"The work and our lives here in India certainly have ups and downs, good and bad days ... Today was one of those days that I wish I could keep with me always -- and I will in my heart!!
We had our District Conference (like Stake Conference) today and it was a very special experience. I had been asked to be in charge of the music for the conference sessions, and with that it was requested that the Primary children sing the prelude for 10 minutes prior to the Sunday morning session, and that the Elders sing the closing hymn for the same session. Great idea, but there was no way to practice with either group all together! I sent out notes to each of the 6 Branch Primary Presidents letting them know what was requested, the list of the songs we'd be singing, and what time the children should be there. I sent an e-mail to the Elders telling them what song I'd selected for them, and what verses to sing, etc. The only thing left to do was to trust that the Lord would fill in the gaping holes and things would be fine.
We all (our little Noida Branch) met at 7:45 this morning to travel by bus to New Delhi. An Indian bus is an experience in itself (although this one was a private bus, and a little cleaner than the public bus!) I couldn't sit with my legs straight forward, and the Dad and the Elders were wedged in every conceivable position trying to fit into seats! All of the Indian members were quite comfortable! We had all the windows open trying to get air, but if we made any stop at all, in came the flies!
We arrived for the 9:00 New Member meeting where each of the Branch Presidents introduced their new members (one year or less) and what their callings are in their Branches. Each waited with anticipation for their name to be called, receive a rose and a handshake from President and Sister Jackson. So many new members in the branches -- it was really a humbling experience to see all those dear Brothers and Sisters with tender testimonies and a strong faith in our Savior.
After that meeting, at 10:10 (the general session was to begin at 10:30) I asked all the Primary children to come to the front. Bless their hearts -- down they came with their sweet Primary Presidents encouraging them along the way. I was absolutely thrilled with how many were there, and when they started to sing my heart was filled to bursting! Those beautiful little children -- so new to the gospel -- sang with all their hearts! I just know that the Lord heard and was filled with joy at the faith of those precious children!
Four of the fine men from our Branch were sustained to be given the Melchizedek Priesthood as Elders. Brother Robin (our Elders Quorum President), Brother Dennis (our Young Men's President), Brother Bhola (our Branch Mission Leader), and Brother Ben Smith (soon to be Elder Smith). How wonderful to see these worthy men advancing in the Priesthood!
They had asked (in advance) some new members to share their testimonies. What an experience that was -- stories of such faith! The members of the Church here are such great examples! Some of those who spoke had walked away from religions (non-Christian) they'd known all their lives -- some rejected by their families, one man travels 8 hours by train (one way) just to attend Sunday meetings, a former nun, and a family who fled Afghanistan because they wanted Christianity and knew they would be killed if they stayed there. Some of the things I'm asked to do seem to pale in comparison.
A newly baptized, young Primary aged girl bore her testimony and you would have thought that she was many years older and had been a member all her life. What a mature and special child!
Brother Dominic said that he had "belonged to the Devil for 35 years". He said he drank, did drugs, sold drugs, and attempted murder. He served his time, found the gospel and has turned his life around. He said the Elders told him that they were going to teach him how to get from the "crack house" to the "white house" (the temple). The gospel is for everyone. Every single individual has the opportunity, no matter their past, to be cleansed through the atonement and know their Savior!
Sister Anu left Hinduism and was abandoned by her father when she went searching for the truth about her Savior. He didn't talk to her for many years. She found the gospel, was baptized, and decided to serve a mission (she just returned about 2 months ago). While on her mission, she made a call home on Christmas. She was talking to her mother, then her mother said she needed to talk with her father. It had been 10 years. He came to the phone and she could barely speak through the tears. The first thing he said to her was,"I love you". His heart had been softened, and he was even there in the conference to hear her speak. Her sister and her cousin are now members of the Church, also. What a strong lady!
Sister Suman (from our Branch) was a nun for 14 years. Her health became very bad and she was sent home. It immediately improved and she was "found" by the Elders. My heart is so touched when she talks about how they always came with "sweating faces" -- she calls them her angels. She was baptized and is such a strong lady!!
A family fled Afghanistan after the mother had a vision of a man dressed in white who told her "Come, follow me". She knew her husband would kill her for leaving their religion, so she fled for her life and for the lives of her daughters. She found the Church and she and her daughters have such strong testimonies!
There were more -- such inspiring and humbling stories of valiant spirits who have been chosen to help "build the kingdom" here in Delhi. I stand in awe of them, because I have wondered if I would have had the strength, had I not been born into the Church, to seek the truth, embrace it, asked to be baptized (changing my prior habits and practices), and then to live the gospel, going against all the traditions and teachings that are found outside the Church. I'm so blessed to not have had to search -- it was all there for me. All I had to do was to reach out and embrace that sweet gift, and then endure to the end (which may be the most challenging part of the journey!)
Then the Elders came up to sing their song (Sweet is the Work). I had asked one Elder to sing a solo on the first verse, 5 others to join him (singing parts as a double trio) on the 2nd and 3rd verses, and all the others join in on the 4th and 6th verses. All I can say is that I started leading them, and then could do nothing more than sit back down in my chair, tears streaming down my cheeks. Oh, what wonderful Elders they are!! It was absolutely beautiful!!
After the session was over, it was much like I hope it will be when my turn here on earth is finished -- seeing and greeting those we love and haven't seen in some time, and feeling such a joy and kinship in our belief in the gospel and our Savior, Jesus Christ. No one there was a stranger!! There was such a strong spirit -- a feeling I will keep in my heart, always!!"
The conference was held in a very nice theater the District rented for the meeting. Note the fresh cut flowers lining the stage front, carnations and orchids, and you can get a glimpse of Sister Tanner's head and arms as she leads in the lower right.