September 27 - October 12, 2008
Sister Tanner decided to get the elders together to sing for a sacrament meeting, so practicing together has become an activity after each Monday District meeting. Left to right, our elders are Ivie, Burton, Godi, Williams, Hawkes, and Joseph. There has been a change, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Almost forgot, the picture is the meeting area of our building. The sacrament table is out of sight to the left.
On Sunday, the 21st, Subash and his wife, Usha, were confirmed members of the church in our little group in Noida. Their daughter is living in the states and joined the church in Albuquerque, NM. When they visited their daughter, they received the lessons, but were not baptized and returning to India did not think the church was here until they happened to meet the elders. Great couple and so happy to be with our group. They even called today to apologize for not being there to watch conference since Sister Usha was sick. The following Sunday, there were 2 more baptisms, Gorantla Prabhekar and Ravi Kumar (both IT types, but only one employed right now) and I was impressed that a very humble Brother Prabhekar bore his testimony the following Sunday when we had fast and testimony meeting. We just had conference this weekend. We met at the Smiths house in order to use their large screen TV and DVD player with the conference sessions recording. We had at least 8 non-members join us for one or more of the sessions today. Watching the talks, I would completely forget it was recorded. I just loved it.
It was quite a turnaround from 2 weeks ago when it seemed people were reluctant to come because of the anti-Christian hassles going on in places here. A news article appeared in a local Hindi language paper accusing 2 of our elders of "converting" people. It contained an image of one of Elder Burton and Elder Ivie's pass along cards with their cell number on it. The English word "convert" in India contains a connotation that makes it something against someone's will, more like coerscion. The next day there was another article. This time accusing the elders of offering money and using physical intimidation to "convert" people and stated the police were looking into it. It could no longer be ignored, so Elder Smith and 3 of the Indian elders, including an AP from the mission office, Elder Dasari, went to the police and eventually spoke to the police officer named in the article. Long story short, Elder Godi described him as a "sophisticated" person. The officer said he was just following protocol on a complaint and knew of the church and the elders and their practices, in a positive manner. They drew up a document stating that we did not offer money, etc. at any time to people to join the church and signed it. Before leaving the station, they happened to run into the young reporter who had written the article and had a conversation with him. Haven't seen anything in print since. Right now is a run-up to national elections and a certain party is trying to use anything they can to their advantage. It was 3 well heeled gentlemen that put the reporter up to the story. The fallout though got Elder Burton, our district leader, transferred because it was discovered his registration in Noida had never been completed so to avoid any possible hassle with that, he was moved back to Delhi. We now have Elder Vanjarapu in his place. He is from southern India and is also a great young man. We no longer use the words convert, missionary, or proselyte in our conversations. We are volunteers with a message about families, etc. in our initial conversations.
We've been busy with projects and meetings in Delhi. We met with the country director for ADRA, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (Seventh-day Adventists), who presented a request for funding assistance from LDSC on a proposed relief project they had put together for the northern most area of Bihar, in the Sapaul and Araria area - another 7+ hours past where we stopped on our trip. It is isolated by water still and their field team had gone in by boat to make their assessment. I finally got the project request paperwork completed and submitted late Friday night and we should have a decision hopefully by Tuesday. There are so many things that merit assistance I am just glad that I'm not the one making the hard decisions on how to allocate very limited funds. LDSC did work with ADRA last year on a flood relief effort here in India and I believe we have partnered with them worldwide on other projects. I am very impressed with their accountability and organization.
A week ago Tuesday, we finally got ourselves registered with the Indian Immigration department after paying a fine for being 2 days late, so we're legal now. The next day, we were back over to Dwarka (Delhi) pick up all the humanitarian project things from the Browns. We had hired a van to haul them back and now our back bedroom is a mini-NRT warehouse with manikins, intubation heads, bags and masks, stethoscopes, bulb syringes, linens, etc.
The festivals began today, Sunday the 5th, and run through the 9th. Our friend Anil, his niece, and his daughter took us out on a tour. He said there were close to 1,000 festivals and neighborhood shrines in the greater Noida area. And after going around after dark when there was activity, I believe it. Our first stop was at a site that is associated with those from the state of Orissa. There was a large tent set up for the statues/shrine and adjacent an even larger tent complex that seated over 2,000. I was told that there would be a big production going on in there later each night. A little religion mixed in with a drama/concert was my impression or maybe just an old fashioned revivalist tent meeting. We got there just as a group of men were parading into the shrine tent with large jugs of water on their heads. The jugs were arranged in front of the statues of Durga, a female god with 7 arms (her sisters all combined with her to become more powerful) and other lesser gods. The statues were made of clay and painted and decorated with very expensive clothing, etc. Once the water was brought to them, they believe the life force then enters the statues for the festival. On the last day of the fesitval, the statues are taken to the river and let go and the one of the devil is blown up. I followed Anil inside as he seemed to know the head guys, but I was not comfortable. There were a group of men dancing in a circle with one lead drummer. It was a dark feeling environment and activities about as foreign as you can imagine for us Utah natives, especially since I had read about some of the brutal things recently done against Christians in Orissa.
Our next stop was another festival in a more upscale area of Noida. A lot of money had been spent on the facilities that housed the shrine portion and the adjacent stage and performance area. The people there were very well dressed and when we arrived, nothing had happened yet. There was another area set up with booths selling food and we actually sampled something like an egg burrito. Spicy, what did I expect? The picture below is from this location. Anil said it was ok, so I took a couple of pictures after the water arrived and the screen in front of the shrine was removed. This location was supposedly a Bengali type Hindu festival, but the same gods were involved. The one that the lion is attacking at the bottom, is the devil, the bad guy who gets blown up. I also think I heard him referred to as the king of Sri Lanka, the guy with a green face.
