VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico -- Just a few yards from the entrance of the Villahermosa Mexico Temple stands an old ceiba tree with a sturdy trunk and outstretched branches that seem to pierce the roof of the sky.
The ancient Mayas who once inhabited this land in southeast Mexico regarded the ceiba as sacred. The tropical tree, according to Mayan legend, taught a wise lesson about remaining deep-rooted in the goodness of the rich Mexican soil while simultaneously reaching upwards to heaven. Even today, it is illegal to chop down a ceiba tree in the state of Tabasco, where Villahermosa is located."It is indeed a very special tree to us," said resident and LDS Church member Clemente Alcaraz.
On May 21, the ceiba shadowing the white stone temple offered a happy connection to the past and future of this region. Church members of all ages filed past the stately tree as they entered the Lord's sacred edifice. Inside, they would mark a historic moment for southern Mexico. President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, presided over the four dedication sessions of the Villahermosa Mexico Temple and offered the dedicatory prayer.
Tears shared faces with smiles as Tabasco saints rejoiced in the opening of a temple they could call their own.
"I have prayed often for a temple in this part of Mexico," said Samuel Oteo, one of the pioneers of the Church in Tabasco. "Today, I am very, very happy and grateful to my Heavenly Father."
President Monson traveled to Villahermosa after dedicating the temple in Tampico, Mexico, a day earlier.
President Monson seemed touched by the outpouring of love and excitement the local members directed toward him and the other visiting authorities. He commented on the beauty of the Tabasco youngsters, reminding them they are "children of Lehi."
While members who have joined the faith in the past few years looked forward to visiting a dedicated temple for the first time, a few of the Tabasco "veteranos" marveled at the growth they have witnessed in the Church over the past several decades.
Maria Elena Balboa was baptized 43 years ago, reportedly the fifth person to join the Church in Tabasco. She studied various faiths, looking for a church based on Christ and service. When she learned of the LDS Church she knew her wishes, like thousands of other Mexicans, had been granted. Soon she accepted a call to be the first full-time missionary from Tabasco and served in the Mexican Mission.
Later, Sister Balboa made it her life's goal to teach her children about the truthfulness of the gospel. Three have been married in the temple and a fourth was to be sealed the day after the May 21 dedication.
"I always wished for a temple in my town, but never really thought it would happen," Sister Balboa said. "Today I'm so happy. I've even been called to work in the temple."
Sister Rita Cardenas walked out of the first dedicatory session carrying a handkerchief wet with tears.
"This is the second-happiest day of my life," said Sister Cardenas, adding her happiest was when her husband, Demetrio, accepted the gospel and was baptized after several years of investigation. She compared Brother Cardenas to a canary who finally relents to his true calling and reveals a sweet voice.
"Now he has been set apart as a temple sealer for the people of Tabasco," Sister Cardenas said.
Thirteen-year-old Antonio Manuel said he will never forget listening to the words one of the Lord's chosen leaders had for the people of his community.
"It was exciting to be able to see a person like President Monson who communicates so closely with the Lord," Antonio said.
The Villahermosa deacon said he plans to be a frequent visitor at the temple to do work at the baptistry, adding a mission call will one day return him to the rooms he toured during the temple open house so he can receive a personal temple endowment.
Almost 40 years ago, Rafael Guerra accepted a missionary's invitation to accept the gospel while living in Monterrey in northern Mexico. In those days, the blessings of the temple for many Mexican saints could only be realized at great cost and a trip to the Mesa Arizona Temple.
"Now the Church will grow in Villahermosa," Brother Guerra said. "Many non-members came to the temple open house and many of them asked to hear the missionary discussions after visiting the Lord's wonderful house."
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