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