The next to last stop was a huge location and was a Delhi type Hindu festival replete with a huge ferris wheel, etc. We didn't spend much time here, but the drama was underway and there were thousands in the entire complex that took up acres.
The last stop, was a small neighborhood shrine that we stopped in front of. I put the window down and took a picture and one of the men attending it took fruit from the stainless steel bowl in the lower, right front of the picture and brought it to me. Anil said he was honoring me with the gift. People bring gifts and money to leave at the shrines and then those that attend them pass it on to others or keep it.
This past week we made 2 trips over to Delhi. A busy, but productive week. On Wednesday, we finally got our bill paid with the mission home, rent, etc. We then went to the 2nd and 3rd branch building to met with the Browns and Brother Beesa, the past district president, who owns a travel business. Elder Brown wanted us to meet since I had been dealing with him via emails and phone calls for a week or so. I was impressed. He was younger than I expected, but very sharp, personable, and likable. I'm going to enjoy working with him as we have a number of things coming up that will require his services. After the meeting, we had a great late lunch, early dinner, at an Italian restaurant in the Pria market area. Great food, just wish it was a lot closer.
On Friday, we had a very long day. We left in the morning on a 2 hour taxi drive to somewhere north and west of Delhi to meet with a gentleman that owns Medical Systems and Services. His company makes bags and masks and is a local supplier for us. Another case of Elder Brown introducing us to establish a working relationship. I like Sunil Monga. The building was pretty scary to enter and climb the stairs, but his office space once inside was ok. He was conscious of it and apologized for the location. Sunil has provided his father, who is 80, with an office and he comes in each day to his own space. I was touched by the caring nature of that relationship. I had been trying to establish contact with the UNICEF office in Assam, but knew I needed an introduction and was hoping Sunil might be able to facilitate that since his company did a lot of business with government agencies and UNICEF with medical supplies, etc. The "systems" actually refers to imaging equipment which he decided he could do better than Siemens, which is where he started. He and his engineers have been quite successful, except in their choice of office locations. I wasn't disappointed about the introduction request though. After expressing my need and hope for help, he used his iPhone to call the head doctor in Assam and I got my telephone introduction and spoke briefly with Dr Ajay Trakroo about meeting with him and his newborn specialists.
The next stop was the mission home to pick up some stuff and then to the Hyatt to meet with the Rotary International leaders. There were 4 of us in our little taxi and barely made it up the drive to chug into the grand entrance area of the hotel. This was beginning to resemble the states once we were past the guards with mirrors to look under the car. The official greeter was dressed in a punjab outfit and was quite impressive. Going into the lobby was a real "wow". No way could we afford to stay in a place like this, but yet we would be meeting with the man who owned it. We waited until our host, Atul Dev, came out to meet us. He is a natural PR guy and quite a character. Has a huge mustache and smiling eyes, just the image of a PR man, but seemed to be quite genuine. He led us upstairs to a conference room in the executive office area and after drinks were offered and served, Sushil Gupta and a couple of other Rotary members and hotel officers joined us. It was a great conversation, very open, and even involved some discussion of the church. We agreed on attending the inauguration of a new catchment dam, not one funded by LDSC, but one they wanted us to see. We'll go out for the inauguration ceremony and see one other dam that has been completed. Sushil has some passion about the dam projects and it was evident when he was discussing the projects. The success of the dams has been well documented as the ground water level has risen and the existing bore wells now produce enough water to allow 3 crops a year, the difference between a marginal existence and prosperity for the locals. We will be making a second trip out to visit and inspect the 5 sites that are currently under construction with LDSC money. There are a total of 20 dams in the LDSC project, so we will be making this trip a few times for both inspections and inauguration ceremonies. A second progress payment towards the dam project was due and Elder Brown had just received the check the day before. He had been sweating getting the check before the meeting. He graciously handed it over to me and asked me to present it which would help establish Elder Tanner as the man to deal with. That was an enjoyable part of the meeting when I presented Sushil with a check for 2 million rupees ($43k). Each dam runs between $10k and $20k depending on location, size, etc. The locals provide the labor to build the dams. Something we learned in the meeting that was not known is that the engineering isn't done by college educated types, but a local that has had the knowledge of dam building passed down through several generations. The dams are being built the old fashioned way with local knowledge right down to the site selection. Depending on the number of beneficiaries, the cost per person per dam runs from a very low $1 to an average around $4 a person benefited.
We took the Browns back to their area and stopped at a McDonalds and ate fish burgers and fries, the only food I'd had all day after a couple of pieces of toast for breakfast. We then headed home where I finished a project request for ADRA I mentioned somewhere up above and called an end to a 13 hour day. Not every day is that long, but with the travel to Delhi, we have had our share of long days, but it is rewarding when you see progress on projects and get to sit in a nice boardroom, etc. Besides, I know who we are working for and we are well rewarded so I'm not complaining!
I'll end this long post with a comment about my companion. Sister Tanner outdid herself yesterday after Sister Smith mentioned feeding those attending conference, Sunday, between sessions and asked for some help with desserts. Sister Tanner came back and baked chocolate chip cookies, snicker doodle balls, made a chocolate cake, and an apple crisp. They were all great. She does amazing things with her 'easy bake' oven that you can only get one 9x13 pan in at a time. The only disappointment was she asked me to find some cream, which I did at the Sector 40 markets, but it would not whip up. The milk and cream come in cartons that do not have to be refrigerated until they are opened. It might be the way it is processed that made the cream unusable for whipping, but it still served as a sweet topping for the apple crisp.