Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Tribute to Adolfo Tejerina

[27 June 2017]

A couple of blog posts ago, I wrote about a sweet family here in Tupiza – the Tejerinas. We had gone to visit the mother, Clementina, thinking her husband was in La Paz receiving medical treatments, but found that he had just come home – they couldn’t do anything more for him in La Paz. He didn’t look very healthy, but he was such a pleasure to visit with.

At that time, we talked about his conversion, his riding his bicycle to Quiriza (14 miles one way over rough, dirt roads and trails) to go to church, his mission here in Bolivia, and his teaching and baptizing Rubén Peña, one of my favorite memories from Santa Cruz when I was there on my mission. All that was just the tip of the iceberg of a wonderful life, a ferociously strong testimony, and a beautiful family. As is too often the case, we only learn about all of the other things after someone passes on to the next life.

This experience started due to a missed contact, leaving us with some time on our hands. On Tuesday about noon, we had gone to try and meet a lady who was baptized with her mother and sisters 27 years ago, when she, Ana, was nineteen. She served a mission in Chile, leaving within a month after turning 21. All indications from the records are that theirs was a strong family. Yet, from what I can gather, they have been inactive in the church for years. So, we went looking for her, to make sure the dates and relationships are all documented in her records, but also to invite her and her family to receive Visiting Teachers and Home Teachers, and to consider coming back to share the gospel with the members here in Tupiza.

As it turned out, we found her, but she was busy cooking at the pension (a type of restaurant open for lunch only), and her niece told us to come back later in the day. So, with a bit of time on our hands, we decided to go and visit Hna. Clementina Tejerina, and ask about her husband, since she lives very close to where we were (of course, nothing in Tupiza is very far away.)

When we got to her house and knocked on the door, her brother-in-law, Pascual, answered. With tears in his eyes, he told us that Adolfo, his brother, had passed away that morning in La Paz, where he had gone to receive more treatments. Clementina, and their daughter Nohelia, were there with him when he passed.

So, we thanked him for the information, and immediately bee-lined to the Relief Society President’s home, and to the Branch President’s home to let them know and to offer our help. One thing we were asked to do was to get in touch with President Hansen so he could call the Mission President in Peru where Adolfo and Clementina’s son was serving.

As we mentioned before, the law, and cultural practice here in Bolivia is to inter between 24 and 48 hours, since no embalming is done. Since they were in La Paz, they wouldn’t get to Tupiza with the body until Wednesday about noon. Adolfo’s brothers wanted to have the “velorio”, or wake, at his home, which is customary, but Clementina told them that Adolfo’s instructions were clear – he wanted his body to be taken directly to the chapel, where we held the “velorio”.

His casket was the smallest one I’ve ever seen for an adult, and it was about a foot too long, at that, as you’ll see later. Very narrow, and short enough to fit completely in the back of a small hatch-back car that brought him to the church. He wasn’t much taller than his wife, and you can look back in the blog to see me kneeling next to her in one of the pictures. Even kneeling, I was pretty much her height.

They set up lights and flowers around his casket in the cultural hall at the church, with probably 100 chairs, which ended up being full all afternoon, through part, if not all (we didn’t stay all night, but some did) of the night, and all morning on Thursday. There was a brief service Wednesday afternoon, which was conducted by one of Adolfo and Clementina’s sons. The District President spoke briefly, we sang some hymns, and it was over. It seemed a bit unusual, but we’re still trying to understand the culture and practices here around death and such.

The next afternoon, though, was something special. At about 3:00, the cultural hall was full. We understood that the wake would finish, and all those in attendance would accompany the hearse (not what I’m used to calling a hearse by any means) with the casket and body to the cemetery for interment. What we didn’t anticipate was that this was the real funeral service.

The same son that directed the previous service directed this one. We sang, had a prayer, and Nohelia, the daughter spoke for about 20 minutes. It was possibly the most powerful funeral sermon I have ever heard. And, as happens too often, we really learned about Adolfo. Here is his story, as best as I can remember from her telling.

When he was twenty-two years old, around the end of November, 1969, he was sitting on a hill behind his house when a good friend approached him with a book. They had shared books between them, since they both enjoyed reading, but this book was special to his friend. He gave him the book, and told Adolfo that he needed to read it. Adolfo opened the book, and turned a few pages, and felt what seemed like a hand touching his head, and a voice telling him it was true. He told his friend that he would read it, and would give all the books he had in his possession at home to this friend in exchange for this book that felt so special to him.

Adolfo spent the next 24 hours reading the book – the Book of Mormon. He knew it was true. He asked his friend how he could learn more, and the friend told him that he would have to talk to the missionaries, who lived and worked in Quiriza – 14 miles away.

