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