I have always regretted not studying Spanish in High School. Not that I regret having studied German. German is a beautiful language, and studying it taught me a lot about my own (second) native language, English. (I grew up speaking Finnish in my home.) And I loved my mission in France and in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland, and I've always loved being fluent in the language of Voltaire and Montesquieu and Victor Hugo. But Spanish is way too important a language for an American not to know it. And so I decided to teach myself Spanish. Eventually, after I'd learned the basics, I took some advanced Spanish courses at the Resource Center for the Americas.
So my Spanish-speaking ability has been lurking there at the back of my brain for a few years. From time to time I would pick up one of the many Spanish language free newspapers you find around town here in Minneapolis. Occasionally when I heard Mexicans talking on the bus, I'd lean over and eavesdrop. (There are lots of Mexicans in the neighborhood where we live in South Minneapolis). But I'd never really put my Spanish to good use... It remained more of a hobby.
But as soon as I learned that a gathering of LGBT Mormons and their family and friends was being organized in Mexico City for February 7-9, 2014, I began to understand why I had studied Spanish all those years back, and I started brushing it up by listening to LDS General Conference talks in Spanish, and reading news on-line in Spanish -- particularly news of interest to the LGBT or Mormon communities or both. I learned that Spanish-speaking Mormons -- like English-speaking Mormons -- have their own lingo that you might not be able to pick up from standard language texts and vocabulary lists. And so does the Spanish-speaking LGBT community. It took me a while to figure out that "SUD" was the Spanish equivalent of "LDS"! "Santos de los Últimos Dias"! Or that "transgénero" really does work as a translation for "transgender." Or that "SSA" is "attracción hacia el mismo sexo" in Spanish. I actually put together a Spanish gay Mormon glossary that I was studying daily in preparation for our trip. (Göran and I went together.)
The thing about a language is that it does way more than allow you to find your way to and from the train station or order a meal. It unlocks cultures. It enables relationships. Language creates community. And what a community I discovered in Mexico City.
Now I do believe in the gift of tongues. I've experienced something of it. I have been in situations where my ability to comprehend and to communicate has seemed to exceed my natural abilities. And I believe that it can come to us in those moments when understanding serves some higher purpose, if we have faith in it and ask for it. There have been moments now that I'm back in Minneapolis when I've been really tongue-tied in Spanish, and I've thought, "How on earth did I manage in Mexico?"
That time in Mexico City I regard as sacred. It was a time of testimony bearing, of sharing hopes and dreams and expressing faith. I saw brothers and sisters wrestling to understand and come to terms with something that was threatening to overwhelm them. I saw them -- I heard them! I understood them! -- making a journey from fear to hope. And I got to be a part of it. I got to share my testimony too, and have it be understood and received. (Here's a more detailed account of what happened at the conference.)
It was so hard to leave. I have discovered that I love Mexico. I love the culture and the people. I love the warmth and the kindness, the humility and the generosity. I love the openness and inclusiveness. I love the rainbow of colors. I loved the pride and the love I witnessed among Mexicans for their country, which has suffered so much, and accomplished so much against so many odds. I didn't want to leave. Last week when I was in Salt Lake, I was having a conversation with Randall Thacker about what we had experienced in Mexico, and he expressed what I had already been feeling ever since the end of the conference: "I want to live there!" I could see my husband and I living there.
Thank God for Facebook. Instant, miraculous communication with so many of the friends we made down there. I miss them. But I'm so glad to be able to hear from them every day, and to "like" what they're thinking and doing. That will do until we go back.
I'm part of a group on Facebook for Mexican "SUD LGBT." I'm so delighted and inspired by the other members of this group. I'm so honored to be a witness of their lives and testimonies, and for us to be able to work together in an important work of understanding and living and sharing the Gospel through the unique challenges we face.
Before our Sunday morning testimony meeting, I jotted my thoughts down on a piece of paper, in Spanish. I realized that would be better than me trying to stutter through extemporaneously. I'm glad I did, because now I have a written record of what I shared with my brothers and sisters there to keep in my journal. Here's a translation of it into English.
I love Mexico. I love you all. I am so grateful for you, and for this conference, which has been one of the most spiritual conferences I have ever attended. I cannot return to the United States without leaving you with my testimony of the Gospel.
A little over a year ago I had brain surgery because of a bike accident. Last summer, my dear husband Göran was diagnosed with kidney disease. Also, we have experienced many trials in our families -- with my mother, my sisters and Göran's sisters. But through all this God has sustained and supported us. Also, we have received many blessings from the members of my ward and from members of the Church. For example, several members of the Church have offered to donate one of their kidneys to Göran....
In the Doctrine & Covenants it says that if you have a desire to proclaim the Gospel, you are called to the work. Alejandro was right yesterday when he said that we do not need a calling from the Church. Whether we are excommunicated or whether we have full fellowship in the Church, we are all called to the work of the Lord, if we testify of Him.
I know that God exists and that he is real, because he speaks to me, and because the Holy Spirit testifies of him. I know that Jesus Christ lives and that he is our Savior, and that this Church -- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- is his own church. And I know that even though members of the Church do not completely understand homosexuality, I am not afraid, because I have faith in the Lord, and I know that he will guide the Church until the Church's understanding is perfect and the Church is prepared for his Second Coming.
This is my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.