1961. The horizon wasn’t even softened yet by the coming dawn when a train stopped at a siding in southern Mexico to take on water. There was no town in sight, nothing but the dim outlines of mountains and jungle. Before the train could chug out its first puff of steam to get underway again, a Mexican youth in a suit and tie suddenly dug an elbow into his “gringo” companion as they sat on a bench in the passenger section.
“Grab your bag,” he said. “We’re getting off.”
Overriding his sleepy friend’s inarticulate protests, he soon had them both standing by the tracks in the 4:00 A.M. chill as the train snorted, huffed, gathered speed, and pulled away. Finally awake, the companion said in disbelief, “But it’s the middle of the night, and we’re in the middle of nowhere, and there won’t be another train until tomorrow morning!”
“I know,” the young Mexican replied, “but the Spirit told me to get off; so we got off.” His companion shrugged. No arguing with that sort of thing. Elder Parra, district president of the Puebla District of the mission was no fool, and everybody knew he lived close to the Lord.
“So here we are,” the American said stoically. “So what next?” Elder Parra pointed into the darkness. “We start walking,” he said.
So they walked, stumbling up one side of a mountain and down the other. Dawn showed them another mountain beyond that, and another beyond that, and they climbed them. At last, about 17 miles later, they came to a village of very small, poor houses. They climbed a little hill nearby, took out their hymnbooks, and sang a hymn. When they had finished that hymn, they sang another, and then another, until all the people from the village came out of their houses and climbed the hill to see what was going on.
When everyone had gathered around the two missionaries, they started to preach. They preached for half a day, and when they had finished preaching, they dammed up a small stream nearby and baptized every person there who was eight years of age or older. They then ordained an elder to be president of the new little branch and hiked back to catch the next day’s train.
Today Elder Parra is back in southern Mexico, this time as president of the Mexico Vera Cruz Mission. The mission leads the Church in baptisms, has a high rate of member activity, and boasts a strong youth missionary program.
The little village in the mountains is a thriving branch of some 200 members. They have a full-time missionary in the field and hope to build a chapel.
To them it makes a lot of difference that one Mormon elder had enough faith to suddenly get off a train at 4:00 A.M. in the middle of nowhere.