Reflections of a sister missionary

Published: Thursday, Nov. 3 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Guillermo and Gudelia Gonzalez, right, of Monterrey, Mexico, were baptized in May 1953 by Elder David Richards, center. Sister missionaries Joselene Duran Balderas, right of Richards, and Karma Houston (not pictured) taught Guillermo and Gudelia the gospel.

Family Photo

Editor's note: This article is a follow-up to "The Remarkable Story of Guillermo Gonzalez," published in the Mormon Times section of the Deseret News on Aug. 11, 2011. That article chronicled the 1953 Latter-day Saint conversion of Guillermo Gonzalez and how he became a great leader and pioneer of missionary work in Northern Mexico. Missing in that article were the stories of the two sister missionaries who taught Guillermo, sisters Josefina Duran Balderas and Karma Houston. This article focuses more on the sister missionaries.

Alfred Balderas and his sister Marilyn Talbot have heard their 83-year-old mother talk about her mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout her life.

"It was definitely the best time of her life, one of the happiest times," Talbot said. "She has talked about the different experiences and loves to tell them again and again."

But the children of Josefina Duran Balderas, who goes by Joselene, only vaguely remember their mother talking about one convert from Monterrey, Mexico, who was baptized and later became a great pioneer of the church in Northern Mexico.

"That was all I really remembered until I saw the article in Mormon Times," Talbot said. "I thought, Wow, this is impressive, Mom, this is major stuff."

One morning in May 1953, Sister Duran and her companion, Sister Karma Houston, taught Guillermo Gonzalez and his wife, Gudelia, their first gospel lesson in their modest Monterrey home. Guillermo was so fascinated that he refused to let the sisters leave until they had taught him everything they knew about the LDS Church. The discussion continued for another nine hours. Weeks later, the couple were baptized by zone leader David Richards of Salt Lake City. Guillermo went on to become president of the first LDS stake in Monterrey and later presided over the Mexico Hermosillo Mission during a time when thousands joined the church. He died in 1982.

So what happened to the diligent, humble sister missionaries?

Following her mission, Houston became a registered nurse and worked in hospitals from Colorado to California. She taught seminary and served in many church callings throughout her life. She never married. Houston died at age 69 on June 13, 1998, according to an obituary published in the Deseret News.

Balderas grew up in Morelia, a town located about 180 miles northwest of Mexico City. Her mother died of complications following childbirth when Joselene was 3.

As a young woman in the 1940s, Joselene first heard about the LDS Church when she attended an English class being taught by two Mormon missionaries. She then began investigating the LDS Church.

When a local priest learned she was meeting with the Mormons, he threatened her with excommunication.

"He got so mad. He never spoke to me again."

At age 17, Joselene asked for her father's blessing to be baptized. Initially, he was opposed to it, but changed his mind when she promised to be 100 percent faithful. Joselene was among the first to be baptized in Morelia, and the only one in her family, she said.

Serving a mission quickly became her greatest desire, but her father said it was impossible. With persistence, she prevailed. She was first assigned to labor in Mexico City and her companion was Barbara Kohler, the future spouse of Elder Joe J. Christensen, who is a former president of Ricks College and now an emeritus general authority.

Barbara Christensen said Joselene was a wonderful companion who was very devoted to the gospel. Christensen related one memorable experience when the two missionaries called at the gate of a home in a fancy area of Mexico City. Sister Christensen had scarcely begun introductions when the woman furiously grabbed her hair and jerked hard, then said, "You gringa (American), get home, we don't need you here."

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