Thursday, March 27, 2014

Our Visit to Coimbatore

On 12-16 March 2014, we went to Coimbatore to work with the missionaries and to attend Church in one of the branches. The only challenge is that when the branch president learns that we are coming, he usually plans on us being the speakers. Terry is becoming quite good at speaking in Sacrament Meeting, often without much notice.

Another great benefit of our visits to the districts is that I am able to interview members of the Church, usually for temple recommends or for recommendations for full time missions.

On Thursday, I worked with two sets of missionaries in Coimbatore. I attended the Weekly Planning session on Thursday morning with one set of missionaries. While I was doing this, Terry inspected the apartments of the other missionaries in town. Then Thursday evening we went on three appointments with one of our sister missionary companionships.

These family visits were wonderful. The first was a teaching appointment with the wife of a member of our Church. Husband has been a Church member for several years. His wife now is wanting to learn more about the Church.  The missionaries told us that we were going into the "slums" for this appointment. That meant that we walked down a dirt path to a concrete building where the family lived in a two room place. We entered from the outside into the bedroom. Husband and wife sat on the bed and the missionaries, Terry, and I sat on a bench across from the bed. There was a small kitchen adjacent to the bedroom, and that was their home. I believe the water "faucet" was someplace outside the home, either at the top of he dirt path, or partway down the path, in front of another residence. They seemed quite happy and very comfortable.

The second home we visited was of a member family who the missionaries have been visiting to help with reactivation. I visited the same family about six months ago. We talked about their efforts to be financially ready to attend the temple. Both husband and wife work, though he is starting a new business - construction and remodeling work. The wife is a lecturer in a school. They also live in a two room apartment.

The third home was of some recent converts. Father, Mother and two sons. This family invited us to their two room place, also at the end of a dirt road. They did appear to have an indoor bathroom. We were late getting there, and they had prepared dinner for their guests. The hospitality was most gracious. There was a wonderful spirit in the home.

The next day, we scheduled to travel up into the hill country to a village called Ooty. It has been a place of refuge from the heat for hundreds of years. The road climbs into the mountains, providing some wonderful views. 

 At one point we stopped at an overlook on a very large canyon. We had our picture taken, even though we are not in "missionary attire."
 On our way out of Coimbatore, we passed a man who operates a laundry business. Here you can see him ironing shirts. If you look to his right, you can see his iron. He keeps it hot with charcoal. You can see some burning on a mat on the ground in the bottom left of the picture.

Ironing clothes
 All around Ooty we saw many hillsides covered with tea plants. In several places we saw workers clipping the tea leaves from the top of the bushes.
Harvesting Tea
In Ooty we stayed in a hotel which was first built in 1829. The room where we stayed was constructed in 1840, as I recall. There was a fireplace, which we used, as the temperature in the mountains was much cooler than in the areas where we usually work.
While in Ooty, we went to their local park. There were many displays of flowers. We attended on Saturday, so there were many families and groups of friends. Here are several girls who came together to the park.
In the park, we saw a woman who was sweeping the grass. In India they do not rake the leaves, they simply sweep them.

Early Saturday morning, we went to Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, which is about 1.5 hrs drive from Ooty, over the mountains. We did not see any tigers, but we saw:

Wild Peacocks
Peacock with his tail fanned
Guar - Wild buffalo
Wild Elephant
Herd of Wild Elephants
We also saw deer, wild pigs, monkeys, and many very colorful birds.

We had a wonderful weekend, mixing a day or two in the hills, along with a couple of great days with the missionaries.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Visit of an Apostle and Other General Authorities

A week ago our mission was blessed by a visit by Elder and Sister Holland. They were accompanied by Elder and Sister Hallstrom and Elder and Sister Funk. We were grateful to bring all of our missionaries together for a Mission Conference with the visiting General Authorities.

