roof, painters, landscape people. It has really been exciting to watch the progress, especially lately as everything is in high gear. In fact the whole Manzana is getting a face lift. Some of the buildings such as the MTC buildings and our apartment building were an ugly grey. Now with the changes we are getting a bright new coat of white and it looks much better. There is also beautiful new landscaping going in everywhere on the Manzana. Some of the workers who have been working on these projects have come over to the Center for a tour and we are always glad to see them.

Mexico has 12 temples. For the more stout hearted members there are temple excursions from the Mexico City wards to the neighboring temples in Vera Cruz and Oaxaca. These trips involve a long bus ride.

A few weeks ago a handicapped American girl came in the Center on a Saturday afternoon and wondered what was happening at the Temple. She had arrived in Mexico a few days earlier for a Spanish program in Cuernavaca, several hours to the west by bus. She came to attend the Temple but didn’t know that it was closed. We took her through the Center and she seemed to enjoy that. Bless her soul!

The Temple open house will be from Oct. 20th to Nov. 8th. A cultural celebration we be held on Saturday Nov. 15th, the rededication on Sunday and temple sessions resuming on Monday. We expect lots and lots of people to attend the open house, many of whom will probably come into the Center, possibly as many as 2000 per day. It is going to be interesting working in those conditions. Hurrah for Israel!

We love the temple and have a strong testimony of the work that is done there. Before our mission we worked in the Salt Lake Temple and we were used to attending often. The last time we were able to attend was when we were at the MTC and went to the Provo Temple one time to do a session and some sealings. It is very exciting to think we will be living right next door to an operating temple and be able to attend frequently once again.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chapultepec Castle

We celebrated the Fourth of July by going to the Castle at Chapultepec Park. Since we couldn’t do anything really American to celebrate our nation’s independence, we decided to do something to symbolize Mexican independence.

The Chapultepec castle is located on top of Chapultepec Hill in the middle of Chapultepec Park in the heart of Mexico City. We have talked about this park earlier in our blog. This amazing complex of buildings has served several purposes during its history. It has been used as a Military Academy, Imperial residence, Presidential home, observatory and currently as the Mexican National Museum of History.

The most interesting historical fact about this castle is that it is the only castle in North America that was ever used as residence by a ruling European sovereign. Maximilian von Habsburg, archduke of Austria and emperor of Mexico, and his wife Carlota lived there from 1864 to 1867.
From the castle we could see a great view of downtown Mexico City, the park below with a thick forest including a zoo, lakes, and walking trails.

We enjoyed the beautiful roof gardens, a grand staircase guarded by lions, lavish wood-carved furniture, a room designed with oriental furnishings, a state dining room, colonial artwork and outdoor fountains and statues. The north side of the complex was being used for an exhibit of Buddhist art. We would like to go back and see that area another time.
After we finished touring the Castle, we walked through the park. It was very relaxing. We enjoyed seeing the lakes with their paddle boats and looking at the sky line of Mexico City. We also ate a small picnic lunch in the park before we left.

An unexpected treat of the day was being able to tour the Castle as "Third Generation" visitors. In Mexico senior citizens are able to get in to many public venues free of charge. I think that I would rather be younger and pay full fare though.
Well, the spirit of Independence Day was not totally forgotten. After we got home that night, we went to a Fourth of July picnic with the other senior missionaries in our building. There is really no place to barbecue here, so we cooked hamburgers and everyone contributed July 4th type foods. We played a patriotic game. We felt it appropriate to sing the national anthem. Not to be outdone, a couple from Cardston, Alberta felt that they should have equal time, so they sang the Canadian national anthem. All in all, it was a great day.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Centro Para Visatantes

We have been asked exactly what our responsibilities are at the Visitors Center, so we thought it might be fun to take you on a tour and show and explain the Center to you.

Our main responsibilities are supervisory. We greet people as they come and we visit with them while they wait, but also make sure that the young sisters are there to greet them and to organize them into tours. The young sister missionaries (hermanas) are very well trained to meet the needs of the visitors.
Visitors may arrive in busloads, small groups, families or even individuals. The sisters usually sit and visit with them for a while and access their needs and then begin a tour with a Christus presentation. After the presentation (recorrido), the tour will vary but we will take you on a typical tour.

