Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our First Mission Christmas

Today is New Year's Eve. It is a great time for reflection on the past year and for looking ahead to the coming new year. For Terry and I, this has been a very event filled year. One of the most significant events for us has been our first Christmas with our missionaries.
President and Sister Berrett on Christmas Eve
We decided that we would conduct a Christmas Devotional with all of the missionaries. This meant that we made a rather intense trip around the mission, visiting the districts in about a one week period. We did conduct the devotional for Visak and Rajahmundry Districts as a combined event and we met with the Bangalore District on Christmas Eve Day here in the mission home.

Visakhapatnam and Rajahmundry Districts
 At each gathering we showed the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. Then we sang some Christmas carols, showed a portion of one of the Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concerts - portraying the history of the song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," and Sister Berrett and I each delivered a Christmas message.

Singing Carols with Hyderabad Zone
We distributed a Christmas gift with each missionary - tie for the elders and scarf for the Sisters.

Elder Oraon and his gift bag

We also gave each missionary a small bag of Christmas candy and a Christmas card. Much to our delight, the Christmas card featured a painting by Al Rounds of First Ave in Salt Lake City. It was the very block where we live - though the painting depicted the street long before our condo was built.

Luggage space and weight were limited, so we could not take the four large boxes of decorations Sister Berrett would have enjoyed taking. Instead, we "decorated" with a single nativity set from our collection.

Coimbatore Zone with the Nativity
Chennai Zone with gift bags and with candy
With Bangalore Zone, we were able to invite them to the Mission home, where they could enjoy our tree and some additional decorations.
Bangalore Zone listens to the Mission President
For lots of reasons, our Christmas tree was much more of a reminder of the Spirit of Christmas than a collection point for myriads of Christmas gifts. We did, however, find a few presents under the tree.

Presents on Christmas morning

Our children send us perhaps the best possible gift - a picture book with pages and photographs of each child and grand child. We love it. We will be taking it everywhere to show our family to our new Indian friends.

A few weeks before Christmas, Terry commented that she did not have any Christmas music. So, being a person with a firm grasp on the obvious, I gave her an early gift - an iPad, loaded with several hours of Christmas music and a speaker to make nice music. We really have enjoyed the sounds of the season. Then, on Christmas day, Terry gave me a new lens for my camera.

Christmas Day we were invited to join our two senior couples for Christmas Dinner. They also invited the Bangalore Zone, so we attended a rather large gathering for dinner.

Christmas chess

The Tiefenbachs and some of the missionaries
Christmas ties
While we love and miss our children and grandchildren, we are grateful for the opportunity to be here as full time servants of the Savior. Christmas seems a bit more significant when you are set apart as a full time witness of Him whose birth we celebrate.

My First Baptism

On the first weekend in December, Sister Berrett and I attended the District Conference for the Bangalore District of the Church. In attendance was a young woman who had just started meeting with the missionaries. We had a chance to meet her and visit with her for a few minutes.

Apparently something I said during one of my talks connected with her. So, a few days after the conference the missionaries called me and said that she was going to be baptized and wanted me to perform the baptism. With a little bit of scheduling work, we were able to agree upon 22 Dec.

While the baptismal clothes were a bit tight and not quite tall enough, I was happy to perform the baptism. I had virtually nothing to do with teaching her, but I still enjoyed the opportunity to be part of her decision to come to Christ through this sacred ordinance.

Elder Gotopotti, Elder Porthula, Shruthi Sarah Joseph, Pres. Berrett, Elder Pilli, Elder Anderson
Shruthi's older brother was baptized about a year ago and currently attends BYU-I. The baptism service also was attended by her parents, who are active members of another Christian church. Nonetheless, they came and were very supportive of their daughter's decision. We have been invited to visit in their home next week.

Shruthi, her parents and the Berretts
It was a wonderful day for us. We look forward to visiting with the family.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Visit to Gopalapuram

Several weeks ago, I received an email message from a Church member in the United States, stating that he had been in communication with a Christian pastor working with several small congregations located outside Rajahmundry, India. According to the Church member, Pastor Santhi Swaroop was interested in learning more about the Church.We had plans to be in Rajahmundry for several meetings, so I contacted the pastor and told him that I would come and visit.

