TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico In the sanctity of newly dedicated temples, quiet but emotional expressions of gratitude are typical from those who receive their blessings, particularly from those in distant areas.
More and more members in areas remote from large Church population centers are receiving these blessings following a year in which 34 new temples were dedicated. One place of particular gratitude is here in Chiapas, a distant corner of Mexico. Until the concept of the smaller temples came into recent practice, the likelihood of ever having a temple in Chiapas was scant at best. Located next to the Guatemalan border, this state has an economically depressed population that, in some pockets, has a history of civil unrest. Adding to its troubles was a severe flood two years ago that washed away the homes and livelihoods of tens of thousands of residents.
However, the presence of the Tuxtla Gutierrez Mexico Temple has an uplifting influence. More than 200 members have gone through the temple since it was dedicated in March 2000, and many families have been sealed. A new optimism has come to the members, said leaders.
Before the dedication of the temple, the nearest such edifice was 18 hours away by bus an impossible prospect considering that some members could not even afford to miss a day's work, much less pay for a bus ticket.
"The people are very impressed because they never thought there would be a temple in Chiapas," said Jorge David Arrevillaga Manchinelly, who was the first president of the neighboring Tapachula Mexico Stake. "They are very happy. Many have gone to the temple for the first time," he continued. "Many people are more spiritual. They have changed."
President Jose Ernesto Sanchez, first counselor in the temple presidency, described the reaction of members receiving their endowments.
"One of the most beautiful experiences was a youth of 18 years, a Tzotzil [Indian], a pure Lamanite, who scarcely speaks Spanish, who came to receive his endowments before serving a mission. After receiving his endowments, before leaving, he was filled with emotion to know how much he was loved of the Lord. Afterwards, he felt that his ability to speak other languages increased because of this experience."
President Sanchez said that when couples are sealed, similar emotion is expressed. These families must sacrifice a great deal even to come to a local temple.
He described one family's sealing. "This family is very humble, and sustains itself by all the children selling items in the market every day. Despite their situation, they come to the temple every Saturday to do temple work. All the children were sealed to their parents. It was a beautiful experience and a good example to all."
The presence of a temple overlooking this city is a mark of progress for Brother Arrevillaga. Only five or six people attended the first meetings in Tapachula in 1959. A small pool at the Cahoacan River provided a baptismal font for new members until Brother Arrevillaga's father, Salustio, built a font. When his family joined the Church in 1960, they were faced with open hostility. But his experiences in the Church softened those experiences. "We had Mutual, where we sang songs with the missionaries and had socials," he recalled. Speaking in sacrament meeting as a 14-year-old, young Jorge David mostly quoted from missionary pamphlets, he said.
That experience, followed by many others, prepared him for years later, in 1972, when he was set apart as the first branch president in Tapachula, and in 1978 when he was set apart as the first president of the Tapachula Mexico Stake by then-Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Elder Hunter's impact on this area continues as members on the temple grounds look across the valley to the hill Mactumactza, where Elder Hunter ascended to offer a special dedicatory prayer on the area.
One of the longtime members in Tuxtla Gutierrez is Fernando Esponda Alcusar, 81, of the Linda Vista Ward, Tuxtla Gutierrez Mexico Stake. Baptized in 1964, one of his early memories in the Church was a dance when he was assigned to sell tickets to pay for the band. "I gave all the tickets away. I didn't sell one," he said with a laugh. His willingness to help others continues today. As a patriarch, he has given nearly 500 blessings. He believes the temple has brought a change to the members, "because the Lord has blessed us here and answered many prayers. I am very happy in the Church."