Couples bless lives in Mexico

Missionary couples in the Monterrey area are proving to be "saviours on Mount Zion," preparing for the day when there will be many fewer less-active members in Mexico, according to the Mexico North Area presidency.

These senior missionaries, half of whom did not speak Spanish before arriving, are making significant contributions in such areas as reactivations, leadership training, conversions, music training, membership records, family history work, missionary health, and even in local medicine."These couples are literally transforming lives, wards and stakes," said Elder John M. Madsen of the Seventy and a counselor in the Mexico North Area presidency. "They bring a strength and spirit with them that is priceless and invaluable. We've seen wonderful progress."

Elder Madsen, Pres. Garry R. Flake of the Mexico Monterrey South Mission and four couples spoke to Church News in a recent telephone interview.

Pres. Flake observed that if the mission had enough couples so that one could be assigned to each ward for a few months each year, "great things would happen."

The love the couples have for each other shines as an example to young missionaries, an estimated one-third of whom are converts of less than four years and who are typically the only members of their families in the Church, said Pres. Flake.

And, he said, because of the extended family system that thrives in the culture, older people are highly respected in Mexico. "The Spirit emanates from couples. . . and it opens doors and opens hearts."

The couples are:

Elder Harold and Sister Gladys Powell of Edgemont 5th Ward in Provo, Utah, who began serving in January, 1993.

Elder Powell, a retired architect, had just poured the foundation for their retirement home when they received a call to serve in Mexico. He found time to have the home construction progress and to have a hip replacement operation before they left.

"We felt it wasn't a good time to go, but we felt it was better to go when one is needed than wait and go when one is ready," he said. He is presently serving as executive secretary to the area president.

A former missionary to Mexico, Sister Powell was called to serve in the area presidency office. In the evenings, they serve in many additional ways, including visiting less-active members and teaching piano and hymn-conducting lessons to 20-30 pupils who are from ages 8-50.

"After five months of teaching lessons, we realized that these students needed to learn to play the hymns, not in four or five years, but right now," she said. She obtained simplified hymns and soon their students were playing in sacrament meetings. One 14-year-old named Jorge has been a particularly adept student.

A member commented to them: "You can't imagine the difference music has made in our ward. Last Sunday, we had 30 people bear their testimonies. We've never had that many before. I know it is because of the music Jorge has been playing."

Elder Powell, who doesn't speak Spanish, said: "The people here are so patient you can feel their love.

"It is better to serve rather than just say you can't do it because you can't speak the language - the language is love."

Elder Marion and Sister Bonnie Peterson of Mesa (Ariz.) 42nd Ward, began serving in March of 1993.

Neither of the Petersons spoke Spanish when they received their mission call. In addition, Sister Peterson's back ailment was so painful that she couldn't sit through a meeting. She had to stand through half her classes at the Missionary Training Center. When it came time to travel to Mexico, she did so in the back of their truck, lying down.

However, since their arrival in Mexico they have touched lives from the elite medical community to children they've met on the streets. And Sister Peterson's back has improved so that she can "sit through five hours of meetings."

They began by asking members to write their names on a pad. The Petersons then took the pad home and memorized the names. Local members accompanied them as they visited many less-active families, audited hundreds of membership records and trained priesthood leaders. And, for the first time in her life, Sister Peterson taught piano lessons.

Elder Peterson, an orthopedic surgeon, spends his service hours instructing doctors at the university hospital in Monterrey.

"They call me `Dr. Elder,' " he said. He also trains missionaries and mission presidents in ways to maintain health.

As they walk along the streets, they meet many children. Elder Peterson entertains them with a magic trick - the only one he knows. Over the months, they have met with groups of children often, teaching them stories from the Book of Mormon and how to sing the Church hymns.

"There are a lot of grand people we have found," said Elder Peterson.

Elder Carl J. and Sister Rita Beecroft of the Ventura (Calif.) 3rd Ward began serving in November of 1993. Elder Beecroft, a former stake president, suffered health problems that they felt would prevent their serving a mission.

"He felt like we couldn't serve because of a disability he has with his speaking, and his walking," she said. "But we decided that we could serve on a mission as well as we could serve anywhere else."

Since their arrival, "the Spanish language has come to him more fluently," she said. "His walking ability has not been a problem."

The Beecrofts have completed a mountain of family history work that includes training 51 stake presidents, instructing local members to input their family history on computers, clearing names for the temple, setting up several new family history centers, and training ward and stake family history specialists.

"We feel very blessed to be here and are most grateful for the experiences we've had," said Sister Beecroft.

As our mission winds down, we are saddened to think of leaving the good Saints of Mexico."

She said interest in family history work is increasing rapidly among the members of the Monterrey area.

"It is like a ripple effect - it increases more as more information gets to other Saints. Members in lots of stakes go to the Mexico City Temple on excursions and most of the members want to do the work themselves for their ancestors."

Elder Manuel and Sister Rosie Villa-Rodriguez of the Oxnard, (Calif.) 5th Ward began their mission in September of 1993. Although the Villa-Rodriguez' were not available for an interview, their experiences were related by Pres. Flake.

Several years ago, the couple moved to Chihuahua to care for her aged mother, where they investigated and joined the Church. Since then, they've both held many callings and are eager missionaries, said Pres. Flake.

"By Christmastime of 1993, they had visited more than 400 families," he said. "I'd estimate they have activated 30 to 35 families. There has been a substantial increase in attendance at sacrament meeting in the ward where they serve."

The Villa-Rodriguez' have helped with leadership training, worked with part-member and less-active families, and helped with membership records.

"They visit people who haven't been visited for many years. Really, no one thinks of himself or herself as less-active; they just haven't attended," said Pres. Flake. "With one or two visits, these people will be right out to Church."

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