MERIDA, Mexico With the Merida Mexico Temple in the background, more than 300 members gathered recently to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the beginnings of the Church in the Yucatan Peninsula, historic home of the ancient Mayans and their modern descendants.
The anniversary commemoration was co-sponsored by the Merida Institute of Religion and El Museo de Historia del Mormonismo en Mexico. A. C. Alejandro Ordaz, institute student council president and son of the first district and stake president, conducted the gathering. President Fermin Herrera Baeza of the Merida Mexico Centro Stake and president of the Institute Advisory Council, presided. Roberto Valadez, institute director, also was present.
At the event, pioneer accounts were related by Maximiliano Andrade Lozano, who, along with his wife, Esperanza Tejero Martin de Andrade, were the first missionary couple called in the early 1960s to serve a full-time mission to the Mayan people in their ancient language.
The Church began here Feb. 7, 1959, when President Harvey Taylor, then president of the Mexican Mission, arrived with the missionaries. In the historic Merida Hotel located in the center of this old colonial city, he knelt with the elders and mission counselor Jose Octavio Davila Morales, and dedicated the peninsula for the preaching of the restored gospel.
At the anniversary commemoration, several historical events were presented for the delight and understanding of those present, including the events that occurred in the small community of Uayma, a Mayan village near Valladolid.
Brother Andrade's accounts of the persecution suffered by the pioneer members in the town of Valladolid and Uayma gave those present an appreciation of the sacrifice of these early saints.
He related that in this small rural town, the gospel message was starting to take hold when ill-intentioned people decided to end the spread of the restored gospel. One early Sunday morning, a mob gathered to apprehend the Andrades and to make mockery of them in the town square. But, he said, the Lord's protecting hand did not allow it. When the mob entered the house where the saints met, the couple hid outside in the thick jungle; despite the fact that they could see their aggressors, the mob did not find them.
A week later Elder Andrade instructed members:
"You know what we are going to do? We are going to meet half way between Valladolid and Uyama. It is 14 kilometers. We will walk seven and you walk seven. We will meet and we will worship together and in this way we will be happy. It will take us up to two hours to walk there and back. We will clear a small area with our machetes in order to hold our service, and gather rocks or logs where we can sit and worship."
It must have been a moving scene to see 12 souls gathered in an inhospitable spot, hacked clear of brush, elevating their voices towards heaven and singing, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet" or "The Spirit of God," he said.
"This is a testimony of the great faith and testimony that these early Mexican pioneers of the Church in Yucatan had in their hearts, that no persecution or any type of opposition would thwart the work of the Lord," said President Fernando R. Gomez of the Merida Mexico Temple, also president and founder of the museum.
He encouraged members to write personal diaries, and record spiritual experiences that they can leave for their descendants.
President Gomez told them to learn of the roots of the Church in Mexico so that they may build faith upon the sacrifices and trials that local pioneers went through.
In his remarks, President Herrera told of the construction of the Merida Mexico Temple and challenged all present to live worthily of this great blessing that has been provided.
The institute and stake choirs provided the music for the event.