Sunday, November 2, 2008

Noida Is A Branch!!

November 2, 2008

This past week has been busy, busy, busy. I won't even try to recap all that went on, but a couple of highlights that aren't covered in the write up are the Area notified us that approval was received from the Presiding Bishopric for the first emergency relief project that we initiated and went through the humanitarian process on. The project is in partnership with ADRA and I believe I wrote about it in another post. We bought Sister Tanner a sewing machine and she spent hours on it preparing for her workshop at the Young Single Adult conference.

November 1st was the first anniversary of organizing the India New Delhi Mission. October 31st, the East zone held a conference. We really enjoyed meeting with the 12 elders, the assistants, and President and Sister Ricks. It took me back 40+ years to something similar in Argentina, not the first time this weekend that would happen. After lunch, we had to leave to go to the Young Single Adult conference that was being held at a location over the border in Haryana, the 5th Indian state we've been in. Sister Tanner and I had been asked to help with two workshops. We were hauling a sewing machine, 3 large sacks of small pillows, a bag full of embroidery materials and 30 pillow covers that Sister Tanner had prepped for the workshop, an iron, scriptures, and our overnight bag. Fortunately, we had a van to travel in and space was not a problem.

There were over 50 young men and women there. Men outnumbered the women 2-1. When we arrived in the afternoon, it was play time and the young adults were all enjoying a water slide the resort had. Female modesty is still a big thing here in India. The young ladies did not wear bathing suits. They wore shirts and shorts to their knees, but even that did not satisfy the resort people who had them put on flowered pants that went to their ankles. They apparently kept a supply for guests that were not attired to their standard. The resort was old, but in good condition and provided a good venue for a young adult gathering.

After the water activities, we were to meet for workshops, but apparently the planned presenters had failed to show. Plan B was put into effect and Sister Tanner and I were asked to help. They had decided to break the young adults into 4 groups and have them rotate every 30 minutes to stations in the corners of the large conference room. The stations would be hosted by the District President Katuka, Brother Beesa the former president, Elder and Sister Brown, and Sister Tanner and I. The topic we were given was relating pioneers and church heritage to the Indian youth. We had about 15 minutes before it started. I got a flash of inspiration on how to address it and immediately ran, well walked, back to our room and got my scriptures. I'm not going to repeat the discussion, but it worked out really well and what a great spirit we had with the first group. We finished and then I found out we had to do it 3 more times with each of the other groups. Well, the spirit remained to help us and we had a very rewarding time with the youth. Even with language problems for some, I believe they all learned something and felt something in our discussion. Sister Tanner is my hero. She is so willing to help and added a great spirit in relating some of her heritage to the groups. In one group, I had each person look me in the eye and repeat, "I am a pioneer" because they absolutely are. It is hard to appreciate that unless you were there, but it just flowed out of the conversation in that particular group. Almost to a person, they are first generation members of the church. The next day I received a great reward for that bit of service when a young man approached me after lunch and said he had a question and wanted to ask me after being in a group with me the day before. You know how easy it is for me to get emotional, and apparently he is that way too, so we had a kinship based on that.

Sister Tanner's workshop involved the young ladies embroidering the word Hope on a piece of fabric that had been pre-sewn into a pillow front. It also had 3 small daisies that required embroidering. As the girls finished the embroidery, Sister Tanner would sew three sides of the pillow cover together, then the girls would turn the pillow cover right side out, stuff the pillow in, and hand sew the last edge. It was a huge success and the girls were so excited and just loved Sister Tanner. It is amazing how well she relates to the women here whether members or not. She has such a love for them and it just seems to light everyone up and be returned double.

Here is a quote from Sister Tanner that needs to be shared: "The sisters enjoyed the pillows so much!! They worked so diligently and were so very pleased with their project--it was well worth the hours of sewing them together!! They embroidered the word "Hope" in the center of the pillow, and during the testimony meeting one sister stood and said that the pillow means so much to her. She said there are no other members in her family--that 'she's the only one in her family to be able to stand and bear testimony of the Savior and his gospel'--but that she dreams and hopes for the day when others in her family will accept the gospel. She said that she'll look at that pillow and always remember that great hope and it will warm her heart. For only that one sweet sister's words I would sit and sew for weeks--what a precious thank you!!"

