Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fundamentals of Preach My Gospel Camp

In an effort to help improve the teaching skills of our missionaries, Sister Berrett and I decided to follow a recommendation from a member of the Area Presidency and conduct a three day Fundamentals of Preach My Gospel "camp." We planned to teach and practice with the missionaries from 8:30 am to about 4:30 pm, and then send them out in the evening to do missionary work using what we discussed.

We divided the missionaries into two groups (northern and southern). Our first week (21-24 July) was in Hyderabad, where we worked with those serving in Hyderabad, Rajahmundry, and Visakhapatnam. We had about 33 missionaries in the Hyderabad group.
Hyderabad Camp

The second week (28-31 July) we were in Bangalore, with those serving in Bangalore, Chennai, and Coimbatore.We had about 45 missionaries in this group.
Bangalore Camp
 Before the first day of the Camp, we met with the zone leaders to be sure they were prepared to lead the practice sessions.
Meeting with zone leaders in Hyderabad
Two Zone Leaders get ready to teach
On our first day, we discussed how to teach inspired lessons and how to be a more effective teacher. On the second day we discussed the Doctrine of Christ and the role of the Spirit in the conversion process. We also discussed how prayer, Church attendance, and the Book of Mormon assist in conversion. Some of this carried over to the third day. Our concluding session was on increasing faith to be more effective in finding new people to teach.

Each of our segments was about 1.5 hours in length. The first part of the segment was instruction from the scriptures and from Preach My Gospel.
Studying the Doctrine of Christ

The second half of each session was practicing what had been learned.
Practicing with Companions
At the end of each day, we gave the missionaries two or three specific assignments and  sent them out to work with less active Church members and friends of Church members.
Companionship Study on the Fundamentals
Reviewing the Scriptures on the importance of the Holy Ghost
Two zone Leaders study with a companionship
Getting ready to go out for the evening

Overall the preliminary results are quite encouraging. The missionaries seemed to enjoy the camp. Many of them have written that it was a great learning experience. We will continue our follow up and working with them to improve.
Table tennis during one of the breaks

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Saturday with Our Senior Missionary Couple

Yesterday we decided to enjoy some of India beyond the mission office and our Church buildings. With Elder and Sister Bedke, our senior couple who provide absolutely essential service in the mission office, we went to Mysore, about 3.5 hours south of Bangalore. Our destination was the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore. This royal family ruled Mysore starting in the 1400's. In the 1600's they expanded their domain to include Bangalore and much of what today is the state of Karnataka. They were the ruling family until independence from Britain, when the various princely states united together to form the nation of India.

On the way to Mysore, we passed through the wonderful Indian countryside. We saw many people engaged in their common vocations, including this farmer plowing his field:
Plowing fields

Throughout the day, we saw teams of oxen pulling carts and wagons of various sizes and loads. Near the end of the day, we saw this driver, likely headed home from a day of work.
Headed home after a day of work
The palace at Mysore was constructed over a 12 year period, ending about 1911. The palace was constructed on the site of an earlier, wooden structure which was mostly destroyed in a fire in the mid 1890's. Then, in the 1930's, it was expanded by the addition of a large viewing stand on the front or east side of the palace. In the picture below, you see that there is one color of building on the left, to the rear of the building. This is the portion constructed first. The right portion is the 1930's addition. You can see the receiving hall on the right side of the picture.
Palace of the Maharaja of Mysore
In the picture below, we are standing in front of the palace with the Bedkes. Over Elder Bedke's shoulder is the center archway of the viewing area. Each year there was/is a very large parade with a number of elephants. The elephants pass through the arch, under the balconies and into an inner court where the Maharaja would alight from his ride. On either side of the center arch are platforms where the royal family, ministers and other government officials sat to watch the parade. The large courtyard where we are standing was filled with the people of Mysore.
Berretts on the left, Bedkes on the right, in front of the palace at Mysore
We left Mysore and headed to the waterfalls at Shivanasamudra. Actually, there are two, twin falls, which must be viewed from two different points. They are formed in the Kaveri River, as it divides around a large island
Gaganachukki Falls

Bharachakki Falls

At the Gaganachukki Falls we were visited by a new friend.
We also watched a family of monkeys, including three young ones who loved to play and swing from the roots.
Near Bharachakki Falls

Overall, it was a very pleasant day, made possible by our wonderful driver, Vishnu. He keeps us moving and generally on time.
Vishnu, our driver

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Busy Week

This past week has been a busy one, as I traveled to three of our seven major cities to interview missionaries, meet with Church members,  and participate in other meetings.

On Saturday, 9 May 2015 we flew to Hyderabad. The next day, we attended Fast and Testimony meeting in one of the West Maredpalley Wards of the Hyderabad, India Stake. Then, I attended a Correlation Council Meeting, conducted by our new Area Seventy, Elder Robert William. Also in attendance were President Gutty of the Hyderabad Stake, President Mummidivarapu of the Rajahmundry District, and President Sunderraj of the Bangalore District. It was wonderful to have timely instruction conveyed to us by one who received the messages directly from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

On Monday, Terry (Sister Berrett) and I worked in the hotel for the morning, and then took part of the day for a little sightseeing in Hyderabad. On Tuesday, I interviewed the missionaries in our Hyderabad Zone. Sister Berrett flew to Bangalore for some meetings and work on finishing the furnishing of the new mission home.