On a recent Sunday afternoon Terry and I, accompanied by the District President, one of his counselors, and another Church member, made the one hour drive out to the village where the pastor and his family live. Being aware of Indian customs on greeting guests, I advised Pastor Santhi Swaroop that we desired a simple meeting with he and his family, and that a grand reception was not necessary.

When we arrived, we received a most warm and somewhat overwhelming reception. A large sign marked the driveway leading to the home where Pastor Santhi Swaroop lives.

Pastor Santhi Swaroop, District President Mummidivarapu, and me
We were welcomed by Pastor Santhi Swaroop and his family, receiving beautiful flower garlands often presented to show great honor to the guests. We learned that the pastor leads three small congregations of humble Christians. One of the congregations meets on the roof of the pastor's rented home. For their meetings, a blanket covering is erected for shade.

A potion of one of the congregations
We also learned that the congregation had remained assembled so that I could offer the benediction on their service. I was humbled at the kindness being shown. Following a closing song, I offered the prayer in English, which probably was not understood by most of those present, as they speak Telegu. 
Pastor Santhi Swaroop and his family join us in listening to the closing song.
We learned that most of the congregation are very humble people who have great faith in Jesus Christ. They face significant opposition from the other residents of their communities who are not Christian. The pastor and his family hope to be able to construct a combination meeting hall and living quarters. I subsequently learned that they have purchased the property and now are seeking funding for building construction.

Following conclusion of the service, we were invited downstairs to their home. "Breakfast" was served, even though it was about 2:00 pm. We had an opportunity to visit with Pastor Santhi Swarrop and his family. He works full time with his congregations, but because the people are so poor, he takes no collection or salary from them. His wife works, so they can rent a home, and pay other living expenses. In addition, they provide food, clothes and some other necessities to the members of their congregations.

During our visit, we introduced the family to The Book of Mormon and obtained a commitment from them to read it. We left a copy in English and one in Telegu. A few days after our visit, the Pastor and his wife visited our Chapel in Rajahmundry. They spoke for about an hour with President Mummidivarapu. They discussed more about our Church and how we function.

We have made wonderful new friends. We anticipate that we will continue from time to time to be in contact with them.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Gospel Blesses Families

Our missionaries teach that "the Gospel blesses families". Sometimes I think that we forget that it REALLY does bless families. Over the past several weeks the missionaries have sent me several stories of how they are observing families being blessed.  Here are three of their stories, with a little editing to smooth out the English where needed.

"A recent convert named M­­­­­______ runs a water delivery business. He used to work 7 days a week, but now he does a double shift on Saturday so that he won't have to work on Sunday. And, the amazing thing is, even though we getting into winter season, and people tend to buy less water in the winter, I've seen over the past few months as he has started to make more and more sales. Truly, his business is doing MUCH better than it was a few months ago, even though it was warmer then."

"We teach one semi-active woman named S______. She is very, very poor. To the point that one morning her daughter told S_____ that she was hungry, but Mother told her that there wasn't any food in the house, and the daughter would just have to go to school hungry. Later that day, Mother was visiting with her family. As she talked with them, she started to bear her testimony of the Gospel, and how much she loves the church. Her family, although they are not members [of our Church], were so impressed with her decisions in life that they gave her money. She tried to decline, but they insisted. That same afternoon we happened to be visiting Mother, and I've never seen her smile so big as she told us she was able to buy food for her daughter."

"We were trying to locate one less active single adult. We were looking for the house of a brother named M_____. We finally came close to his home and we asked a few people for a man with that name in that street. Following directions, we went to one home and asked for M_____. A man came out and said his name was M_______. We just asked few things about him [and then asked if we could come in.] We entered his home. We started our conversation to know his concern [and why he was not coming to Church] but during that time we realized that he was not a [Church] member. He said that he came once to [our] church so we totally turned our conversation to discussion about the church. That less active brother name helped us to find a nice family of four people who speaks English well. That was an awesome moment we had. We love the work which we do here."

