Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tender Mercies from Heavenly Father (or "I Have No Faith in Coincidences - Part II")

On Tuesday, 14 Jan 2014, we had several experiences which remind me that Heavenly Father is directing and guiding the work in which we are engaged.

One of the great facts about our mission is that we mix about equal numbers of Indian missionaries with those from the United States. Church representatives work carefully and closely with the Indian government so that our missionaries may be in the country legally and lawfully. We are grateful for the visas which are granted.

Sometimes the process takes a bit longer than we would like. In December, we received a batch of visas for missionaries whose applications had been pending for several months. There were two additional groups of applications which continued to be pending with the Indian government. For several reasons, I have been concerned that we might see a hiatus in issuance of visas. Shortly before the first of the year I invited all of our missionaries as well as the members of the Church across the mission to join together on Fast Sunday in prayers for the issuance of the remaining visas and for calls to be extended to more foreign missionaries.

When I awoke this morning, I opened an email from Missionary Travel advising me that all pending visas applications, save one, had been granted. The one missing visa appears to be a simple oversight caused by the fact that we received so many in one group. Then, shortly after I arrived in the office, I received notice from the Missionary Department of the call of a new missionary to our mission. I expect other calls to follow shortly.

Just a few days after our united fast and prayers, the doors of the government opened and pending visa applications were granted.

Coincidence? I certainly do not think so.

Elder Ravi and Elder Coombs (Assistants) Senior couples and departing missionaries.

On that same Tuesday, we had our Departure Devotional for seven wonderful missionaries whose missions have finished. We invited each to share a spiritual experience. One related this story:

At the beginning of his mission he and his trainer contacted a man named Prem. They taught him several lessons, and encouraged him to read the Book of Mormon and attend Church. After a couple of weeks, Prem told them that he did not want to baptized. The lessons stopped. Our missionary was very discouraged.
Departing missionaries in the Mission Office

Then, as he neared the end of his mission, our Elder was transferred back to the same city. Recently while walking on the street with his new companion, the missionaries saw Prem. They called to him. Prem came to seem them. In the course of the conversation, Prem said he was ready to be baptized, and wanted the missionaries to again teach him.

Coincidence? I certainly do not think so.

As we were holding our departure devotional in the Whitefield Chapel (located adjacent to the new mission office), my two missionary assistants left the meeting and were gone for 20-30 minutes. When they returned, they both had big smiles on their faces. At an appropriate point, I asked them to share the cause of their happiness. One of them said: The spirit has been so wonderful in this meeting that we think it has spilled out onto the street. We just have been with a man who walked into the building and advised us that he has felt drawn into the building. He wanted to know how to join this Church. We taught him the Restoration portion of the discussions and have an appointment to teach him again tomorrow.

Coincidence? I certainly do not think so.

We love this work. We know it is Divinely inspired and directed. We are grateful for the tender mercies which permeate our efforts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Chennai to Bangalore

A few days ago I needed to go to Chennai to visit with a few of our missionaries. Terry was not going with me, so I decided to have Sampath (our driver) drive me, instead of flying. The distance is about 350 km or about 210 miles. Normally, the trip would take about 4 to 4.5 hours. 

As we were returning, we encountered a "bundt" or strike (political protest), which closed the road. With no advance warning, we simply were told we had to make a left turn, leaving the national highway and making our own way as best we could. This resulted in about 70 km (40 or so miles) of driving on dirt and narrow blacktop roads, through some very small Indian villages. The detour added about two or three hours to our trip.

I was negligent in not getting many pictures, (I did not want to slow down our travel by stopping for pictures) but I did try to be observant as we traveled about. (It is not hard to watch what the countryside when the vehicle is only traveling about 15 km per hour.)
Hindu Shrine along the National Highway
Without implying any criticism or judgment, here is a list of my observations - in no particular order:

Dusty, dirt roads

Old women carrying bundles of sticks home for cooking fires

Dirt roads through mango groves

Woman in the middle of the blacktop road thrashing grain

Tractor dealer in a small village with three new John Deere tractors lined up for sale

Man working on road repair crew spreading tarred gravel with his bare hands

Farmer with two, yoked oxen plowing his field

Sari clad women with  garlands of flowers, often jasmine, woven into their hair to enhance their femininity and attractiveness

Women and men carrying pots of water from the village well to their homes

Gaunt frail men sitting outside buildings with nothing to do

Dwelling places which ranged from large multi-roomed houses to thatched lean-to's

A small, dark one or two room dwelling, with a TV playing inside

Flocks of goats herded by the young and by the elderly

Smiling couples of all ages zipping along on motor scooters. Sometimes the women straddled the bike, with arms wrapped around their male driver. Others sat side saddle, in the most graceful manner imaginable.

Cattle grazing along the road, sometimes tethered, sometimes in herds, and occasionally being led on a rope by young people
Another Hindu shrine along the Highway
Groups of 4 - 10 bent over workers planting rice, in hopes of raising food and perhaps a little cash

Men and women carrying on physically demanding tasks, with faces showing little hope that tomorrow would be any different or better than today

People with a bright smiles for a spouse or child

Love manifested in the way a father walked a young child to school

Discouragement  or resignation on the face of a young mother with a toddler holding her hand and another child balanced on her hip  as she walked barefoot along the road

Well tended fields of sugar cane, bananas, coconuts, mangos, vegetables, and other food crops I did not recognize 

A view of a portion of the road we just traveled
Dry dusty fields showing the effects of years of insufficient rain

Tents and lean-tos of tarp and other makeshift materials set up under a bridge in a dry riverbed, constituting "home" for the very poor

A woman bathing in a stagnant pool in the same riverbed, as it was the only place she had to clean herself

Villages with streets lined with stalls of vendors selling colorful arrays  of onions, green vegetables, bananas, pineapples, and other fruits

Travel in India is very egalitarian. Everyone has the same claim to the road, be they walking, driving animals, traveling on a two wheeler, or ox cart, or pushing a bicycle laden with cargo, or driving a car a lorry (truck).

As we drove, I was impressed that these were Heavenly Father's children. He is as mindful of them as he is of me and my family. He loves them and expects me to do the same. Regardless of their circumstances, the Spirit testified that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will benefit the people of India.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be here in the wonderful, complex country, among wonderful children of Heavenly Father.