Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A little bit of this and some of that

This blog post is a catch-up one with a smattering of topics, some with pictures, some without.

Christmas in India

Last time I showed you the beautiful completed nativity outside the mission home. But of course I’ve had to do a little decorating of my own for I love Christmas. I brought a few small decorations from home which along with a couple of pop-up Christmas cards soon found a home on our shelves.

The previous senior couple invited us to use their small Christmas tree and I quickly turned it into a photo tree with a picture ornament of each of our grandkids and the star with Christ at the top. However, all the ornaments are on the front as I can’t think of putting any of the grandkids where I can’t see them every time I pass by. It is kind of interesting to not hear lots of carols and see lots of decorations, but India is only 2% Christian so there aren’t many of us celebrating Christmas here. Elder and I even went exploring the nearest indoor malls—only a couple of miles from here—and there were just a few decorations there. Plus our home branch came and sang to us--even bringing Santa!

That said, we did attend our first branch Christmas party last Saturday and it was a lot of fun! It was out in Noida (Dwarka’s is tomorrow night) and included spiritual thoughts by the Branch President, the narrator, and (surprise!) Elder Allen (who was given a few minutes notice this time, but not many). Then we had a talent show, games (like decorating a human Christmas tree),
a yummy Indian dinner, a visit from Santa,
and a photo booth with lots of props for fun pictures! It was supposed to start at 5, we were ready about 5:40 but waited for someone to arrive for another 10 minutes. We were among the first to leave at 10 pm! We did help clean up some waiting for the taxi, but figuring that we had come at 3:30 to help decorate the tree
and set everything up, that’s 6.5 hours of fun!
We were tired when we got home at 11, especially knowing that we had to be on the road in the morning by 7:45. Good thing we’re young at heart!

Two weddings and a funeral

We have been invited to two weddings and one funeral so far. The first wedding was between two members of Dwarka Branch—the Sunday School President and the daughter of the Young Women President. Now no one from either of these families have attended church since we have been here since they were so busy with wedding preparations. But when we had called to see if we could come meet them, we were invited to the wedding. We went with the junior missionaries and were kind of excited to see what their wedding would be like. In India everyone has to be married civilly before traveling to the Hong Kong Temple to be sealed. All Hindu weddings are in the evening and since the groom is the only Christian in his family, it was to be a Hindu wedding. The Hindu priest consults star charts and tells the couple what day and time they should get married.

We arrived a little before 8 pm and met the family minus the bride who was in an upstairs room. We also met a return senior missionary couple who had come back from Canada for the wedding. We were served nice appetizers and chatted with a few people from the branch. After almost 90 minutes, all of us missionaries left, since we needed to get home. We were a little disappointed not to have seen more. However, we spoke with the senior couple in church that Sunday and they left the wedding at 1:30 am and the groom still hadn’t come. I guess they got married at 4:30 am. Wow! That makes for a long night!

This last week we finally were able to meet with the family, including the newlyweds. They shared that they had known each other for a year and a half and she had introduced him to the church. His Hindu family likes her and is supportive of him being a member so that is good since that is not always the case. In fact, right now they are living with his family.

The other wedding we were invited to attend was just this last week. The bride’s older brother is a member, a graduate of BYU, married in the Salt Lake Temple, and living in Utah. We went to visit with the bride-to-be and her parents a couple of weeks ago. She was excited about her upcoming nuptials, of course. We asked how they had met. She said that she was 29 and ready to be married but had no real prospects. Her parents consulted with a Hindu priest who looked at her charts and shared that her charts showed she was a good match with this other person looking for a marriage partner. So they met and liked each other. The families met and felt good about it and made the necessary agreements. The groom lives in Bangalore, down south, where the couple will live after the marriage. The engaged couple have talked some on the phone the last couple of months but that is about all. Unfortunately we already had a commitment the night of their wedding, although I’m not sure we would have stayed late enough to witness the actual wedding this time either.

