Monday, December 8, 2008

A Senior Mission Moment

December 8, 2008 - Monday

As background to this post, I need to mention something I used to preach in my work and that was distinguishing between "what" was needed as opposed to "how" it would be provided. Too often our business partners would come asking for something from Information Technology and the request would be "how" they wanted something done, and just as often, the "how" they asked for would potentially miss the mark because the "what" was not fully understood.

In district meeting this morning with the elders, one of them used a scripture, 1 Ne 7:17 in his presentation. I have used that scripture in the past as a model for asking in faith, but this morning something else struck me that took me back to my work experience and I decided I needed to share this with you because it’s kind of cool. Ok, my age is showing with that word cool, but that’s what I think it is.

Remember my “what” and “how” mantra related to requirements definition, well I discovered today that is a gospel principle. Let me explain.

In 1 Ne 7:17, Nephi states:

  1. “I prayed …”
  2. “…according to my faith which is in thee …” referring to the Lord
  3. he states “what” he is asking – “deliver me”
  4. he states “how” he expects it to be done – “give me strength … [to] burst these bands”

How was his prayer answered, “how” was it done? Look in verse 18, “…the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet…”

Here is the insight that hit me today. We need to look and listen for an answer to prayer. The answer won’t be physically obvious each time we ask like it was for Nephi in this instance. Do we sometimes continue to wait for the “strength” we asked for to "burst" the bands when the Lord has already “loosed” them? If we focus too much on “how” we want a prayer answered, we may miss the answer when it is presented to us. Nephi was delivered, that was what he asked for. How it happened wasn't really important. Just something to think about.

A Great Sunday

December 7, 2008

Sister Tanner, fully recovered, got her project with the English class going. The first Saturday, November 22nd, she had 2 students. The 2nd Saturday, there were 7. The 3rd Saturday, there were 7. The good news is there were 7 again, the not so good news is 4 of them were there for the first time. But what a fun class. 2 of the members and an investigator who have attended consistently, just rave about how wonderful Sister Tanner is. And you can imagine that if you know my fun loving, wonderful companion. She teaches the English class from 6-8 PM and begins after completing a keyboarding class from 5-6. Saturday is her busy day, but not the only one. Read on.

Our new branch continues to experience great attendance and what a spirit is there each Sunday. Yesterday was Fast and Testimony meeting and it was a joy just to be there. I am amazed as I watch our new Elder's quorum president and our branch clerk who have both been members for only 4 months. It is so wonderful to see young men accept callings with a humble attitude and so eager to learn and to do things right. President Prabhkar conducted priesthood meeting yesterday and I just welled up inside with the greatest feeling of appreciation to be able to support and love these brethren who have accepted their Savior and His gospel and are truly seeking to do His will.

But the spirit comes with a price too. You have to be flexible and willing to do whatever is needed. Our new Relief Society president is married to a member of the army who is stationed a long ways away. Her husband unexpectedly showed up for a few days and one of the counselors got a call just before church that she would not be there. Sister Tanner noticed she wasn't there, so she talked to President Smith right after Sacrament meeting and volunteered to teach. Our flustered Branch President heaved a sigh of relief and smiled again. Now this was after the elders knocked on our door as they left for church and asked Sister Tanner to speak on baptism at the service at 1 PM.

You know the church is true when the Relief Society has a new, lacey white tablecloth and a clear glass vase with beautiful flowers in it. The result of a shopping trip to the Atta market area.

After church, we headed over to 1st Branch for the baptism service. Robin Kumar, who attends the English class, was being baptized. He is another that has simply opened up and blossomed with the gospel. I can recall his first day at church and the change is amazing. The first English class, Sister Tanner asked those attending why they were there. Robin, his nickname, responded that he wanted to learn English so he could better understand what the elders were teaching so he could know it was true.

Robin and Elder Patha who baptized him. Elder Patha has been out 3 months and is a great missionary. He is one of "our" elders who lives upstairs. He was in medical school in Nanjing, China, and had completed his first 2 years when he decided he should be on a mission. He will have to begin all over with med school when he completes his mission. That is quite a sacrific to serve.

A small, 4 sheet neighborhood newspaper had an article about 4 girls from several countries who were here teaching their ethnic dances to the students at a large private school several blocks over from us. For some reason, the article had the girl's cell numbers. Elder Patha called the girl from China and began speaking Chinese to her and was able to set up a meeting. She also came from Nanjing where he attended medical school. Here was a cute young lady, Alice, who had no exposure to religion and I believe it was the first time she was out of her country. She honestly did not know what God was about, but she came to church and attended Relief Society. It was the first time Sister Tanner taught and she had a 13 year old American (the only Young Woman), an older Indian sister, Usha, who had limited English comprehension, and Alice who spoke very limited English. She taught and spoke very slow and simply. But regardless of the language, the spirit was there. Alice told Elder Patha later that she had felt something in all the meetings and if she had been able to stay, she wanted to join the church. Elder Patha knows the Chinese branch president in Nanjing and will contact him to tell him about Alice. The Chinese government does not allow their native people to meet with foreigners for religious services, they can only meet separately with no contact. This experience reminded me of President Henderson's saying that there are no coincidences, only minor miracles in which the Lord prefers to remain anonymous.


