Thursday, May 19, 2016

Couples Conference

Elder and I were asked to help plan the first ever Couples Conference here in New Delhi.
The church doesn’t own/rent any building large enough for this type of event, so we held it at a resort within the New Delhi region (The Golden Tulip),
rented buses to bring everyone from all the different branch buildings, had 4 workshops, lunch,  games, and a concluding testimony meeting. We weren’t sure how it would turn out because we were asking the people to gather by 6:45 am (remember some people travel 45 minutes or more just to get to their branch building), and the buses to leave by 7. The resort was only a 30 minute drive from a couple of the branches but more than an hour from 3 of the buildings. We had scheduled to start the actual program (after registration/name tags) at 9. Would the people come on time and the buses leave on time? (Remember Indian Standard time is 1-2 hours late. Just the previous Saturday, the District YW activity’s buses left 1½ hours late.) Well the first bus rolled in a little before 8 and they just kept coming with the furthest one, which stopped by to pick up a second branch on its way, getting there just before 9. We were able to start by 9:15—which we all counted as a success! And we ended right on time at 5 pm! Another success!

For a few of the husbands who work night shift, some time on a couch in the lobby was a must!

Another question we faced was how many people would come? We had everyone fill out a preregistration form and by the Sunday before, 91 couples had registered! Oh my! How many would actually come? We expected a few drop outs, so were thrilled when 75 couples stepped off those buses! 

A huge concern for me personally was how many children would come. (I was over the babysitting.) We had asked everyone to please leave their children home with extended family or friends if at all possible. As the District President said, “This is a Couples Conference, not a Primary Conference or a Family Conference.” This is counter-culture to not bring kids—the first week here when we were invited to attend a District Branch Presidents Training and dinner for them and their wives, there were at least 5 children in attendance. Our pre-registration form had those same instructions on it, with the additional statement that there would be very limited babysitting available to those who would not be able to attend without it, and a place to list the name and age of children coming. I had been told that mothers bringing children less than 5 would never leave them, but keep them with them for the day. Not one person listed that they would be bringing children 5 and older. Still I had 3 YSA women lined up to help me and a full day of activities planned.
Well, we had a couple of pre-teens (great helpers!), about 7 aged 5-9,
and a few younger ones whose parent or grandparent usually stayed with them in our room for a break from the workshops. There were probably a dozen small ones who did stay down with their parents all day, with minimal distraction considering it was a long day. Another success!

Showing off macaroni necklaces and bracelets:

Elder gave the opening workshop entitled Building a Celestial Marriage, with a help of a translator, a 2-sided handout (English one side and Hindi the other), and role-plays by the Mission Finance Administrator and her husband. It got the conference off to a great start!

Then the group divided into three and rotated to each of the other workshops: Happily Now and Forever by Suresh and Pavani Ramakrishna; 
The Blessings (and Steps) of Being Sealed to our Families in the Temple by President and Sister Katuka; 
and Building a Strong Marriage on a Foundation of Self-Reliance by Shyam and Radika Lohat.
 They all did a great job! People were also able to sign up for Family Search.
All the presenters were all also on the steering committee, along with the District Councilman assigned to organize the conference, our good friend Raj Kumar Tamang, the previous branch president of Noida. He and his wife also planned and led the games—fun minute-to-win-it type games that people really enjoyed! The buffet lunch was also enjoyed by all! And then there was a moving testimony meeting to end the day, followed by many pictures—an Indian tradition!

This is five of the six couples from Noida Branch.

If you believe the surveys that 65 people turned in at the end of the day, it was a 4.7 out of 5.0 kind of day! It might have been the first Couples Conference in Delhi District, but we hope it isn’t the last.

A few other happenings: We spent Mother’s Day out in Noida and all women there were treated to a couple of roses and some chocolates. I wasn’t expecting this in India, but it was appreciated.

Dwarka Branch had a baptism and here are the people who stayed after church for it:

An 85-year old retired pilot from the Indian Air Force along with one of the planes he flew. He also had fascinating stories of before and after independence and the partition of Pakistan from India—he grew up in what is now Pakistan but his family moved south as they were Christians.

President Gygi (Noida Branch) and his wife had all of us missionaries working out there over for dinner and a FHE last Monday. What a spread! We also had a great discussion about the blessing of becoming a Stake of Zion and what each of us can do to help to make it happen.

Yesterday it got to 117 degrees, but that didn't stop us. We had a very busy day, visiting 6 different families, a few of which we took a picture of. First is a family whose mom works in Singapore as a cook. She gets to come home every year or two for a week or so and we happened to catch her there.

We also got to visit a couple of their neighbors. Everyone likes pictures, especially with Americans.

