Quite a number of years ago, my late friend Bill Hamblin and I published the article below in the Provo Daily Herald. The first-person voice is Bill’s:
The Transformative Power of Religion
Although this column generally focuses on the history and importance of world religions, we occasionally examine aspects of our own LDS faith. Two months ago one of the authors had the opportunity to visit Mexico. While visiting the ancient Zapotec site of Monte Alban, I stopped at a hotel in Oaxaca, about a day’s trip south of Mexico City. As one of the hotel workers helped me with my bags, he asked where I was from. When I replied “Utah,” he asked if I was LDS. His name was Rene, and he, too, was LDS. As we chatted, I was somewhat amazed to discover that not only were there several stakes in Oaxaca, but a temple as well. He claimed that there was a village nearby where everyone was LDS, although some were “not so active.” He took us to the LDS temple, a small but exquisite building, south of town, which he proudly described as “the most beautiful building in Oaxaca.” And he was right.
He was a wonderful young man, who was always kind and gracious. We visited his home and invited his family to dinner, during which Rene’s mother told us the story of her conversion. Their family are pureblood Zapotec Indians. In traditional Mexican society, Indian peoples are usually oppressed, lacking social status and political and economic power. Many live in extreme poverty with almost no education. Although things have improved somewhat in recent years, Native Americans are still an underclass in much of Mexico.
Twenty years ago, Rene’s mother and father were living in a small two-room house on the outskirts of Oaxaca. They had two small children and a third on the way, but had never been formally married. In his despair, the father had become an alcoholic, contracting a terrible plague that afflicts many poor Mexicans. One day, two LDS missionaries knocked on their door. Rene’s mother answered, and was mildly interested in their message, but said they would have to return when her husband was home. When the missionaries came back, the father refused to have anything to do with them. But he allowed his wife to listen to the discussions. A few days later, when the missionaries were visiting, the husband was sick in bed from overindulgence. The wife asked the missionaries to give him a blessing. He was not only healed but touched by the Spirit; within two weeks they were both baptized.Although it took the father a number of years to fully recover from alcoholism, their lives were completely transformed. Today, twenty years later, Rene’s family is still poor, but it is not a poverty of degradation and despair; “we are poor in material things, but rich in the spirit,” as Rene’s mother put it. They have hope and purpose not only in this life but in the future life as well. The mother and father have been married in the temple, and have been sealed to their children. Half of their children have been on missions; several have been married in the temple, with several others still in high school. The father is now bishop of a ward in Oaxaca, while Rene is the stake Sunday school president. All of their children have finished or are attending high school, and several are going to college; Rene is working toward a degree in computer science. All of this because two missionaries knocked on the door of a poverty-stricken family whose mother asked the missionaries to give a blessing to her alcoholic husband.
This story is an excellent illustration of the principle that the late Christopher Hitchens sought to teach us in his immortal 2007 treatise god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. So I humbly offer it as yet another exhibit to be included in your already bulging Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File.