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.

New Blog Site

We now have been in India for about four months. I feel that it is appropriate for us to establish a new blog where we will record some of our experiences. We are excited to be here and are learning to love this wonderful land and the beautiful people.