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).


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chennai, April 15

Well another week is gone. Life is pretty well, nothing nearly as new or
exciting to report as last week. We had a conference with everyone in Chennai
(President Nichols came) and then there was General Conference, which is a
churchwide conference, video-d in from Salt Lake twice yearly for ten hours over
two days. Our schedules are getting pretty busy, honestly I’m not sure how
we’re going to have time to teach all the people we’re currently teaching.
Not much to complain about really 

Met a pretty interesting woman on Monday, her name is Salima*. Muslim background, as you can
probably guess, and 11 years ago she married her husband Jonathan, a love
marriage. She had to go to the police to ensure her safety, and she hasn’t
talked to them in 10 years. I knew she had a Muslim background but didn’t
think too deeply, Elder Siyyadri asked her. Her husband just got back from Dubai
and she’s so happy, we just went to check up uplift her (we read some
scriptures about family) and encourage her to come to church. She won’t come, we
think because of her Muslim background, it’s already un-kosher for women in
India to come with out their husbands, let alone a woman with Muslim traditions. Six
months ago during the last churchwide videoconference a pair of elders got her
to come by stopping by and hiring two autos (one for them and one for her and
her 8year-old daughter). I was pretty amused when I heard that.

Also met an interesting guy named Swaroop we’re teaching, he’s in real
estate and complains at length about how corrupt India is, but declares it’s
his country and he won’t go to America or let his children go (he’s had the

Also I’m learning how much of this work is just understanding people, getting
to know and genuinely care about them, and showing that. Part of that is making
inferences from what you know and what they tell you – like I knew the
love-marriage/Muslim background with Salima but I didn’t think too deeply. Or
another guy we’re teaching - 25year-old, only child, father expired, lives with mom
who works 60 hour weeks. We’ve seen him playing with the nearby children, but
the building he’s living in isn’t really one with his density. Of course –
he’s lonely! My companion realized this, I didn’t. Other families I’ve
been able to figure things out though, which is good. I’m getting better. One
of the things that inspires me is how genuinely empathetic President Nichols is
– he says it’s something he’s learned over time as he’s met tons and
tons of people (he was a bishop, then a stake president, with the role of
supervising 8 or so wards and their bishops, now this).

Not much else to report. With love,


*Editor's Note: Name has been changed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Chennai, April 8

So I have a new companion now, which is pretty cool. His name is Elder Siyyadri (actually Kishore Siyyadri, but..) and he is pretty cool. We are still learning to work and teach together but things are looking up. Probably the easiest way to compare them would be to pretend that this is some sort of role-playing game for nerds. This is what I’ve figured out so far:

Elder Glade:

Speed +20% (Long legs, 6’2”, and walks quickly)
Experience +50%
Understandability +30% (he was very good at explaining simply, in short
sentences, and slowly)
Food cost +30% (goes to eat at American places and nice hotels)
Rapport with investigators +30%
Getting people interested, exotic factor +100% (tall American white male in shirt & tie)
Punctuality +40% (very keen on being on time and prepared always even in the apartment)
Focus +40%
Personality: Quiet

Elder Siyyadri:
Speed -10% (Short legs and walks normal pace)
Experience +40%
Understandability +50% (also good at explaining simply, in short sentences, and slowly, plus he has an Indian accent)
Food cost – 20% (we ate veg biryani yesterday for lunch at a decent hotel for Rs. 23 each)
Rapport with investigators +50% (is Indian and understands Indian courses of study & etc)
Getting people interested, exotic factor +20% (normal height pudgy Indian male in shirt & tie)
Personality: quiet.

I attached photos of the baptism on Sunday. I baptized the two sons, Samuel (18) and Daniel (15) at their request. (Elder Glade baptized the parents, at theirs.) The photo includes two other baptisms that happened the same day.

Baptizing Samuel and Daniel was an honor and a privilege that invited a lot of self-reflection on my part. We are meeting them again tonight and will continue to meet them to make sure they are doing well.

Hmm…the baptism was pretty much the highlight of the week. Also we had ten investigators (people we are teaching) come to church, plus two less-active members that we are visiting and teaching. It was crazy! Normally we sit by them and help them feel comfortable but with ten of them and two of us this was rather difficult. Elder Glade told everyone it was his last week, which accounted for some of it. Also people that we had been inviting finally came. As far as we can tell all of them liked it though they have some questions.

We have zone conference tomorrow, which means seven companionships and two senior couples, plus President and Sister Nichols and another companionship that are their assistants, sit around a table and give talks and review how things are going. Probably this will be a combination of talking about principles, reviewing the numbers (statistics) and talking about names.

As for numbers – the goal that Elder Mckinley, the male in one of the senior couples, is “CHZ: 1 + 1 = 13,” which means try to baptize one person a month, plus an extra one sometime during the year. Talking about numbers can seem heartless, but it helps us see what we’re doing good at and where we’re having problems. For example, by examining statistics, Elder Glade found that the other district in Chennai (ie, all the elders assigned to the other church building) was finding tons of new people to teach, but for every 73 new people they taught they would only be baptising one person. Normal is 24, so this gave a good idea of the type of skills the elders needed to improve in.