Wednesday morning I flew to Rajahmundry. Traveling by taxi from the airport, I arrived at the Church about 11:15 am. I interviewed missionaries, and then prospective missionaries, and then met with one of the branch presidents, finishing about 10:45 pm. On Thursday morning I went back to the Church for six more missionary interviews before traveling by car to Visakhapatnam (about 4 hour drive).

On Friday I interviewed the 10 missionaries in Visak, and then conducted several member interviews. I got to the hotel about 8:00 pm. In the mean time, Sister Berrett flew to Visak to meet me and to visit with some of the missionaries.

Saturday we participated in the Visakhapatnam District Couples Conference. We conducted a workshop session on preparing to attend the temple. Our 45 min. session was repeated three times. Following a wonderful Indian lunch including spicy rice known as "biryani", with chicken in a gravy sauce, I lead a discussion for about 40 min on improving family relationships in a way consistent with Gospel culture. After the conference adjourned, we went to the airport to return home. Our flight, scheduled for 8:45 pm departure was about 40 minutes late leaving. Then there were some delays in getting luggage off the plane, such that it was about 12:45 am Sunday when we arrived back at the mission home. Needless to say, we were rather tired.

That said, it was a good week. I was uplifted by the missionary interviews. We are blessed to work with great young men and women. I also was able to meet with a number of prospective missionaries. We are working with them be ready to submit recommendations for mission calls. We have a number of families who are traveling to the temple in the next two or three weeks. While I conducted a few temple recommend interviews, my counselor in the mission presidency who also was in Rajahmundry and Visak conducted about 30 temple recommend interviews.

Here are a few pictures to share with you a bit of India:

Chowmahalla Palace - The building on the left, behind the tree, is the 
where the King of Hyderabad conducted formal meetings.

The throne room in the formal hall. 
The throne sat on the center of the platform.

New friends
  Hyderabad street, with Charminar ("four towers") Mosque 
in the background.

Muslim women patronizing a street vendor.

Hyderabad street vendors selling mangos, 
which are coming to the peak of their season.

Temporary meeting house in Rajahmundry, India. 
We occupy the second and third floors above 
the ground level in a bank building. 
This is the back of the building, showing the access stairs.
There is a lift in the left column.

Baptism font behind the Rajahmundry Church.

Rajahmundry Street vendor selling mangos and other fruits.

Two sisters waiting for the Visak Couples Conference to begin. 
We think Indian women wear the most beautiful saris.

Participants in one of our three workshops.

At the airport as we waited for the plane, I purchased a chicken burger. 
As you can see, there was much more bread than burger.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dedication of the New Mission Home

For the past 18 months, we have been involved in construction and finishing of the new mission home. This new home occupies the top floor of the same building which contains the mission office and the administrative offices for the Church in India.

Mission Home living and dining room
About a month ago, we moved into the new home, even while the last of the finish work was completed. One of the great advantages is that our commute time to the mission office dropped from 75-90 minutes to less than one minute. 

Today we gathered to dedicate the new home. We invited the missionaries who are working in the Bangalore Zone, the staff who work in the Service Center, and the district presidency of the Bangalore District. A wonderful group assembled for this very historic occasion. 
Gathered for the dedication
Brother Dinesh Joginder, the recently hired project manager offered a few words on behalf of the construction staff. He commented that sometimes it was difficult to get the contractor to finish the project to the level of quality desired for a mission home - between a meeting house and a temple. He was persistant, and the quality of the results reflect his efforts. 

He was followed by Brother/President Robert William, a counselor in the mission presidency and the manager of the service center. He spoke of the beautiful facility and how it will be a wonderful place for many mission presidents to come. He spoke of the day when native members will be called and will reside in this home. He even suggested that one or more persons in the room could be called as mission president and could live in this home.

I then offered a few words of thanks for all those who worked to complete the project. I read from D&C 94, commenting that the home mentioned in that revelation, this home was to be wholly dedicated to the work and ministry of the mission president. There is nothing which happens in a mission home but what is to build up the kingdom of God. 

Then, acting under the direction of the Area Presidency, I offered the dedicatory prayer. In addition to blessing the structure, the mechanical systems and the physical facilities, I felt impressed to dedicate the work to be conducted here. Missionaries will counsel together and will be trained here. From this home they will carry the message of the restored gospel to all of Southern India. Heaven's blessings were invoked on those efforts. I called for the assistance of the Lord in establishing stakes in Bangalore and elsewhere, that there might be places for defense and refuge for the saints. The home was blessed that it might always be a place of cleanliness where the spirit of God may reside and be felt. If persons come who are burdened down by transgression, they may leave having been lifted by the power of the Spirit. This home was blessed to be a place of happiness for all who dwell herein.

