Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hyderabad, December 15

Life is good here. The Bund (which I realized was just Hindi for ‘closed’; hit self on head, I knew that…) stopped and normal life resumed. (Also one of the other elders reminded me yesterday at zone conference that there’s a more concise way to say ‘hit self on head’, namely '::palmface::'. Just in case you need it.)

I don’t really have a lot of exciting stuff to report this week. I’m slowly growing to understand Elder Stephen and work together well with him. From my experience, the evidence is the planning and companionship study sessions that we have every day. If our relationship is good, like it is now, where we’ll sit at a desk across from each other, and our conversation will be back-and-forth like a good tennis point – I’ll throw one idea out, explain it for 15 seconds, Elder Stephen will modify it, complete it, volley it back over the net, we’ll agree move on to the next step, and I’ll be back talking and pitching another idea in a few seconds.

If the relationship isn’t working, if the trust or unity isn’t there – that’s been the case before – we end up haggling over the same small detail for endless amounts of time, or one person, usually me, is talking on and on and the other person isn’t saying anything, probably because they feel like the first person won’t listen.

I’ve been mulling over this for the last month of so, and it’s making me devote a lot of conscious attention to developing a good relationship with my companion. Not blowing up at small stuff, genuinely listening, being aware that my way of reasoning out problems in a discussion can be seen as intellectual bullying and self-justification, thinking before opening my mouth.

On careful consideration and reflection, all of these things are things I haven’t ever really learned to do well, so it’s really good that I’m learning now. It’s nearer to the surface now especially; we’re in peoples’ homes all the time, and it’s usually pretty apparent in watching their communication with each other what many problems in all the family members’ inter-relationships.

I can think of one family in Vizag we were visiting; the daughter was doing her Ph.D. equivalent on English literature written by Sri Lankan diaspora; the son and father ran some sort of a biochemical products business together and engaged in several social-entrepreneurial side projects; but the family seemed unable to communicate properly with us or each other because of their individual tendency to go on and on about the many things they knew and not listening.

I’m human. That tendency, and many others I’ve seen, I find in myself also. If I reproduce these in my companionships now, it’s unfortunate, but if I reproduce them in the family I will have one day, it would be tragic. I started paying attention to that matter about a month and a half ago; though I had no idea what to do. Slowly, I’m learning what to do and then doing it.

(I realized recently that the comparison of companionships to relationships is fairly close. For example, you refuse to admit a lot of the problems you have until it’s over, when you can look back with a greater degree of peace on the matter.)

With love,
Sam

Hyderabad, December 1

The last week was good but sadly filled with annoying logistics. Basically because I was running around doing other stuff and because Baba told me not to eat the bread anyway, I ended up not picking up the package on Wednesday, and then I forgot on Thursday and my flight was on Friday morning. Elder Pritchett promised to send it to me (for whatever else you put in there – DVD of the new basement?) and even if he doesn’t throw out the pumpkin bread first I definitely will not eat it now, don’t worry.

Then I got here on Friday, but didn’t unpack because the American couple living here was going home and they wanted us to stay in their apartment until a new senior couple got visas, so we moved there on Tuesday. And on Monday we stayed inside and played chess for the afternoon because there was a strike (which, interestingly, they call a Bund) – apparently Telanganas were mad about educated Andhras and Marathis and Tamils getting preference for jobs over uneducated Telanganas.

So anyway, I’m here in Hyderabad, I really like my companion, Elder Stephen, he’s way hard working and has lots of ideas to do stuff. He lives in Delhi; his father is a copy editor at a publishing firm and he has two older sisters and a girlfriend named Katherine who writes him.

It’s a pretty interesting dynamic; like me, he’s kind of hotheaded and tends to run off and start acting on those ideas without thinking about them/talking to his companion about them first. Basically that was the source of most of my conflict with Elder Pritchett (because I did that), so I have something to learn here. Now since I’m the senior companion, it becomes my responsibility to channel our energy and ideas and enthusiasm into concrete and effective plans and logistics and such. That’s good, it is teaching me not to just run off somewhere with a random idea. And we have pretty open communication. You’ll be interested to know that his first suggestion for me was to go get some new socks, which we will be doing today.

Hyderabad is really cool; we’re basically on the outskirts in a place called Medinaguda. I’m probably going to put on a little bit of weight here; there are tons of church members and they keep inviting us over and stuffing us full with rice and daal and chappati. I’ve already been completely stuffed twice and I’ve only been here four days. Anyway, it’s really good here. I hear a lot of Hindi now, though I also hear that it is junk Hindi (not that I could tell the difference…)

Life is fine here, I’ll tell you more as it goes. Hope all is well!

Love,
Sam

Vizag, November 16

Amusing stories this week were both on Monday.

Over lunch after our planning session, after Elder Pritchett and my conversation about Subash Chandar Bose (sp?) turned into a general conversation about conquering the world.

Me: The general problem with world-conquest schemes seems to be that you can't get all the territories you occupy to support you and become part of your culture.
Elder Pritchett: Hollywood!

In Raju's house, after a really good lesson. He was talking about a Catholic church he visited in Pune. Keep in mind that this in all going on in like 1988, and you know Indian cultural views about male-female relationships, and marrying Saraswathi was probably the best decision Raju ever made.

Raju: I went there with my girlfriend.
(We look at Saraswathi, since when she was his girlfriend they went and shook the Pope's hand.)
Raju: Not her. My firrrst girlfriend.
(We look quizzically at Raju.)
Raju: I would not marry to her. So she became nun.

Things have been crazy during the last week. Raju came up with 2000 rupees from his manager so he won't get kicked out of his house, and then had the strength to turn down his manager's subsequent invitation to come to the bar. He and his wife and son should be getting baptized on Sunday.

Right now, Elder Pritchett and I are kind of exhausted -- constantly worrying about and planning for them has taken a toll on us. And while worrying about them won't be over after their baptism, things are on an upswing. We had some residual concerns about their motives, and on Monday we were just asking them questions about why they were doing all these things -- coming to church, giving up coffee, tea, alcohol, gukka, etc, getting baptized. We were worried about something like 'We think God will help us with our financial problems' or 'Because we like you so much.' But then they started telling how they wanted to follow the commandments, build a stronger family, and live forever with God -- and they clearly meant it.

On Wednesday more elders are coming from Rajahmundry, a nearby city, for a conference, so we will all go on a tour of Vizag together. Then on Friday we will have the conference.


Love,
Sam

Vizag, November 10

This week has gone pretty well! I’ll start with some amusing outtakes:

In church on Sunday, in one class we were reading from the manual, and everyone has varying degrees of English. One brother who had a little bit less was struggling through a long paragraph including the phrase “man’s eternal destiny.” The funny part is how the third word came out – ‘density.’ I’m sure as you’re reading this, your mind, as mine did, hearkened to the somewhat less-eternal Marty-George-Sheila-but-before-Biff-enters diner scene in Back to the Future Part I. Cue: “I am your density.”

On the way here (we have a bit of a walk to the bus stop) Elder Pritchett and I were trying a game. One person makes up and then repeats some variation on “She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes.” The other person has a couple of seconds to think of the middle two lines. Here are the two we came up with:

Elder Pritchett: “She’ll be missing all her luggage when she comes.
She’ll be missing all her luggage when she comes.”
Me: “She will only have her backpack
‘Cause her stuff’s all on the train tracks.”
Elder Pritchett: “She’ll be missing all her luggage when she comes.”

The other one:

Me: “She’ll be waiting at the diner when I come
She’ll be waiting at the diner when I come
Elder Pritchett: “She will think there’s no one finer
After I have wined and dined her.”
Me: “She’ll be waiting at the diner when I come.”

On a more eternally important note, life is kind of crazy. John, the brother who got baptized right when I got here, got fired because of office politics, got a new job, but then the firm with the new job closed down, so he was all depressed on Monday, but then we went over to his hostel on Tuesday to chat and cheered him up. Now his mind is all awhir about how he can get a new job, become a better teacher in church, etc, and that’s great to see. His friend Vasu who was set for baptism is way busy with school and isn’t lifting our calls. (John says he gets way scared and freaks out when we make an appointment and he doesn’t come and we call him, he juggles his phone and exclaims, ‘What should I do, what should I do.’ Alas.)

Raju is about to get evicted again ‘cause he’s behind on rent, but this is way different than the first time. His landlady came over when he were there and started screaming at him. This time he’s telling us, he’s like ‘Well, first wrong is mine, I am not paying,’ he’s not shouting back (last time he was according to Saraswathi “full fighting.”). He realizes he will not get his deposit back, and he has so much more peace about the matter. Worst case, there is a room we know about that belongs to a church member, and he can stay there until he gets his salary (December 24) or a commission which is coming. He’s way more happy than last time, and it’s definitely because he left tea, coffee, gukka, etc. Last time he wasn’t thinking clearly or rationally at all, and this time he’s calmly explaining that we should help him look for a new room just in case (we did), but he probably won’t have any money to move in.

Some other bad stuff happened with someone else that stressed me out a lot, but I can’t really say a lot, and it looks like it will be fine.

We were really and happy excited on Sunday also, because two new people came to church this week, a bachelor named Sammy who we met when we were visiting a recently baptized church member named Balakrishna (they live in the same hostel), and a sister named Madhavi that I think I mentioned last time. We took this wonderful couple from the branch to her house on Saturday – they rode a half an hour on their motorcycle, each way, to come with us, and then they sat with her at church and answered all her questions. It was so wonderful and she was really happy at church so we were also very happy. We’re going over there tonight, her probably-autistic sister wants us to bring American coins but we can’t seem to find any sadly…

It’s pretty cool to watch the other brother, Nageshwar, that we are preparing for baptism. He was scheduled for this Sunday and is super excited. He went to a church activity and was energetically describing how they played “telephone” – I guess it’s called “Chinese whisper” here – with ‘She sells sea shells down by the sea shore’ to illustrate the importance of explaining the scriptures clearly.