The funeral was for a member of the Dwarka Branch in her mid-70’s, whose daughter is also a member of the branch. She was in the hospital her last week and we had arranged to go visit her there on Tuesday when we received word that she had ‘expired’ (as they phrase it) Sunday night. She was buried Monday and the family held a memorial service in the alcove outside their home on Wednesday night. They had spread large blankets on the cement and also had a tarp suspended over the area. I would guess there were about 50 people there, sitting on the blankets with a few chairs for the older people--Elder and I are old over here so thankfully got chairs. It seems we were waiting for a few friends to arrive who were stuck in traffic. The 6 junior missionaries from the branch were there and we all were asked by the family to sing a few songs, which we were happy to do. Then the assembled group sang several songs in Hindi until the expected guests arrived. A member of the church conducted the service although a preacher from another church gave one of the talks and Elder Allen was called upon in the moment to give the other. Surprise! Someone translated for him since most in attendance didn’t know English. He later shared that he wished he had at least looked at his notes for funeral talks before going.

Qutb Minar

Two weeks ago on P-day, Elder and I went to Qutb Minar, the highest stone tower in India,
and the accompanying Muslim mosque. It was built in the twelfth century and is quite impressive. I particularly liked the carvings
and also seeing green parakeets flying around and climbing on the walls.
It is only a 30-minute auto ride from our home. The admission is very reasonable: 10 rupees for natives and 250 for foreigners. At first that looks awful, until you realize that 250 rupees is about $4. We spent about an hour exploring it all

and bought an English picture book about it for another 100 rupees ($1.50). We hope to find the time to do a bit more exploring around Delhi.

Hard Realities and Sad Stories

We have now been here long enough to know some of the hard facts about India and have heard some pretty sad stories. For example, one of our branch presidents told us that the average wage in his branch is about 20,000 rupees a month ($300). Now we have been spending that much on food and transportation just for the two of us! And we’re not eating much meat! Another church leader shared with us that to be comfortable in Delhi, a family ought to earn at least 40,000 rupees a month. And there are homeless all around you, with little shelters all over the place—by this electric substation, by the nearby shopping area—and I even heard one Indian proudly say, “And our rich and poor live right next to each other.”

I am also surprised to hear of how many of the native junior missionaries have already lost one parent, usually their father. One has lost both parents and all grandparents, and he and his 3 siblings have been living on their own for the last several years. I know of a few members who were raised in an orphanage. And at least two of the junior missionaries have no home address to send their Christmas letter to. Death comes earlier here than I am used to. People have a hard time believing Elder and I are in our 60’s and still so active! Life is hard here and takes a toll on their bodies.  That said, the Indians I know don’t complain. Family is important to them. They work long hours for what I think is dismal pay. In fact, some domestic workers work full time for as little as 1500 rupees a month. It gives me food for thought! 

Closing Thoughts

We found out this last week that the next senior couple called as an office couple and supposed to arrive next month are now visa waiters and will hopefully make it by March.  Also, in the next few weeks, three more junior missionaries will go to the Philippians on a visa renewal run. We hope they make it back. We were so blessed to get our visas on time and multiple year ones at that so we don't have to renew them. 

We want to wish you all a very merry Christmas. We are happy to be here in New Delhi--there is definitely much work for us to do in sharing the good news of the Gospel, inviting all to Come unto Christ, and strengthening the members and leaders in the district! We love the people here, we love the Lord, and we love the work. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers on our behalf. We can feel them! Life is good and India is amazing!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Nativity

As I mentioned in the last post, us missionaries were involved in a service project on Thanksgiving (and before and after) of making a nativity at the mission home/office for the members in the district to enjoy this Christmas Season. There were three parts: the figures, the stable, and the lights for up tree trunks and in bushes.

We decided to cut out life-sized figures from plywood, prime them, paint them, and stick them in the ground via back supports and stakes. While we were priming the figures, a YSA branch clerk in the district who just happens to be a self-taught portrait artist came by and offered to help us with the figures. 
He sketched in everyone’s clothes and what color the missionaries should paint them. Then he came back and did the faces and the lines and shadows that brought them to life. 
He also helped make the angel fly and the star glow, and did the lettering for the scripture sign. We think he did an amazing job!

