Because of violent civil uprisings in 1994, full-time missionaries were pulled out of many areas in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. Some fledgling branches, such as the one in the town of Palenque—near the famous Mayan ruins of the same name—were closed.
Missionaries assigned to Palenque some two years later faced the challenges of reopening the branch, locating and reactivating scattered members, baptizing new converts, and preparing members for leadership.
Among the first missionaries to arrive were Elder Bartolomé de la Cruz Reyes and his wife, Natalia, of the Arboleda Ward, Mexico City Mexico La Perla Stake. “This couple literally rescued the branch,” says President Benjamín de Hoyos Estrada of the Mexico Tuxtla Gutiérrez Mission. Their secret: hearts filled with love for the Lord, for one another, and for their fellowmen.
“Sister de la Cruz walks with me, and I walk with her,” says Elder de la Cruz. “This is the feeling we have—lots of love for our brothers and sisters, all of them, whether they are members of the Church or not. I know they are children of our Heavenly Father.”
Elder and Sister de la Cruz became like members of the family to all they met. Within a few months of their arrival in Palenque, the branch had grown from just a handful of people attending sacrament meeting to an average weekly attendance of 50. Soon the branch had outgrown the rented house where they held meetings and moved to a larger meeting place.
One of the “new” families in the branch is José Felipe Hernández Jorge and his wife, Magnolia. Baptized in Mérida, Mexico, eight years ago, they moved their family to Palenque two years ago and quietly fell into inactivity. “Six or seven months ago, Elder and Sister de la Cruz found us and we became friends,” says Brother Hernández. “We’ve been attending ever since!” After only a few months, he succeeded Elder de la Cruz as branch president.
Another new member is Rocío Flores Rojas, 15. “Elder and Sister de la Cruz taught and baptized my mother,” she says. “At first I didn’t want to be baptized. But they kept coming and talking to me about the word of God. And they treated me so well—like they do all the people. I came to know that their message was true and was baptized last Sunday. More than anything, we would like them to stay with us forever. But when they have completed their mission, they have a right to return to their family.”
Elder de la Cruz retired from his job early in order to serve. He and his wife had attended a meeting in Mexico City and heard Elder Lino Álvarez of the Seventy encourage couples to serve full-time missions. Facing the loss of some retirement benefits by retiring early, Elder and Sister de la Cruz nevertheless felt the Spirit telling them that now was the right time for them. “We did lose some benefits,” he says, “but our Heavenly Father has given us so much more. We decided to share with our brothers and sisters what we feel for Him.”
“For me it has been a great happiness and joy to come to know and teach these brothers and sisters in Palenque—and to even bring more members to the Church,” says Sister de la Cruz. “I feel greatly strengthened by being with them.”
Before leaving home, the couple held a family meeting with their elderly parents, their nine children, and their grandchildren—all of whom are members of the Church. Each family member expressed encouragement and support. “When we left, I put my family in the hands of the Lord,” says Sister de la Cruz. “He has protected them. They are all fine. They write often and tell us how happy they are to have us serving.”
During a recent branch outing at the Mayan ruins at Palenque, Elder and Sister de la Cruz spent the afternoon visiting with members and nonmembers, chatting with the youth, and playing with the children. “The Palenque Branch has made a lot of progress—and has a great future,” says Elder de la Cruz.
He gently takes his wife by the hand and gives her a smile. “Perhaps we have deficiencies,” he says, “but we do our part, and the Lord adds whatever we’re lacking to accomplish what we need to do.”