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.