The most impactful event of the last few weeks was the premature passing of one of the newest members of Rama America - Alejandro Vicente Rivera.
We met Alejandro and his family shortly after they were baptized in Rama America, back in May.
Sometime around March, Alejandro and his wife, Marina, had realized that they needed to make some changes in their lives. Alejandro, 37 years old, was a miner, which is a good job here, but very dangerous. Before joining the church, he drank with his fellow miners, chewed coca, played futbol on Sundays, etc. Miners have a set of very indigenous beliefs in Pachamama (Mother Earth, basically), meant to protect them in the mine, and have very little use for some nebulous God. They have a strong brotherhood with other miners, and strong cultural pulls to share their spare time with their miner brothers.
As they talked they decided they wanted to find a church to go to. They truly wanted to change. They knew some members who were their friends, knew that they didn't drink coffee or alcohol, and knew that they were happy. So they contacted their friends, and they passed the reference on to the missionaries.
They next day, the missionaries knocked on their door, and the Vicentes were so excited to see them. In the first lesson, they expressed to the missionaries how they wanted to change. They had actually been waiting for a while - Alejandro had wanted to go knock on the missionaries door.
Upon hearing the gospel and joining the church, they left their old life behind. Alejandro studied and learned, and accepted assignments with joy. He was ordained a Priest, and helped with the administration of the Sacrament each Sunday when he didn't have to work. He bore his testimony every chance he got - sweet, and powerful. He and his wife, Marina, attended our temple preparation classes, with a goal of going to the temple and being sealed as a family next May. They had a Family Home Evening at their home for the entire branch a couple of weeks ago, and Alejandro stood by his younger brother's side while he taught a well-prepared lesson. His brother, Cristian, was baptized in August, and Alejandro ordained him a priest a week ago. He was planning to be alongside Cristian as he learned how to administer the Sacrament this last Sunday.
We had had his wife and children over for a Family Home Evening at our apartment a couple of months ago. Alejandro couldn't be there, but we had such a sweet experience with his wife and family.
His assignment last Sunday, was to speak in Sacrament Meeting about Faith. Molly and I weren't able to be in Rama America, but those who were told us how strong his testimony was. One member told me that he had chickened out on his first speaking assignment three times after being baptized, and was so very impressed by Alejandro. You could see and feel the light and joy that had entered the lives of this sweet family - Alejandro and Marina, and their four children - Alexander (11), Danitza (9), Maritza (6), and Jhael (4).
On Thursday of last week (Sept 14), we were walking downtown when we met President Huarachi, the president of the branch. He was carrying a boquet of flowers with a card of condolences. When he told us it was for Alejandro, who had been killed in a mine accident that morning, our hearts broke. So many thoughts went through our hearts and heads.
We went to the "funeral parlor" where his velorio was being held. It was full of miners and their families, Alejandro's family, and Marina's family. It was an interesting experience. At one point, all the miners came to the front and surrounded his casket. They sang a song, and then each of them placed the wad of chewed coca in their mouths into a bag at the foot of his coffin. This is part of the Pachamama belief and ritual.
President Huarachi gathered the members of the branch who were there around the casket a little later, and we had a little service - an opening prayer, some songs, a few words by him, and a closing prayer. I'm sure not many really heard us in the bustle of the large crowd, but Marina later said that she had felt a sense of peace while we were there.
On Friday, Molly and I went over to the chapel to make sure things were ready. We were told that the miners had stayed with Alejandro through the night. That morning they had accompanied his body to the Taxi Drivers Union Hall (?), and had some sort of service there. He was a taxi driver before getting the job at the mine.
At about 3 or so, we heard the band accompanying his procession outside the church, and within minutes, the chapel was filled with family, branch members, and miners. We had a wonderful service, with a couple of members giving sweet testimonies. Then, Hna. Vicente asked President Huarachi if she could speak. It was a powerful testimony. She told us that she had felt peace and love, that she felt like Alejandro was with her throughout the night, and that she knew that the gospel was true. It would surprise me if there weren't a number of family and friends touched by the Holy Ghost that afternoon.
After our service, we accompanied the hearse, on foot, first to the Vicente's home for some last culturally important event, then to the cemetery, some three miles up the highway. At the cemetery, the miners took the casket into a little shelter, and from what we could tell, railed on God, life, and anything else that came to their minds in their fear and grief. What a different feeling from just moments earlier in the chapel. At dusk, they finally brought the casket out and prepared to place it in the crypt. President Huarachi, in the midst of a very large group of people, very few of which understood the magnificence of what he was about to do, asked for a moment of silence, and then proceeded to dedicate the grave by the power and authority of the priesthood. I was so proud of his faith and courage.
|The funeral procession on foot, through town. We|
were about halfway back in the whole procession.
You can vaguely see the raised hatchback of the car
being used as a hearse in the distance.
We can learn from these experiences, these trials, and recognize that God's plan will bring us joy throughout the eternities if we have faith. I look forward to someday being able to see the joyous reunion between Alejandro and Marina and their children. We will do everything we can to help them reach their goal of being sealed in the temple.