A bit of history of the Alvarez family, and why they mean so much to me.
[May 13, 1975] Tuesday (From my missionary journal)
This afternoon, we had a charla (a discussion) with a family, Alvarez, that went to church in Branch 2 (here in Santa Cruz) last Sunday. They have relatives that are members, so they came looking. How was the charla? Fantastic! This family is so golden - they practically gave us charla C, asked to be baptized, and [accepted] a Book of Mormon. SOLID GOLD!
I've never experienced a more spiritual charla. We told them the Joseph Smith story, he asked if it was true, we testified, and he accepted it. Then he practically told us we need something more than the Bible - concept 3 - the Book of Mormon. After that, he asked us about authority - concept 4. Then he led us into the prayer dialogue. In short, 24-carat, solid gold.
|Referral for Alvarez family|
|Referral - reverse|
[May 16, 1975] Friday
We gave [the Alvarez family] Charla D (Plan of Salvation). It took a minute to warm up, but they were great. They sent us away with a sackful of the peanut brittle they make and sell for a living.
[May 17, 1975] Saturday
We went out to Alvarez's and showed them the Restoration flick. They invited us to lunch and we had a good chat. His story is another great one.
He lived in a regular Bolivian home across the street from his present home. The missionaries came by and he fallared (skipped out, failed) intentionally. He expressed sorrow for ever doing that. Then things got bad. They moved from here to there, etc., finding nothing fulfilling. He said he felt a lack, but didn't know what. Then one day, some member, a relative, told him that he, himself, was the only person that could save him, not his wife or anybody else.
That really hit home. So, he went to Branch 2 with the relatives, got in touch with the other elders (the ones in Branch 2), and now the Branch 1 elders - the replacements for the very ones that had first met him - are now teaching him. He said he could really see the Lord's hand in everything that happened. Great testimony!
[May 18, 1975] Sunday
Alvarez's came to Sunday School with a whole family of investigators.
[May 19, 1975] Monday
At 4:00 (this afternoon), we went out to Alvarez's and gave them the commandments [discussion]. The accepted them great, as usual.
[May 22 ,1975] Thursday
Went over to Alvarez's this afternoon - still super great. Gave them charla "F" (Repentance). They want us to come back in the morning when the kids can hear, too.
[May 23, 1975] Friday
We gave Alvarez's charla "I" (The Nature of Christ). [I think] we did a poor job, but they're so good it didn't hardly matter. Their interview will be tomorrow night.
[May 24, 1975] Saturday
We went out and gave Alvarez's charla "J" (Membership in the Kingdom). They're excited. I really love them - they're special people. I thank the Lord for the blessing He's given me to know such fine people.
Well, the interviews were a little disappointing. Elder Davis wanted to check with the President about two miscarriages (called "abortos" in Spanish) and one abortion due to health problems. When he told Hno. and Hna. Alvarez the'd have to wait a week or so, they about broke down. Now, we've got to really help them, especially tomorrow.
[May 25, 1975] Sunday
Alvarez's gave us a scare. They were late to Sunday School, and we were just ready to go get them when they finally came.
Some friends had asked them to come to a party - get drunk, etc. - and Hno. Alvarez debated it. His great spirit won - he came to church. He was really disappointed and discouraged. As he told us later, he was resigned to never joining the church, he'd come and thank us and tell us good-bye. His pride had been hurt - this was going to be it.
Well, Hno. Peña hadn't brought a lesson so we showed "Man's Search [for Happiness]". Beautiful film. Hno. Alvarez practically melted. Then we had him give the prayer.
After everybody had left, he broke down totally. He wept tears of honest sorrow and repentance. Through his tears he told us he was sorry for ever doubting - that if he had to wait five years he'd be here. And in the meantime he'd be out helping others to find the joy he had seen. He was so humble - with new resolve, new strength, new depth to his testimony. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Hno. Alvarez expressed his desire to do what the Lord wants. Wow! Some day!
[May 26, 1975] Monday
Had a Noche de Hogar (Family Home Evening) with Alvarez's. Something else! He bore strong testimony of the Book of Mormon. And he's only had it two weeks. He said it's the best friend a man could have - it's got all the answers. All you have to do is read it and pray. Wow!
He explained what he'd gone through Saturday and Sunday and expressed his love and faith that it was for his good. He's some kind of man. I really love him and his family. If we could all be so open, pure, humble, full of faith. In the midst of depression, he opened the Book of Mormon randomly [to this passage] - 3 Nephi 13:25-34:
25 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people. Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin;
29 And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, even so will he clothe you, if ye are not of little faith.
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof.
[May 30, 1975] Friday
We had interviews for baptisms tomorrow. Hno. Alvarez and his family came. He hadn't told his wife why - just got her to come see the expo [at the church that we had been working on]. So, when I told her what she was there for, she about killed her husband for not telling her. Then they came out from the interview and said they had to wait. I grabbed Elder Davis and he said they could be baptized. Then Hna. Alvarez said that they only had to wait to have an hour set to be baptized tomorrow.
Sheesh - pulling my leg.
|Alvarez family - Interview night at the Branch Expo. That's me and Elder Knowlton in the back.|
[May 31, 1975] Saturday
This afternoon we baptized the Alvarez family. He said after that he was so happy. Then they gave us three bags (big ones) of candy peanuts.
[June 4, 1975] Wednesday
Got my change notice - I'll be going to La Paz Branch 5.
[June 5, 1975] Thursday
We went out and told the Alvarez's that I was going. Marco wants to go with me - and the rest said they'd come visit me in Paz. They're a great family - I'll have to keep in touch.
