Sunday, June 1, 2008

La Ramita

My latest calling in the Church is to be Second Counselor in the Eagle Valley Branch Presidency. The Eagle Valley Branch is a Spanish Speaking Branch of the church. They come from all over Douglas County rather than a specific area like the Wards in the area. We have 5 familys that come out on the regular basis and a couple of more that we see once in a while. If all of the actives were to come at the same time we would have about 27 people. We have a few individuals who like myself are non latinos assigned to the branch to help with leadership. Callis Ogles is the Branch President. He has worked with the various Spanish units of the church for many years. He sees the members like his children and shows a lot of love and concern towards them. Even though the branch is tiny compared to a Ward he makes sure everything is done just like in a big ward. Callis served a spanish speaking mission to Phillidelphia. Curtis Campbell is the Elders Quorum President and has served in spanish branches a lot over the last few years and his wife is from Cuba and they speack spanish at home. He served a spanish speaking mission to Florida. Sister Canon is a counselor in the Relief Society Presidency. She served a mission to Lithowania and never spoke spanish but she is learning amazingly well. The members come from Peru, Columbia, and Mexico at the present time. Some are here illegally and some have green cards and some have worker permits. Many of the illegals have been here so long that their children born in the country are legal citizens of the US.

It is interesting to me that the church does not make a big deal out of the legal status of their citizenship. The Book of Mormon states that no one is led to this land except he be led by the Lord and the Doctrine and Covenants state the everyone should hear the gospel in their own tongue. So the church orgainizes branches for these good people.

There are many challeges that the Latino members face. Consider these issues and remember this is a very small group of folks. One family had a terrible accident where a baby fell off a changing table and died. The couple's other child was taken away by the authorities and put up for adoption and the father is currently serving a prison term for the incident while his wife who is pregnant again will have to have there baby alone. I can't imagine that happening to a white family in this country. Medical and Dental work is done by unlicensed praticioners in their homes. Many of these practicioners are professionals from other countrys but do have have American licenses. There are many horrible lending practices that are plyed to these people. One member told me that to buy a car he had to agree to a 30% interest rate on the car loan. The dealer said that since he did not have a drivers license that he would have to pay it. Many have been in the country illegally and do not have drivers licenses and valid social security numbers. With no social security numbers they do not pay income taxes but they also do not get other services that needy families might be entitledd to. They are actually very careful drivers because they are so afraid of being pulled over by the police and the consequences of driving without a license. Many of them tend to work in areas where most of the employees are in similar circumstancs, ie. fast food, house cleaning, waiters, construction related work or assembly jobs. There jobs are tenuous at best. Subject to seasonality and I suspect that if the economy weakens further their jobs will be some of the first to go. If the government ever were to get serious about verifying social security numbers for payroll taxes that many of them would loose there current jobs and not be able to get new ones. They would be forced to return to Mexico after living here for 10 -15 years and having children that are US citizens. There are millions of people in similar circumstances so I suppose it would create havic in the work place and displace millions of people from there homes. So maybe the government would not take such steps but there is a groundswell of opposition to illegal imigration in the country. Those who are here legally are finding it more difficult and expensive to maintain their worker permits that have to be renewed every year. One family has lost the home they bought largely due to preditory lending practices. Another family built their home but had to use credit cards to finance much of it and are being crushed by the credit card interest. One family actually got divorced and remarried to American Citizens so they could get legal status in this country. It as all just on paper. They remained living together during the process. Such marriages are fairly common and a thriving business for those who provide the service. We had to disfellowship them from the church for breaking of marriage vows until we could help them get divorced again and remarried. We have since restored them to full fellowship in the church..

In spite of their challenges these folks are happy and consider themselves blessed to be living in America. They still consider this a land of opportunity and feel they are doing much, much better than if they still lived in their native countrys. The lack of opportunity, corruption and oppresion of poor people is much worse in their native countrys. They love the gospel and excersise a simple but profound faith. It is my pleasure to serve amongst them.

It is a challenge for me to relearn spanish after 30 years from my missionary time. I have been blessed with the gift of interpretation of tounges. I understand 80-90% of what they say in church and 50-60% of the things they talk about outside of church. My comprehension is far better than it ever was while on my mission. Speaking is another matter. It is coming back but it is hard work for me. I just can'nt get my lips around a lot of words. I'm getting better and everyone is very patient with me.

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