Saturday, President and Sister Ricks joined the conference and we learned that the first member had been baptized in Bangladesh. The church has not been recognized by the governments yet in Bangladesh or in Nepal, but how's this for an amazing fact. The Nepal Kathmandu branch has 10 young men serving missions. We also saw a picture from a young single adult conference in Pakistan that had over 200 in attendance. Bet that one amazes you also.

The conference ended with a testimony meeting and that was a real treat to hear the feelings and testimonies expressed by the young men and women. There was a great spirit there and it was an uplifting way to end the conference. We all then headed home and by the time we got to Noida, we were beat. But the best was yet to come the next day, Sunday.

I knew that this morning, Sunday, the Noida group would be formally organized as a branch. That had been in process for some time and President Katuka had shared the new presidency with me Saturday, but when we arrived and came into the building, it was amazing to see so many people there. Granted there were 9 visitors from the mission and district, but the Noida congregation was over 30 including at least 8 investigators. By the time we started, there was standing room only, literally. Very few knew what was going to happen, but what a great spirit and feeling there was. President Katuka conducted the meeting and organized the branch and presented the new branch president and counselors for sustaining. It was his first time through that process and you just have to love the people that are trying so hard and are so faithful to their Savior. After the sacrament service, the new leaders bore their testimonies along with a few of the members before time was up. It was great. Then it took more than 20 minutes to get the Sunday School class going because there was so much hugging and congratulating going on.

Prabhakar blessed the sacrament today, he used the priesthood he received last Sunday. He was so happy. I just love that man and I am so anxious for him to better his English so he can go to work as a software engineer. He has 2 offers, just needs the English skills to be better. I always greet him with a hug and he just lights up. His friend Ravi who was baptized at the same time, was also ordained today after the branch presidency was set apart. I had tried hard to get Prabhakar and Ravi to go to the Young Single Adult conference, but it didn't work out. It was funny today though when Ravi asked me about the conference and having to be single and then told me he has been married 12 years and has 3 children. His family is in Andra Pradesh, his home state, and he is here because that is where he could find well paying work. He misses his family and I'm hoping his current work turns out to be something permanent enough to allow his family to come here and join him.

When we had the YSA roundtable about pioneer and heritage, I drew the parallel with my first mission to Argentina 40 years ago when there were 2 missions, only large cities had branches and elders, some branches had very small membership, (I remember Puerreydon with 1 family and 2 single adult members) and now there are at least 11 missions, stakes from one end of the country to the other, a temple in Buenos Aires, and one just announced last conference that will be built near to my old mission home. I asked the youth what they could picture for India 40 years from now? Could they envision a temple? Would it take 40 years or could it be less? And who would determine how long it took? Anyway, they got the picture and today was more flashback for me as this little branch, the first church branch in the state of Uttar Pradesh by the way, was organized. It brings a major lump in my throat as I write this and think about the growth of the people, the challenges they face, and will face, and the rewards for those that remain faithful. Today was a major mission payday for us.

L-R Delhi Mission President Ricks, New Delhi District Presidency: 1c McIllece, President Katuka, 2c Nabindu
L-R Noida Branch Presidency: 1c Ajit, President Smith, 2c Joseph

Katuka Family

The Noida District missionaries.

Noida Branch Presidency

Elder Josheph and Elder Vanjarapu, the East Zone leader.

The Noida Branch and friends

The Branch and District visitors.

With all that went on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there was still some time last week for establishing a new tradition and throwing in an "of interest" picture.

Sister Tanner is fascinated with the construction methods - the poles holding up the concrete forms. I saw the same thing in Argentina 40 years ago.

Sister Tanner managed to put together her "Scary Halloween Dinner". Will India ever be the same?

Our Elders are the best at "finding"


Jenny said...

Looks like you are getting all settled in. I thought I would let you know that Tyler got his mission call tonight and will be serving in the St. Louis, Missouri mission.

Elder Stevens said...

Fantastic news! I'm so glad to see that you've been so productive. I love the updates and the pictures--keep them coming!

Oh and I'll see this "Tyler" person at the MTC most likely!

- Elder Stevens