Monday, April 24, 2017

Charaja and Temple Preparation

[24 April 2017]

Last week, the sister missionaries in the Tupiza Branch asked us to go with them to visit an investigator and a member family in Charaja. We eagely accepted the invitation.

Charaja is a small community about 30 km (18 miles) southeast of Tupiza. It consists of a few streets, and probably less than 100 families. Here’s a picture from Google Earth:

Charaja, Bolivia
If you look closely, you can see two stars. The one on the lower left indicates the home of the investigator. The one on the right, in the middle, is the home of the member family (Coordinates -21.578760,-65.588777 if you happen to want to look more closely in Google Maps yourself). The straight-line distance between them is 433 yards. The road, highway 14, is the main route between Tupiza and Villazón, which is on the border between Bolivia and Argentina. It is another 60 km down the road to the right.

To get to Charaja, we met the sisters at the bus station, and walked around the corner to a rapidito stop (the rapiditos are basically minivans – three rows of seats that can hold 8 people besides the driver). It costs 6 Bs (about $0.90 USD) per person. So we all squeezed in with some other people and headed off.

When we got to Charaja, we walked across a cancha (fútbol field – it looks like there is a road through it above, but not really – it’s just a shortcut for the few vehicles in Charaja), past a couple of houses, and to the door of the investigator’s house (or door in a wall of adobe bricks). Her name (spelling may be off) is Severa.

We knocked and waited and waited. Finally, Severa came to the door, holding a small, butchered pig that she had to deliver to a neighbor. We waited for her to come back, which she finally did. She invited us in. The room served as the bedroom for her family, it appeared. There were three beds – a double bed on one side of the room, and a set of bunk beds on the other. Her baby and her 7-year old son were there with her. Her husband was working in the mines (about 15 km away), and her 9-year old daughter must have been in school.

All she had for us to sit on were little tiny plastic children’s stools. The sisters taught her the lesson, and Molly and I contributed when asked. Severa doesn’t read very well, but her son and daughter help her. The sister invited her to come to church on Sunday, and she committed to do that. Which is really quite a sacrifice, as I’ll explain later.

It was a sweet visit, and Severa is a very humble, caring mother. We left, and walked the 700 yards or so (we didn’t get to go the straightline distance, so it was a bit more) to the member’s home. When we got there, the mother, Gladys Martinez, was there with two of her children. The older three, a 13-year old, a 10-year old, and a 9-year old must have been in school. Her husband, Adrián, was at work in the mines.

Their house was more recently constructed, and was built from bricks covered with stucco. We visited in what was the parents’ bedroom/dining room from all appearances. Beside the bed were church manuals, the Book of Mormon, and a Bible, and there was a picture on the wall of the Cochabamba temple. We visited with her and left a message, and then headed back to Tupiza.

To get back, we had to walk to the highway, and wait for a rapidito with room for the four of us to pass on its way from Villazón to Tupiza. Fortunately for us, one came by very quickly, but I can imagine that that isn’t always the case. We piled in and drove back to Tupiza, arriving just in time to participate in the Branch Council at the chapel.

The transportation situation is part of the difficulty for members and investigators in Charaja. The cost, 6 Bs, doesn’t seem like a lot to us in the United states, but for them, a two-way trip, possibly with children, is very expensive. And, they have to start 30-40 minutes earlier than someone living here in Tupiza to get to church on time. It’s a bigger commitment than we may realize, living within walking distance of our Ward buildings in the states. The Martinez’s have a car, but I’m not sure how reliable it is. I later talked to Hno. Martinez (Adrián), and he said the brakes had a problem. I’m still not sure if they drove it to church or came in a rapidito.

So, that next day, a Sunday, all of them came to church. Adrián and Gladys were there with their children, as was Severa, with her baby and her 9-year-old daughter. The next Sunday, yesterday, they were all there again.

We had a few minutes after the Sunday School lesson, so I visited with Adrián and asked him about his family and how they came to be baptized. The usual pattern here is that the mother and children are introduced to the missionaries by a friend or family member, and sometime later, if ever, the father decides to get baptized. But, in Adrián’s case, he was baptized first, so I asked him about it.

