Saturday, January 28, 2017

perilous journey the the house of the lord by mark housley and gordon allred

background & context
i served an lds mission to guatemala in the mid-90s; spending almost the entire time in the alta verapaz region; including 12 months in the polochic valley.

the polochic valley is comprised largely of kekchi natives.  the vast majority of them do not speak spanish and only know their native tongue.

the kekchi are poor farmers who work the land producing maize, coffee, cardamom, rice, beans and other crops.  interspersed among the poor are plantation owners who are guatemalans of spanish and german descent.  the kekchi are extremely humble and superstitious - child-like, in my opinion.

almost all mormon male missionaries know the rule of "lock your heart" during missionary service.  this stems from a discourse given by spencer kimball in the late 1960s.  it's understandable for a male missionary to 'fall in love', sometimes, during his mission and in some cases missionaries return to their mission, after their service has been completed and court a girl they met there.  and sometimes male and female missionaries will court after their service is finished.  all that is conceivable.  however, when it comes to missionaries marrying kekchis - the idea becomes twisted.

what i mean by that is - kekchis are very child-like.  they are aboriginal, uneducated, easily swayed, etc.  and for a white american lds missionary to marry a kekchi girl - it 'triggers' a negative response in most people who understand the context.  it's not unlike a 50 year-old man marrying a girl who is barely 18 years old or younger.

mark housley is that white american lds missionary who returned to polochic valley and persuaded a kekchi girl to marry him.  i was one of those missionaries who disliked the whole situation.  and there were other missionaries, closer to housley, who disliked the situation even more.

one of my fellow missionaries, who was my local missionary leader (zone leader), passed a sealed envelop to me and instructed me to pass it to the kekchi girl who housley was intending to propose to (this was december of 1995).  the letter was not written by him, rather it was written by a former companion to housley.  still being somewhat naive and not knowing the whole situation, instead of passing it along, i decided to open the envelop and read the letter.  the contents said, "this is a letter to say that if you do anything with angelina - or with any other kekchi - i will kill you!  this is not your culture - go home you loser!  there are people who will inform me if you did something with her - and i will kick your ass! you have no friends - no life - no brains!  repent you asshole!  never come back!"  i didn't pass it along as instructed.  i think i ended up burning the letter.  but this gives a sense of the kinds of opinion people had of housley.

mark housley and his parents visited guatemala in december of 1995 and fairly often between then and june of 1996.

by june of 1996, i was no longer living in la tinta (the town angelina kukul and her family were living in) and instead was serving in canlun - a small village on the other side of the river from teleman.  we knew mark and his family were coming to guatemala that day.  we knew they were going to get married in senahu (civilly) and then drive to guatemala city to be 'sealed' in the mormon temple.

the day was epic.  mark, along with gordon allred, later wrote a book (perilous journey to the house of the lord) about that day and the events leading up to it and the events after it.  the book also describes mark's mission years in guatemala.

book review
- the housley family flies to guatemala for the marriage
- they are detained at the airport (unusual)
- they drive from guatemala city to polochic
- along the way, bandidos fire at them with ARs
- kekchi farmers cut a ceiba tree down, blocking the road
- the road to polochic is blocked all day long
- the road to senahu washes out due to a biblical rain storm
- mark & angelina encounter many, many bureaucratic roadblocks
- mark's mom is detained by the guatemalan government several weeks after the marriage

that's a summary of the events surrounding the fateful day in june 1996.  as a missionary, the only events i observed were seeing the ceiba tree come crashing down on the one road in and out of polochic valley and then meeting the housley's in the long line of cars and hearing of their bandido attack and then later that night observing the most unbelievable rain storm i had ever seen in my life.

having only that bit of context, i later learned mark held firesides and then wrote a book about the whole experience.  i finally ordered the book and read it.

as a whole, it was a very enjoyable read.  it brought back so many memories of guatemala, the culture and the land.

my opinion of mark didn't really improve after reading the book.  quite frankly, i wonder if he isn't a little ... i don't know quite the word to use ... but the one word that comes to mind is 'autistic.'  and i don't know if that word quite fits the description.  honestly, i'm still trying to put my finger on it, but that is all that is coming to me now.  mark is quite brilliant (finished medical school, graduated with honors, etc), but also seems to lack some nuances of social interaction and appropriateness.  how else could he so easily have become fixated on a kekchi girl he saw in passing on the road?

my final reaction to the mark & angelina marriage, after reviewing my missionary experiences and reading the book is to say - the world is a very big place and anything can happen - including what happened to mark, his family and the kukuls.

it is also worth noting, about 10 years ago, i emailed the missionary who wrote that letter to mark, which i never gave to angelina.  if i recall correctly, i told him i didn't pass the letter along.  he was ok with that.  he had even 'forgiven' mark, in a sense.  i think he had visited mark and angelina in odgen.  also, i understand other missionaries have visited mark and angelina and say she wears jeans and speaks english.  i think her and mark have four boys - i would imagine the oldest is mission-age about now.

the other part of the book - the part he discusses his mission - i quite enjoyed.  i was very familiar with all the areas in which he served and visited, except his first area (galilea) and semarac and seritquiche - the last two areas i always wanted to badly visit, but never had the opportunity.  i was even familiar with chicoj and tanchi.  when i was serving in coban, my companion and i would visit the missionaries serving in the chicoj/tanchi area.  matter-of-factly, i sometimes wish i could have served there, but every one has told me it's not great there (cold, drizzly all the time and the people there are tough socially).

i enjoyed his telling of his first christmas in senahu and the obsession guatemalans have with fire and fireworks.  he did a great job describing the long, long hikes in the jungles - the heat - the mud - the rain - the cold; being stranded on those hikes and sleeping on beds of bamboo or cement.  i laughed at the lack of privacy people have in polochic - kids talking to you as you go to the bathroom!  all fond memories in my opinion.

i sometimes miss polochic valley.  i definitely miss coban - i love that place with all my heart.  and being able to re-live those memories of guatemala was indeed the best of this book.