We went out to eat at Barbeque Nation to help celebrate the birthday of our good friend Ashish (means blessing) and his family.
Good food, dancing waiters, good company makes for a good time! We feel blessed. We hope you do too.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

What's in a Name, Weddings, and Other News

Elder Allen and I are helping plan the first ever Couples Conference here in New Delhi District. We are excited for it and are getting to manage some of the logistics and become acquainted with even more people. That brings up the issue of names in India. Most people in the Church go by their first names. For example, in Dwarka Branch the Branch President is President Vijay. His wife is Sister Rani. On the Church records, they are listed as Vedan Vijay Kumar Micheal and Vasantha Rani Michael. He explained his name this way to me once “Vedan is my father’s name, my name is Vijay Kumar, and my grandfather is Michael.” Now his son Allwyn writes his name as Vijay Allwyn but he is listed on church records as Allwyn Michael. And quite a few wives don’t legally change their last name when they marry because it is expensive so even on Church records, they don’t share a last name with their husbands. For example, in Noida, Serah Crystal Doraiswamy is married to Ashish Pokhrel and Vidya Irene Purvshottam is married to Rajkumar (Lama) Tamang. Then there is the Dwarka Primary President. She goes by the name Sister Sunita Wilson. Her husband is Brother Wilson Franklin Peter and goes by the name Brother Wilson. The Church records have her under Wilson and him under Peter. All this makes matching husbands and wives a bit tricky. (Of course being of Danish decent, I have the changing last name in my family history—Jacobson and Jacobdaughter, etc. so I don’t mean to be complaining, just sharing our observation and experience.)

Now when the young people go on missions, most go by Elder or Sister last name, but not all. Both Assistants to the President right now go by their first names: Elder Vicky (Kumar) and Elder Rohith (Nagaraj) as does Elder James (Selvaraj). But we are all thankful that Elder (Shanmugasundaram) Arumugam goes by his last name because I’m not sure his first name would fit on the name badge.

I’ve been told that people’s last names often tell others what part of India they are from and their (outlawed) caste. The dowry system is still in use a lot of the time here in India, even in our church I’ve been told, and people still usually marry someone from their same caste. These things have been a part of the Indian culture for thousands of years and aren’t going to change quickly.

We did attend our first LDS wedding this last week. Since our Church isn’t officially recognized as a church yet here in India, our Branch Presidents, District Presidents and even Mission Presidents can’t perform weddings and members have to pay another Christian minister/priest to come perform their wedding. However, one of our Branch Presidents (who has been a member since the 1980’s) also works for the government and has somehow been authorized by India to perform weddings.  Lucky Delhi!
The wedding had an Indian flavor with rose leis, necklaces, and other items draped around their necks rather than exchanging rings. (The three men in the back row are the Branch President that married them, then an ex-Pat in their branch and their own Branch President.)
I also had to snap a picture of the two cute girls that helped with her veil. Also the reception that night looked pretty Indian as well.
What is most exciting is that this couple flies to Hong Kong this next week to be sealed in the temple. Congratulations Br. Kiran Nelapati and Sister Sidharthi Chadda. May the Lord bless your family.

Now I need to clarify our last entry. Elder Allen reported on our very busy schedule. Although this is our overall daily/weekly routine, not all weeks are equally busy. We normally see ten to twelve families per week in addition to our work with leaders and meetings related to the different initiatives we're involved in. We've noticed in the last few weeks that it is getting more challenging to schedule appointments. Part of it is we've now been here long enough to see people either progress or let us know they're content to stay where they are. An interesting fact is that we've had very few cancellations or missed appointments. We feel that as a blessing, particularly given the distances we travel. 

Something nice for senior couples—we pretty much set our own schedules. No one tells us how to spend our time or how many hours we need to work. We have lots of latitude to decide how to go about our work. Even Elder Allen is beginning to realize we don't have to be in overdrive every day. We've been more content with a little breathing room some days and now I have time to write this blog. Yeah!

Among our recent visits we celebrated a couple’s 21st wedding anniversary with them.

On our way home, we saw this family of five zip by on their motorcycle. There is a child in front of the dad, between the mom and the dad, and in the mother’s arms.

We visited my beautician friend and her family. She recently fell while getting off a bus and broke her foot or ankle in a couple of places and is in a cast for 6 weeks.
She was told not to walk on it the first four. She has a great attitude about it all, feeling the love and support of God through it all. As she put it, “What could be a big problem is only a small problem with His help.”

President and Sister Tanner, from BYU-Hawaii, along with President and Sister Funk from the Asia Area came and did a fireside for youth 16 and up through young adults (married or single) about a program in Hawaii specifically for Indian members. 
If one of the 5-10 selected annually from all of India, they will obtain an education virtually free through working 19 hours/week while in school and being forgiven their loans when they return to India afterwards and help build up the Church here.
There was also an Indian businessman who received his Masters of Civil Engineering at BYU, later marrying a member and converting from Islam to LDS. His name is King Husein and he has quite an interesting story if you are interested: credits a $500 loan from his Muslim community with allowing him to gain his education. I wonder if he is helping to fund this program. The place was packed!

I’ll close with a few random shots:

A huge crane at the end of our street as they start construction for the metro line to go through.

A busy street scene through a market on our way to an appointment.

This is a divided road but shows why you must check both ways before crossing any part of any street. The traffic should all be coming towards you.

There are tailors using this kind of treadle sewing machine everywhere here. I just finally took a picture of one.

These two young brothers are the best helpers in Dwarka Branch. They help with chairs, song books, cleaning white boards, whatever they see that needs to be done they do without being asked! They are the sons of the first counselor and so are often at church early and late and are a delight to know.

We took the Adams to our favorite Indian restaurant for lunch this last week.
Unfortunately they didn’t enjoy the Indian food as much as we did. But it was great to have them along for the company! And we hear the next senior couple should be here by the end of the month! Yeah! There is so much work for senior couples to do—at whatever pace they are able.