He said that he was introduced to the missionaries more than a year ago, I think by his sister, who is a member here in Tupiza. She and her husband went to the temple to be sealed about four years ago. Adrián said that as he listened to the missionaries, he felt very good about their message. When he prayed, he said that it brought tears to his eyes. He was baptized in April of last year.

I asked about his wife. He said that when the missionaries would come to the house, she would escape and go up the hill behind their house to avoid them at first. But, in November, she was baptized with their 9 and 10-year old sons. They have a 13-year old who doesn’t want to be baptized, yet, and two younger ones – I think about 3 years old, and a baby. I’m sure Adrián’s testimony and faith helped his wife significantly.

All of them, minus the 13-year old, were in church yesterday. I was so impressed by Adrián’s openness and humility. He really has a testimony, and they have a desire to go to the temple as soon as they are able. They are such a sweet family. They are friends with Severa, and it was them that introduced her to the sister missionaries. So, they are already a missionary family. So sweet.

Speaking of the temple, Molly and I are teaching a number of people who are preparing to go to the temple. There is a temple trip planned in July. The members will go by bus or train, and it will take about 15 hours to get to Cochabamba. They will stay the week at the hospedaje, leaving on Monday and returning on Friday or Saturday. We’ll be there with them!

Among those we are teaching are three couples where one of them is endowed while the other is not.
One of them is the Vargas family. The father, Gerson, is a returned missionary. He is the first counselor in the Branch Presidency. His wife is from Tarija, and they met while he was there studying. She is a member of about seven years, and they have three children. They live in a little one-room apartment, with mattresses on the floor. He takes pictures of events at schools for a living. They are planning to go and be sealed in July.

Another family is the Duran’s. He is the second counselor in the Branch Presidency. His wife, Nohelia, is a returned missionary, and they have a baby. He was baptized in September of last year, and they are planning to go to the temple in December when he has a break from work.

The third is from Rama América. She is a member of many years, and has been endowed for a couple of years. He was baptized in November of last year, and I’m not sure what their plans are, yet.

There are a number of others in our classes, and they are eager to go to the temple. Teaching the lessons (the groups don’t line up really well, so we’ve ended up teaching to three different groups) has been very inspiring and enjoyable. I learn more each time I teach, and appreciate even more, now, the blessings the temple brings to the lives of faithful members. We’re excited to be participating in this way with the members here in Tupiza.

And, one last note of interest. We are trying to correct some of the records here in the branch, and we became aware of a member whose records didn’t show that they had passed away. It was the brother of a member here in the branch, so we asked him to meet us at the cemetery and show us where his brother was buried.

We met on Saturday morning, and he took us to the “niche” where his brother’s body is interred. It’s difficult to say “buried”, because it is just a “niche” in a wall of niches. It was on the top of four rows of niches, with many on either side. Each niche measures about 18 inches high by 24 inches wide.

Hno. Vargas had to climb up to move some dried flowers and decorations from in front of the plaster wall that closes the niche after interment. Here’s a picture of that plaster wall:
Initials and date of death of Hno. Vargas' brother.
H.N.V.D are his brother’s initials, and the 11-06-09 is the date of death – 11 June 2009. I should have taken a picture of the whole wall from further away to give better perspective.

We asked Hno. Vargas about the customs and practices surrounding death and burial, since we had just passed the Catholic church on our way to the cemetery, and a group of people followed us from the church to the cemetery. But there was no casket being carried in their procession.

He told us that the law mandated that the body be buried within 24 hours. Then, for the next eight days, the family mourns, puts out food (for the deceased?), supposedly giving the spirit of the deceased time to prepare to depart. At eight days, the family has a mass for the deceased, when the spirit supposedly leaves, and they go to the cemetery to place flowers and pay their respects.

The spaces in the cemetery, especially the niches, aren’t purchased, they are “rented”. The family pays an annual fee of 30-40 Bs ($4.50 to about $6.00) for the niche. I don’t know how much it would be for a regular plot. If the family fails to pay, the niche is emptied and the content placed in a common grave/pit behind the cemetery. We hope that things are documented in the government offices, since it would be nearly impossible to document deaths, relationships, etc. from grave markers as we sometimes do in other countries.

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