On Sunday afternoon the people gather in the parks and plazas. Dressed in their best, they stroll slowly around the brick pavement, greeting friends with hugs and handshakes and stopping now and then to chat, savoring their leisure like kings and queens. They meander through the sunlight and fountains, scaring up clouds of pigeons. They laugh and gesture to one another as they move around the square, past tall white churches and porticoed store fronts. Bronze echoes drift down from church towers; bird sounds filter from the trees; and the rich strains of bandstand brass and strings mingle with the tortilla, bean, and pepper smells of restaurants and sidewalk cafes.
The plazas of Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, have the manicured tidiness of formal gardens. The grass is cut, pavement swept, benches painted, and the statues look as if they have just been dusted. Even the carefully spaced trees are sculpted into uniform green globes of foliage.
And on almost any Sunday afternoon, if you sit down on a circular bench under one of the sculpted trees and just watch for a while, you will probably see a couple of smiling young Mexicans approach someone and say something like this: “Excuse me, sir, but we’re members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we’d like to share something very precious with you.”
About a year ago the missionaries of the Mexico Vera Cruz Mission working in Tuxtla Gutierrez challenged the members to help convert enough people to form a new branch. Knocking on doors wouldn’t do it. They needed references. The Saints listened, nodded, planned, and started asking Golden Questions. They asked them at school, at work, on soccer fields, on buses, and anywhere else there were people to be asked. Each Sunday afternoon after church they would head for the parks and plazas, whole families going together. There they divided into pairs and started talking to passers-by. This method sometimes produced more than 200 solid references for the elders in a single afternoon. Even the youngest members did their part, and there are faithful Mormons today who are grateful that a couple of little children stopped them in a park and bore their young testimonies.
Today Tuxtla Gutierrez has its new branch, but the missionary work continues. Outstanding as the missionary zeal of the branch is, it is matched by the enthusiasm and energy of the young people for sports and other activities. The Aaronic Priesthood and the Young Women organizations offer instruction and competition in dance, soccer, basketball, singing, oratory, dramatic reading, drama, swimming, volleyball, judo, karate, folk dancing, track and field, English, and whatever else any young person wants. The lights of the chapel are on almost every night of the week because young people are inside having the time of their lives and learning at the same time. Last summer there was a district conference and sports day with several hundred young people in attendance, and the competition for sports honors was tough.
And whatever they do they do well. Recently a group of Mormon folk dancers from the district was chosen to represent the state of Chiapas, Mexico, at an international folk dancing competition. Several of the young people in the two branches are highly successful athletes in their respective schools. One young Mormon is on the state championship basketball team. Another won a prestigious oratorical contest, and a young man from the district went on to distinguish himself in track at the University of Mexico in Mexico City.
The sports and activity programs have become missionary tools in themselves. The karate instructor is an investigator, and a number of young people have come into the Church as a result of the activities. President Francisco Lopez, the district president, says, “Mention the Mormons to anyone in Tuxtla Gutierrez, and they’ll say, ‘Oh yes, they’re the ones who are always doing things.’”
But sports activities in the lives of these young people are only like foam on the surface of a much deeper spiritual ocean. The gospel means a lot more to them than scoring baskets and winning races. Pedro Perez says, “The day I found the gospel was a pivotal moment in my life. Here we can know what God expects of the youth today. We can learn how to survive spiritually in these worldly times. I wish all the people in the world were Mormons so that they could all know what true happiness is. One of my greatest desires is to go on a mission. I want all my relatives to become Mormons so that they too can have complete happiness.”
Alberto Gomez speaks briefly but directly: “Everything has changed for me. I want to bring all my friends and relatives into the Church.”
Ignacio Lopez comments, “We have changed a great deal since joining the Church. Our Father in heaven has given us many blessings in our home. I believe that missionary work is a very beautiful thing, and I am honored that I have the gift of bringing other sheep into His fold.”
Celios Aparicio, a longtime member of the Church, asserts, “I am among the fortunate people who, as the Book of Mormon puts it, were born of goodly parents. Since I was small I have been instructed in the gospel. Because of the Church my family has developed spiritually, morally, and economically. The gospel has taught us to live uprightly and happily.”
Maria Sanchez says, “I feel as if I’m becoming a better person each day. I used to have questions such as, ‘Why do I exist?’ ‘Why am I here on earth?’ ‘Does my life really even matter?’ And I never had any answers. When the missionaries came with their message, I felt something beautiful. I have found my answers.”
Wherever there is faith such as this there will be the fruits of faith—nothing headline-miraculous perhaps, but deeply meaningful to the recipients.
Elisabet Perez, 13 years old and called to serve in the Junior Sunday School of one of the branches, recalls, “When I was going to be baptized, I was very ill. I was eight going on nine, and everybody was waiting for me to get better. I had a high fever. I said, ‘I’m going to be baptized even if they have to carry me into the water.’ I was baptized, and when I came out of the water, I was without temperature or nausea. I went into the water sick, and I came out well.”
Leticia Molina, 12, remembers with gratitude, “Once when we lived in another town we were very poor. The day finally came when we had only 35 centavos (about 3 cents U.S.) among us. There were nine of us, so that was the same as nothing at all. It was Sunday, and we were walking down the street together wondering what to do when we saw a beggar on the corner. My father reached into his pocket and gave the 35 centavos to the beggar so that someone at least could have a little something to eat, and we walked on together without anything. A few blocks later we were crossing a street when one of us saw some bills lying in the gutter. There were 35 pesos, and that gave us enough for something to eat for a few days till my father could get some more money.”
Maria Sanchez also has a story to tell. “When I was in secondary school,” she says, “I was very sad. I felt inferior to my friends. I was timid and didn’t like to stand up and speak in front of my classmates, although I studied hard and always knew the material. I had to make a class presentation one day, and I was very frightened, so I prayed to my Heavenly Father and said, ‘Today I have to speak in front of the class, and I’m scared. Please help me.’ I prayed with all the faith I had, and when my turn came, I stood up and started talking. I can’t remember what I said or how, but they all told me afterwards that my presentation was the best in the whole class. Since then I’ve known that I can always conquer my fears with the help of the Lord.”
Thirty-five pesos, about enough for a movie and a hamburger; a classroom presentation that went well—everyday occurrences all over the world, but for some young Latter-day Saints in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, they mean more than a lot of underlined dates in their world history texts. They mean more because in spite of their smallness, they represent sacred moments when the love of our Heavenly Father reached down to meet the needs of his children, and nothing is more important than that.
So if you’re ever in Tuxtla Gutierrez, ask about “the people who are always doing things,” and if it’s a Sunday afternoon, find a plaza and sit under one of the globe-shaped trees. It’s pleasant there in the shade, listening to the birds and the bells and the music, and if you sit there a while, a couple of smiling young Mexicans may come up and offer to share something very precious with you. That will be a good moment because you and they both know just how precious it really is.