|Testimony of Randall Lawrence
My testimony regarding the 2009 Hill Cumorah Expedition Team spring trip begins
prior to the 2008 HCET spring trip. I felt led to call Tim Brown for a request to “bring”
the devotions at the beginning of a HCET meeting in preparation for the 2008 spring
trip. My devotions were based on the “sons of Helaman” (stripling warriors) and sons
of Mosiah who are some of my heroes in the Book of Mormon. These stories inspired
me to suggest formalized prayer coordination to support of the team. During the
process of coordinating this prayer effort God “told” me (gave me knowledge) that I
would be going on the trip in 2009. I was elated. I spent the year wondering how he
would do it. I was hired to teach Health Literacy at a men’s recovery program in
Kansas City, but I was only working about 15 hours per week. I made enough money
to live on, but that was barely enough. I did not lose faith. When I experienced doubt,
I would just thank God for this promise from the previous year.
I closed the door on some other ministry I was involved in mostly as a volunteer.
After giving this up, the next day, the executive director and my supervisor asked me
if I would be interested in doubling my hours at work from 15 to 30. I wondered if this
would provide me with the money for going on the trip. It did. I paid for my trip by the
end of February and began to get prepared for my first Hill Cumorah Expedition
Team trip. God fulfilled His promise and gave me another testimony!
I spent my last free Saturday before the trip in the Community of Christ Temple in
Independence, MO doing research on the Hill Cumorah. I found some interesting
information in the archives including a Hill Cumorah pageant entitled “Remember
Cumorah” by Elbert Smith in 1927 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the coming
forth of the Book of Mormon, September 22, 1827. This pageant included the
characters of the Three Nephites. After finishing my research on the Hill Cumorah I
felt led to do some additional research on the Three Nephites. Time seemed to slow
and intensify as I found three articles from the Saints Herald (February 10, 1897;
June 19, 1929; December 4, 1929). The June article was especially interesting for a
possible encounter between the Three Nephites and one of the men of Columbus. I
shared with some friends before I left and was blessed by another testimony
regarding a possible encounter with one of the Three Nephites. As I left the Temple, I
experienced the Spirit strongly as a mantle or “Comforter” in finding and finishing all
my research on the Hill Cumorah and especially in this new information regarding
the Three Nephites. I was even more excited about going on the trip!
I want to express a special “Thank you!” to Sandy Sullivan and the “Knit-Us-
Together” prayer shawl group of the New Philadelphia congregation for quickly
producing a prayer shawl for Paula of Piedra Ancha, the prophetic woman met by the
group on the 2008 HCET Spring Trip. Your support is greatly appreciated.
Tuxtepec and Jalapa are about 2000 miles from Independence, MO so the travel is
extensive and grueling, and more so for the drivers than the flyers. A little “God-
incidence” (God-blessed coincidence) occurred in sharing the first flight from KCI to
Dallas with Jim Slauter, the President of the Council of Twelve. We chatted briefly
with him at KCI and at Dallas where we met up with Mike Brown.
Once in Mexico City we had an encounter with the Costa Rican soccer team fan club
that was greeting their team at the airport for a re-match with Mexico. We managed
to get out of Mexico City, but we had some difficulty with the vehicle overheating and
losing its coolant in the mountains south of Mexico City. Mike was very calm, found a
place to pull over, and discovered we had to have the thermostat replaced. I was
impressed at how calmly Mike dealt with the problem and got us back on the road to
Puebla. We found out the drivers were not too far behind us when leaving Mexico
City so we hoped to be together for a late supper in Puebla. It was not to be. The
drivers got delayed in Mexico City. We got to Puebla and shared a late supper with
just the four of us–Mike Brown, Carol Brown, Chris Scott, and myself. I seemed to be
getting over my jet lag and altitude sickness and felt better following some rest at the
I was using Mike’s computer late when the drivers finally arrived at our hotel in
Puebla at about 1 am. We were finally together–the eight of us–Neil, Tim, Jerry,
David along with the four of us who had flown in to Mexico City and then driven
down to Puebla. We slept in a little the next day, had a very good breakfast, and then
had devotions before hitting the road for the trip from Puebla to Tuxtepec where we
would be staying for most of the trip.
Driving in Mexico is not like driving in the states. It is hard to describe if you have not
experienced it before. I have to give Mike and Tim credit for handling the driving, not
to mention having to maneuver with a trailer attached. There is a lot of passing with
little room to spare though there is some honking at times. I did not notice the “road
rage” like you might experience in the states. The drivers share space with
pedestrians, horseback riders, tractors pulling trailer-loads of sugar cane, etc. Most of
the time, the drivers are pretty accommodating in allowing others to get around them.
We got into Tuxtepec. I was pleased to be sharing a room with Tim Brown for the trip.
