Sunday, August 22, 2010

Coimbatore, August 10

Dear mother,
Life is happy here. My main non-missionary-related accomplishment of the last week is learning Tamil, I can read about 50% of Tamil now. (I can read the writing though I don't know the meaning)

One of the other elders got transferred in the morning on Friday and his companion didn't get in until the evening, so we went around all day in a triple, the other two elders talked to each other and I happily read all the dual Tamil/English signs and started figuring everything out. It's pretty easy because for example, you might have "Sri Venkateshwara Bakery," there are tons of "Sri" signs around so I figured out what S, r, and "ee" were very quickly. Then "Venkateswara" is a name so it's the same in Tamil, and "Bakery" is "Bakery" in Tamil, so the whole thing is just transliterated.
One strange thing about Tamil is they have this weird C-like character except it has curls on the end parts. If they want to make and "O" sound like "Show" you add that C character before and an "aa" character (which looks like the pi symbol) afterwards. So the words all are really long to write out. Hindi and Telugu scripts are much more compact.
President and Sister Funk were in town this week for a church conference. Most of the church in India is at least nominally in English, but there are two Tamil-speaking branches in villages near Coimbatore also, and all the members came on Sunday for the conference. And a bunch of members came on a bus from Erode also, which is another nearby city but more village-like. It was interesting to watch the demographic completely change from what we usually see on Sunday.
President Nichols would often express love for the Indian people, and we could always tell his sincerity by the specific compliments he used. President Funk expresses love also, in a different way, but we could tell by his mannerism and his genuine interest that he meant it.
There is always a deep love between the church members here and the mission president. To start with, they recognize that he and his wife are making a large sacrifice of time and money and energy in serving. Both President Nichols and Funk exude care and concern in their mannerism, and members looking for someone to love and look up to find a perfect model in the mission president.
The LDS Church is young here – most members weren’t born as members. Even if their immediate family also joined the church, their extended family didn’t. And you know how strong the tie of communal identity is in India. For example, I’ve heard people refer to themselves as belonging to the “Roman Catholic caste.” And that’s within Christianity; for the Hindu converts the perceived change in communal identity is even greater.
The results, from personal experience. My convert families Michael and Hemalatha family didn’t tell his family he joined a different church, and my (Hindu-background) converts Raju and Saraswathi family in Vizag didn’t tell their relations (who live in Hyderabad and Mumbai) that they were baptized.
So basically, while church members by and large love the church and seek to identify themselves with it they are also rooted by family and associations in other traditions pulling them in different ways. And even in church, in addition to normal forces of disunity like pride and gossip, people that come from different religious backgrounds and seeking to mold a new identity, results in somewhat of a tug-of-war at times.
As President and Sister Funk come and visit and preside -- and to a lesser degree the senior couples that come also, and again to a lesser degree us as elders -- people find a sense of civic pride and unity, something to rally around. The love and concern they express is readily absorbed and radiated back at them. And they indeed do provide a focal point both of affection and of the directions needed to minimize contention and create a safe and happy family at church, where the people’s desires (for belonging, truth, unity, direction to guide their lives, uplifting friendship) can be fulfilled.
This week was the first time they’ve come to Coimbatore, so it was the beginning of this molding process of affection for the Funks, in this city.
Anyway, hope that was a clear illustration, so with love,

Coimbatore, July 28

Elder Riley and I are getting along well. Like my last American companion Elder Gervais we are very little alike (he was an Idahoan skateboarding and snowboarding semi-punk high schooler before his mission) but it doesn't really matter too much. We've been spending a lot of time laying in our beds at night just talking and telling stories about our lives so we know who each other are, which is the most important thing.

Elder Riley works hard also and understands what things are effective, especially which people we are going to be able to help and which ones we aren't. When we think seriously and honestly about it, we often realize that we aren't able to help someone, but they often are still happy to have us continue visiting. We are visiting far fewer people here than in Hyderabad but it seems we are able to plan for and concentrate on the people we are visiting.

Coimbatore is a pretty nice city, it's fairly developed with some Western shopping outlets (Reebok, etc) but we stay and roam in the more residential, less city-like portion. The sambar is really good here but the vegetable fries aren't any good; in Andhra the opposite is true. So when we get meals (=thali), we just have rice and sambar instead of rice and vegetable fry.

That's about all, life is good, I'm happy, so
with love,