The tours start down the hall past the office where Elder Foley is working. Then they go past the sala where sisters are researching referrals. The first stop is at the temple kiosk. Our Visitors Center is the only one that has this particular display. The large board shows all 12 temples in Mexico. The screen is interactive with a map of the world. You can touch any country and it will enlarge to show you where temples are found in that country. It also has interactive programs explaining various things about the temples. The area has large chandeliers and pictures of rooms in the Temple. There are large windows that look out at the Mexico City Temple.

The next stop is usually the family area. Here is an exhibit of a family home. In the living room area is an interactive board with questions about the family. If one is chosen a "Homefront" ad related to that question shows on the TV. All the actors are Hispanic and it is done very well. There are also samplers with some of the more common quotes on the family and pictures of some Mexican families.

In the central part of the Center are various displays. This area has rounded wall on both sides with pictures portraying the life of Christ. In the middle are areas regarding the Plan of Salvation and speak of the purpose of prophets, the Savior, the family, etc. There are many interactive displays with testimonies of the prophets and testimonies of modern saints.

On the other side of the Center is an area dedicated to the Book of Mormon. There is an interactive board with stories from the Book of Mormon.There is a board with pictures and recorded testimonies of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and there are Mexican saints testifying to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. There is also a display of Books of Mormon from many countries in many languages.

In addition to the displays there are two small salas( den-like rooms) for small groups or individuals to watch a Church movie. There are also five theaters ranging in seating capacity from 30 to 60 where larger groups can view shows.

The tours are usually completed with a movie, after which the visitors are invited to fill out a referral card. If it is a member they fill out a card referring a family member or a friend. If is it not a member, they fill out a card for themselves with the opportunity to request a Book of Mormon be delivered to their house and to invite the missionaries to come by. Processing these referrals is a big part of our job. We process about 1500 to 2000 a month. Most of them are for the Mexico City area but we also send referral cards all over Mexico and to the Referral Center in Provo to be forwarded to other parts of the world.

In addition to this, we have other assignments we work on. Janice keeps a book of short biographies and pictures of all the sisters in the Visitors Center. She also maintains a large frame in the office with the pictures of all the missionary companionships. In addition she is helping with administering immunizations to the missionaries. Larry is writing a history of the Center and as part of that is collecting spiritual experiences from the missionaries that serve there. He types these up both in Spanish and English and then prints them with a picture of that missionary.

One of the stories that shows why we love our work so much was just given to Larry this week. The sister that wrote it told about a day some time ago when she saw a woman and her two daughters in front of the Visitors Center. She went out and invited them in. The daughters really wanted to come but the mother was very hesitant. She finally did come in and it turned out she was a member who was having serious doubts about the gospel. She visited with the sister and then watched a Church movie with her daughters. She became very emotional and left. The other day she came back into the Center and this same sister missionary was working. The woman had a friend with her. She walked up to the missionary and asked if she remembered who she was. The missionary said, "Of course I do" and gave her a big hug. The sister then told her she had been going to Church and her friend was taking the missionary discussions and would soon be baptized. We hear so many stories like this, it is very exciting.

We also try to enjoy the missionaries outside of the center when we can. Janice had two of the missionaries recently come to the apartment and helped them bake brownies. Today we had the two companionships that live in our building come to dinner. One of these sisters finishes her mission tomorrow and one of them is being transferred back to another Mexico City Mission from which she was serving until she had a medical problem. They were really funny, I had made that homemade hot fudge for dessert and had ice cream, nuts, m&ms and whipped cream to make sundaes. I also had some little cookies. Anyway they each built these sundaes and then insisted on putting our name tags by our sundaes and taking a picture. I guess it was some kind of a contest or something. Then when they were ready to leave they said they wanted to sing a song for us. I told them about the saying in the states to "sing for your supper" and they thought that was pretty funny.

We enjoy our work so much. We are constantly learning new things. We know we will continue to learn and have more opportunities to serve.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Basilica de Guadalupe

It has been over two weeks since we updated our blog and the time has flown by. We are still so happy to be here and are loving our work in El Centro para Visitantes.

