'This blessed place': Faithful early members built strong foundation

The success of the Church in this Gulf of Mexico seaport comes from a blend of young and old.

Faithful, older pioneer members of the Church in the 1950s built a solid foundation for the present membership that is led by young, enthusiastic leaders. Most of these young leaders served missions and retain a zeal for missionary work, further strengthening the work.The side-by-side seaport cities of Madero and Tampico each have stakes. A new stake, Tampico Bosque, was created in November 1995. The Mexico Tampico Mission continues to find success. In addition, the plans for a temple in nearby Monterrey will provide opportunity for worthy members to be sealed.

Among the members are many professionals - engineers, attorneys, doctors. And the Church enjoys respect from the majority of the population. Busy meetinghouses in various parts of the metropolitan area are as much a part of the community as taxis and corner markets.

This status of the Church, however, has been 46 years in the making. When the first missionaries came to Tampico in 1950, the young Americans learning to speak Spanish were a curiosity.

Jose Concepcion Yanez Sanchez, patriarch of the Madero stake, remembers the year these young men came to his home to preach the gospel. He learned about them when he returned home from work. His wife told him that Americans had knocked on his door and had been invited to return in the evening.

"It is about religion," he was told.

"Good," he responded.

When the young Americans returned, though, the Yanez family had difficulty understanding the missionaries' halting Spanish. But the Yanez family felt the spirit of the young men. Within two weeks they accepted the challenge to be baptized.

Patriarch Yanez, one of the pioneer leaders in the Tampico area, remembered going to the beach in a bus loaded with the entire membership of the Tampico Branch - and seats to spare. There on the beach, early in the morning in 1950, he and his wife were baptized.

"The baptism changed us," he said. "After that, we threw out the cigars, coffee, tea, wine - all the things we promised at baptism. Then we changed our lives."

Their changed lives held more meaning and more meetings. After serving faithfully in a variety of assignments, he was called in 1953 as branch president.

While branch president, he arranged for purchase of the first site for a meetinghouse in Tampico. With the approval of Mexico Mission Pres. Claudio Bowman, the branch purchased a large tract on the outskirts of town. Pres. Yanez agreed to pay 5 pesos a meter for the tract, a substantial price in those days.

Those were arduous but enjoyable times as members raised money for their meetinghouse. They remember making plates of tamales and selling them on the streets.

One of those who helped is longtime member, Catalina Salquero de Meha. "This is a blessed place," she said. "The people here are humble."

Florencio La Vario Martinez, who was baptized in 1959, spoke of the leadership of the Church in the 1960s and 1970s.

He recalled that occasionally the elders quorum leaders of the mission would meet for instruction in a central location.

"I remember one time that we went to an elders quorum meeting in Ciudad Mante," he said. "We had six brethren. The meeting ended at 7:30 or 8 in the night. It was a very rainy and cold night in mid-December. As we began to return over the hilly country, the old car we were in began to jerk. For a joke, I said: `Don't worry - we will gain speed every time we go downhill.'

"We took the wrong road and had to go back. Then by the time we got to the place they call the `Three Marys,' we were six brethren with a flat tire. It was very cold. We put out markers to see who would give us a ride.

"We tried to repair the tire, but we didn't have a tire pump. We were waiting in the cold for someone to find us, and all of a sudden a car came past and a man got out. When we told him our situation, he offered to leave his tire pump with us. He didn't know us or who we were. We took his name and address and he left. We soon repaired our tire and we were on our way.

"Because of our desire to attend this meeting, the Lord provided for us."

As the Church grew, stakes were created in the cities of Madero and Tampico. Members in the two cities distinguished themselves with their missionary efforts.

Pres. Pedro Rodriguez Rosas, 42, of the Tampico stake, a systems analyst, said they foster missionary work in the stake as young men and women are taught early to strengthen their commitment to the gospel. They are encouraged to take part in seminary and institute. Using this two-fold approach, an average of 25-30 young men and women in the stake area are serving full-time missions.

Pres. Luis E. De Leon De Leon, 33, a public accountant and former president of the Madero stake, was called to lead the newly created Tampico El Bosque Mexico Stake. He said part of the energy in the rapidly growing wards comes from calling younger leaders who build on firm foundations laid by those who have gone before them.

Pres. De Leon, a returned missionary, was called at age 30 to succeed his father, Roberto De Leon Perales, as stake president.

"The work is hard, but I like to serve the Lord," he said. "It is not important where I serve, but how I serve."

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