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