TEPOZTLAN, Mexico — What a wonderful welcome to the Mexico City airport for me, a first-timer non-Spanish-speaking tourist, and for my husband, Larry, who sort of remembered some high school Spanish. Smiling and holding a sign with my name on it was Felix Vargas, president of the Tepoztlan Branch in the village where I hoped to visit a school with World War II history.
Tepoztlan, in the state of Morelos, is a two-to-three-hour drive south of Mexico City. Early the next morning, Brother Vargas drove us to the small Tepoztlan Branch in the Cuernavaca Mexico Stake. The branch members meet in a rented adobe building with screenless windows. The wide double doorway peers into a kitchen restaurant across the alley. Fans keep the temperature comfortable. A tape player sounds out the beat and tempo for the hymns. About 50 faithful members attend.
I met Sister Francisca Rivera Vargas in Relief Society. She was the president and conducted the meeting for the 10 of us attending. One of the sisters grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote a welcome to me on the board, "Bienvenidos." It was the only word I understood during the lesson even though it was the exact lesson about Wilford Woodruff I had prepared to teach in my home ward in the states.
I wondered how my husband was doing in priesthood meeting. Being a non-member, priesthood meetings are oftentimes hard for Larry. Maybe this time it would be easier for him to sit there, hearing the lesson in Spanish, and not knowing what was said.
I found him with tears in his eyes. "A young man bore his testimony," he said.
"But you don't understand Spanish, why the tears?" I asked.
"When he bore his testimony, I understood every word," Larry said. The young man was Amilcor Gongora, son-in-law of Brother Vargas.
Felix Vargas was introduced to the missionaries through friends. "That family was a big help to me. I was a bad boy. We took the discussions for about three months before being baptized on Oct. 28,1984. Three years later I was called as bishop of the Jiutepec Ward in the Cuernavaca Mexico Stake.
"The Church has given me the greatest success in my life because of the change in my behavior and way of thinking. Because of being noticed for my faith, I got to go to foreign countries to lead a team of engineers even though I was not an engineer. I was chosen because I was trustworthy and reliable."
Citizens in his hometown of Tepoztlan elected him city councilman; he served a three-year-term, 2000-2003. He believes he was elected because he inspired the confidence of his townspeople. He credits that to his Church membership.
Now a member of the stake high council, Brother Vargas continues to look for ways to serve. Not just the 50 members of his branch or the eight villages in his stake, but everyone he meets.
"In this village, everyone knows I am a Latter-day Saint and yet I have a lot of friends. I feel I am a mirror for the Church and so I am very careful with how I conduct my business and how I treat everyone," he said.
I came to Tepoztlan, Mexico, in search of a village school with WWII history. I didn't know I would also find a devoted servant of the Lord.