[June 8, 1975] Sunday
[We] ordained Hno. Alvarez to the Aaronic Priesthood this morning. He's already been assigned to give a talk next week and to start in the teacher development class.
[June 9, 1975] Monday
Went to the Alvarez's and got some pictures of them making candy - then had lunch and gave them "The Articles of Faith".
[That evening] we went to a great "noche" with the Alvarez'. He's really been reading and studying. He's coming up with good answers to his own questions - feeling the Spirit. Besides that, he's trying to get Marco to feel it, too. If he succeeds and continues, Marco will be a great missionary.
Marco kept slipping and using the "tu" form on me - that's a real compliment. he wants to go with me to Paz. keeps calling me his brother. That's great. They said they'd see me off at the Flota station on Thursday.
|Pouring the syrup into the mashed up peanuts|
|Mixing them together|
|Forming the roll|
|Shaping it before cutting|
|Cutting the roll into slices|
|Preparing the plastic bags|
|Packaging each slice in its own bag|
|Sealing each bag|
|Final product - large bags with 25 individually wrapped candies|
[June 12, 1975] Thursday
I got up at 5:30 am - off at about 7:00. The Alvarez's were there - gave me some candy and $b 50 (about $2.50). Super great people. I thank the Lord for the opportunity I've had to know them and others, like the Peñas, Pintos, etc. Super members.
I finished my mission in Punata, in November of 1976. I requested permission from President McCallister to go to Santa Cruz before coming to La Paz to head for home, which he granted.
This part didn't make it into my journal, but I remember the occasion so distinctly.
I got to Santa Cruz in the evening, and immediately went to find Hno. Alvarez. I was told that he was at the chapel, so I headed over there. I don't remember which missionary accompanied me, or which companionship. When we got to the chapel, they directed me to the Branch President's office. There was Hno. Alvarez - the Branch President of Rama Uno.
When he saw me, he jumped to his feet and told me that I should be sitting in his chair. We embraced, and tearfully greeted each other. He was still as humble and sweet as he had always been.
That was my last memory of Hno. Alvarez and his family.
Through the years I have recounted this history to my family. In so many ways, this sweet, humble man and family changed my life. They helped me start to realize what was truly important in the world - not money, or fame, or accomplishment, but simple gratitude, love, and humility. I have thought often of how different my life may have been if I had not been there at that time, and met this family. I'm sure some other missionary would have loved to have this experience had I not made the choices to be there, doing that work. I'm so grateful that Heavenly Father let me share this experience with Him.
Now - to the current time.
[August 19, 2015] Wednesday
As I related earlier in this blog, I made contact with Hna. Alvarez and Marco Antonio a couple of weeks ago through Presidente García here at the temple. Hna. Alvarez came to see us on the Día de Independencia, securing in my mind the desire to travel to Santa Cruz and visit her and Marco Antonio.
As you will read in another post, we made it to Santa Cruz on Tuesday, and made arrangements to meet them today. Marco called me to get directions to the Hotel, and they came and got us at about 4:30 pm. We went out to Hna. Alvarez's home with them to visit. As is customary, she got us some Sprite and cakes to eat while we visited.
Here's a brief history of what happened with their little family between 1975 and now.
After Elder Knowlton and I left, Hna. Alvarez had another son - Pablo, whom I have yet to meet. Considering our challenge to them to someday go to the temple and be sealed as a family, they made great sacrifices to take their little family by bus and train to Sao Paulo, Brazil. I don't know what year that would have been.
Consider what that sacrifice would have meant for a family whose income was derived from selling peanut brittle, one bag (worth about $1.25 apiece) at a time, to street vendors to resell. They had to save enough to take five people (three children, one very small) over 2000 kilometers (1250 miles) to a strange country where a different language was spoken, because they wanted to be sealed as a family in the temple.
When they got there, they had no idea how to get a taxi or bus to get to the temple, where to stay, etc. As they huddled with their children, as Hna. Alvarez stated, "like a mother hen with her little chicks protected under her wings," a missionary headed for a transfer showed up, and helped them. She felt so blessed.
As they returned home, they basically had nothing - they had sacrificed nearly everything they had to get to the temple. But through hard work, they started to get back on their feet.
Over the years, they were able to purchase a couple of lots way outside the city. Eventually, they sold one to the church, where the Los Olivos chapel was built (I think that's the one). They built a place to live on the other one, outside the Quinto (fifth) Anillo (ring). When we met them, they lived just outside the second ring, in a rented room, and there really was little to no development anywhere near them. Santa Cruz, in those days, stopped at the second ring.
This home is where Hna. Alvarez lives today. Her son, Marco Antonio, has four children of his own, but is divorced. He has a home in Santa Cruz, where his three daughters live, but he lives with his mother to help her. She has arthritis in her knees, high blood pressure, and her government pension amounts to 250 Bolivianos a month - roughly $37. He has good work, teaching English, and really takes care of her.
They live in the Los Olivos Ward, and attend each Sunday, but time and trials have made them somewhat discouraged. Hno. Alvarez passed away some three years ago, after having served as Bishop some four times as wards grew and were divided. Since then, they feel somewhat forgotten, but their testimonies are still strong.
Molly and I visited with them, and shared our love for them. We deeply hope that we may have said something that will have encouraged or uplifted them, or given them reason to hope and share their testimonies with others, yet.
After we visited, we went out to dinner with them. Here's a picture (taken by a young man who they knew who just happened to be eating there. He didn't know how to make the camera focus..
|Marco Antonio and Hna. Alvarez|
Elder and Sister Lyon