He’s having a hard time getting Sundays off so he can come to the right branch and stay for all three hours, so we talked to President Nichols and we will push his baptism back a bit. He will be very sad when we tell him though, but the next step for him (and everyone, and he’s really excited about it) is to serve in the church and that’s only really possible when he comes to the right branch. He wants to go on a mission too, though (somewhat selfishly) counting forward a year from his baptism I don’t think I will get to be his companion because I will come back first :((

So all isn’t perfect this week, but my life and Elder Pritchett’s and those we are teachings are works in progress, and they *are* progressing well.

Love,
Sam

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vizag, November 25

Luckily here they have a senior couple named the Lintons, and also many local advisors to take care of all of our paperwork. Actually the Lintons are going home soon and due to a visa problem my former companion Elder Bartlett is being forced to take her role! He’s a logistical genius though and we will all be jokingly referring to him as “Sister Linton” from now on.

To describe the last week as ‘a roller-coaster ride’ would be a bit of an underestimation. On Wednesday we toured Vizag in a bus, which was fun, and in the evening I went on exchange with my companion from the MTC, Elder Diamond. It was amazing to see how much we’ve both grown since then.

On Wednesday night we got a call from Raju and Saraswathi -- the family getting ready to be baptized on Sunday -- saying that their landlord was kicking them out of their apartment.

Great.

We made a bunch of calls to the branch president and put into motion previous plans that they could stay in a room owned by a church member in Madhurawada, 45 minutes journey from their work and school and such. So we found some church members’ houses where they could store stuff and a church member who had an auto and spent from 9 am to 6pm moving them.

This was especially problematic because Raju goes way downhill mentally when he is worried about all of this, and he relapsed and took a thing of gutkha before we got there and then spent the entire afternoon begging us for permission to take “only one” even though he knew it was wrong.

They were scheduled to be interviewed for baptism but needed to leave early to get back to their new house – which didn’t have any cooking facilities, only had well water, and no toilet. To make things worse, Raju is (no insult intended Baba, just description) a Mumbai city boy, and continually referred to his new residence as a ‘village.’

Zone conference was Friday, which went really well. I learned a lot about helping people make and keep commitments.

Normally, I would be more happy and descriptive, but as soon as it was over we had to go move stuff from one church members’ house to a different church member’s, because their relations were coming and they didn’t have any room there anymore. To make matters worse, Raju and Saraswathi had about 100 rupees to their name and scarcely had money to eat, let alone get to town, and he wouldn’t get any salary for another month.

Anyway, we wake up expecting to have the interview for baptism on Saturday morning, when President Nichols tells our leaders that we need to sit down with the branch president and make a more detailed plan before anything else happened.

Up until now we had mostly been practicing seat-of-the-arm group decision making between us, Raju, and the branch president - we hadn’t actually all sat down and talked together. Raju came almost in tears because he wanted to be baptized so badly and he was afraid he couldn’t be.

When we all sat down, it was a breakthrough – the branch president committed to get Raju a bus pass and buy his groceries until he got his salary, and also move him into another more permanent place as soon as the church members found a cheap enough one. We were ecstatic, but still worried if Raju was ready to make a lifelong promise three days after he took some gutkha under stress.

Oh yeah, and meanwhile President Nichols’ assistants call me on Friday night and tell me I’m being transferred to Hyderabad, to an area called BHEL. I will be senior companion to an Indian elder from Delhi named Elder Steven that has been out six months. So I have to say goodbye to all of my converts and friends in Vizag, and Elder Pritchett. And I have no idea what’s going on with Raju and Saraswathi through all this, so I don’t tell him.

Actually when Raju was being interviewed for baptism President Nichols was interviewing me, so I get out of the interview, and see the simple note in the hand of Elder Pritchett: “We left. Don’t forget to call and cancel appointments.” In other words, Raju passed his interview, and Elder Pritchett and another elder named Elder Ward had left to Madhurawada to go interview the rest of the family.

I went into another room, jumped up and down three times in the air, and then joined the branch activity that my new temporary companion Elder Nixon was helping hold.

Then on Sunday morning, we wake up, get the white clothes ready, go teach some people, go to church, sit in church for two hours, and then pull out the family to change into baptism clothes. We all change into white apparel, wait for church to finish, take pictures – and I haven’t seen bigger smiles in awhile – start the baptism service.

First Elder Prichett steps into the freezing water and perfectly baptizes Saraswathi; next I smoothly baptize Raju and Santosh. We dry off, change back, say our goodbyes, and leave.

As we’re walking out Santosh runs after me with tears in his eyes, not sure when he will see me again.

Today morning we go over and spend 3 hours chatting, and when the auto finally arrives, half an hour moving them into their new room – with discoloured walls and floors, not the best, but for 400 rupees a month (8 dollars), not bad.

Now, it’s Saraswathi crying (about me, not the room). I bid farewell to them and hold in my own sadness as we catch a share auto back to have another farewell, lunch with a brother named Nageshwar that we’re teaching.

Life is crazy, happy, and sad all at the same time. We played football today though and I need to go shower. So farewell for this week.

Dear parents, I understand the dilemma you are in. Thank you for your loyalty and love in holding in your feelings, but please feel free to say whatever you wish to family and friends in Mumbai. This is my own decision, and I make it of my own free will. I love you and I care about you. But please understand that I wouldn’t be anywhere else for the world.

With love, your son,
Sam

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Vizag, November 3

Cold-wise, I’m thankfully better now.

This week was crazy. Today we spent four hours cleaning up my apartment, then we went to Pizza Hut and spent 170 rupees each for lunch. Possibly we are the only people in Vizag to have done both.

The highlight of the week was Sunday. That included: Elder Pritchett and I feeling very confused because we had 10 people we are teaching at church, including one new family, and after church was over we didn’t have anything to do because all of them found friends. In addition, the eight other people that my companions and I taught and baptized were all at church, plus a 15 year old girl church member that we got coming back to church, plus her mother, plus another person who we found who the other elders are teaching. It was a pretty visual demonstration of the fruits of our labour, and it was pretty ridiculous.

It wasn’t ridiculous simply as a “look at me, look at how much I did.” The temptation was there for me to take it that way, of course. But the happiness I felt looking around me, was more of profound gratitude for coming to church as part of a process of slowly, slowly changing into more than we are. The slow process, that I have felt, of feeling God’s love more and more and losing the desire to do wrong, the process of becoming more than just men and women built for today and tomorrow but being built for forever.

Of that slow process; dividing the class we taught in church into groups, each assigned to present one thing that can make families stronger; seeing John Prasad with his curly hair in his normal teacher persona come up, write “Better Communication” on the board, and talk with vigor and power about their group’s idea, mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters listening more to each other so they could understand each other; how it would solve the many things that drove families apart.
Walking down the street in a hurry to an appointment on Thursday, seeing a flock of four church sisters – all short, round, with vibrant laughs, full of love – serving each other by visiting each other’s houses. Exclaiming in butler English our just-invented idea, to have them come to the house of a family we had started teaching, so they could make friends with the wife. Then on Sunday, helping escort two 5 and 7yo children trying to cling in fear to their mother into primary class, and then watch a lonely 26 year old housewife Swapna sit with happiness and wonder between her new friends Varalakshmi and Nagamani.

A crazy rest of Sunday when we started teaching three new families, and two sisters of whom (they aren’t actually sisters, just both female) that we gave Books of Mormon to a few weeks back read through like 100 pages each. Asking one of them, Madhavi, why Jesus Christ was special, and having her spit back more or less verbatim a Book of Mormon verse we highlighted that said that he has felt everything we as individual humans feel, so he understands us. Seeing the look in her face that meant that was really special to her.

So: life was good this week. With happiness and love,

Sam

Vizag, October 28

This week has been pretty good. Nothing as spectacular this week as last week. On Sunday a new family that we’ve been teaching came to church and seemed to like it, which was really good. We had ten different people at church that we are teaching; it was crazy looking after all of them! (We might have more, or at least different, people next week too, that new family I talked about last week.)

Other than that the most new and exciting part was yesterday, when I went on exchange with the other elders.

My old companion Elder Bartlett and his new companion Elder Nixon are training a new elder, which means they are in a triple together, and then Elder Bartlett and I switched places for a day. Elder Nixon is way comfortable in chaos – he is the kind of person who draws attention to himself, hugs everyone, makes fun of the waiters by calling them film actor names, and always has something to say. He has the knack for making certain types of people comfortable, that I don’t have, so I had the chance to learn that; and it was pretty fun, even if it was ridiculous.

For example, there were three of us, and we ended up having three different recently baptized church members, all twenty-something and male, with us by the end of the evening. Then we got dragged into a house by this semi-drunk guy who didn’t speak any English, so we were teaching him and his wife about the relevant commandment on the subject, half in case he was willing to listen, half because it had to be translated into Telugu as an excuse to review it with the church members and then make them teach him. So basically there were six twenty-something males in a house with an old guy and his wife. Told you it was kind of ridiculous.