Tim had been on all the previous trips so I enjoyed asking about all those trips
though I am not sure how pleased Tim was during the trip to share a room with me. I
had a lot of difficulty in sleeping with the excitement and challenges of the trip. I was
thankful to be able to talk with Tim and all the other team members in regards to
their experiences over 9 years especially with Tim and Mike and over 30+ years with
Neil. One of the best parts of the trip was the interaction and fellowship with the
other team members. These conversations and the daily devotions from the Book of
Mormon made the book and testimonies (from 2001-2008) come alive for me.
I experienced a powerful feeling of the Spirit with our devotions together in the
morning of our first full day in Jalapa and surrounding area. I envisioned the team
enveloped with light and surrounded by angels as we lifted up our friends and
ministry of the trip in prayer. This first day started with meeting and renewing our
friendship with the family of Moises, Isabel, Martha. We shared in some coffee and
rolls and conversation and eventually had communion outside on the porch. I was
impressed the way that Neil alternated back and forth between Spanish and English
with the communion message. “Rookies” Chris and I got to serve communion under
the imposing presence of the hill (mountain). The Spirit was powerful with sharing
with our friends below Cerro Rabon’s heights which were covered in mist and fog due
to unseasonably cool temperatures in the 80's. This did not clear off until later in the
day. I could not help thinking about the relevance of the records coming forth in
relation to the beautiful spirit exhibited by Martha in a wheelchair crippled from polio
earlier in her life. Her smile is contagious, and Tim loves to spend time and dote on
her. Neil invited the family to come and visit with us back at the hotel in Tuxtepec.
They agreed. We then went on to greet and share with Catalina’s parents and family
with Neil speaking with Catalina via a cell phone. Catalina was the one bitten by a
snake back in 2005 when doors opened for ministry and friendship with persons in
the area. We spent some time visiting in Jalapa and set up being able to drop off the
donated clothes that we brought in the trailer. We decided to hold back a couple of
bags for our friends in Piedra Ancha, the little village across the river, the Santa
Next day, we dropped off most of the clothes with Felipa who is a friend and contact
in Jalapa. We then attempted to visit Piedra Ancha to reconnect with the prophetic
woman from the previous year Paula and her family and other friends.
Unfortunately, we found the road was too rough for the rental van which tore a hole
in the oil pan. God blessed us as we crowded in to the Expedition and came across a
tow truck on the way back to Tuxtepec. After getting the van towed back to Tuxtepec
to be fixed some of the group went back and picked up Isabel, Moises, Martha,
Juanita, and Maria. We had a good time looking at pictures from previous trips,
playing by the pool (big kids Tim and Neil with Juanita and Maria) and then sharing
in supper. This was a good time for the team and our friends to share. We were glad
that Mike finally made it back late for supper due to repairs on the van but still in
time to visit with our friends.
We spent a “siesta day” while the van was getting repaired, and they took our friends
A trip to La Venta did not work out so we focused on the “Mixtec Outlook”. Tim kept
thinking I needed to go caving which I refused (we need Kevin and Joe for this!). The
caving did not work out anyway. I did go on our three trips to Ayautla, a little village
beyond Jalapa, below some of the cliffs that are a part of Cerro Rabon. The Mexican
officials had this village’s name misspelled on the road signs from both the east and
west directions. We went three times, once with Moises, and twice with Neil. The first
two trips seemed to establish contact, but we could not do any exploration without
approval from the local officials.
With extra time we picked a nice “temperate” day of 108 degrees to hike up to find
this stela (standing stone) below Cerro Rabon’s heights. Neil shared his history with
finding this stela in the past. It took Mike and Tim awhile to find it in the jungle next
to a pasture going up the skirt of Cerro Rabon. After surviving this first hike, albeit
slightly overheated, we then sang our way back down to the air-conditioned vehicles.
I give credit to the early groups who spent most of the time in the jungle and rotated
in and out. Jungle Man, I am not!
After this initial hike, we then planned the next day to scale “Cumorahcita” (little
Cumorah), the hill below Cerro Rabon. This was quite a hike also. Going to the two
peaks of this hill and passing through a cemetery on the way up. My I-pod (finally
working and with some praise music and Book of Mormon passages on it), camera,
and machete are not a good mix though I enjoyed listening to the Audio Book of
Mormon while hiking this hill. Multi-tasking Man, I am not! Tim will probably not
have me lead with the machete again because being a shutterbug and front man with
machete was not an endearing combination with Neil often leading on the way.
David, Chris, and I managed to do some measurements on top of the hill, but it was
more overgrown than the year before and they had put a fence over the top of it. I got
some great shots of Cerro Rabon and our visit to the overlook from our first trip to
Ayautla. After this hike, we did visit Paula and family. We dropped off the prayer
shawl, but Paula was resting so we did not get a picture (Sorry Sandy and New
Philadelphia, Ohio prayer shawl group!). We were going to say goodbye to our friends
in Piedra Ancha when we got stopped by the mayor, Juan. We had a good visit with
our friend Lupe, Juan’s wife, and provided administration per request. There was a
powerful presence of the Spirit with this visit. We also had a mother and daughter
stay to thank us for the clothes dropped off for them earlier. The fatigue from the
hike faded in the face of the blessing of being with new friends and providing ministry
in the area (see Fall 2009 Cumorah Messenger). God is so good!
