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.