Sadly I am a little sick at the moment, just a normal cold, I think I caught it from Elder Pritchett. It’s the first time I’ve been sick since I ate those biscuits. Other than that not much to report, so hope you’re well, and with love,

Sam

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vizag, October 21

This week has been pretty good. Mainly Diwali here is like Independence Day in America, people buy lots of firecrackers and whenever we walked down the street we were apt to see small (male) children running quickly and hear loud bangs. We stayed inside on Saturday night because it was the first night of Diwali. (I wonder if Diwali is so extensively detailed on Wikipedia because lots of Indians are helping to write it?) As for actual religious celebrations we saw fewer…last religious festival time there were big tents set up everywhere recreating stories about Hindu gods and with taped recordings in Sanskrit, but I didn’t see any of that this time.
This week has been really good, mostly because a couple of really good things happened.

We’ve kept having really bad lessons with Raju, because he didn’t really want to listen, and it was the same when we went there on Saturday night. This time we went back to what we’d been telling him, which was that God was much less likely and able to help him as long as he knew he should leave tea, coffee, and gukka and didn’t. (He kept saying ‘I can do it anytime I want.’) Basically we went there and the lesson started degenerating and then he and his wife had a quick exchange in Hindi after which he said, I’ll keep it starting tomorrow.

We aren’t exactly sure what happened, if Saraswathi goaded him or what. But he kept his promise. And he already is starting to look better – more at peace, more able to listen to other people, more confident.

We looked at our record and so far we’ve visited them 24 times, which is pretty unprecedented for both Elder Pritchett and myself. Some people need a lot of love. But even as the change comes slowly to his family, it’s undeniable. We can see it in their faces.

Also, we met the most wonderful family this week.

The husband Babu stopped us on the street and we took his contact information but he didn’t really seem to speak English so we didn’t think much of it, but he gave us his address. So when we were nearby we found his house and were greeted at the door by his beautiful wife Swapna, who was overjoyed to see us. They have two small children (like 7 and 5) and Swapna deeply desired to love them, but often became frustrated when they misbehaved, and by the tone of her voice I could tell her guilt at feeling this.

They said they knew intellectually God loved their family. But in their words, and even more in their faces and the tone of their voices -- I could tell that they wondered if it was possible to feel that love.

I have felt. We tried to explain how they could too. I don’t think I’ve **ever** seen two people focused more intently on our faces and words.

These two things are probably one of the two wonderful things that have happened in awhile. And so, life is good.

And following a pattern I’ve seen in the last nine months, when life is good it rarely seems to bear any obvious relation to anything we actually did or intended to do….

Love,
Sam

Vizag, October 14

The flooding is a couple hours away, the closest is in another place in Andhra called Vijaywada. We'll hear about it from other people, but there still has been very little rain here. I got soaked a couple of weeks ago, and a couple months before that, but that's it.

We're going to go play football in about an hour after e-mail, which will be cool -- I haven't really done anything athletic (besides walking everywhere) since we played football like two months ago. Last time I dropped an interception thrown right to me. Sigh.

Life continues well. The main highlight has been our recent convert, John, who brought his friend Vasu to church two weeks back. Vasu felt really good at church, really wants to stop smoking, told us this but we didn't really get to start helping him, went back to his home village, and had some dream which involved him killing people and Jesus Christ stopping him (John was translating the dream for us, I didn't really understand it fully), and now hasn't smoked for like three weeks. It was crazy. He wants to take baptism, but he's kind of uncomfortable with us so we just played caroms with him on Monday to build friendship.

Then John lost his job due to some office drama and is understandably kind of down, especially because other jobs are saying he doesn't have enough English skills. Apparently no one in the office has ethics and most of them have bad habits also, and it's really been dragging on him spiritually, so maybe it's a blessing in disguise, though we're still worrying about him because bad things happen to him when he is depressed. He might move to Hyderabad and get a call center job of some sort. If he does, I'm going to miss him a lot.

…We stopped by on Sunday [to visit a family we are working with,] and Saraswathi (the wife) was reading from the Book of Mormon storybook to her children (and also translating it into Telugu for them) and her daughter was sad because she wanted us to leave so she would keep reading to them. Which was pretty funny. Her 10yo son Santosh really loves us (or me) though so he was okay with the interruption. Saraswathi seems about ten years younger than when we first met her, even though her husband isn't changing quite as much. We're still learning how to help him change, and it's really difficult. For Elder Pritchett and I, it really involves a lot of soul-searching, complete confundment, and throwing good ideas at the wall until something sticks. The main thing that stuck this week was one time where he really wasn't listening or being rational, so we left him to fill in lists of "What I'm doing that God wants me to do," "What I'm doing that God doesn't want me to do," and came back in three hours with Elder Nielsen, and he was way more receptive and rational. Still, honestly we still don't really know what worked -- it was probably some combination of Saraswathi, self-reflection, and Elder Nielsen.

On that note, we seem to be encountering a lot of problematic Indian males right now. When we stopped by Raju's on Sunday we learned that his neighbors that we used to teach moved out. The husband was apparently jealous that his (house)wife had friends nearby and was socializing with them. She would always complain to us about her husband and make faces about him, and when we played caroms he seemed to not-jokingly describe her as 'Pakistan'. I smilingly suggested 'Sri Lanka' but he kept insisting on 'Pakistan.' (This was about the extent of our direct communication due to my lack of Telugu and his lack of English.) Meanwhile the husband's sister was staying with her because her husband kept threatening to kill her and their infant son. Basically one big happy neighborhood. I heard a quote recently that describes my situation well, to paraphrase: "My mind informs me that I lack the capability to help all the people of whom my heart requires." Alas....

Also transfer calls came and I'm staying here with Elder Pritchett for at least another six weeks. Yay!

Love,
Sam

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vizag, October 7

India is going crazy over the swine flu but apparently it's not more serious that normal flu. I'm still more concerned about dying when crossing the road than getting swine flu.

This week was good. Stuff is going on, I suppose. We painted the walls on the staircase to the church and now people are spitting gukka on them again. Ai-yo. We finally tried out an idea that I'd had since I got here, loaning out marked Books of Mormon. We're doing a lot better job of explaining things clearly and concisely -- Elder Bartlett and Elder Nixon are actually making us follow the directive to keep our lessons under 45 minutes, and it's worked out well. I've figured out how to concisely write but concisely speaking is harder, especially for me.

Most importantly, Elder Pritchett and I are finally melding, really, together. Last night, I got a really invaluable insight from another elder, Elder Nixon, who I was on exchange with. He said you grow to love people as you serve them. "Of course," I thought, when he told me, but I didn't really realize it until now.

It makes total sense -- I've developed a great love for the people I teach, and also the people in India in general, but I never developed the same love for other elders, or really (to a lesser degree) the church members. And so with other elders, especially Elder Pritchett, I've probably expressed a lot more impatience, frustration, demanding attitude, stubbornness, and so forth than I should. Alas. I'm going to have to have a much more conscious attitude to serve the other elders so I can grow to love them more. As I gained that insight, I realized, even more, how much of life is a choice.

Love,
Sam

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Vizag, September 30

I'm a little sleepy as I write this, mostly due to a nap I took today. Not really sure if that was too good of an idea. My companion and I made chapattis today along with some prepackaged mango daal, which was the first time I've actually made them in India. Exciting.

This last week has been pretty crazy. One family we are teaching is struggling this week - they came to church but they're about to get evicted. We're trying to help them but are not allowed to give them anything Even though the family is actually in need, it's generally a bad policy to give/loan money to people joining the church (creates the wrong incentives, and a lot of jealousy), plus the conversion concerns in India. We talked to the branch president and offered an extra room that belongs to a church member, but it's a few kilometers away and they don't want to move so far (far from their children's schools and so forth). And on the spiritual side, because of this, he feels like he can't concentrate on God, and also that God isn't blessing him. He called us yesterday to tell us this, and I talked him into letting us come that day. He keeps changing his mind on everything and is basically in panic mode, which is kind of frustrating but understandable. The only peace the family has (and they recognize this) is when they come to church and meet us and read their scriptures, and thus even in worldly terms it's kind of counterproductive for them to not do that. I came with one of the mission leaders who was in town, named Elder Mehan, and we pointed this out. We're really worried about the family but we're doing our best right now, so there isn't a lot else we can do. The main problem is that so many people view blessings from God as primarily financial or other worldly things instead of other-worldly things, and this man has picked up on that. All we can do is keep committing him to repent and change, and help him see the blessings in his life. Last night we committed him to give up tea coffee and gukka (some chewing tobacco product) and tonight we will offer to start fasting with him.

Other than that, we had a really good missionary conference yesterday, about our purpose as missionaries. President Nichols pointed out that the intent that you do things determines your results (go to school to get good grades, or a good education? wed so you can get the best-looking person you can find, or so you can build an eternal family?). He pointed out that while we all generally came for good reasons (eg we knew we should, that it was the right thing to do, we saw the changes in others who went, the prophets and/or scriptures said we should), they shouldn't be the reasons we should be out now. Somewhere around 6 or 12 months out, he said, the mission starts more and more to become about the people of India and less and less about us. I was reading an essay I wrote before coming and saw that was true for me. I really feel that before, I knew from a chain of logical arguments that I should be out here, but now I really see the evidence with my own eyes and it's (started to) really sink down into my heart. There's a scripture in the Book of Mormon that "blessed are those who believe and are baptized without stubbornness of heart, without being compelled to know the word," and I really understand that more now. I had stubbornness of heart about coming out here -- though that might seem hard to imagine -- and I'm becoming less and less stubborn (eg when things are hard like changing bad habits or talking to people) which is good.

Also we found another broken family. I hope we'll be able to help.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Vizag, September 23

This last week has been really, really crazy. The family that we were teaching got baptized on Sunday. Between Thursday and Sunday, we visited them five times, plus they came to church, and they still wanted us to come over on Monday for lunch (it was Anisha's 11th birthday). As my companion put it, "I'd be sick of me." By Sunday night, I about collapsed.

