Monday, January 18, 2016

Reflections on India

We  have  been  here  for  3 months  now  and  it's  time  to  share  some  thoughts  and  observations  of India.

The  traffic:  When  we first  arrived  I was scared  often  while traveling  on the  roads. I would  close  my  eyes  when  I  saw  cars driving  on  the  wrong  side  of  the  road. I noticed that  cars would not  stop and  look  before  turning or entering, and  there  was  constant  honking  of  horns. No one traveled in the marked traffic lanes, often squishing 5 or more lanes of cars and motorcycles into a 3 lane road.  People  would  cross  streets, even  busy ones, just  holding  up  their  hand asking  the  traffic  to stop for  them .  Even though none of that has changed, some of my perceptions have. I now see how  everyone watches out for  everyone  else and tries their  best  to  not  hit anything or anyone. Yes, city traffic  is  usually  slow  moving, thank goodness, so reaction  times are  adequate, but we have seen  very few accidents and we are on the roads  quite  a  bit. In fact my natural  tendency  when crossing a multi lane road is to cross as quickly as possible   (run) but I   have  been  advised to  just  walk so the approaching  drivers can  more accurately  judge  where I am going and when  I  will be there. I admire the amount of cooperation required to travel the roads here. The drivers are constantly yielding the right of way to others. But they do use their horns a lot!

The weather: We arrived at a good time of the year weather wise. People  say  this  year  we really  haven't  had  a  winter, it's  been  so  mild. It can feel  cool  when there  is  90% humidity  and  it's  only  about  50 degrees  or so, but most days have warmed up to around  70—pretty comfortable. Some  people  we visit  don't  seem  to  have  any  space  heaters, as there is no need for anything more than that,  so we may feel a bit chilly and keep on our jacket, but that is the extent  of  it. But we are hoping that a warm winter doesn't mean a warmer summer since we've been told it can be 120 degrees by April—stay tuned.

The people: Indians are a pretty amazing group, and very helpful. Quite often in our adventure of finding yet another address of a member, our driver just pulls over to the side of the road and asks whomever is there.
There have been many a time when we even have the member on our phone and the person on the side of the road gets to talk to them and tell our driver exactly where to go since they are usually more familiar with the exact neighborhood. We appreciate their assistance and make sure to say, “Thanks!”

The people here don’t seem to complain—at least not in English! One missionary shared, just as he was completing his 2 years here, that what he admired most about the Indians was that they don’t need much to be happy—just food and clothing and shelter and family and they are happy. It does seem to be true. I see some carrying what seems to me as pretty heavy loads/burdens (both physically and spiritually), and they just do it. Pretty amazing!

Elder and I are getting spoiled, I’m afraid. For example, we ride the metro quite a bit.
There are seats along the sides, but most people end up standing in the middle. There are a few seats with signs over them: “For ladies,” or “For Senior Citizens or Differently Abled,” or a more general, “Give your seat to someone who needs it more than you.” Now if we are only going on a short ride, I don’t mind standing. But sometimes we’re on for 30-45 minutes (and if going from Dwarka to Noida it is a 75-minute ride) and a seat is really quite nice. Usually someone takes one look at me and offers me their seat—and often someone gives Elder one as well. Once in a while, there is a man who tells someone to give me/us their seat(s) and that’s ok too. We don’t really think of ourselves as “senior citizens” though I’ve heard the definition here is over 60, so I guess we are. But we do tell people that back home we aren’t considered old yet. However, life conditions are harder here and so people do age quicker I think.

We have now attended a couple more memorial services as well as an actual burial, though it was a Christian burial. It was interesting to watch the family cover the grave with flowers, lit candles and burning incense.
We have been the only non-family members at some of these but have always been treated with great respect, given seats to sit in and invited to speak at two of the three. In fact at one, we said our goodbyes and thank yous and tried to leave before the dinner, but to no avail. The family insisted we eat with them, and waited on us hand and foot while we did so. (The expired person was the father of a church member whom we home teach with the rest of the family attending  a variety of different churches.) After dinner, two college-aged young men who knew English (the entire service had been in Hindi) escorted us to the nearest Metro station, only a few blocks away, but since it was about 8:30 at night, we accepted their help gratefully. They chatted pleasantly with us and made sure we got to where we needed to be. In fact most of the people we go visit escort us to our auto or taxi and ask that we let them know when we arrive home. How kind! ( Here is a picture of one family we are working with whose son is a member but they are not yet.)

In closing I will relate one conversion story we were told just yesterday, an example of the kind of experiences these people are having. This story begins about 8 years ago when the man had just finished 12th Standard (12th grade) and decided he wanted to become a pastor like his uncle. However, when he approached his uncle for some references, he was told to wait one year first. He told us of seeing LDS missionaries around but not knowing who they were or why they were there. Then on his birthday (Aug 27), he met them at a bus stop and talked to them briefly. They gave him a Book of Mormon and invited him to read Alma 32 or 34. He went home and told his mom about them and she said that maybe the Lord had a plan for him. However, he threw the Book of Mormon on his bookshelf and ignored all of the missionaries’ phone calls. Then one day when he was home, the electricity went out and he was bored. He looked over at the book shelf and saw the Book of Mormon and picked it up. Now he had a habit of taking his Bible, thinking of a question and then opening it randomly to a page and reading for his answer. One question he had was why the missionaries said he had to get baptized again since he was already a baptized member of another Christian Church. So he picked up the Book of Mormon and randomly let it open. It opened to 3 Nephi so he turned to chapter 27 verse 8 (in honor of his birthday, the 27th of August) and started reading. It starts off by talking about the name of His church and then the need for all to repent and be baptized in His name and endure to the end. Well, this brother couldn’t believe how clearly it answered his question and more! He called the missionaries and set up an appointment to be taught. He was baptized before too long, followed by his siblings. A bit later even his parents joined the church.  He went on a mission, serving up here in New Delhi, then returned home in southern India, baptized his girlfriend and now they are married and expecting their first child. They recently moved into one of the branches we are supporting and he is a great help as Branch Executive Secretary. The Lord truly is preparing so many of the Indian people to accept the Gospel and its message. 