As I read stories such as this, I am overwhelmed with the faith both of our missionaries and of the Indian people.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Coimbatore Zone Conference

Last week we drove (actually we rode, while our driver drove) to Coimbatore for Zone Conference. Coimbatore is about 360 km (225 miles) from Bangalore, but the trip takes about 5.5 hours.  We traveled with the Assistants to the President, as they had part of our Zone Conference program.

We were in Coimbatore from Thursday night to Sunday. I conducted temple recommend interviews on Thursday night, held Zone Conference all day Friday, conducted additional temple recommend interviews Friday night, interviewed missionaries Saturday morning, and then spoke at District General Priesthood Meeting Saturday night. Terry/Sister Berrett participated in the Zone Conference, counseled with our Sister missionaries, and spent time working with the Sisters on Saturday. We attended Church on Sunday, and then traveled back to Bangalore Sunday afternoon. I guess we do not need rest, as we do not seem to find much time for it.

On our trip back Sunday afternoon, I asked Sampath, our driver, to take a route through the Indian countryside, including several small villages. The trip home was longer than the trip to Coimbatore, but we were able to enjoy a beautiful Sunday afternoon drive. The pictures below are from our return trip. (Click on the pictures to open a full sized version.)
Sunday Afternoon Street Market, Coimbatore
We really enjoy Zone Conferences. We have a great opportunity to interact with the missionaries. I focused some of my instruction on lessons from the past General Conference, relating to missionary work. I also taught “The Doctrine of Repentance.” Terry spent time on food preparation and avoiding illness. She also was the key presenter of our instruction for missionaries on managing the stress of missionary work.
Rice, Bananas, Sugar Cane and Coconut Trees
Two sets of missionaries asked me to join them in visits to homes of less active members. In each home, the head of the house indicated that he had some concerns which were keeping them from attending.  Apparently each felt the need to vent his feelings to the mission president. I agreed to go.
Entering a rural village
The first visit was with one of the district leaders and his companion. I was introduced to a husband and wife who have been members of the Church for 25+ years. They are some of the literal pioneers in India. He is about 70 years old and she is a few years younger. Their home is large and well furnished. It is one of the nicest Indian homes I have visited. They live with their daughter and one or more of her children. They told me of their family and of their past involvement in the Church. They also told me of how they had been offended by the actions and inactions of some of the members of the Church.
Rice Fields
As we visited, I felt impressed to apologize that they had been offended. However, rather than simply inviting them to return to Church, I told them that I felt impressed to call them to serve a full time mission. We need senior couples, and they are needed. I then said I did not have the authority to call them, only the Prophet has that authority. But, I want to recommend them to be called. I extended the specific invitation to pray about the issue, and let me know within a week. They told me that there were several problems which would need to be resolved. I assured them that I thought most issues could be taken care of. They agreed to prayerfully consider my request and to report back to me.
Goat herder with his flock
I also invited the husband to attend the District Priesthood meeting which was to be held within about 2 hrs of our visit. He did not do so. But, the next morning as we sat on the stand before Sacrament meeting, I noticed him enter the room in the company of his grandson. He was well dressed, in a neatly pressed white shirt and tie.
Buffalo herd walking through village
The second home I visited was with two sister missionaries. It was much more humble – only two rooms (a kitchen/misc room and a bedroom) and about two or three chairs. Again there was a lengthy recitation of reasons for lack of attendance at Church. I listened and offered apologies. I then felt impressed to challenge the family to prepare to go to the temple in the next 6 months. Since the husband currently is unemployed, this will be a stretch for them. I also invited the husband to attend priesthood meeting. By this time we were 20 min past the starting time for the meeting where I was supposed to be presiding. He agreed to attend, and so we bundled into our car, and drove to the Church. We arrived late – in fact only about 5 min before I was supposed to speak.
Village dweller with her goat
 There is great power in inviting Church members to return to activity. Heavenly Father loves all of His children. We are blessed to enjoy a small portion of that love.
Rural Indian Home

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Young Single Adult Conference - Rajahmundry and Visakhapatnam Districts