The other family we're focusing right now is so wonderful. It's really clear how much the Spirit is there. A lot of what we teach they will forget (or won't understand -- English problem), but they do everything we tell them to, so they feel the Spirit and start to change. For example, they've started having prayer and scripture study every night as a family. They've come to church every week, and they feel so happy there. The wife gave up tea and coffee on Sunday, though the husband is still working on tobacco, tea and coffee. It's really clear how much time stuff takes to sink into people's souls. He needs to feel the Spirit and understand the gospel enough to stop. It amazes me sometimes that the gospel of Jesus Christ has changed him as much as it has - a concrete person that I concretely know and concretely love. Even as I teach him I am amazed.

We found another wonderful family on Monday - well, the mother and the children are wonderful, but they have to hide their Bible and our meeting from the father, who is meanwhile having an affair with another woman. He used to be Christian, but something happened. We really, profoundly, don't know what to do but are praying about it.

The people that I taught and saw baptized we've all put to work on other people we're teaching -- John Prasad we took three times last week, Solomon by tonight we'll have taken him to four appointments this week, and Jerry is busy trying to help a sister we're teaching that has tons of problems. Eight people that I've taught here are now baptized. All of them come to church plus other people we're teaching, which means I have like a small posse at church. I don't know whether that's good or bad. It could make me lazy, on the other hand they all want to come with us. It does probably mean that I'll be sent somewhere else soon.

In summary, life is crazy and wonderful at the same time, which is pretty usual.

With love,
Sam

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vizag, September 16

This week has been pretty good. No crazy stories like card-preparing, but pretty good. Glad you liked it!

Elder Pritchett and I are getting into a groove, which is good. It takes about a week to get into a groove with a new companion, I think. Elder Pritchett and I are getting along pretty well and also figuring out how to remedy our weaknesses, mostly that we just both are inclined to go off on tangents instead of focusing on what we need to be focusing on, especially during planning. It’s testing my focus and prioritization, but I don’t have Elder Bartlett to get me back on track anymore. I’m doing a pretty good job though and learning.

Case in point: we had this wonderful lesson on Thursday that we spent half an hour preparing our three main points, what we were going to read with the family, that went off without a hitch, and motivated the family to start reading the scriptures together. And then they reported feeling really happy as a result.

Hmm what else is new. We keep having a bunch of appointments at the church with people that are doing all right in keeping their commitments but have unpredictable schedules, so we keep sitting at the church a lot which is annoying. We also discovered that one really great family we’re teaching doesn’t actually live in the area that we’re responsible for, which is kind of sad because we have to give them to the other elders and I’ll miss them.

Elder Pritchett and I were thinking recently and we realized that most of the families that have really investigated our message are love marriages. (The Michael family in Chennai, the family we have to give to the other elders, and the Raju family, a family I’ve mentioned before that we’re teaching that is preparing to be baptized on October 18.) It’s interesting because love marriages are a small percent of the 40-50 year old Indian population, even, at least I would presume, among the people that speak English. But they are a large proportion of the people that accept our message and get baptized, in my and my companion’s experience. There are several possible explanations but we’re not sure which one is correct. Also the sample size is pretty small. Anyway, these are my recent ruminations.

Today I finally sat down to write letter to Jeremiah and Michael family, my converts in Chennai, which was really good. I’d written them a letter six weeks ago, but now I got to write them another one.

Oooh, excited that you actually saw a copy of the essay! How does it look? (Visual on the paper, I know what it says.) Also if you look an interview with Margaret Young is in the same issue. Also Elder Pritchett informs me that his family is in the same ward in Boston with the journal editor-in-chief, so his sister found my blog. Amusing. Also glad to hear I’m a little bit richer.
Glad you made the deadline for the newsletter. Our perennial experience at the Daily was missing ours, hah.

Times Square looks way better as a pedestrian zone. Is Baba’s friend Suresh the one we went to see in Kentucky. And the dress looks nice on Rachel! It’s weird to think that you made it! (And still have it, you packrat. Though I should first ask, how many dresses have you made in your life?)

Have a safe trip to Chicago, and hope you don’t suffer too much from empty nest syndrome,

Love,
Sam

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vizag, September 9

My new companion is really cool. Get this: his family lived in Delhi for 3 years because his father worked for....the World Bank. (and is currently teaching development economics at Harvard.) Everybody in this mission is ridiculous. I guess it's rainy season now, but we've missed most of the downpours -- we've only gotten seriously rained on twice, but we're mostly spending time inside teaching people instead of outside finding people to teach.

Life this week was pretty low-key. We didn't go outside for a couple of days this week because the CM of Andhra Pradesh died (you might have heard) in a helicopter crash, and the government called a strike. Then was a crazy Saturday -- we ran around town to three different really important appointments, that all went really well -- Sunday we weren't able do too much, planned Monday morning, then in the afternoon it took three hours for my companion to get registered at the police station, and then we made and took a "Get Well" card to a 16yo brother in a family we're teaching, who's had a 104 fever. That one was a bit funny, the stationary shop had tons of these ridiculously elaborate friendship and birthday cards but not a single Get Well card (or a single simple card), so we bought a sheet of blue paper to write on and a couple 8 1/2 x 11s and folded an envelope out of it, wrote a note, and folded a paper boat. All done in the stationary shop -- the people who ran the shop are going to be telling the story about the two strange American customers for a while :)

By now I've gotten pretty settled in my area and I'm continually making sure that I don't get comfortable -- eg, not shying away but saying hi to people that I don't know at church (because I should know them by now). Neither of us really like to talk on the telephone which will either be disastrous or a great learning opportunity - we'll try to make it the latter. We're still getting used to each other's teaching styles - Elder Pritchett has a very thoughtful way of speaking which involves pauses while he thinks. But all is well.

Today we walked up the hills just behind our house, it was pretty fun. When we got to the top we could see a lot of Vizag (probably 5-6 kms radius). It's way more pretty than suburban America, there's way more variety in building styles and so forth. Then we were tired so we went back to our house and slept for half an hour.


With love,
Sam

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Vizag, September 2

Life’s been really good since last time I e-mailed. The most major development is that I’m getting a new companion – Elder Bartlett is becoming zone leader, which means that he’s responsible for all of us in Vizag, which means he’s shifting across the city to be companions with the other zone leader. His name is Elder Pritchett, everyone tells me he’s a good hardworking smart elder, he’s arriving on Friday from Bangalore, and that’s all I know about him. I will miss Elder Bartlett though, he and I are like the same person except he’s less openly emotional than me.

The rest of the trip in Hyderabad was good. We were going around this place called Charminar and looking around at a lot of really old cool Muslim architecture. Then Elder Bartlett and I went back to Secunderabad with this really cool auto driver – he is a manager at ICICI Bank and drives autos as a “time pass.” So he gave us a partial tour of Hyderabad for meter fare. And he got to test his English on Americans. So all three of us were happy.
The conference there was really good – it was on how to work with members and build trust. He was telling us how things were supposed to be, which they aren’t pretty much anywhere in India. Then he said something really interesting – if we take the things we learn say “well it doesn’t work this way here, Hmmpf,” that was the exactly wrong thing to do – instead we should pick one thing to improve and work on it.

What else is new. One crazy situation is looking way better than we were afraid of, which made my whole week. Another one will probably change for the better or worse really soon, so we’re waiting on it.

Not much is new and exciting. Elder Bartlett and I got like a full week’s work done in three days last week, which was pretty cool. We met a shopkeeper at one of those corner cool drink/snack shops who, to pass the time, does flight booking on a desktop at the shop. It was pretty funny.


Love,
Sam

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Vizag, August 26

Life was way way crazy this week. Right now we’re in Hyderabad for a conference – every missionary in Andhra Pradesh is together now, which is like half the mission. So I get to see a bunch of people from Chennai that I haven’t seen for a while, which is nice. Also more important, I get to hear about all of the people we were teaching in Chennai and also about Elder Tuscano. I know a decent amount of elders now, which is nice but not really high on my list of priorities.

I heard some of the sweetest words I’ve heard in six months, on Saturday: “We were waiting for the right elders.” That was from a wonderful couple, named Jonas and Asha, from the branch, that we’ve taken with us for the last few Saturday nights to the best family we’re teaching.

The wife’s aunt and her two daughters have been coming to church for the last two years, but Jonas and Asha were waiting for elders they knew and really trusted to teach their family. So on Saturday they told us about their family, and on Monday we came with them and met them, and now we’re helping them to prepare for their baptism in about a month. It’s really cool.

My days are so full of events though – that happened Saturday evening, and by the time we got back to our apartment I had forgotten another notable event that had happened that day. We met a brother named Raju, whose family we were teaching, who loved us so much (reciprocally also), but who had gone out of station for the last month to Karnataka, who came back on leave for his job and who we met for half an hour. He was very touched to meet us and vice versa, especially when I gave him a letter I had written that morning. (With my love for him, a bit of my testimony, and some things to read, to give him some answers to deeply felt questions about why there is suffering in the world.) A couple of tears dripped down my face. When I got back that night it felt like two or three days had gone by because so much meaningful stuff had happened.

Elder Bartlett and I are doing so well together – we’re on the same page all the time, and we’ll complete each other’s sentences and thoughts when we’re teaching. I’m afraid he’ll get transferred somewhere else (we’ll know on Monday or Tuesday) but there’s not much I can do about it if that happens.