One of the missionaries designed our stable but due to the rules about missionaries not using power tools, we hired two carpenters to help saw the wood and drill the holes. The Elders tried to assemble it but the manual screwdrivers just weren’t up to the job. They did enjoy helping to raise it up once the carpenters had it put together.
A couple of days later one of the branches donated six Indian bales of hay for the stable, not rectangular ones like I was expecting, but each about 12 or 15 feet long. It was decided to use them to make a thatched roof and again, just as we were tying the straw down with twine, a YSA walked by who had helped build this type of roof and helped us use a couple of extra 1 x 2 on top of the straw to hold it down securely. How appreciated and timely!

The main challenge with the lights is that each string had to be individually wired into one of the outside lights, with each outside light being used for only 4 strings. We used blue lights at the bottom of the tree trunks with white lights higher up. Most trees just had lights up as far as the Elders could reach, but again we had a few YSA come and help. Also we put white lights in bushes around and behind the stable. We must have used at least 60 20-meter strings. It’s not quite like Temple Square in SLC, but it’s pretty!

It opened on Monday night, December 7, with a YSA choir singing carols, followed by a missionary choir. The Christmas videos the church as made the last few years were also playing on a monitor nearby. The display will stay open every night through Christmas, with carols being sung Mondays and Christmas Eve. We hope a lot of members come and enjoy it with their families and friends.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from India!

We had District Conference in this auditorium towards downtown from here. Here is a picture of 3 sisters we know with the building in the background. It was a great meeting—both colorful and edifying!

Newly called Apostle Ronald A. Rasband spoke to his first gathering of Young Single Adults here in New Delhi the next evening. The first thing he did was move his chair down from the podium, joining the audience for a more intimate meeting. After a short introduction by President Randy Funk, Sister Rasband gave a quick overview of their 42 years together. She knew Elder Rasband was strong and faithful in the Gospel when she married him and the Lord has since taken him step by step to prepare him for his latest call.

Elder Rasband spoke of his humble upbringing, son of a truck driver, but he remembers always being happy and always having a testimony of Christ. He then opened the meeting for questions from the audience. He used the five questions posed to teach many of the truths of the gospel—prophets both latter-day and in the scriptures; the importance of family first and teaching our children the truths of the gospel; to never give up, never stop trying, both with our children and the less actives; that love is the most important thing so always show love first and then teach, invite; the importance of marrying the right person in the right place at the right time; the perspective the Plan of Happiness can provide in understanding the death of a loved one and other trials in our lives; and the importance of missionary work, both full time and member, in building up the Church here in India for future stakes and temples.

Elder Rasband closed by expressing the love and gratitude President Monson and other leaders of the church have for the YSA, and bearing his testimony that Jesus is the living Christ and presides at the head of the Church. He then expressed his desire to shake everyone’s hand, which everyone was happy about. Following the handshakes came lots of photo shots, culminating with this one large group shot of about half the audience. Since Elder A and I were the photographers, we aren’t in any of the pictures, but we do have the good memory of being there.

A couple of days later we were able to meet with President Funk and his wife as they visited with a couple who served their mission when he was mission president. They were the first native couple from Delhi to serve a mission but have since gone inactive. We have visited them several times, and are hopeful we will see them back at church soon. President Funk insisted on taking some photos of the visit.

President and Sister Hodges went to Mumbai and then on to Pakistan with Elder and Sister Rasband. While they were gone, we got to go to the airport to welcome three new missionaries to our mission,
visit Old Delhi looking for supplies for a Thanksgiving missionary service project,
trace the nativity figures on plywood and get them cut out,
and attend a planning meeting for a big humanitarian project to save 100,000 babies next year here in northern India that the church is supporting.
We even attended our first Missionary District Meeting with our Dwarka partners.
Now the Hodges are back, bringing President and Sister Gong (who had joined them in Pakistan) with them and we are having Zone Conferences, Thanksgiving Dinner and a missionary service project of painting the nativity figures, building a stable, and putting up lights in some trees and bushes all in front of the Mission Home and Office. The hope is that members will come and enjoy it sometime this Christmas Season. Luckily, a YSA who just happens to be a branch clerk, came by last night while we were priming the figures and offered his assistance. He is a portrait artist so he is painting the faces onto our figures and outlining the clothes for the missionaries to paint. I’m excited for the end result!