This past week Sister Berrett and I were invited to attend a 3-day YSA Conference held in the city of Rajahmundry. Young adults from the Visak District journeyed about 3-4 hours by train to join. Overall there were just over 200 participants.
Many of the participants at the two district YSA Conference
 We were impressed by the outward friendliness of the group. We must have shaken hands with each participant three or four times over the course of the two days we were there. Whenever a camera would come out (there must have been 500 cameras for the 200 participants), the young people would gather into the photo. A common request was "Just one snap." Then 10 pictures would be taken by five different cameras.
This picture started with two persons getting ready to go to the service project

The participants were neat and well dressed. We love the colorful and modest attire of the women in India.
Sisters serving lunch one day
A particularly beautiful sari
Sister Berrett and I were asked to be leaders of one of four workshops. Not surprisingly, our topic was missionary work. We instructed on preparation for missionaries and then on having courage to invite people to learn of the Gospel. We gave them a chance to practice invitations to read the Book of Mormon.
Teaching about preparing for missions
Practicing an invitation to read The Book of Mormon
Some time was set aside for service projects. One group went to a school for "differently abled" children, where painting was done. Another group went to a home for lepers, where weeds and brush were cleared. The third group went to a dormitory school for elementary age students. Here they cleaned up brush and cut some ditches to carry away rain water.
Painting play equipment at one of the schools
Cleaning trash and brush

After the service project, the groups went sightseeing. We watched native fishermen casting nets into waters around a diversion dam. Terry became well acquainted with a local woman in the fish market near the dam.The woman was practicing English as she was coached by the man just behind her.
Making new friends

Sunset along the river
The cultural high point of the conference was the dance. We were quite curious about how this would happen, as unmarried Indian men and women usually do not pair off or even touch. We were wonderfully surprised to see that the dance was a rousing success. Two songs  - The Chicken Dance and the Hokey Pokey - were played over and over, sometimes two or three times in a row. Almost everyone, including Sister Berrett enthusiastically joined in. There were a few boy/girl couples, but most of the time it was line dancing, with boys and boys and girls and girls. 
Two of our recently returned missionaries doing the Chicken Dance
The Chicken Dance was a favorite
Sister Berrett and a soon to be missionary are "Chicken"

Meals were typical Indian. We are learning to use our hands as fork and spoon.
Can we do this in Provo?

Overall, we had a wonderful experience. We love the wonderful young adults who are members of the Church in India.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I Have No Faith in Coincidences

One of the great opportunities and challenges of working with full time missionaries is the constant turnover. We receive missionaries from the Missionary Training Center in Manila and from the one in Provo. The schedules of the two MTC's are not the same, so we have transfers happening about every 3 weeks.

In our short time here, we have had several batches of missionaries depart from our mission. Though we worked with them for only a few months, we have come to love them. We know that each missionary has many great opportunities lying ahead of him or her.

Sister Berrett and me with three who are departing for home.
Not long ago, I had conversations with one of our Indian missionaries, who was soon to be released. Due to family financial needs, he left high school before graduation in order to work and support the family. Shortly before his mission, with the assistance of a North American senior missionary, he began working to obtain a high school equivalency certificate (GED) as the first step toward attending college or university. However, his mission began before he was able to complete the tests and he had no certificate.

While on his mission, he lost contact with the senior missionary. Nearing the end of his mission, he asked me to attempt to contact his former mentor to see if they could re-start the process. Our elder was very concerned about his future, as there was no way for his family to support him, and he had not finished high school.

I wrote to the former senior missionary at his last known email address, explaining that I was seeking information on his efforts. I explained that I planned to work with the missionary to restart his efforts.

Fortunately the former senior missionary received my message.He responded within about 36 hours. He told me that that day he was traveling to Delhi, India from the US on a business trip. As he was in the Delhi airport, he saw the brother of our missionary, who was in the airport to greet his returning brother. The former senior missionary was able to see our returning and worried missionary the very day he returned home.

I have no faith in coincidences. I do have absolute faith in a Heavenly Father who knows his children individually and who looks after them one by one.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Spiritual Help With Transfers

As we prepared to begin our assignment, I listened to audio recordings of the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents. President Monson spoke of the importance of mission presidents teaching and developing missionaries. He spoke of the need to guided by the Spirit, particularly in making assignments for new missionaries and then in making transfer assignments. During the 2013 Seminar which we attended, he gave much the same counsel.

