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!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Week of Visits

This past week saw many visitors and visits. First, the most important visitor was President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Accompanying him was President Gong, Asia Area President, and both of their wives. They were in Delhi for just two days, having many meetings with government officials, one with the missionaries and one evening devotional with the members. I absolutely loved the couple of hours he spent with us missionaries! Here is the picture from that meeting.

As you can see, we are a very small mission in terms of number of missionaries (with 41 in this picture, one in the hospital with active TB and 4 skyping in from Mumbai), but the AP’s told us that we are the world’s largest mission in terms of number of people within our mission’s boundaries! We include the top 2/3 of India, all of Pakistan (where there are 10 Elders, 3 Districts and 3500 members), all of Nepal (where there is 1 humanitarian couple and one branch), and all of Bangladesh and Bhutan. President Nelson even referred to President Gong as President of the Church over more than half of the people in the world! Of course since he was called into the Presidency of the Seventy in October, President Funk will take over as Asia Area President in January.

Our meeting with President Nelson was pretty intimate, with all of us having the opportunity of shaking his hand and talking to him. At the beginning of the meeting, there was a special musical number by six of the missionaries which President Nelson wanted to be able to fully enjoy, so he and his wife, followed by everyone else on the stand, came down and sat in the audience. President and Sister Hodge, our mission president and his wife, both spoke, followed by the Gongs and then the Nelsons, with President Nelson last. They were all inspiring talks, and many very participative.

President Nelson opened his up to answering questions from the missionaries. Among my learnings:

1.  All Heavenly Father wants is for all of His children (us!) to come home to Him—but we must choose to do so. That is why we invite all to come unto Christ!     
2. ‘Perfect’ means that our bodies are changed so we can live/dwell in the presence of God. Both physical and spiritual changes are necessary.
3.  As we love God first, our capacity to love one another is increased.

Later that evening in the member devotional, President Nelson talked about:      

1.   Teaching children that they are a child of God
2.    Teach that prayer is wireless communication with God without any fees
3.   During the Sacrament each week, we are making covenants again, not just renewing them
4.    Persist in our FHE, family prayers and scripture study even if there are times there is more howling than success

President Nelson’s vitality and mental acuity was amazing considering he is 91 years young.

The next visitor I want to mention wasn’t quite so welcome! One night on the way to bed, my glassless eyes noticed some dark matter on the wall above the bedroom door. “What is that?” I asked Elder A, reading in bed. “Where?” he asked. “Oh my! It’s a lizard!”

And so it was! Thankfully, it held perfectly still while I took its picture, then googled how to get rid of it. All in all, it was about 6 or 7 inches long and very cooperative as we captured it between a strainer and a magazine and took it outside to release it into a tree. We hope it likes its new home and wondered how long it had been in our flat.

The last visitors were us as we have started visiting both active and less active members in both of the branches we are working in. Most of the visits have been down narrow roads and up narrow, steep stairs.
I’ve been impressed with how neat and orderly their homes have been, but also how modest. One family lives on the roof with part of their home being outside and just a couple of individual rooms enclosed. We’ve had a couple of visits where extended family living close by have stopped by as well, allowing us to meet many family members. They are always so generous and welcoming, offering us something to eat and or drink. The Indian people are by far the best part of this mission!