Away to Huehue with the Hue Hues
Accompanying us were President and Sister Clate Mask, formerly of the 2nd Quorum of Seventy and currently Guatemala City Temple president, who served his first mission as a young man in Guatemala, had a career in CES, and has had a long interest in Book of Mormon geography. President Mask is the grandson of Andres C. Gonzalez, the first full time full-blooded Mexican missionary, about a hundred years ago. Gonzalez is the author of Hymn 88 in the Spanish hymn book, "Placentero Nos Es Trabajar," the third verse of which is more poignant when one realizes he wrote it (somewhat of a farewell to mortality) when he was a prisoner as a missionary and had been told he was to be executed. President Mask's version of part of the story, if I can remember it correctly, is worth repeating briefly: Gonzalez and his companion were arrested in Mexico City and charged as being spies for the revolutionaries--supposedly affiliated with one faction or another. They were placed before a firing squad, and heard "Ready, aim..." before he remembered having just read the words of Abinad in Mosiah 13:3--and he said, in effect, "Stop!" You cannot kill me, because I have not yet delivered the message I have for President Madero" (the president of the country). Somehow they decided to take him to see the president, just in case. They told the president about the Book of Mormon, and he was fascinated. Both he and his vice-president wanted copies. It was even better when it came out that Madero was from the same small town as Gonzalez, and in fact Gonzalez' father had been a beloved school teacher of Madero! Needless to say, the execution was not carried out.
President Mask told of having a similar experience of his own as a young missionary in El Salvador, when a man pulled a gun on him and his companion and told them he was going to kill them. He cocked the revolver and was about to pull the trigger when Mask, remembering his grandfather's story, said essentially the same thing: "Stop! You cannot kill me, because I have not given you the message I was sent to give you." He went on to say they were representatives of Jesus Christ, who would be mad if he killed his representatives. They talked on at some length until Mask's senior companion eventually said he had to go and said, "Goodbye sir." Elder Mask explained he couldn't leave his companion and quickly followed. Evidently the man with the gun was either sufficiently impressed with their courage or astonished by their approach that at any rate he didn't shoot them after all!
Our first stop was for sacrament meeting in the indigenous town of Patzicia. We met in a lovely stake center built on the same site where an earlier chapel was destroyed by an earthquake in 1976, which killed some 30,000 nationwide. President Monson has twice told the story of an Elder Randy Ellsworth who was pinned to the stage by a heavy concrete beam which fell on him. The branch president, Pablo Choc, who had lost his own wife and two children in the quake, went under the stage and cut out Elder Ellsworth with a saw. Elder Ellsworth survived to return to finish his mission in Guatemala and, through his faith, was able to walk again without canes.
President Mask knew Pablo Choc well and recently had the privilege of sealing him to his parents just before he passed away. President Mask told of how Pablo became discouraged following the death of several of his family in the earthquake and got to the point that he prayed the Lord to take him. But he had a dream (or vision) of President Spencer W. Kimball telling him to get up and go forward, as people needed him. He never evidenced discouragement again.
We were also told the story of a Daniel Mich, the first branch president in Patzicia, who during a time that the native people were being severely persecuted by the government and army spent two years in hiding in the mountains and another two years in jail, when they caught him. He had a dream of a white haired man who told him to follow him, and when the missionaries eventually met him and taught him, he recognized the picture they showed him of David O. McKay!
We were impressed by the great spirit in the meeting we attended in Patzicia. The indigenous brethren were almost all dressed in suits and ties, and most of the ladies in colorful native dress. The sacrament was prepared early and everyone was seated on the stand early. The talks were well prepared and given with enthusiasm. One was by a humble corn farmer, but who by serving a mission had gained an enviable polish and self-confidence and enthusiasm. (I thought it fun that the closing hymn was "We are sowing, daily sowing...!") They talked about upcoming temple excursions where they would leave early in the morning on a bus for the temple. They announced meetings for those interested in the Perpetual Education Fund. I have never felt more profoundly the ongoing fulfillment of the prophecy that the Lamanites would blossom as the rose. Though I had never attended there before, I felt much more at home than I feel in our own home ward in Weston, Florida.
Store we saw in Huehuetenango, evidence of member enterprise. There are two stakes in the Huehuetenango area.
Huehuetenango is at a pass on ancient trade routes and is near the west end of an east-west mountain chain, the Cuchamatanes Mountains, that are the best candidate to be the "narrow strip of wilderness" that separated the Land of Nephi from the Land of Zarahemla.
Rock slides on the road toward the Rio San Juan threatened to keep our bus from proceeding, until a group of us decided to take matters into our own hands (including yours truly, in the blue shirt). It turned out it was more seriously blocked further up the road, so we had to backtrack and go an alternate route anyway.
Still more. Note the tile roofs on the houses. Most houses had this type of roof prior to the 1976 earthquake, which accounted for much of the death toll. Most have now been replaced with corrugated metal.
Poster advertising eye exams by a medical specialist for the exorbitant price of Q10--or about $1.25.
Here it is--where the Rio San Juan bubbles--or even gushes--out of the ground. Click on the video below to get the full effect.
Note the ruins. Also the old buildings behind us! This is the rebuilt city of Zaculeu, inhabited as early as 250 A.D. but largely dating from about 1000 A.D.