Well Thanksgiving Dinner, complete with turkey, is in 45 minutes so I’m going to sign off by wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you feel as blessed as we do!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

New Discoveries

We made a lot of new discoveries this week.

First up is two fruit discoveries:

This is a picture of a custard apple from the outside, and the inside.
You eat around each black seed—very sweet! I liked eating the soft inside around each seed sack. Elder A thought it was bitter.
Together we ate it up!
We have been buying and juicing small limes each week, adding the juice to our water at meal times. It usually takes 4 limes to satisfy our weekly needs. Last week I saw some large limes so decided to buy them instead.
I only bought 2 since I was sure they would have a lot more juice than the little ones we have been using. However, when I cut into the first one to juice it, this is what I found:
It looks like an orange—and tastes like an orange—and is an orange! So no more paying the equivalent of 50 cents for oranges anymore. The local variety is just fine! But it’s back to the small limes for our lime juice.

As we’ve shared earlier, we take walks most mornings in a nice park about 5 blocks away. Lately we’ve noticed another park just a couple of blocks in the opposite direction and decided to check it out. Look what we found:

The first day we went there, we could even go inside and read about what it is.
It was built during the Lodi dynasty, Sunni Muslims who ruled over Delhi from 1451-1526 AD. There are also a few smaller ruins around the park (seen here behind piles of burning trash),
plus an interesting pagoda:
I particularly liked this sign:

Of course the sign is on one side of a walking path and a busy road is on the other,
but it’s a nice thought!

This week was the Festival of Lights (Diwali), the biggest festival of the year for the Hindus.
Many places decorated with lots of lights, even this gas station.
People gave gifts to family and close friends (often sweets and nuts and fruits) and they set off tons of fire crackers and fireworks. The traffic has been even crazier than usual so we spent a bit more time inside. The mission president’s wife gave us a roll of packing tape and told us to tape around our drafty windows and doors as much as possible. (The tape shows up as shiny around the glass.)
(She had asked about caulk and weather stripping but couldn’t find any. And the people in Mongolia also use tape for this purpose.) It’s really made a difference! And we used a cut up bubble mailer to weather strip our front door.
We are onto using our second air masks already. This picture shows the difference of a 3-week old mask, a 1-day old mask, and a new one. The air pollution is real!

The last adventure I want to share is about a trip out to Noida on Tuesday afternoon—the day before Diwali. The taxis were charging 2.6 times their usual fare (supply and demand works here) but we had an appointment with the branch president and his counselor so away we went. When we got there, the pest exterminator was spraying for bugs and rats so we couldn’t meet inside. No problem, we just grabbed some chairs and met in the courtyard out front. All of a sudden, a troop of about 20 monkeys came jumping down from the roof. The security guard grabbed his stick and kept them away from us. However, one of them had peed from up above and it went onto/into my purse! Luckily I keep my zippers closed and my shawl in a ziplock. As soon as we got home a few hours later, both the ziplock and my purse got a thorough cleaning!
Here is a picture of the kind of monkeys they were—I didn’t get a picture of the exact culprit.

We are beginning to see some effect of our efforts here—both branch presidents we are working with are very open to support and leadership training for both themselves and their branch leaders. Elder A is so effective in this kind of situation—so loving and kind in his guidance and suggestions. And we hear that both of them now have a schedule for holding all their branch leadership meetings regularly, have organized Home teaching and visiting teaching routes, and are really excited about the potential in their branch, especially the larger of the two branches. Dwarka has about 300 members but only averages 75 at church on Sunday while Noida has 80 members and averages 12-20 on Sundays. We alternate which branch we attend and were at Noida this last week. There were 30 there—but about 8 were visitors from Rexburg, Idaho, 5 were missionaries, 5 were investigators and that means 12 were branch members. We still have a lot of work to do! Here is the Noida Branch President on the left with his counselor. We love them both!

Oh, and stay tuned. We learned this week that Elder Rasband is coming to India to help form a stake in Bangalore this weekend, then coming to Delhi for a meeting with the YSA next Monday night before going to Mumbai and then Pakistan with our Mission President. Elder A and I have been writing up articles about newsworthy events in Delhi for the India Newsroom page and/or the Facebook page of the church in India. So I guess we’ll just have to go to this meeting as well. We feel blessed!