Another thing making us happy is continuing to see the fruits of our labor. The entire branch got reorganized yesterday (people got released from their current responsibilities and accepted different ones), and now two of our converts here are teaching the young men, one is teaching the children, and the two 13 year olds have moved out of being with the Primary children to being with the young men. (Which they are kind of sad about because they will miss all the drawing and colouring activities. Alas.)

Also I’m learning valuable parenting skills – Elder Bartlett and I have really been practicing this last month at expressing our heartfelt disappointment when the people we’re teaching don’t keep their commitments - fail to come to church when they said they would, or read the scriptures, and so on. Usually it works pretty well, especially when we show them that we love them, for example by customizing their scriptures we assign them and giving them personal application questions. Eg, our disappointment is most heartfelt and also most effective when we work hard at preparing something that will help them and they don’t do it. Though also we learned that the most important time to follow up with people is when they do what you asked, when they’re willing to try what you said out – then you have to congratulate and sincerely thank them. I could probably have told you what to do in abstract a month ago, but we’ve been doing pretty well at actually doing it which is awesome and really helping me be a more developed and effective in doing good.

Happily, in the branch I’m getting a reputation as an elder who really loves the people I’m teaching and who works hard, which is really good. I like that, and now I just need to make sure it continues to be true. Also everyone comments on my laugh, they really like it. It’s really funny to hear a 15yo girl tell you that she really loves the way you laugh.

Basically this is all a list of good things and so as you might expect, I’m really happy.

Terawaktha, with challa prema (means, later, with much love)

Sam

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vizag, August 19

Things are as always, moving. Right now we’re spending a lot of time on the streets finding new people to teach, as we’re stopping visiting a lot of the people we’re teaching now. The process is probably pretty similar to picking students to mentor – if they don’t make the effort to try out the things you suggest and look for a change in their lives, project, work, whatever, then you move on and find somebody else, even if they enjoy meeting with you. Anyway, so I’m a bit more tired than usual from walking around the streets all day but happy. We know our area like the back of our hand now.

Also, it’s pretty cool, I am getting to see the results of my effort in such a short time. Now the sister we taught who got baptized is teaching Primary children and one brother we taught who got baptized is teaching the young men and the other one we’re taking with us to help us teach. And the two 13 year old boys we taught who got baptized will be passing the sacrament soon.

It’s an interesting problem actually – once we’re in the same place for a while and see the results of our effort, our next challenge is to avoid complacency and keep working hard.

That’s about it. Life is good. Terawakta, with challa prema,
Sam




This is Elder Bhagwat, Elder Tuscano (one of his companions in Chennai), and a young man they taught who was later baptized.

Vizag, August 12

The other elders woke up from the earthquake, apparently there was some shaking for like 30 seconds here in some parts of the city but nothing big. Elder Bartlett and I stayed sound asleep. Also our area is, at closest, six or eight miles away from the ocean.

(If it makes you feel any better, in the future, if there ever was a tsunami warning, and somehow we didn’t hear about it from other people in the mission organization, we’d hear about it from every other person we talked to on the street.)

Our apartment is a twenty or thirty minute commute away from the places we go to proselyte, so usually we only eat breakfast and a light dinner there, except for lunch on Sundays (because we don't go to restuarants), Monday (because we're in our apartment in the morning planning for the week, and Wednesday (preparation day, so mornings in the apartment again). Mostly we just eat biscuits at home, and occasionally grilled cheese or rice with daal or palak paneer (we cook the rice and buy the other stuff pre-cooked at the supermarket).

Actually the main problem this week wasn't tsunamis or earthquakes, it was biscuits -- I ate some bad ones. They weren't past their expiration date and we bought them at the supermarket, but I still spent a lot of Friday night throwing them up. So I slept in Saturday morning and then took a while getting back to sorts -- during which Elder Bartlett decided that he also wanted to have body pain and headaches. Kind of funny in retrospect, not too fun at the time, but still a good week. And now we're back to normal.

Some amusing incidents this week:
Boy (seeing us): Namaskaramu!
Me: I’m heard Namaskar, I’ve heard Namaskaram, but this is the first time I’ve heard Namaskaramu.
Elder Bartlett: Maybe his father was a cow.
Me: (quizzical look) (finally, gets it.) Laugh.
We just went up to Kailasgiri, a hill park overlooking the beach today, which was pretty fun.
This last week the main event was our two baptisms, which went well. Elder Bartlett performed one and the branch president performed the other one, so I stayed dry Sunday. The sister we were teaching who got baptized on July 12 is already teaching Primary children, which is pretty cool to see. It means the fruits of our labor are already bearing fruit.
Another funny incident revolving around statistics. We have a bunch of statistics like number of people we’re teaching at church, all of which are used because they predict baptisms. But sometimes they’re misleading:
Me: Uh-oh, we’re really going to have to work on getting “investigators [people we’re teaching] at church,” we’re losing both ones this week.
Elder Bartlett: Yeah, we’re baptizing them!
Last week was also really cool because our weekly missionary meeting was really really good, and we learned a lot of things. (How to follow up with people to get them to keep their commitments, and also giving them short scripture reading assignments where they can easily apply the things they learn, instead of long passages where they get confused.)
Then, in our studies every morning, we worked on applying the things we learned and trying them out. Already we can see a difference – the people we’re teaching love this new approach. It’s pretty cool to move from hearing the idea to brainstorming to implementation to seeing the results so quickly – especially when you can see the results in the smiles of the faces of people you’re teaching.
We’ll be going to Hyderabad briefly in a couple of weeks for conference, which should be pretty cool. I will miss everyone we’re teaching but it will be really cool to see some elders I haven’t seen for a while. When I got here I was way confused by all of the new faces but now I have a pretty good idea who is who, which is nice, I suppose. Really I don’t really care that much about knowing who is who, beyond the people who are in the same city as me at the moment, President and Sister Nichols, and a couple of close friends and people I really respect. But it’s along the line of ‘good to know your colleagues.’
One elder that was living in the same apartment as me, who finished his mission three months ago, is married already! It was pretty funny just because he was telling the whole apartment his thoughts, trying to decide whether to marry her or not, and then he left and I didn’t hear anything about him for three months, and then I saw his wedding invitation and now he’s married. Information flow here is pretty limited, which is fine, and it creates some amusing incidents like the above. My trainer (first companion) Elder Glade is coming back to Vizag tomorrow with his family, so I should get to see him on Sunday! I’m excited about that.

That's most of the things that are new and exciting from this side. So until next week-

Love,
Sam

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Vizag, August 5

We're having two baptisms this weke so we are way excited about that. ALso the people being baptized are way excited. A funny story follows.

One of them, a 19yo brother named Solomon, we met because his friend John introduced us. The previous elders found John Prasad and he was baptized the first week we were in Vizek. Well John got busy and he was there two or three times when we met Solomon but mostly we started developing a friendship and started bringing other branch members to introduce to Solomon and so on. Finally John went out of station for 10 days to his native place. Solomon's cell phone was stolen by a thief on the bus while he was sleeping, and we forgot to tell Solomon what was happening. Also John and Solomon used to stay in the same hostel but then they moved. Meanwhile Solomon is way excited about getting baptized, and everything. But he has no idea where his friend is. So I won't soon forget the plaintive tone in his voice at the end of one lesson when he asked, "Brother, where is my friend John?" Happily John came back and they had a happy reunion Monday night.

I told you a while ago about the two elders who came and stayed with us for a conference, who were telling us about how when they got there nothing was going on (previous elders had accomplished little to nothing) and how with energy enthusiasm and lots of crazy monster stickers they turned things around and also got people way excited.

We were way excited but it's like when anyone tells you their success story - you think "Well how much of that was chance, how much of that is reproducible, even if it is reproducible can *I* do it?"

But on Saturday we held an activity for the branch here we showed people how to teach lessons. Tons of times we will take 18 to 25 year olds with us (here, that's most of the branch) but they won't really know how to teach. It just reinforces the weird semi-priest-like status elders have in India, which isn't good in the first place. But a bunch of people came, and we did a demo and then gosh darn it, they sat down in the chair and we made them practice themselves. It was way good and people really liked it. We did the same thing earlier with a 25yo brother named Sreenu, who'd been with the elders tons of times before but never taught, he just testified (means, said, I know the things the elders said are true, because I've seen it in my life, etc.) And today morning he called us and said, I have vacation, can I come with you? And we had to tell him no, it's preparation day we don't have anything for you to do.


Love
Sam

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Vizag, July 30

My birthday came and went with very little occasion, which I didn’t really mind. The only occasion was that I had a bit of a fever, was moving around at about 70% speed, and was feeling lightheaded when I stood up. I thought I would be fine but then wasn’t so we went to the church and then I pulled out some chairs and slept for an hour.

Things are going really well here. Something I noticed last week that I failed to notice before. A lot of things don’t work here, for example people are supposed to go home teaching (every church member should be visited once monthly by another church member) but they don’t. (They do in the U.S., by and large.) Or in the U.S., fathers will almost always fulfil ecclesiastical duties like baptizing their own children when they turn 8, or give them blessings when they need it, instead of asking elders. And there are plenty of other examples.

It’s really easy to get frustrated when things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to. Especially when you know the way things are supposed to work. And especially when other people have committed to do what you know they need to. This applies to organizational stuff as well as people we’re teaching that commit to do stuff or other elders or (more difficult to admit) myself.

Anyway I’ve become a lot more calm and peaceful and able to handle problems when I change my view. More and more (means at least, say, 15 percent now as opposed to like 5 percent before, hah) I’m able to view this stuff not as problems to be fixed but as the result of people and organizations who know true principles but only apply them partially, not completely.