For me, this is one of the most challenging responsibilities I face as a mission president. I worry about making the correct decisions. There are no flashing signs in heaven (at least none I have seen) advising which missionary should go where. Rather, we were advised that the promptings would come as feelings or impressions, usually felt not heard.

President Monson, and other leaders, were clear on one additional point: only the mission president can make a transfer. Though the president's assistants can recommend, they do not make transfers. The final decision rests with the mission president and with him alone.

Due to the call of my predecessor as a General Authority, I began supervising our Mission in mid-May, 2013. We still were in the US as we waited for word on visas. Hence, it was necessary for me to make the first set of transfers before we even got to India and met the missionaries. I confess that the best I could do was review the recommendations of the assistants and try to feel if any of their recommendations were incorrect.

Since arriving in the mission, we have done numerous transfers. Transfers come about every three weeks, with missionaries alternating arrivals from the Provo MTC and then from the Manila MTC.

In making transfers to accommodate these arrivals and the departure of experienced missionaries, several experiences confirm the truth of President Monson's counsel and promise.

We have a missionary with emotional and mental health challenges. Change is very difficult for him - even a small change in his daily routine. His response often is simply to go silent - sometimes for a full day or even two or three days. His prior companion made several visits to me, requesting that I speak with the missionary and "make him talk." After the last of these visits, I sat in the office pondering whether I needed to make a change in the companionship. As I looked at our picture board, my eyes came to rest on a specific picture. I had the feeling that this was to be the new companion for my challenged elder.

The next morning I called the assistants and asked them to tell me about our challenged missionary. Their response was "We've been thinking about him. We think he needs a new companion. We think it should be Elder _____. . . , and they named the very missionary to whose picture captured my attention the previous day. That was sufficient confirmation for me.The transfer was made, and while there have been occasional hiccups, the missionaries are working well together.

In another instance I needed to split a companionship of sister missionaries and have one of them train a new missionary. For a number of reasons, this was not an easy move. One of them would get a new missionary and one would get an experienced sister. One of the newly constituted sets then would move to a new city and start in an area with no investigators. At various times each of the involved missionaries shared with me their concerns over issues which would be impacted by the transfer I was considering. I was unable to come up with a scenario which resolved the concerns of each of them.

After giving the matter much prayer, I tried to listen to what Heavenly Father was impressing me to do. I outlined transfers which conflicted with the expressions from two of the three sisters. I called the sisters and told them what I wanted to happen. My call was not greeted with enthusiasm. Within a week, each of the sisters advised me that she was happy with how her new companion was working and each was happy in her area.

A final incident. For several weeks, I felt that Elder D needed a new assignment. I was inclined to ask him to be a zone leader and to move to a new city. However, as he only has 2.5 months left on his mission, such a change did not make a lot of sense. I struggled with the decision for several days, though I felt that it was right. Finally, I told the assistants that this was what I wanted to do, and we needed to build the rest of the transfer around this move. We did so. When I called Elder D to tell him of the move, he advised me that there was a young woman in the branch where he was assigned who was starting to look very attractive to him. At that moment, I knew that this was an inspired transfer.

I do not feel that every transfer is affirmatively inspired. I do feel that each is approved by Heaven. It is very comforting to know that Heavenly Father knows His missionaries and will help even slow presidents to get transfers correct.

Street Lawyers

Earlier this week we were in Hyderabad, India. We were there to start the first of a series of teaching sessions for missionaries on how to manage stress. Recently the Missionary Department released resource material titled: Adjusting to Missionary Life. These materials are available starting before missionaries arrive at the MTC. Then there is an on-line session during their MTC time, followed by another on-line session during their first 12 weeks training. Finally, we have material for mission presidents to use to teach missionary leaders how to help fellow missionaries who may be experiencing stress.

One of the key messages being sent is that missionary work is stressful. We are teaching missionaries that it is okay to feel stress. We then are trying to help them with tools, resources and strategies to deal with stress. We hope that by doing so we can help them avoid having the stress turn to distress.

One of the activities is to have the missionaries take an evaluation to determine their level of stress - Green, Yellow, Orange or Red. Obviously these move in order from where we want missionaries to be to where there are real danger signs. Both Terry and I took the evaluation, and both found that we are in the Yellow level. So, we are working to use some of the very techniques we teach the missionaries.