And as for names, all of us are expected to know all of the investigators that are coming to church in our branch. That way, Elder Leckington and Naulu can take someone who lives in the area we cover, who was baptized 8 months ago, to go help teach someone with a similar personality. Or I can introduce him to a recently baptized man one of the other companionships are teaching, who needs friends. Or, we can just say hi to the people who need to feel welcome the most. It’s really interesting, it’s not that hard to do all the friendshipping I do in church. But I’ve never done it before in church or otherwise, I usually just go and sit with my friends, because it’s never been my ‘job.’ Hmm.

Funny story about Elder Leckington and Elder Naulu. No one in India can pronounce ‘Leckington,’ so he goes by ‘Lucky.’ And ‘Nalu’ means ‘4’ in Tamil. So all of the people they teach know them as Lucky-4.

Anyway, not much else to report. Life is well. All the best and love,


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Chennai, April 1

Life is going well. My muscles are hurting a bit now - Elder Naulu has started
all of us on a new exercise regimen. Yesterday we did the "Push-up
game" - the four of us get in a circle, each does one pushup, then each
does two, up to five and back down. And we did this twice. I don't think
I've done that many in my life before. Between that and walking 3 to 6 miles
a day I'm getting in really good shape. Elder Naulu's companion Elder
Leckington had a full ride to play basketball at Montana State before he left,
so he's lamenting the bad shape he is in even though he's in better
shape than all of us.

Otherwise things are going well. Elder Glade is going home on Sunday, and
I'm going to miss him. We've been really clicking together when teaching
recently. Pretty much every time we've taught the first time the people
we've met have been really excited and enthuastic and wanting to know for
themselves whether our message is true. Also Elder Glade keeps us focused and
punctual. I'm going to have to learn to remember the focus we had and make
sure I have that same focus with Elder Siyyadri (my next companion).

It's really hot, so we've been buying a two-liter of water every day
and splitting it, plus drinking a ton of water before we leave and for lunch.

People we are teaching are doing well. A family of four we're teaching is
getting baptized on Sunday so I am really excited. They seem totally ready.
Unfortunately, the man who promised to quit smoking didn't, but he's not
making any excuses and we still have high hopes. Mostly the problem right now is
getting appointments with people. We'd have pretty full days if we could get
weekly appointments with all of the people we're meeting regularly, but this
doesn't seem to be working so well. We're trying to figure out what
would help them make time for us/make them realize why they should meet more
regularly with us.

I think I mentioned, but we keep running into families with the cutest and
smartest kids. Yesterday we met this family with a girl in 4th standard who was
sooo intelligent and showed us her drawings which were really good. She drew a
visual puzzle that she showed to us and was telling us how she showed it to her
17 year old sister to see if she could figure it out but her sister got all frustrated
and told her to go back to her room (I couldn't figure it out either). Also
the family with deaf parents and the 8 year old boy I told you about earlier. Plus the
man who is trying to quit smoking, who has a really bright 15 year old daughter. Plus
another family we started teaching with a 10 year old boy named Kevin. Plus another
family with an 8 year old girl named Anna Maria. It's always kind of hard to gauge
the intelligence of parents, especially when their English isn't the best,
but just judging by their children we're teaching a lot of really sharp
people. Also when you have 8 year old and up smart children it's more fun teaching
to them - asking them all the questions, using scattered toys as a visual
example to illustrate points we're making, teaching at their level, and so
on. It's cute, their parents like it, the kids are always excited, and the
visit turns into more of a discussion.

Also the family with the 15 year old girl has interesting dynamics - she will be
around for most of the lessons, and it's clear that she feels she's sort
of getting the privilege to be part of adult discussions, what with her father
and his struggle to quit smoking, talking about what both of her parents are
searching for in life, and so on.

It's an interesting reflection on myself as well. We are all ordained
ministers of the gospel, and as such privy to people's deep hopes, desires,
fears, and secrets. Who are responsible for helping them find fulfillment,
peace, happiness, and find deep joy and happiness in doing so. And yet we're
still 19, 20, and 21 year old boys who trade ideas about exercise programs. Who
jokingly invent and exchange non sequitur "Yo' Mamma" lines after
lights out. Who occasionally still get frustrated, or curt, or prone to any of
the normal tendencies that cause friction between human beings. Or who at times
just don't feel like going out and walking around for four, six, eight hours
in the hot Chennai sun.


Chennai, March 25

I Am doing pretty well. My companion is going home soon, which makes me sad. He
was in Bangalore for a leaders meeting so I had a new companion for a couple
days. His name is Elder Hunn, he goes to Arizona State and did Academic
Decathlon in high school.

One of the families we’re visiting, we’re trying to help the father quit
smoking. He’s smoked for 20 years and is smoking two packs a day. He’s
planned to quit by April 1, but isn’t making any progress so far (we made a
plan last Thursday and are giving him daily encouragement/follow-up calls).
Tomorrow we will bring a brother that my companion baptized in August, who had
the same problem but was able to stop. I really hope that will help.

We met the family that is being baptized soon twice this week, which was good.
They are sitting together daily as a family, reading material and scriptures
that we gave them, and discussing it! Whenever people make that kind of effort
it warms my heart.