The problem is, people who don’t do things the way they need to be done, because the people are still learning, do still cause real problems that cause real harm to real people or damage things of real importance. I’m still trying to figure out how to emotionally balance kneejerk anger and frustration from that real harm and the patience that will let me help myself, other elders and church members around me, and those I teach.

Anyway, on Saturday we’re holding a training showing members how to teach in lessons, which should be good on that front, and is also the reason I’ve been thinking about that.

We’ve been so crazy busy, today and tomorrow we’re booked solid and we’re actually splitting up and going with members in the evening to cover all the people we need to teach. By now we can basically find our way around the area – like if we need to find an address we take a reasonable amount of time, if we go meet a family who hasn’t come to church in a while who has friends in the branch again, I’ll know who they are. It’s pretty cool. And I also speak/understand enough Telugu to figure out what’s going on a decent amount of the time (plus Elder Bartlett is teaching me about body language which I’m really bad at reading).


Love
Sam

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Vizag, July 22

Well, more of the usual is going around me at the moment, shouting and shooting and other sounds coming from the best and brightest of India’s youth wasting their time playing Counterstrike, a first-person shooter game.
This week has been pretty good. It calmed down a bit from last week since there isn’t anyone we’re preparing for baptism. Transfer calls came, but I’m staying in Vizek in my current area for the next six weeks and probably more than that.
I started and taped up my fifth planner today. Since I’m only going to have sixteen, this means I’m a quarter done and that was a bit weird. The time is really starting to fly, and I can’t believe I’m sitting in front of the computer again.

Funny moments from the last week: from a family we met.

Me: Hey so what are your hobbies Lemuel (a 16yo boy).
(silence)
Christobel (mother, extremely friendly and talkative): He keeps writing music
Lemuel to me and his mother: No, I’m *mixing* music. (as if the distinction was obvious to his mother). Hindi music is boring so I mix it with Western songs.

Right now I’m trying to learn how to be more obviously sad when people fail to do what they say they will. We’re supposed to be devastated when that happens, and I usually fall short of ‘devastated’ both internally and (especially) externally. (Or I get angry, annoyed, or frustrated, which isn’t the correct reaction; people should be doing this for themselves not for me) I know this will be really helpful later (especially as a parent), as well as essential for helping people improve now. Elder Bartlett is doing a pretty good job and he’s showing me.

We had a really interesting lesson on Saturday. Elder Glade (my first companion) taught me how to cut people off if they’re going on long, irrelevant rambles or side tangents – talk louder than them, don’t stop, and do it kindly. Still I’ve never been very good at it and I tend to lose my patience (especially if their long rambling is preceded by not listening), which isn’t good. But we went in pretty convinced that the father of the family was going to spend the whole time going on about his favorite topic, and we were able to keep it under control and on topic, which was nice.

You’d be amazed to see my new planner. On the Notes/To Do section at the beginning of the week, I have about five different lists of people we need to teach, things we need to commit them to do, church members we want to take with us, how we’re going to help get people to church, people we need to contact. Elder Bartlett and I had a really amazing planning session on Monday where we went through what we had to do in a very methodical manner and didn’t get distracted or on to irrelevant side tangents at all. Then none of the four appointments we had that day went through. Such is life sometimes.

Right now, as usual, my life is revolving around all of these people, especially a few who we’re focusing on, and my happiness is tracking their ups and downs. Those people are: this 23yo Nepali guy named Amit who wants to get baptized in about a month but will have to overcome a chewing tobacco addiction first, another 13yo boy named Banu Prakash whose family is church members but there might be some legal problems for him getting baptized – long story, and a 19yo biology student named Solomon who knows the Bible like the back of his hand but (as far as we can tell) never really took to churches before. Now Solomon is coming to piano class and English class and getting to know all the 19 and 20yo church members who hang out in the church in their spare time.

For example: Tonight we’re taking Jerry, the 18yo girl who got baptized last week and is way way excited about everything we teach, to go be friends with a 20yo girl named Sravanti – we’re teaching her whole family and she wants to come to church but she’s afraid she won’t know anyone. Then we’ll take an older married couple (means 26yo and 24yo – that’s old in church here) over on Saturday, and then plop Sravanti between them in church. We planned this all out a couple weeks ago and slowly abstract goals like ‘get Sravanti fellowship’ are becoming names dates and concrete plans, which makes me really happy. The same thing is happening for most of the people we’re teaching, (though as usual it takes a little more time than you planned it to), so overall I’m really happy at the moment.
Sam

Vizag, July 15

This week was hectic and crazy but absolutely awesome. Mostly because it was so busy – we had two baptisms on Sunday, which means tons and tons of logistics and last-minute preparation. It was totally worth it though, we were so happy to watch it. I didn’t baptize anyone, which is actually better because you have a kind of bond with people you baptize. And I won’t be here forever so I prefer that someone else have that bond.
I did receive your package of shirts. Thanks! It was actually just in time! They did construction on the road last week and broke our pipe, so we’ve been dealing with some hassles and haven’t had any clean municipal water for a week and a half. Luckily that was all resolved yesterday, but in the meantime we only have well water which makes our white shirts dirtier than they started. So I haven’t had to wash any shirts because I’ve just been wearing the ones you sent. Also I found this great whitener stuff called Vanish. So I should be fine on shirts for the rest of the two years.
I was looking at the calendar, and realized I’ve been out for six months! Kind of crazy. But really, I feel comfortable out here. Whatever I want to accomplish, I only have three-quarters of the time I started with. That’s the moral of the story of life, I suppose.
Met this really interesting/weird guy named Mohammed. He’s been seven different religions in his life, starting with being a Hindu (Brahmnin caste), including a couple different kinds of Christian, and now obviously he’s Muslim. His 20 year old son was sitting in the room, making a Mickey Mouse wallpaper on the computer and ignoring us. I wondered what he thought about his father. Especially because he’s had to change his name a few times in the process.
On Monday we sat down and made detailed plans for everyone we’re teaching, who’s going to bring them to church, when we’re going to teach them, who we’re going to bring, and what baptismal dates we’ll invite them to be baptized on. So I have like six lists on that tiny piece of paper in my planner, and *gasp* I’m using it! It’s so helpful and the week is going so well. We’re busy all day every day.
A miracle happened a couple weeks ago, we met this awesome guy on the bus (perfect English, got a bachelor's in theology and went to do ministrry in Nepal), taught him from Jesus Christ's Earthly Ministry to Book of Mormon in 5 minutes on the bus, got off and I had written down his phone number wrong. I was devastated, my companion said all we can do is pray. I didn't even do that. **The next day**, we met him at his bus stop; we were traveling with an investigator to his in-laws' house, on the same bus, so we got to have another 30 minute conversation. We're teaching him and his wife and he's still awesome, he read the Introduction to the Book of Mormon after finishing 3 Nephi 11.

People are just opening their doors to us left and right it's ridiculous. We don't have any time to go finding after getting 7, 15, 16, 7 new investigators sequentially by week and still we're getting more. We're still trying to pick up old people the previous elders taught two or three months back, because of that we'll probably get 10 or 12 new investigators.

We've been here only a month, and we started with days that were almost all finding and now we're booked all day every day. We only have one person with a baptismal date right now but we have plans to invite about 10 or 15 people soon, so we should be picking up more. The branch president jokingly complained to us on Sunday, "What? Why aren't you having any baptisms next week?" to which my response was "Because we'll be having two the week after that!" (One from the other companionship)
Hope you're well; I certainly am.
Sam

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Vizag, July 8

Things have been so busy over here. We've been having five appointments every day, and we're hardly going to have time to teach all the people we're teaching now. On Monday, when we were planning we made a list of six groups of people who we should focus on, and then wrote plans for the other fifteen groups we're also actively teaching. Plus quite a few others too. Some of them we meet multiple times a week. It's really amazing how much I can organize and keep in my mind when I plan it all out.

It's amazing how young some girls get married here - we visited a couple of families where the wife was married at 15; the 27yo guy I mentioned last week's mother is 40; and a couple other cases also. Elder Bartlett and I were talking about that and we realized that many times there isn't the same concept of adolescence here -- or at least, it exists mostly in the more educated, wealthy class of society. (Also, we don't really talk to anyone else -- we can't, because they don't speak English). So we figured there were both upsides (in my honest opinion having a class of teenagers that don't add any value to society is not good for society) and downsides to that.

Our companionship went on exchange with the companionship that is 'in charge' of all of us in Vizek, called the zone leaders. That meant I got to spend some time with Elder Prasad, who is from Bangalore. We played some chess when we got back to the apartment (I won) and went around together for the day. It was really cool, he's got a really funny style of doing things. (Like when your typical devil-may-care 20yo guy told him that he didn't really care what his purpose in life was or what happened after death, he just kept being like, 'You can live a hundred years?')

Otherwise things are going really well. We have two baptisms on Sunday, the 17yo girl, named Jerry, and a 12yo boy John who's been coming to church for a couple of years. (His parents and family go to a different church but started sending him here because they liked the children's program.) Both of them are really awesome - Jerry is really sharp and John has a way good understanding for his age.

I'm really liking being here in Vizag -- the church community is very close-knit and there are always people hanging out at the church for programs (English, choir, piano, games, young adult classes) or simply hanging out and playing caroms and socializing. As I learn who's who I really feel like I'm grafted into a community, rather than forging relationships with a jumbled together group of individuals.

There are a ton of way cool people that we met -- a way humble guy who got a degree in theology and was an evangelist in Nepal for a few years until he got typhoid fever, and now works as a public relations officer for a charity. John Prasad's friend who is doing his undergraduate in biotech, John's parents who love us so much but can't communicate with us, this cool 8-member family who told us at least three times in very definite terms that they'd come to church at 1:30 (it starts at 2pm; they didn't come), a 40yo accountant for a construction firm with a family, he's a quiet guy but really loves us.