So, Adolfo took his bicycle, and pedaled his way to Quiriza. If you recall, in our account of going to Quiriza, it took us an hour in a taxi. Missionaries at the time came to Tupiza once a month on horses to get supplies, and would stay a couple of days, since it took hours to come and go.

Adolfo found the missionaries, and asked to be baptized, but they told him that they weren’t looking for single young men, they were looking for families. But Adolfo was persistent, attending church each week.

On the first of January of 1970, he again asked the missionaries when he could get baptized. Whether they were new missionaries, or just tired of his question, they asked him, “When would you like to get baptized?” He said, “Why not today?”

So the missionaries got the baptism clothes for him, took him down to the river, and baptized him. After he got out of the water, they had him sit down on a fallen tree trunk, and confirmed him. He said that as they laid their hands on his head, he felt that he saw a vision, telling him that his sins were forgiven.

Since that day, he bore strong testimony of the Book of Mormon to everyone he met. He would buy cases of the Book of Mormon to hand out to his friends.

Sometime after being baptized (I’m trying to find out for sure, when), he served a mission here in Bolivia, as I wrote about earlier. He came home, and served faithfully. He was ordained a High Priest in 1980, and married Clementina in 1989. They have four children – Nohelia, Angel Moroni, Juan Rafael (serving a mission in Peru), and Daniel. They all went to the temple in Cochabamba within the first year after it was dedicated to be sealed as a family forever. Nohelia would have been about 11 years old, and Daniel, the youngest, about four. Molly and I can imagine just how special it would have been for them, all in white, surrounding the temple alter to be sealed, as we have been there to share that special event with other Bolivian families.

After Nohelia told about her father and his testimony, she then bore powerful testimony about the Book of Mormon, the Plan of Salvation, and eternal families. I can’t imagine how there could have been any dry eyes in the congregation of members and non-members, or how they could not have felt the spirit in great abundance.

After Nohelia spoke, one of Adolfo’s nephews spoke, and told about his uncle, his bicycle, his testimony and example, and how it had affected him in his life. Then the two sons spoke as well. The overwhelming feeling of love for this tiny, special man, with a huge, powerful spirit and testimony was clear. Theirs truly is an eternal family.

After we closed the meeting, we all gathered in the street in front of the church, and followed the hearse to the cemetery, a little less than a mile away. The nephew that spoke dedicated the grave, the casket was lowered into the vault, and a cover was placed with corrugated metal and rebar. I’m assuming that concrete was later poured to seal the grave.

What an amazing family. We feel so blessed to have been able to know Adolfo, and to be able to continue to work and serve with his wife and daughter. His two sons that were here are going to school in Cochabamba, and his son in Peru returns home next February.

Speaking of him, Rafael, the Mission President in Peru did contact him, and according to the word we heard from his mother, he had had a dream Tuesday morning, about the time his father passed away, in which his father came to him and said “Good-bye”, and told him all would be well.

So, a very different culture, a very different kind of funeral and interment, a very different kind of cemetery, but a very special family. With the reasonably close proximity of my own father’s passing in February, I couldn’t help but feel tender, sweet feelings towards this special family in their time of need, and time of sharing their strength with others. May God bless them deeply, as I’m sure He will.

Here are a few random pictures from our last few weeks.

Saturday night we had a fireside following a baptism in Rama América. President and Sister Hansen were here for the last time, for their last weekend in the mission, for a branch conference on Sunday. The new Mission President arrives in Cochabamba Friday morning, and the Hansens fly home Friday afternoon.

After the Hansens spoke, we were all entertained by some of the branch members dancing in traditional clothing. One of the couples that danced, Vanessa and Marcelo Reynaga, are preparing to go to the temple early next year for him to receive his endowments and be sealed as a family. They danced so beautifully. Rosita Chirinos, one of those baptized earlier in the afternoon also danced, along with Sirley Huarachi, a returned missionary, Juan Pablo Calla, a member for about a month, and Ivan Ibañez, another returned missionary with a cute family here in the branch.

Molly with Sister Hansen, Rosita Chirinos, Tayler Vargas, and Sariah Davila.

Us with Vanessa and Marcelo Reynaga, Juan Pablo Calla, and Sirley Huarachi.
Molly with Juan Pablo and Sirley.
Molly with Rosita and Sirley.

President and Sister Hansen with President Miguel James,
First Counselor in the Mission Presidency.
Yours truly with Rosita Chirinos, newly baptized, and Noelia Mamani from Villazón.
Vicki, Jared, and Sariah Davila from the Tupiza Branch.
The Michelin Man – on the way to Charaja, in the middle of nowhere.
The Martinez family dog in Charaja. A wonderful guard dog! Typical here.
The oven at Adrián and Gladys Martinez’s home in Charaja.
Yes, that’s meat hanging on the line to dry.

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