Our week began in Hong Kong with our semi-annual Mission Presidents' Seminar. We were inspired by the instructions from Elders Holland and Hallstrom and our Area Presidency (Elders Gong, Wilson, and Funk). The instruction, testimonies and meal time associations were wonderful. It is such a great opportunity to associate with the nine other couples who preside over missions in our Area. We learned much.

Our discussions emphasized the key responsibility for mission presidents to help every missionary develop a testimony which runs deep into his or her soul. one of our primary challenges is to help every missionary to have at least one enduring convert - himself or herself. In a later session there was emphasis on the importance of each missionary knowing and feeling the love of the mission president and his wife.

Some of our instruction sessions included "The Doctrine of High Priests", a necessary component for helping districts become prepared to be stakes. Here we focused on Alma 13. We discussed the Doctrine of Christ and how it is the foundation for the work of Salvation. We talked about increasing expectations for our missionaries and for our members. We discussed the work of salvation.

Finally, we were blessed by concluding instruction and testimonies by Sister and Elder Hallstrom, followed by Sister and Elder Holland. The conclusion of their instruction was an apostolic blessing from Elder Holland. We were humbled as he blessed us. We could feel that he was speaking on behalf of the Savior, whose special witness he is.

Then the group came to Bangalore. We began our mission conference with a session where the missionaries were instructed by each other, Sister Berrett and me. We talked about the Doctrine of Christ, and how the central element is obedience - the Savior was obedient in that He came to do the will of His Father and we must be obedient as we follow the commandments of the Savior.

Following this session, we adjourned to the cultural hall of the building for a picture of the entire mission. We were joined by the visiting General Authorities and their wives.

28 Feb 2014 India Bangalore Mission
The session which followed was a once in a lifetime experience for most of our missionaries. The General Authorities and their wives lined up to shake hands with the missionaries. For Elder and Sister Funk, this was "coming home" as many of our missionaries served with them. As Elder Holland spoke to the missionaries, he commented that while shaking hands, he had interviewed each missionary by looking into their eyes. He then stated that this is a pretty good group of missionaries. Only one or two of them seemed to be struggling. Based on what I know of the missionaries, he was spot on.

I know that what the missionaries were taught has the potential to impact the rest of their mission and the rest of their lives. Many of them have commented on this in their letters.

The mission conference was followed by a Young Single Adult conference for YSA in the Bangalore District. We had about 175 young people assemble to be taught and inspired.  It was a great session.

The next day, after the missionaries departed back to their areas, we gathered together in a Priesthood Leadership Conference for all of the District Presidencies across India and Sri Lanka. The session was broadcast to Priesthood Leaders in Pakistan. After several hours of instruction including a wonderful question and answer session, Elder Holland said he felt impressed to do something he had not previously done. Since our group was relatively small - about 45 people - he had us all come to the front of the chapel and kneel together. He then offered the closing prayer for the meeting. It was both a prayer and a blessing. The Spirit was powerful and every one there was touched.

For Sunday the general authorities divided up and held special Stake/District Conferences in Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Bangalore. We stayed in Bangalore with Elder and Sister Holland.

As would be expected, the attendance was grand - about 770 people. Certainly, more people in attendance than when I preside at a district conference.
2 Mar 2014 Special District Conference

The program was excellent. We especially enjoyed the Sisters Choir, which you can see seated behind us. We just love their beautiful saris.

We had the opportunity to speak, which is a fairly intimidating assignment when there is a member of the Twelve behind you and you know he will follow you. But, Elder Holland was most gracious and we did not embarrass ourselves. I particularly am impressed with how Terry (Sister Berrett) is rising to the challenge of speaking in almost every meeting we attend. She has become a master of the 7-10 minute "on the spot" gospel message.
2 Mar 2014 Special District Conference

2 Mar 2014 Special District Conference

Late Sunday evening the Hollands departed for their trip back to Utah. We feel so blessed to have had them and the other general authorities in our mission for a few days. One of the common comments we have heard is "Good things happen when an Apostle visits a country." We expect such to be the case for India.