We had testimony meeting last Sunday and that was mostly in Telugu. Still pretty good though even if I didn't know what was going on. It was also a pretty interesting exercise in group dynamics, a lot of people who spoke in Telugu could speak in English but (like most people in India who speak English) are a bit insecure about their English and so when the people before them speak in Telugu they talk in Telugu also.

Anyway that's about it, I am happy and busy and ready for the next week!

Love,
Sam

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Vizag, June 30

I am doing very well. People here are so curious. Basically every male under the age of 16 wants to know where we are from and what we are doing which is pretty funny. (This is less true in Chennai, there are tons of Koreans there and also a decent amount of white people.)
The last couple of days have been pretty neat – we had a conference, and elders came from other parts of Andhra. Two of them stayed in my apartment – Elder Talk, a really cool but quiet Navajo kid who goes to Harvard, and Elder Schellenberg, a brash loud funny hard-working kid from Utah. Then we got to be with them and take them around the area, so I got to meet and learn from someone new, which was really good for me. I always like that. Elder Bartlett and I are becoming a lot more unified and on the same page in everything we do, which is good. (Imagine myself and a clone.) We are visiting and teaching a 12 year old kid who has been coming to church for a couple years, and it’s really fun both teaching him (and learning how to) as well as being in his house and meeting all the neighbours. Other than that we are teaching mainly a very excited 17yo girl who’s been coming to church for a while, and a 28yo guy who was baptized a couple weeks ago, plus a ton of new people (we found 14 new people last week that we are meeting, some of them are really cool, I’ll tell you about them next week.)
Also I had to give a presentation in our weekly meeting about teaching simply, which was interesting. I did a practice where we had to teach using only six-or-less word sentences. I’m decent with doing that but I could stand to improve. Really my brain is slowly starting to produce more understandable output for my mouth, which is nice.
I’m also learning to be better at communicating with others in different locales – in the last two weeks I wrote three letters to families in Chennai. A past version of myself would have simply forgotten about them.
I’m not sure exactly what the temperatures are, with Google Weather you have a better objective idea of them than myself. Elder Bartlett and I are doing well though, we have turned down the AC under the theory that we’ll sweat less if we get used to the heat more and it seems to be working. (Though the current cut today for a couple hours, which happens two or three times a week while we’re at home.)
That’s about all new and exciting on the week. Teravaktha!
Sam

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vizag, June 23

Another week in Vizag, and things are starting to settle down.
This wonderful brother named John Prasad that we inherited from the previous missionaries got baptized this Sunday. That was pretty exciting, it was the climax of our week. Right now we’re helping a lot of people dealing with adversity; we seem to be teaching the same lesson over and over again. I’m not that good at being a friend to someone in need. That’s because, I realized, my style of advice is to calmly reason from first principles, instead of giving the direct advice first and the reasoning later, which is what they need. I really feel like I’m growing in empathy though, as well as in ability to give aid. Also – and most importantly – the people we’re teaching are starting to get a handle on their problems.
I don’t have a lot more to say so I’ll include some Telugu phrases I’ve picked up:
Samaselu = problem
Laydu = not there
Chappendee = tell me (command, respectful)
Puchondee = sit down (command, respectful)
Ninchondee = stand up (command, respectfully)
Teravaktha = after/next time
Munchi = good
Challa = Many/very/much
Santosh = Happiness
Pramadamu = Dangerous
For example, the 1.5yo niece of one brother Kiran is challa pramadamu and leaving a home I will point to myself and say challa santoshm, teravaktha. All the aunties love you so much and laugh so much when you talk in Telugu.
Until next week!
Sam

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Vizag, June 17

I'm in my new locale at the moment, with my new companion, Elder Bartlett, who basically is a carbon copy of myself except that he's more organized. He was assigned to the office to manage records (this is a big job -- for example, every week the office receives 11 baptismal records) and in his down time wrote a 15-page manual for future office elders. He's a few months younger than me but is almost done with college, due to being homeschooled and then starting at Utah State at 15. And if you thought I was skinny – he’s 5’8” and 110 lbs. We're getting along great.

Vizag is a pretty neat city. I was in the heart of Chennai, and this is a lot more spread out. Often, you can only see 4 or 5 people when walking on a residential street, instead of 40 or 50. We live about 15 minutes by bus to the edge of our area and 30 minutes to the church, which is in the center of the places we go around. Tons of people here speak English, which is good. We only have a vague idea of directions at the moment, because we’re both new to the area, but that hasn’t been a problem so far.

The other interesting thing is that my old native companion, Elder Siyyadri, finished his two years and went home to the branch I’m serving in now. So now I see him once or twice a week, which is unheard of for old companions.

With love,
Sam

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chennai, June 10

This week has been a bit crazy. I learned on Saturday night that I would be leaving Chennai and moving to Vishakaputnam (sp?) on Friday. I haven’t packed yet, but we’ve been running around seeing people for the last time.
I’m really going to miss my companion Elder Tuscano. We hit it off when we met at the airport and we’ve really become good friends. And no, you don’t automatically become friends when you spend twenty-four hours a day together; this hasn’t happened to me, but rumor has it that this can be pretty frustrating sometimes :--) Lately I’ve been learning a lot from him about how to interact with people. One big lesson is about how to be, in his terms, ‘chill’ and ‘real’. Elder Tuscano really (and obviously cares about people – he always tries to figure them out. What makes this person tick? The way he puts it is ‘I’m afraid of silence’, but he’s always asking them about themselves and trying to understand them better. He knows how to start conversations. With me, I’ll just let things slip into silence because I don’t know what to say. He’s really taught me a lot about being more interactive, and really it just makes life a lot more fun. It makes every day into an adventure, like, who are we going to meet today? What weird stories are we going to hear? What cool people are we going to meet?
(The coolest story this last week comes from Jeremiah, who Elder Tuscano baptized on Sunday. Apparently, in his home village in Assam, they would hunt zebras with homemade guns, and then it took 8 men to carry the zebra back to the village. Also he’s eaten lion.)
Anyway, because of that aspect of his personality, I’ve had a ton of fun with Elder Tuscano. Hopefully I’ll be able to carry the things I learned with me. I really hope so. My next companion is named Elder Bartlett. I think his father is doing a Ph.D. in business at Stanford, but I might be mistaking him for someone else. He has been in the mission office in Bangalore for about as long as I’ve been in Chennai. Apparently he was born with a computer in his hand. We’ll be doing what’s called a whitewash – when both missionaries serving in an area leave and two new missionaries come into the area. So we’ll definitely get lost a lot and stuff, it should be interesting. I just hope we don’t lose anyone.
We have a lunch appointment to run to, but next week I’ll be sure to tell you what VIzek is like.
Love,
Sam

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Chennai, June 3

This week has been pretty crazy.

Elder Tuscano and I learned an interesting lesson that Baba has probably learned with his students. That, unless the people we teach take time to do the activities we ask them to, they will never learn, understand or internalize anything we say. Eg, we're wasting our time.

Sunday was the most crazy day - we were so busy visiting people that we didn't eat anything between breakfast and 8pm, at our last appointment of the day (who fed us). And we were traveling around with or in our suits the whole day after church. It was definitely worth it though.

This week we've been visiting a lot of people with big problems. There's one guy with substance and alcohol addictions who we were visiting, who we thought had interest to change, but doesn't really, so that was pretty sad. (We were inside talking to his wife and he was outside playing caroms.) Other people with substance problems. One church member who was basically doing for his father what the nurses did for Ajee - his father just died though, so we'll probably go over there later today. A couple of fathers who have returned from abroad to their wives and children who can't find a job and don't know what to do. Trying to help them help themselves, when the problems are way over our heads, is a real learning experience.

Probably the best line I heard was from one of the other elders about someone they are visiting. This guy is very large but quiet, really smart and fairly nerdy, we played Hangman on the train to Bangalore: "We need to give him a very firm commitment to take his medication all of the time we come instead of just some of the time. 'I promise you that as you seek psychiatric care...' "

Also a really interesting experience has been, every week, setting goals. Now I'm not much of a goal-setter, but I've really started to come around. Recently Elder Tuscano and I have started setting performance goals for the week that make us stretch - and then basically achieving them! It's something that hasn't really happened up to now (or when it has, I haven't really felt a part of it that much). But it's really cool and exciting.

Sam

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chennai, May 27

Life has been well for the last week over here. Things have been going very well. We were able to get a lot of things done, meet a lot of new families as well as a bunch of bachelors from Kerala living together. It's always amazing getting to know new people, their lives and challenges. The guys from Kerala are really interesting, they couldn't find work in their native place so they came to Chennai and found a job working in this cell phone company mostly dealing with prank callers. They spend their time watching the one English channel they get as they don't speak Tamil. It's an odd combination of youthful fun, resignedness at having to work, missing their families, and general lack of purpose. Also with another guy of the same age, who we feel like finally understands his general hunger for happiness and/or trusts us enough to share with us. All of them look to America (to move there or recreate it), and they're never sure for what -- they miss something, and they blame it on India and her problems.

The families we met are another story -- I'm sure we'll find out about them more in time. We get to know people our age quickly. Families' struggles and problems and hopes and fears, you are only able to observe them (or they share them) slowly, unless they are really obvious like substance addiction. Or like another young family that we'll be trying to help recently, who have a basketful of problems like that.