November 27, 2008

Elder and Sister Zaugg hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the Tanners and Browns and provided the turkey. Although Sister Zaugg said it was the skinniest bird she had ever seen, it was a real turkey. Sister Tanner has come up with a dish I absolutely love and she took it along with rolls to the dinner. She makes a white sauce and then adds cheese, ok, it's a cheese sauce, and puts it over fresh cooked cauliflower and broccoli - yum!! We had a great meal and enjoyed the company and conversation. Not like home, but it was a wonderful afternoon and more than we had expected for our first holiday away.

Sister Tanner is holding the camera.

We had a great meal!!

Taj Mahal and Agra Fort

November 26, 2008
Prior to returning home, elders that have completed their mission, or are very close to it, get an opportunity to travel to Agra and visit the Taj Mahal. Sister Tanner and I were offered the opportunity to accompany 3 elders who were making the trip. We were all loaded and on our way by 7 AM and got home that night around 8:30 PM. But what a trip. I am sure people thought we were all crazies as we sang primary songs in the car on the way down, including the hand motions. What a hoot! Never a dull moment with Sister Tanner, that is for sure!

Not a lot of narrative with this post other than the basics. The Taj Mahal is actually a tomb built in the early 1600's, something I did not know before coming here. It was built by a Muhgal king (Muslim) for his beloved wife who had born him 14 children, 12 of them boys - a prized commodity even today in the Indian culture.
In the background is the east gate to the Taj. There are 22 white spires in 2 sets representing the 22 years it took to complete the whole complex.

Elder Vanjarapu, Elder Dasari, Elder Joseph, great young men and missionaries. We really enjoyed our day with them.

Going through the gate, this is the first view of the Taj. They say the color changes depending on the time of day and the light hitting the white marble.

Approaching the Taj. Note in the picture above the 4 towers on the corners of the plaza. The tower in this picture seems to be on an angle. Your eyes are not deceiving you. The 4 towers were all built with a slight outward lean so they would fall away from the Taj in case of an earthquake. And there had been an earthquake within memory of the builders.

We had a really good young man as a guide who could also handle the cameras. And yes, those are booties we put on over our shoes to go to the plaza level and inside.

It is an optical illusion if you look at the corner it seems to have more vertical edges than are there. It doesn't. It is flat. Look at the horizontal collars or small ledges and you can see what the sections above are like.

I adore my companion!!

The Taj Mahal is literally filled with this fine inlaid and relief stone craftsmanship. There are small flowers inlaid in the marble, some of which have 164 individual pieces to make a flower about 3 inches across. It was inside where we were not allowed to take pictues. We saw the method used in a shop outside and it is hard on the fingers and hands to grind stone so thin it can be inlaid and fit so perfectly.

There are matching buildings on either side of the Taj to balance the complex and grounds. This one is a Muslim mosque, still in use, and the one on the other side was a guest house.

After we finished our tour of the Taj, it was time for lunch. Sister Tanner saw an embroidery show room in the level under the restaurant and she disappeared after we ordered. Here is where I found her, doing embroidery. I think this guy just lost his job!

After lunch, we went to Agra Fort for our last stop. It was equally impressive. Also built in the 1600's.

After going inside and climbing up a level, this is a view of the inside of the wall section in the picture above. The fort covers over a 100 acres.
One of the residences inside the fort.
There were 2 moats around the fort. Only the inner moat is still visible. The outer moat has been filled in and a road is in its place now. When originally built, the moats contained crocodiles and tigers roamed the open space between the 2 moats.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Back to Rajasthan for Dam Inspections

November 19, 2008

Dr Ryder and I left early in the morning from Noida, picked up Elder Brown and Elder Fairbanks in Dwarka, met up with Atul Dev, Rotary, and his group and then kept going southwest from Delhi on NH 8 to the Sikar district of Rajastan. Somewhere west of Shahpur, we switched to jeeps and continued on to the first dam site. Elder Fairbanks is the new Country Director who had come up from Bangalore to see first hand what it was all about. Elder Brown had been involved with the project to fill the gap between the Dunns departure and our arrival. Dr Maurice Ryder is about my age and is quite an accomplished person. He is an artist, professional photographer, and a veterinarian. He is investigating the church and has been to our house several times. When he found out where I was going, we found a way for him to come along and he was great company. His pictures are such high resolution, they are hard to incorporate in the blog, but there are a couple I've included. The sisters stayed home this trip and probably a good thing as it was dusty and dirty traveling for the most part.

The first stop was a 99% completed dam, Kali Maidi Wala. Just waiting now for the monsoons and the 1-2 inches of rain that will hopefully fall. This view is the front of the dam with the spillway shown. You can see the construction courses as the rock was laid and cemented in.

All of the dam names end in Wala. The best interpretation I have is something equivalent to "wash" in American western terms.

Back side of the dam that will hopefully be covered with water by summer next year, 2009.
Once the dams have water backed up behind them, then they will be dedicated with an inauguration ceremony and a plaque placed on the dam. The process described in a previous post when we attended an inauguration.