Weekends at the Center are especially exciting. We have worked the past two Saturday mornings and both weeks we have had three big busloads of people arrive. Last Saturday we had three buses with a total of over 200 people arrive within an hour and a half. The stakes and wards in the area often rent buses and then either the missionaries or sometimes the bishop will organize a group, usually consisting of investigators, newly baptized members, and other members and bring them to the Center. They start their tour with the Christus presentation and then usually watch a Church movie. The most popular ones are The Testament and The Restoration. The children also really enjoy some of the interactive displays at the Center. During the week we usually have two sets of sisters working with us in the Center. On Saturdays we have four sets and they really keep busy. It is so wonderful to see them with the large groups and how well they relate to the visitors.

We work every other Sunday from 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm. Sundays are also busy days, but it is largely member families bringing their children after church to watch a video. On Sunday evenings we often have concerts. It is a joy to watch the Mexican families. The parents show such affection for their children and they take such good care of them. Even the poorer families seem to always have their children so well dressed and they are very patient with them and the children seem exceptionally well behaved.

Janice has taken on an added responsibility. The doctor who lives across the hall in our apartment building gives immunizations to the missionaries in the MTC here. He has asked her to help him out. It is a good chance for her to practice Spanish since all of these missionaries are natives. She especially needs to know how to say "relax," "you are so brave," "have a candy." Her vocabulary continues to grow. Actually she enjoys seeing how dramatic some of the elders and sisters are.

On the 18th of June we had to go to Immigration to be fingerprinted and fill out some paperwork. It took an hour’s cab ride to get there, We were somewhat concerned not knowing what to expect but it turned out to be a very easy process and did not take long. The Immigration office is in a lovely part of Mexico City and since it was our day off we decided to explore. We found some nice malls and were even brave enough to both get our hair cut. We were both pretty pleased with the results although it was a little scary not knowing what we were getting into. We then had lunch and decided to walk to the Metro to go home. It was quite a long walk and we saw some really interesting things along the way. One was an amazing mall called Palacio de Hierro. This mall is very high class with a beautiful fountain in front and exclusive stores inside. We were too tired to explore but we might go back sometime.

That night when we got back we went to a farewell party for the DeHoyos, the cute young couple that lived in our building. He recently got a new job in Puebla which is where they are from. So they left and took their cute little Alberto with them. We now are without any babies in the building to grandparent.

Basilica de Guadalupe
On June 26th we went to the Basilica of Guadalupe with Paul and Ellen Garvin. Besides the fact that Paul and Ellen are great company and very knowledgeable about the area, they have a car and we didn’t have to fight the public transportation system.

The Basilica is very famous. In fact, John McCain during his recent diplomatic trip to Mexico went to see it the other day. The Basilica is not just another old Catholic church but is the central place of worship for Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Virgin unites the native Indian religions of Mexico with Catholicism. The blue-mantled Virgin of Guadalupe is the most revered image in Mexico, and you will see her countenance wherever you travel. The Basilica may be the second most visited shrine in all the Catholic world, second only to St. Peter's in Rome.

The Basilica occupies the site where, on December 9, 1531, legend tells that a poor Indian named Juan Diego saw a vision of a beautiful lady in a blue mantle. The local bishop was reluctant to confirm that he had indeed seen the Virgin Mary, so he asked the peasant for evidence. Juan Diego saw the vision a second time, on December 12, and when he asked her for proof, she instructed him to collect the roses that began blooming in the rocky soil at his feet. He gathered the flowers in his cloak and returned to the bishop. When he unfurled his cloak, the flowers dropped to the ground and the image of the Virgin was miraculously imprinted on the rough-hewn cloth. The bishop immediately ordered the building of a church on the spot, and upon its completion, the cloth with the Virgin's image was hung in a place of honor, framed in gold.
Since that time, millions of the devout and the curious have come to view the miraculous image that experts, it is said, are at a loss to explain. So heavy was the flow of visitors -- many approached for hundreds of yards on their knees -- that the old church, already fragile, was insufficient to handle them. A magnificent new Basilica was opened in 1987.

The spacious grounds of the Basilica house not only the new and old Basilicas but are also surrounded by other Catholic churches, magnificent gardens, fountains, statues, a museum of religious icons and paintings. It was indeed a time well spent. It is further evidence, however, of how deeply ingrained the Catholic religion is to the people of Mexico and the challenges in teaching the gospel here.
In spite of the strong Catholic influence the gospel is true and we are seeing many of these humble Mexican people accept it. We process around 2000 referrals at the Visitors Center each month and see many baptisms resulting. It is so exciting to be even a small part of this wonderful work.