Sunday, March 31, 2013

Familias Xalapeñas

November 7, 2007 – November 10, 2007

The Pico de Orizaba, a huge stratovolcano about 60km south of Xalapa. At more than 18,000 ft., it is one of the tallest mountains in North America. On a clear day, you can even see it from the coast, about 120km away.

Whenever they can, missionaries try to teach families. When families are taught together, the family members can help each other adjust to the life changes that come with adopting a new religion and remind each other about the importance of keeping commitments that missionaries invite them to make. But teaching families also complicates certain aspects. It can be hard to schedule times when everyone is home for the missionaries to visit, or one family member’s doubts or disagreements can influence the rest of the family to stop meeting with the missionaries.

My first week in the field, we met two families that were interested in our message. The first was the Martínez family, made up of Ana and Bonifacio and their two young boys. Elder Guerra and his previous companion (whom I had replaced) had gotten Ana’s contact info somehow, so we walked down to her house in the Fredepo area of the Reserva neighborhood.

Fredepo in the evening.

Fredepo was among the poorest parts of our area. All the roads were made of dirt, and when it rained or got foggy (as it frequently did), the roads would turn into a deep mud. Most of the houses were made of either exposed cinder blocks or sheets of metal or wood. The Martínez family’s house was made of both. They had a couple of unfinished rooms made of concrete and a larger front room made of metal and heavy cardboard sheets. The floor was just dirt. I had to stoop pretty low to walk in through the makeshift door, which was secured with a chain and lock when they weren’t home. I was surprised to see a TV and a large stereo system in their front room. I guess some things are just more important than a floor.

I was amazed at how receptive Ana was. She listened intently to what we taught about our church’s beliefs and how it’s blessed our lives. After only the first visit we were talking with her about her becoming a member of the church. We hadn’t yet met her husband, Bonifacio. She also told us he was a state police officer and regularly got assigned out to various cities for days at a time. We also found out that they weren’t civilly married. They’d had a Catholic wedding ceremony but had never registered it with the state. This mattered to us because Mormons believe that, in order to satisfy commandments regarding sexual purity, cohabitating couples need to be legally married. The Martínezes would have to obtain a civil marriage before they could become members of the church. Still, though, Ana said she wanted to come to church with us that Sunday, so we looked forward to seeing her there.

I remember being a little confused about the Martínezes’ surnames. In Hispanic culture, a person’s name generally consists of one or two given names followed by the paternal last name and then the maternal last name. Women do not change their last names when they marry. For example, Bonifacio’s last names were Martínez De la Cruz, Martínez being the last name of his father, and De la Cruz being the last name of his mother. As it turns out, Ana’s last names were Martínez Martínez, meaning her parents both had the same paternal last name before they were married. Collectively, Ana and Bonifacio’s family would be also referred to as the Martínez Martínez family. The reason this is so confusing is just that Martínez is a very common last name, like “Smith” or “Johnson” in the U.S.

That same week we also met the Guerrero family. I don’t remember how we found them; we might have approached them in the street one day or knocked on their door. They lived in a different section of La Reserva but were probably no better off financially than the Martínezes. The father, Joel, was the most interested in what we had to say. He always paid close attention to Elder Guerra, and I got the impression that he and Elder Guerra developed a strong respect for each other. I never found out why that might have been, but I was glad about it. Their several children were interested as well. Joel’s wife was not as receptive. She seemed to be tolerating our visits more out of deference to Joel than anything else. They were all still willing to come to church with us the next day, which again surprised me. Somehow I’d imagined it would take a lot longer than that for people to decide to try a new religion. But these two families felt the need for a change in their lives and were very accepting of our message.

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