After we left the Kali Maidi dam, we went to this farm where they had arranged lunch for us.

Left to right, Elder Brown, Elder Fairbanks, Atul Dev, a local standing, the gentleman from PHD, Dr Ryder, and Elder Tanner. After 7 hours traveling and 1 dam visit, food and water were a welcome break.

Harvesting spinach at the farm we stopped at for lunch.

The second dam, Mauda Wala. About 5' more in height to go. This sequence of pictures will give you an idea of the construction process. Once any excavation is completed, the rest of the process is all manual. And some sites, even the excavation is manual.

Elder Brown got quite a few laughs when he decided to try the head coil and become a hod carrier. This is on top of the dam where they are still laying rock and cement.

One of the rock masons.

Even while working, some of the women keep their faces covered, especially with outsiders around.

Gaadiwaar Wala, a 100% completed LDSC funded dam and the last stop of the day. This dam cost less than $10,000 USD to build, but the benefits will continue for a long time as it holds rain water and allows it to replenish the acquifer.

Construction started early enough in May, 2008, that some water was captured this year. It is 6' deep behind the dam right now and extends back several hundred yards or so. It was too dark to get a picture of the water. One thing I did note was a water bird that now had a home environment.

Dinesh Sharma talking with Elder Fairbanks while Atul Dev takes a break. We drove back to our vans, then to the main highway and to a motel where we stayed the night. The next day we would be visiting 5 dam sites in the Alwar district on the east side of the highway.

After a 7 AM start and driving for a couple of hours, our first stop in the Alwar district was the Bhairu ka Rada Wala dam. The size of the area it will cover with water was a major surprise, it is huge.

This dam is an earth fill with a stone spillway and the project is to expand significantly on a small dam that was already in place. Note in the picture there is an earth fill embankment in the left background while the foreground is the main dam wall. This view is looking south.

This view is looking north from the same spot as the previous picture. You can see some water the old dam has retained, but it is a drop compared to what will be retained when this project is finished. Again, the size of the dam and the future impoundment amazed me.

Goverdhan Sharma. This is the man that is making it happen. He worked for 16 years with the man, Singh, that was the champion of catchment dams in India and received international recognition for his work. Goverdhan has met with village leaders, government officials, etc. and brokered the agreements that make the land available. Obviously, you can't just build a dam and flood hundreds of acres of land without some kind of prior agreement and he is the one who has made it happen along with being the chief architect and finding the sites to build on.

Work at the existing spillway that will increase it in height by 13' if I recall the number correctly, or it may have been 22'. My notes failed me here. You can see where the base is being extended and the addition to the side wall in progress.

When we got back to where the vehicles were parked, a camel cart was coming down the road. I had a request from Sister Tanner to get camel pictures and the driver and children were obliging so we spent a few minutes having some fun.

I don't know if these children had ever seen their picture before, but they were fascinated with the shots I had taken.

This shot was taken by Dr Ryder.

After we left the dam site, it was a short drive to the Sharma's home compound where we had a late breakfast/brunch. The only actual meal we had that day as it turned out.

Three generations of Sharmas. Dinesh, holding his son, is the one doing a lot of the supervision of the sites under construction.

Someone asked Dinesh if we could take a family picture. Getting his wife to agree was another matter. She finally left the building she was in and went to the building where we had eaten where the picture was taken. But she never came outside in our presence.

The next stop was the Paapda Wala dam site, #5 for the trip. This is one where the masonry work has just begun.
Note the cut into the bank that the dam wall will extend into.
In building the dam, the courses of rock and cement are laid down horizontally. Note that some rocks are placed vertically so they extend beyond their own course and will create an interlocking pattern with the course above.
The Kali Bhat Wala dam is an interesting one. It has the potential to flood an extensive area going back behind the backhoe, but I have a concern with the dam itself since it abuts rock walls on both sides. Communication is always a concern, but I believe the intent is to cement the walls. We'll see on the next trip. Photo credit Dr Ryder.
Another earth fill dam with a concret spillway.
The location of the spillway with the beginnings of the base excavation. If you go full screen with this shot, you can see one of the rocks walls I mentioned in the background.

This is the site of the Ram Sarup ki Ghati Wala dam and it gets the award for most interesting name. If the dam were in place, this shot would be along the top of it to the far side. There is actually a good sized wash with those working in the bottom of it.

This wash has a stream that flows in it. There is another dam in the mountains to the north that impounds water and keeps the stream flowing during the year. But again, this dam's purpose is to replenish ground water by flooding a large area behind it. Work here had only begun the week before we arrived, so there is little to see.

Someone made the comment that it looked like a YW activity.

Last stop on the tour. This dam, Phutya Wala, already existed, but is being extended into the hill in the background and raised several feet.

Once the dam reaches the hill and is raised to its final height, if enough rain comes, it will flood over where the vehicles are and back behind the hill. It will also cover a large area to the left. It will not have a spillway as it will flow out to the right behind the hill before it could breach the top of the dam.

This is one of Dr Ryder's shots and you can see the artist in his work. This lady was one of the workers at this location.

Actually saw a herd of camels, with a shepherd, on the way in to Phutya Wala.