In short, we love being here! It is truly amazing!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Work

I thought perhaps I should share some about exactly what it is Elder and I are doing day to day on our mission—what part of ‘missionary work’ do we do?

We are called as Member Leader Support missionaries. Before I start describing our core work, let me first define some terms. Our church’s congregations (200-500 people) are called wards and usually 6-10 wards combine together to make up a stake—all these are geographically determined.  Each ward is led by a bishop and each stake by a stake president. Here in New Delhi, there are less members of our church so the smaller congregations are called branches led by a branch president and the 7 branches combine to make up a district led by a district president. All these positions are filled by lay priesthood and some with just a few years of membership in the church. Our mission president is over the three districts in Pakistan, the one district in Delhi, as well as the branches in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Kolkata, and Mumbai. He and his wife visit each of these places several times a year, being gone for up to 2 weeks at a time. 

We have been assigned to two of the seven branches here in Delhi, Noida (with only about 80 members and 12 attending) and Dwarka (with over 300 members and 80 attending).
Our core work involves working with the branch presidencies and other branch leaders, encouraging them to hold all their leadership meetings and teaching them their purpose and how to run them. We teach other leadership skills and encourage them to love and visit the members. We also visit members in their homes, many of whom may not be regular attenders, listening to their story, and inviting them to join us again. There are also a few people we have visited who are not yet members but are still learning about the church and who have invited us to come. (Here is a picture of a Noida branch activity.)

Delhi is a huge city with a metropolitan area of 25 million people. Our flat is somewhat centrally located, right next to the mission home with its lowest three floors home to 2 of the 7 branches. Each of the other branches’ meetinghouses are located about 30-45 minutes from here in good traffic and at least double that in bad. And travel within most of the branches’ areas can add another 30-60 minutes to our initial travel. We travel often by those green & yellow autos in good weather and during the day. We usually call a taxi if it’s cold or dark. We also travel by Metro—Delhi’s train/subway system which is very inexpensive, very frequent, at times extremely crowded, but still under construction in some places so doesn’t go everywhere we need to go. We also ride electric or bicycle rickshaws if it’s a short distance, like from the Metro station to a home.
Often we call the person we’re going to visit and have them tell our driver how to get there, especially since our driver’s English is usually as good as our Hindi. And this week one member came to guide us to their home on a motorcycle and all three of us rode it back to his home, me sitting side saddle right behind him and Elder behind me--similar to this family on their way home from the branch Christmas party--and yes, they are all on one motorcycle. It’s all part of the adventure!

Most people love to tell us how they first came to know about the church and it is for social reasons most quit coming—either pressure from extended family members or lack of fellowship from church members. A few have taken offense from something that happened years ago, and then we have the privilege of listening, absorbing some of their pain, and inviting them to forgive and join us once again. We find this work very rewarding, but also both emotionally and physically draining.

As the only senior missionary couple, we are also involved in a few other things. We are members of the District Self Reliance Committee and are excited to support this program. It teaches principles of both spiritual and temporal self-reliance and has classes to help participants find a job, start a business, or obtain needed education/training. We are hoping to play a bigger role by facilitating classes ourselves plus training more facilitators so more people can benefit from this powerful program.

I have begun handling the applications requesting assistance from the Temple Patron Fund for anyone in our mission, with most members in Pakistan going to the Manila Temple and those from India going to the Hong Kong Temple.
Without assistance from this fund, most members could never afford the trip to be sealed as a family.  As it is, most couples/families pay several month’s salary, saved over a couple of years, as their part. Once at the temple, they stay in the patron housing and attend many sessions over their 4-day stay. They are also encouraged to bring family names with them, so they get the complete family history/temple experience. For many, their trip to the temple is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It makes me realize how blessed we were to have a temple in our stake boundaries!

We also do a bit of Public Affairs, attending an Inter-faith dinner this past week and being asked to attend a day-long conference later this month representing our church and even making a short presentation.
We also hope to increase our involvement with the Young Single Adults in the area and may end up teaching an English class as well.

Christmas Day

I must first include a picture from the Dwarka Branch's Christmas Party on December 23. The Primary did the nativity story, so look closely for an angel, Mary, Joseph, wise men and shepherds. It was delightful! Sorry the man in front of me stood up just as I was snapping my picture. 

Christmas morning was spent with the missionaries, mainly doing a service project of tying 45 fleece blankets to give away.

Then we had two single sisters over to share some food and time with us, Melanie and Mary. Melanie was baptized 7 or 8 years ago along with one brother and active for a while, but her Catholic father soon forbade her to attend so she stopped coming until just a month or so ago. She lives with one of her sisters now, since both of her parents are now expired, but her sisters were in London for the holidays. Mary shifted from Nigeria (people here don’t ‘move’, but ‘shift’) four years ago with her family. However, her father expired suddenly from a heart attack about 6 weeks ago, her mother had to go back to Nigeria, her brother is at BYU-I and her sister on a mission. We enjoyed having them with us. We had a simple but sweet Christmas.

I was surprised that Christmas Day is a holiday here, and public schools are closed for 2-3 weeks starting December 24 so some people still have not returned.  However, I just took down our little tree and put the few decorations we had away for next year (including a sketch of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus by our artist friend Dev).
For us, the New Year has begun and we are excited to discover what it holds for us.