We think that these are wonderful materials.

While traveling from the hotel to our meetinghouse (a Church owned and constructed building), we drove past the city courts. I took a few pictures of advocates (attorneys) plying their profession.

There is a stretch of wall on the outside of the courts complex which is lined with advocates, their desks, and their typewriters. See the picture below.

It seems to me that it might be a bit difficult to maintain client confidentiality when your office is on a very busy street.

Look carefully at the sign painted on the wall in the picture above. You see that it is for an "Advocate and Associates" and that he lists his degrees - BA (Bachelor of Arts) and L.L.B. (Bachelor of Law).

This certainly gives an entirely new meaning to the expression from the US of "street lawyer."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sri Lanka

Part of our mission includes the island nation of Sri Lanka. It is about a 1 hour 15 min flight to the capital city, Colombo. In Sri Lanka there are three branches and a district of the Church. Young missionaries do not serve in Sri Lanka, but we do have one or two senior couples who help with Seminaries and Institute and with humanitarian work.

Last week there were two outbound Sri Lankan young people headed to the Manila MTC who needed to be set apart. At the same time, there was a new senior couple scheduled to arrive. Terry and I decided to meet the new couple and I would set apart the young missionaries.

Sister Riyasha Maduchani Ekanayaka WELLAYAN is one of the young missionaries. She traveled about 1.5 hours to meet me at our church in Negombo (photo below) to be set apart. She then traveled back home, another 1.5 hours, so she could get her suitcase and finish her goodbyes, and travel back the same 1.5 hours to get to the airport. She is called to the Philippines Cavite Mission, and will learn Tagalog in the MTC.

Sister Wellayan and President Berrett

As I was setting her apart, I felt the power of her spirit. I know that she will be a wonderful missionary.
I do not have a picture of Elder Ramaih, the other missionary I set apart. While doing so, I felt strongly that he was a great young man and would be a strong leader in his mission. It is wonderful to see these great young people go off to serve the Lord. 

I met Sister Wellayan at our meetinghouse in Negombo. While waiting for her to arrive, I noticed that just outside our property was a shrine to one of the Catholic saints. I think the juxtaposition is priceless.

The new couple we greeted are the Woodruffs, from near Cardston, Alberta, Canada. This is their second mission. Their first was to Ethopia. They were, of course, very jet-lagged, but seemed happy to be in Sri Lanka. We are very grateful to have them. They will serve in Negombo, which is a city about 40 km north of the capital city, Colombo. 

Sister and Elder Woodruff
While traveling to and from lunch with the Woodruff's, we saw one of my favorite sights in this part of the world - the interaction of livestock and vehicular traffic.

We also passed over a canal which leads out the sea. The canal is a place of safety for fishing boats. We saw one fisherman tending to his nets that sunny afternoon.

Negombo, Sri Lanka
While traveling around Colombo, we came up next to a couple of Muslim school boys headed home from school. With permission, I clicked this picture.  

While in Sri Lanka, we decided to take a "preparation day" and do a little sight seeing. We hired a car and headed south from Colombo. We stopped at the Madhu Ganga River Lagoon, formed where the Madhu Ganga River backs up before emptying into the ocean. There are about 65 islands in the lagoon. We hired a boat and guide to give us a 1.5 hour tour.

In keeping with the preparation day theme, I decided not to wear a white shirt and tie.

The first stop was a local business man who was out with his pet monkey. Terry enjoyed a few minutes of holding the little one. She was reminded of a few of our grandchildren.

The tour took us in and out of mangrove swamps and open water.

Inside the lagoon is a fish farm, which advertises a foot massage. Turns out that fish nibble on your feet, removing dead skin, etc. Terry was brave enough to give it a try.


I confess that I was not real interested.

We continued south along the coast to the port city of Galle. Here in the 1700's, the Dutch established a fort to protect their trading interests. Not much remains. I was facinated by this mosque and lighthouse, which are of a much more recent vintage.

All in all, we had a wonderful day. We were ready to return to Bangalore, and get back to work. In other words, we successfully prepared.