Tag Archives: LDS missionaries

Mom, Thanks Again

Agua volcano, from Guatemala City, November 3, 2012.

Dear Mom,

I’m back in Guatemala again. I wish you could see me now.

You came here once and enjoyed this place, when you picked me up at the end of my mission in 1966. Because you liked working with people, you enjoyed the people here.

I’m trying to enjoy them too. I think I’ve grown up a lot since my first time here. I enjoy people more, even when they don’t see things my way in discussions about religion and faith. There are so many good people here, all of them sons and daughters of God.

I wish I could tell you thanks again for what you did when you supported me as a missionary. Do we ever really understand when we’re young—15, or 18, or 20—what our parents are doing for us? I see now that it must have been tougher for you, a widow and a single mother, than  I understood at the time. It was years later when I learned that you devoted a third of your income each month to supporting me as a missionary. It was years before I knew that we had been living below the official poverty line for President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. Heavenly Father blessed us so much that we never knew we could officially be considered poor.

Mom, when I wrote you every week, I used to tell you about what I had been doing. I tried to make my time effective. I wanted to do what Heavenly Father wanted me to do, and I tried to respect your sacrifice in supporting me.

Shopping in the central market.

I’m still trying to do the same thing. I’m grateful that my companion of 44 years is here to help me. We’re feeling our way in a new situation. For me, it’s the way it was when I served out in that small Guatemalan town in the fall of 1965, far from official direction. We’re close to official direction now, but in a way no one knows exactly what we’re doing because it hasn’t been done here before. In a way, we’re breaking new ground.

We want to do as a team what our Heavenly Father wants us to do, and we both want to respect the sacrifices that have been made—by ourselves and by others—to allow us to be here. Sunday, November 4, marks exactly 48 years since I arrived in Guatemala the first time to serve as a missionary, and I believe—I hope—that I understand better now what a privilege it is to be here.

Mom, if I could write you a weekly letter, I would tell you I’m still trying to do my best.

I wish you could see me now.

But perhaps you can.

House in Guatemala City where I lived in the spring of 1965.The front patio was open then, with no steel gate, and the street was not paved.

Guatemala Revisited

Guatemala City looking west, early morning

For weeks I’ve been speculating about what Guatemala would be like when I visited it again. Would it be more progressive? Would the downturn in the world’s economy over the past few years have hurt the country badly? Would so many of the members of my church still be struggling economically? Would it look and feel like the same country?

Now that I am here, I find that much of my speculation was right—and it was wrong.

I first came here almost exactly 48 years ago—November 4, 1964. I spent two years as a missionary in Central America, and 12 months of that time in Guatemala City. I have returned twice for 10-day visits, in 1985 and 2000, so I was aware of some of the changes that have taken place. But I wondered how the country had fared over the past decade-plus.

So, does it look and feel like the same country? Yes—the geography, the climate, the culture all still feel familiar. And no—there is something about the people that is different, for the better.

By early morning light, green, forested hills still surround the city, and I can still feel that this is the “land of eternal spring,” where the temperature is almost always pleasant and it’s possible to live without central heating or air conditioning.

But the vista of those hills is punctuated now by many glass, steel, and brick high-rises, and streets that once seemed broad avenues are choked with rush-hour traffic. The city has undoubtedly more than quadrupled in population since that period when I lived here. While many families did not have a telephone in the home back then, I read recently that Guatemala has more cell phones than people, meaning that many Guatemaltecos have more than one phone. When you walk through a shopping mall here, that’s easy to believe. Many teens have gtheir own phones. Guatemalans eat at McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King. Pizza Hut delivery motorcycles zip through traffic. They have Walmart; Paiz grocery stores associated with Walmart;Office Depot; and the Guatemalan equivalent of Costco. (Membership here was cheaper than in Salt Lake City.) In exclusive stores and malls, people can buy the latest fashions not only from North America, but also from Brazil and Europe.

I can feel a change in the people. More of them are well educated, the middle class seems much larger, and they have higher expectations.

This holds true for the members of my church as well. Last night we went to a meeting in a big new building in a poorer area of town. Some 200 teens and their leaders were in attendance. They represented several LDS stakes, meaning that they and their families would add up to thousands of members. I admit I shed a tear or two as I looked around me and thought about the meaning of what I was seeing. When I was a missionary in 1964-66, I worked in this area of the city. One small, struggling branch covered the whole northeastern part of town, and its meetinghouse, like almost all the others in the country, was a rented home adapted for use as a church. Sunday attendance of adults, children, visitors, and members might have reached 200 on a good day.

Perhaps the best measure of church growth in the country is seen in a video Sister Searle and I watched a couple of days ago. It was a recording of the cultural celebration that took place the night before the recent dedication of the Quetzaltenango Guatemala Temple. Hundreds of youth from the western part of Guatemala danced folk numbers, sang, and performed in a tribute to their largely Mayan heritage. The production was a well-choreographed, well-rehearsed, well-executed show that was the equal of anything that could be offered anywhere else in the Church. The young people obviously enjoyed themselves. One young woman who sang should be recording CDs commercially.

As we watched, the impression came: “You were part of this.” I thought: “No, surely not I. Others I knew, yes. But I never had the opportunity to serve in this area.” But the impression persisted: “You and all of the missionaries who served with you were part of making this possible.” If so, it is an honor to be included.

Children waiting for parents outside the Guatemala City Temple.

After the end of my mission in 1966, there was an opportunity to tour some of the famous ruins of Central America and Mexico on my way home. At Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, I stretched my legs after a long day of travel by climbing up one of the pyramids as fast as I could. I was wearing a Guatemalan typical shirt that surely marked me as a tourist, but as I reached the top, a young Mexican I had passed called out behind me: “Gana Guatemala!” (“Guatemala wins!”)

Guatemala is winning because of the growth of the Church in this country, and I am grateful to have another opportunity to help.