I have to get to know people really quickly, so I'm really learning to ask questions and actually listen and observe instead of think about what I'm going to say next. Various elders have different styles of doing this, and developing my own is a learning process. It's kind of hard to describe, I try to let them talk and tell me about themselves first. Elder Tuscano is more of an outgoing guy so he chats more than I do in doing that.

One or two stories.

Yesterday we were in the house of a brother (all males here are referred to as brothers; females as sisters) named Prakash. Prakash is a drunkard who probably beats his wife and (while drunk) was telling us how he was contemplating suicide. We were thinking of just leaving, because he was obviously drunk, when he started talking. All the sudden my companion starts reasoning with him. It was crazy, I was playing "Tough Love With Drunk Guy" -- and learning how to do that -- and my companion just starts reasoning with this guy about his 1.5 year old son. He gets this guy to say that he needs to set a better example for his son. We get him to realize he needs the tools to end his fighting with his wife, we tell him we've got them and will come back on Sunday to teach him. So we'll go back and tell him about how faith, repentance, and baptism can make him a new man and change him. We walk out and look at each other. My companion says he has no idea why he did that, the Spirit just helped him remember something we both read. I resolve to be more attuned to listening to the Spirit, waiting for it, something I've already learned a lot.
Another story that is really the same story repeated four times, that will probably repeat itself a few more times in the next two years. We meet a guy in his early 20's, who speaks good English so is working in a pretty good job, who finds some satisfaction in life but doesn't really know why he is alive.

LDS have a deep belief that living morally and faithfully on earth is not simply an emulative process of praising God but actually part of a slow, gradual process of deification, really becoming like God or Jesus Christ. So we tell them that.

Before, they don't really know who God is, even though some (2/4) have been raised Christian, they just see God as some force driving them on, supporting them, some mysterious life force (which is basically just Hinduism). They recognize the everyday importance of learning and growing, and the existence of challenges and struggles -- so we explain the deep, eternal significance thereof. How the actual sufferings of a human being -- Jesus, the Christ -- can lift the barriers from their life and help them in this path, if they choose to accept the help. And then I open my heart further, letting them change my own life more. A concrete example: as you know, for twenty years of my life I have been comfortable with high levels of absentmindedness and low levels of awareness. Slowly, that is beginning to change.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Chennai, May 6

Life over here is pretty well. I am so so so excited to be with Elder Tuscano.
Elder Glade was a great trainer and I learned a lot from Elder Siyyadri but
Elder Tuscano and I are really on the same page and get along so well. Work
hard, walk fast, prepare and plan hard, love the people and never, ever, ever
stop thinking about them, trying to help them, and trying to be a better
servant.

A lot of things are going on as usual, but hard to distill it to an e-mail. We
met this wonderful 20yo guy named Joshua who we had two great lessons with, but
who is now going to his native place for two years to study and be with his sick
grandmother. That's probably what's best for him and her, but as I said
to Elder Tuscano walking away from the house, "And sometimes life
sucks." One big thing I'm learning is patience and humility - right now
most of the people we're teaching are progressing, but slowly, so I have to
learn to love them and not get frustrated; we'll go and bring a brother from
church over for a lesson, and all of our time will be taken up in chatting,
which is good but not what we planned, so I must have the humility to
emotionally accept a good result than wasn't because of *my* plan.



Sam

Chennai, April 30

Mmm, what’s new and exciting. Each Wednesday seems to come so soon. Our lives
are lived in six-week intervals called transfers; each missionary planner is six
weeks long. I just finished my second one, which means I’ve been in Chennai
twelve weeks. Amazing.

It’s really amazing how much you learn in that time period. The constant
battle is to keep trying to improve, to avoid slipping into complacency. I could
teach most of the lessons in my sleep, but they wouldn’t be very exciting.
Right now I’m focusing essentially on my social skills, to show that I
genuinely care about the people we’re teaching. Elder Siyyadri is teaching me
a lot about this, which is very helpful. One of the members – a native,
long-time church member who served a mission 20 years ago – called it
‘working smart, not working hard.’ (Because building greater friendship and
trust with the people you’re already teaching is a lot easier and more
time-effective that walking the streets and finding twice as many people to
teach.)

We had a family come to church this last week that really loves us and the
church services and our message (and dislikes their church). Their only problem
is that when they came to our church their pastor called them and asked why they
weren’t at church. All they need now is to find out for themselves that our
message is true – otherwise, joining is just church-hopping. They have the
desire so they will probably continue to progress quickly. We are going to bring
the husband of our recently-baptized family over to their house tomorrow, it
will be the first time we’ve brought him with us which is exciting.

The main problem is that people are far more likely to give commitments in
India (or generally to LDS missionaries?) than keep them. From what we
understand, this is a combination of having just met us, Indian culture of
don’t-offend-guests-in-your-house, and that we are asking them to do new
things – coming to (a different) church, reading a new book, praying in a
possibly different manner. We planned for everyone who told us they would come
– four families, two bachelors, and maybe two others. Of those people, one
family and one bachelor came to church. Apparently you get used to this but I
still find it rather frustrating. I suppose I will just have to work on making
stronger commitments.

The heat notwithstanding, we’re all pretty happy because in Chennai we had 14
baptisms this month, which is about as many as we had the whole beginning of the
year. Basically there’s a sequence of events which usually happen in a
particular order, for them to get baptized – first, you find them, then you
get a return appointment (which means they get counted as a ‘New
Investigator’) then you teach them, hopefully when bringing members along with
you (which counts as ‘Member Present Lessons’), then they come to church and
get counted as ‘At Sacrament Meeting’, keep other commandments and get
counted as a ‘Progressing Investigator’, and sooner or later you invite them
to be baptized on a certain date (if it’s better, with the caveat that once
they know our message is true), and they get counted as ‘With a Date,’ and
then they get baptized.

During each stage in this sequence of events some people will lose interest
and fall out of the sieve, or they will gradually become converted and
eventually get baptized (with some odd exceptions). Our current situation right
now is that we baptized Michael and his family, another of our main families
lost interest, and we’re working on moving the ton of people we have through
the funnel, while using our little spare time to find more people and go visit
less-active families and recent converts.

One thing I'm trying to figure out now is whether people have a 'time-clock' on them,
ie whether if they don't really gain interest by a certain time they will start to give up and lose interest. I think so, but it depends a lot on the person - for example, one of our investigators wasn't keeping any of his commitments like reading the Book of Mormon but recognized that he needed to repent so it wasn't a problem. Other people didn't keep their commitments, but after a couple of visits decided (or seemed to - sometimes we couldn't tell) that they had nothing new to learn from us. The relevant problem that I'm worried about is this: if you can't get them to keep commitments initially, will they as a result not be getting real spiritual nourishment and so give up quickly? (And so you don't get a second chance to get them to keep commitments?)


Sam

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chennai, April 22

Well, I’m still here, alive, well, etc. It’s always hard condensing weeks
filled with alternate joy, frustration, rejection, new opportunities, and such
into a few words summary, but ‘all right’ is pretty descriptive. Someone
once said that this work is like having ten children. On any given week five are
being good children – doing all their homework, studying, staying out of
trouble – and five aren’t. But normally if you have children, it’s pretty
consistent who the good ones are. Not so here, it always keeps switching up.
Some of the people we’re teaching are busy or out of station, a couple that
used to be pretty good are becoming less interested, and a couple that we
didn’t think were too interested are warming up.

The family that Elder Glade and I baptized is still doing awesome, we brought
over a senior American couple that is in Chennai helping all of us out, and the
lesson went wonderfully. Probably the best lesson I’ve ever been a part of.
They are going to start holding family home evenings, having one night a week
where they all do some activity or game together, switch off their cellphones
for the night, etc. That makes everything else worth it. We are meeting them
again on Friday and bringing over a sister from the branch named Zeetha that is
Hemalatha’s visiting teacher; once a month, Zeetha and a companion will visit
Hemalatha and make sure she’s doing all right and share a message.

Yesterday I went on exchange with a really cool elder named Elder Singh, also a
half-Indian convert who grew up in Reno. He was a lot of fun to spend the day
with and I learned a lot. Normally he’s companions with Elder Diamond, who was
my companion in the MTC. We door-knocked into this drunk Christian guy, who’s
been drinking since he lost his job as a driver five months ago. By coincidence or
miracle, Elder Singh was visiting a less-active American church member two days
ago, and asked if he needed anything, and the American guy said, not unless you
know any drivers. So we let them know about each other and hopefully something
will work out. Before we left he said he saw Christ through us. We’re going to
keep teaching the guy about quitting drinking – he wants to, and needs to,
especially for his wife and daughter’s sake – and otherwise helping him.
We’re glad to help him find a job and quit drinking and we’d love to teach
him but we just need to be careful of ‘converting' here, so we’ll be cautious on the teaching part.

Don’t know what else is new and exciting. We’re trying to get people to
keep their commitments this week, we’re teaching tons of people but only one
came to church (though we had several promises). Basically we are going to
emphasize that they need to make more effort to learn for themselves if our
message is true, also get church members to sit with them and/or bring them.
Simply put, it’s hard to get people to do things, but I’m really learning
how. This is like learning chess – I’m building pattern recognition. When
I’m playing chess I don’t need to consciously count points anymore, that’s
intuitive. Similarly, a lot of situations now I’ll know basically what to do
– teach, commit them, ask questions, or whatever – and can focus more on the
details. Of course, there are still a lot times where I’m out of my league –
like with the drunk guy, I asked questions, but Elder Singh was like ‘You know
you need to quit. You know it’s the right thing to do’ and that was way more
effective than asking questions.

I don't really mind the heat. You just get used to it. And laugh at how
sweaty you are. And drink lots of water (and buttermilk, which my native
companion introduced me to).

love,
Sam