Our third trip to Ayautla began very early in the morning with leaving about 4-5 am
for the hour plus trip from Tuxtepec to Jalapa and then beyond to Ayautla. We did
catch a great sunrise silhouetting Cerro Rabon and Cumorahcita. Can you imagine an
endless host of Lamanites descending on their brethren and families in a wave of
extermination and genocide? I remember bringing devotions and pondering the
effects of the remnant of the Nephites around Cumorah with 240,000 men with their
families exhausting all the resources. Imagine the fear engendered in being
overwhelmed by your brethren that want you wiped off the face of the earth...(see
Neil’s 2006 testimony).
Back to Ayautla after my ramblings, we seemed to have approval only to be blocked
by a roof and then to be brought back to talk with the local official again. We struck
out (three times) with the “Mixtec Outlook” when a young man spoke to us about
artifacts. When we had about given up (at least for this trip) the Lord opened the door
for a new contact and the photographic recording of artifacts reported being found in
caves in the vicinity. So we had a lead for next year. Thank you, Lord!
We ended our trip with a goodbye visit to our friends in Jalapa and then with Isabel
and family. We were blessed with another supper one night at the hotel in which
Mike and Neil “generously” shared from their meals while Isabel patiently waited on
hers. She was a good sport!
We visited Jalapa and its market on Palm Sunday. Do not try to go up the market
when the church lets out down the market. We ran into Catalina’s parents and visited
with them. I managed to get a Mazatec-Espanol (Mazatec-Spanish) primer with Mike’
s help, visited our friends, and then went to visit with Moises, Isabel, Martha, Maria
and Juanita for a final time. I told Mike that Jalapa’s open air markets could match
Independence Mall back home with all kinds of vendors and things to buy and sell.
He reminded me that it (the open air market) did not have air-conditioning. I took a
trip with a bunch of intelligent (Neil, Carol, Chris) persons and some “smart-alecks”
(Tim, Mike, Neil at times) and quick wits (Jerry, David)!
We spent a little bit of time waiting for our “goodbye” dinner with Isabel, Martha,
Moises, Maria and Juanita. While we waited, Tim pointed out the locations on Cerro
Rabon for base camp and cave camp from previous trips. It was Sunday, April 5th the
day before the church’s anniversary. We would be leaving the next day to allow for a
full day at Teotihuacan to see and experience the pyramids. While waiting, I felt a
powerful experience of the Spirit regarding the Three Nephites, powerful like prior to
the trip. It is only my subjective testimony with no objective proof (sight, encounter),
but I believe they were present there and stand by my testimony!
It was tough to say goodbye, but we had some funny moments with fresh jalapeno
peppers and Isabel joking with Neil and the team and some tender moments with
spending time with Martha and prayer over the family and saying goodbyes to these
dear friends. We will miss them, but we had some homemade “souvenirs”
(handmade garments, tortilla covers, and our beautiful “Rabon Cumorah” shirts)
matching the cliff faces above the home of our friends.
We tried to get President Veazey’s address to the church later that night without
much luck, packed up, and left Tuxtepec for Puebla. We got to eat in Puebla by the
zocalo (open air square in middle of town where persons gather) and visit their
famous marketplace for some more gifts for our family and friends at home. We got
to catch President Veazey’s address this next night in Puebla on April 6. I found out
that there were technical problems with the live webcast so everyone outside the
Temple had to download it off the church site and see the recording. I guess it is more
fitting for April 6.
The next day we traveled to Teotihuacán and experienced this world-famous
archeological site with its Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl (Plumed Serpent heads), Pyramid
of the Moon, and Pyramid of the Sun. I climbed platforms in front of the first two
(Quetzalcoatl, Moon), had a personal tour with Neil sharing insights about the site
especially with Chris and myself, and then climbed the enormous Pyramid of Sun.
What a view from the top! I have a short 360 degree video on my Facebook. It was
quite a climb, but I am glad I did it! I even have a zoom shot of Tim & Carol, Neil, and
Jerry waiting on us to come back down. Thank you for your patience! I am not glad
that I did not take water with me. This site is extensive over a large area. After getting
back, I could hardly walk for half a week. My friend, Peggy, who coordinated the
prayer warrior effort joked that I went to Mexico a young (relatively speaking) and
healthy man and came back as an “old man”.
I am so glad that I went. I thank God for providing the means. I am so appreciative of
Tim, Mike, Neil, Carol, David, Jerry, and Chris. It was unforgettable and memorable
sharing this trip with all of you. God blessed us and used us in ministry in some
powerful ways! We had some setbacks and some surprises and some new contacts
and leads for exploration. I look forward to my continued membership, support, and
involvement in the Hill Cumorah Expedition Team (and God willing, more trips in
the future). Need a “roomie”, Tim? (just kidding!). God, peace, blessings, and
endowment be with you!