At the conclusion of the dedication service, we enjoyed a buffet lunch prepared under the direction of Sister Berrett. We are grateful for the assistance of Sisters Suma and Judy of the Service Center, and Sister Bedke, one of our senior missionaries. 
Enjoying lunch
Elder Stephen with members of the district presidency and family
Suma and Judy were a great help with the lunch

Dedicated Missionary Work

A few weeks ago I went to one of the cities in our mission to interview the missionaries. After our interviews, which were conducted at the Church, I offered to buy ice cream for them. They jumped on their cycles and took off, racing to a restaurant about 3 or 4 km away from the Church. Following in the taxi, I literally had a front row seat for missionary work by two dedicated missionaries.

First missionary is speaking with the two men on motorcycle, explaining what the missionaries do.
Second missionary is inviting the rider to learn more about the Gospel
Within a few seconds after these pictures were taken, the motorbike pulled to the side of the road, as did the missionaries. The Elders then obtained the telephone number of the riders, so that they could follow up on their rolling conversation.

I later learned that the missionaries did follow up, and that these two brothers are following through in their expressed interest.

A wonderful example of dedicated missionary work.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The First Month of 2015

January and the first week of February brought two wonderful events.

 Wedding of (Elder) Wilson Vijay Alosias

I was asked to perform the civil marriage ceremony for one of our former assistants - Elder Alosias and his to be wife. As often is the case with our Indian missionaries, they use several variations on family names, so as a returned missionary he is Wilson Vijay. His new wife is Usha Kiran Prasad, known by her friends as Sophi. The wedding, held 28 Jan 2015, went well, other than the fact that I was 1/2 hour late due to having the time incorrectly entered in my planner.

This was a very LDS wedding, as both the bride and groom are returned missionaries. Consequently, it was very different than the Hindu wedding described in a prior post.

As a result of my late arrival, the Chapel in our Whitefield Road meetinghouse was full, with much anticipation. The wedding was wonderful, as these two marvelous young people started their life together. The program included a brief introduction or biographical sketch of both the bride and groom, a talk on marriage by a good friend who also is my counselor in the mission presidency, two songs by a small choir, and then some counsel from me, followed by the marriage ceremony. The bride was wearing a white wedding dress much like you would see in a temple wedding and Wilson was wearing a suit.

After the wedding, the couple changed into traditional Indian dress for their reception, held in the cultural hall and parking lot of the meetinghouse.

Sophi and Wilson
Waiting to Greet Guests
One of the wonderful delights of Indian weddings is the beautiful attire of the guests. This row of beautiful women and girls is typical. In contrast, note the two young boys in their very traditional western attire.

Wedding Guests

The happy couple departed a few days later to travel to Salt Lake City to attend the temple where they are making eternal that which was begun in Bangalore.

New Mission Home
During the past two weeks we also have "enjoyed" moving into the newly constructed mission home. Our previous home is located about 1-2 hours drive from the office. In as much as the new home is on the top floor of the building which houses the mission office, we have been anxious to reduce the commute from 2 hrs to 20 seconds. 
Mission Home and Mission Office are housed in this building

The mission office is located on the ground floor, right side of the above shown building. There is a distribution center on the ground floor left side, and a couple of offices also on that floor. The middle floor contains the administrative offices for the Church's Indian entity. The top floor is the mission home.

When we came to India 18 months ago, the living and dining room of the mission home looked like this:
Mission home, June 2013
Tonight it looks like this:
Sister Berrett enjoying a quiet Sunday eve
 One of the big advantages is that we now can hold mission leadership meetings and other missionary events in the mission home.
MLC in the mission home (before drapes were installed)

Already we are loving the new location. Though the wait has been long and there still are several problems to be resolved, we are very grateful for the wonderful new house.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 Christmas Devotionals and Zone Conferences

As we did last year, we traveled to each zone in the mission and conducted Christmas Devotionals, coupled with a zone conference. The missionaries received instruction. We showed the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, sing Christmas carols, and shared a small gift with each missionary.
Singing Christmas carols with the Rajahmundry Zone
 This year our training was on how to use family history as a tool for finding, teaching, retaining, and activating members. We were blessed to have the India Family History Manager, Bro. Peter Bushi attend each zone conference with us. He and the Assistants to the President instructed in using these tools and then led the missionaries in some practices.
Bro. Bushi instructing Chennai Zone on Family History
Coimbatore missionaries practicing using family history as a "finding" tool

Visak missionaries practicing using family history as a teaching tool

Elder Stephen, one of the assistants, teaching the Bangalore zone about the skill to be practiced
We love our missionaries and are so grateful to have the opportunity to share this wonderful season with them as they are giving of their time and talents to build the Lord's kingdom.
Bangalore Zone

Chennai Zone

Coimbatore Zone

Hyderabad Zone

Rajahmundry Zone

Visakhapatnam Zone