The whole last week we didn’t find any new people to teach and then we found
10 on Sunday. That was pretty funny. Sometimes things work out like that –
it’s up and down often. But a happy ending, this week at least. We had three
really spiritual lessons on Sunday, with was a couple of families and one
engaged couple that will be married in May.

(What makes great lessons are our quality of teaching, whether people who want
to find out for themselves. Ideally they will ask questions but are willing to
listen to our answer and don’t ramble on unrelated topics. Eg, tennis is more
exciting, interesting, and engaging than hitting a ball against the wall. Also
with some people we’ll teach great lessons, but they don’t have any desire
to know if what we are saying is true.)

I counted, and right now we’re regularly teaching about 40 English-speaking
people – mostly Christians – plus a few non-English-speaking family members.
That means most of our evenings will be busy this week.

I’ve been writing down principles I’ve learned in the last six weeks and so
far have about 40, not counting things like “There are some people in Chennai
wearing a lungee who speak English. Probably about 10 - in the whole city.”

The new elder, Elder Naulu, arrived in our apartment. He is half-Tongan and
seems pretty cool. We’ll get to know each other better.

Chennai, March 18

This is what I was writing last week instead of a real update. You put it in two columns in Word, cut it out, and paste it in Books of Mormon to give or lend out. When the Books of Mormon get here, we're going to try a new door approach with books with this pasted in them, to loan, in hand.

Elder Bhagwat

Dear Reader,
This book is a loan. God, our Father in Heaven, has sent it here to help us find our way back to him.
Reading this book has filled me with peace. I have continued to find happiness as I shape my life around what it says.
Begin by going to the question that you care about the most.
• Why are we here on earth? Go to page 295 to learn.
• Why do we need Jesus Christ? Go to page 225 to learn.
• Why is there evil and suffering? Go to page 57 to learn.
PS: Don’t we already have the word of God? Go to page 110 to learn.

2 Nephi 2, p. 57-58, verses 11, 12, 13.
Why is there evil? Why suffering? There must be. There must be an opposition. If there was no suffering, we would not understand joy. Imagine if we could not choose evil. Then we could not reject evil and choose good. Without these oppositions there would be no point in the world’s creation (13).

2 Nephi 2, p. 59, verses 19, 20, 22, 23,25, 27
Adam was the first man. He and his wife Eve chose this path. They chose to leave their state of innocence. They chose to be able to feel both joy and sorrow. Men and women exist now, so that they can have joy (25). They can have this joy, as they follow joy (27).
How can I find this happiness? Go to page 289.
Enos verses 1-10.
Pray to our Father in Heaven and he will hear.
We can be free of those bad feelings which we have. Of guilt. Of sin. We need to want it, and pray for it. We will begin to be freed.
Eternal life = live forever with God. Sin = wrong acts which we know are wrong. Remission = forgiveness, to be wiped clean.
What is next? I want this happiness. Go to page 526.

Alma 7 verses 11, 12, 13
Jesus Christ has suffered all things we suffer. He has felt all things we feel. So he knows perfectly how to help us.
How can I get this help? Go to page 136.
How can Jesus Christ help me on earth? Go to page 298.
How can Jesus Christ help me after I die? Go to page 459.

3 Nephi verses 14-20
We need the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Without it, we cannot be washed clean. We cannot return to God, our Father in Heaven. (Also see p. 72)
How can I get this help? Go to page 136.
How can Jesus Christ help me on earth? Go to page 298.

Alma 32, verses 27, 28, 41, 42.
Do you want this book to be from God? Do you want help from Him? That is a start. Desire to believe, that he can help you. Imagine faith, trust in God, as a seed. If the seed is good and you water it, it will grow (28). It will taste good. Eventually it will grow into a tree. The fruit will taste wonderful (42). That is like a life lived trusting God. Such a life will produce wonderful results over time.
How can I find this happiness? Go to page 526.
Alma 34, verses 31-33
We must do what we can in this life. We must prepare to meet God. We must not delay putting aside wrong habits. Even little things, we must try to put aside. To love God and our fellow man with all of our heart.
But this is hard. How can I start? Go to page 289.

Alma 36, verses 6, 12-21, 24-26
Alma did many wrong things. He felt so much guilt. He cried to God. He remembered this Atonement of Jesus Christ. This makes us at one with God, if we repent (see page 295). He received this help. He felt peace and happiness. His heart was changed.
But this is hard. How can I start? Go to page 289.
How can Jesus Christ help me after I die? Go to page 459.

Moroni 8, verses 25, 26,

We must repent. This means putting aside wrong habits. Even little things, we must try to put aside. To love GOd and our fellow man with all of our heart. We will want to be baptized. To make sacred promises to God. We will be given His Holy SPirit. Then we will be filled with hope and love. We must stay in this path for the rest of our lives. We will be happy.

How can I know this is true? How can I know I need to do this? Go to page 136 and 529.

Moroni 10, verses 4, 5
Pray to God. Ask him, is this book from you? Be sincere. Have real intent. That means, be determined to act on the answer you receive. By the power of His Holy Spirit, he will answer.