Xinia Muñoz of Belize City, Belize

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    Xinia Muñoz of Belize City, Belize

    It happens almost every Sunday evening. After church and after the dinner dishes are washed, nine-year-old Xinia (pronounced ZEEN-ya) gets out a pencil and several sheets of lined paper and starts writing her letters.

    She sits at the kitchen table, absorbed with her writing. Sometimes she’ll look up to ask someone how to spell a word or to say something she remembers about the person she is writing to. But during most of her letter-writing time, she seems to be in her own world—or in the world of the person who is lucky enough to get her letter.

    Who is she writing to? “The missionaries,” she answers with a smile. The letter she is working on now is for Elder Ed McCoy, a close friend of the family, who is serving a mission in California. Ed is the only member of his family who belongs to the Church, and Xinia makes sure that he gets at least one letter every week—hers.

    “He used to come to our house for Sunday dinner,” she says. After he left for his mission, Sunday evening just didn’t seem complete without visiting with Ed—even if only through a letter. Before long, she started writing letters to the other missionaries, too. Now Xinia writes a letter nearly every Sunday evening to all six missionaries from Belize City. Sometimes she also writes to missionaries who served in Belize and have now returned to their homes. Every Monday morning, her mother mails a stack of Xinia’s letters to places such as Honduras, England, Canada, and the United States.

    Since Xinia lives in Belize—a Central American country near Mexico and Guatemala—you might expect her to speak Spanish and write her letters in Spanish. But although she has lots of friends who do speak Spanish, Xinia and her family speak English, the official language of the country. (Belize used to be known as “British Honduras.”) The Muñoz family also speak Creole, a Caribbean dialect of English.

    What does she say in her letters? “All sorts of things,” she answers, “—that I’m all right, that I miss them. And I want to know if they’re all right.”

    Sometimes Xinia includes poems in her letters. “I make up poems about happiness, the Bible, my feelings about people, that I’m thankful for my Heavenly Father, that I love Him very much, and that I’m thankful he sent me to earth.

    “Sometimes I make up poems for Mom’s Day and Dad’s Day,” she says. “I’m thankful he sent me to this family.” Her dad, Joel, is president of the Belize City Branch. Her mother, Tomasa, teaches institute and family history. She has two older brothers, Alfonso, 18, and Angelo, 12; an older sister, Madelyn, 17; and a younger brother, Micah, 3. “I’m thankful for my friends, too, and I write poems about them sometimes.”

    “Xinia is always writing of her feelings,” says her mother. “When something happens to her, or if she gets offended, she will write about it. She can express her feelings better that way.”

    For example, she has written about the day she mistakenly ate some medicine tablets, thinking they were candy: “After I ate my sweets, I dropped down. I was coughing. My eyes were closed. When I woke up [in the hospital], I saw my mom crying. I asked her, ‘Mom, why are you crying?’ She said, ‘I thought you were going to die.’ The next day, there was my family. They said, ‘We love you, Xinia.’ So I was happy. They each bought me a present. They said good-bye and left. The next day, they came to bring me home in a wheelchair. I couldn’t get out of our house for a long time. Finally my heart was okay. I was six years old. I had to get on with my life.”

    In school, Xinia is in Standard 1A (third grade). She received an award for earning the third-highest grades in her class. She wrote a poem for a school program about the environment, encouraging people to appreciate the world and to keep it clean. “I’m practicing to be a journalist,” she says. “I want to write articles for newspapers and magazines.”

    Like most people who enjoy writing, Xinia also enjoys reading. She brings her reader home from school every day, “and sometimes I read it about five times a day. I love it. It has a lot of stories and articles.”

    She also likes to read the Book of Mormon and the children’s pages in the Church magazines. She loves the stories, puzzles, and activities. She and her brother Angelo save the magazines in big brown envelopes so they can read them again later.

    “In one of my magazines, there is a story about a CTR ring,” she says. “I love to read it. Once I had a CTR ring, but Micah [her three-year-old brother] was fooling around in my jewelry box. He took it out and lost it. And when I found it, it was bent and couldn’t fit on my finger again.” She was very disappointed, but thinking about her ring helped her to be kind to her little brother.

    Xinia also likes to sing. “My favorite Primary songs are ‘Mother Dear’ and ‘Book of Mormon stories that my teacher tells to me.’ Then there’s a little one about popcorn popping, and one about a snowman—tall, tall, tall.”

    But you won’t see snow in Belize. Located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, Belize City is hot and humid. Because the land is flat and swampy, many houses are built on stilts. Some of these stilts are above ground, and you have to climb stairs to enter the house. Other homes and buildings, such as the Belize City meetinghouse, don’t look like they are on stilts—but many of them are. They’re built on stilts that are below the ground. Then lots of soil is brought in to fill in the swampy land.

    “I’ve never seen snow in my life,” Xinia admits, “but I like the song about the snowman because it helps me think about the world around me. And no matter if it snows or not in Belize, it’s still my home.”

    Xinia recently wrote down her feelings about Heavenly Father: “When I talk about Heavenly Father, I feel love. I love him. I wish I could go up to heaven and thank him I’m on earth. I’m glad to have my flesh and blood. And to go to school and have friends. I know that he loves me. And I love him very much, just like he loves me. With his help I can do all sorts of things. Like climb a tree with his help. Play run-race with his help. Be friendly with his help.”

    [photos] Photography by Marvin K. Gardner

    [photos] On Sunday evenings, Xinia writes letters to missionaries. At school, she enjoys playing “run-race” with her friends. And she loves to write poems about her mother.

    [photos] Xinia likes to play on cement animals in the park. There’s an elephant, a tiger, a turtle, and an ostrich. You can climb into the hippo’s wide-open mouth. “And I like the yellow fish with a big circle in the middle. You can sit down in there and rest!”