Sunday, October 24, 2010

Coimbatore, October 11

This week was pretty good.

This week was general conference, all the church leaders giving talks from Salt Lake. Actually it was last week, but since we're 12 hours ahead we got the DVDs and played them this week. It was really good, I felt rejuvenated.

One of the talks that I felt was meant for me was on the need to slow down and focus on the important things, especially when going through turbulent events, instead of just being busy for the sake of being busy. Obviously this is one of my known weaknesses but I felt like I received a lot of help in going from where I am to where I want to be.

One of the people we're teaching is named M., he's 18 and he and his sister N. live in an orphanage. An American sister named K.R. has been bringing them to church for a while. This was our seating arrangement.

me-M.-KR-N-N's friend

when a speaker with a thick Italian accent comes on.

M. has problems understanding some of the (American) speakers anyway, and often ask us what they are saying.

So when this speaker comes on M. first turns to the right and asks KR what he is saying. She can't tell, so he turns to the left and asks me instead. I also have no idea, at which point he starts laughing pretty hard, followed by the rest of us. The Americans can't understand the speaker, how is he supposed to? We laugh with him.

M. is pretty amazing actually. Visiting him was one of the highlights of this week.

He's been through a lot of stuff in his life but because of KR (she's his teacher) it seemed to work out for good instead of bad.

He said he used to never listen to anyone and always rebel but now he's different. I asked him "what changed?" and he proceeded to give a 40-minute explanation of his life story.

We had planned on teaching the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity, translation: no drinking, smoking, drugs, tea, or coffee, sex only within marriage, keep your thoughts pure and choose your life partner carefully.

However, as he was telling his life story, he was basically explaining how all of his different friends had ended up drinking all the time, or marrying crappy husbands who were drunk all the time and cheated on them. So we just had to listen carefully and point out the lessons, which he already realized in the first place.

And then, since this is India, he has two sisters and has to worry about their marriage, so we pointed out that finding good life partners would be far, far easier that way.

The heartless analytical economist in me has a hypothesis.

(1) Actions, especially the type of actions mentioned above, innately have consequences.

(2) Sometimes we as humans can be shielded from consequences by protective factors. These protective factors include
(a) Human action-consquence limitations, ie parents, mentors, and roommates. They make curfews, wait up, pick us up at the police station, ground us, sit with us when we're vomiting into the toilet, etc etc.
(b) Non-human action-consquence limitations, for example access to birth control and abortion
(c) Action-guiders, ie parents, friends, mentors and culture to convince us to avoid patterns of destructive behavior, develop good judgment in the opposite sex, etc.

(3) When protective factors are present behavior can go on for a longer time without serious negative consequences, ie unwanted pregnancy, job loss, addiction, etc etc. Sometimes that can enable people to change course before serious problems result.

(4) Very few to absolutely none of these protective factors are present in an Indian orphanage.

That makes me extremely grateful for KR; she helped M. find the right path. I'm sure his decisions will bless future generations. He has one of the strongest desires to do right of anyone I've met on my mission. Probably because of the stuff he's seen.



Reflections to a Friend Leaving on a Mission

I love my mission.

I am so grateful for the decision I made to serve a mission.

The reasons I am so grateful to serve a mission now, have only casual relevance to the reasons I, your friendly Stanford skeptical intellectual Mormon convert, decided to go on a mission. I see ourselves as very similar, so I hope this helps.

These are the reasons I am grateful now.

I learned how to love, serve, and get along with companions and investigators that were far, far different than me. Because I learned this, I was able to help people I would otherwise be unable to help. I was also far happier.

I learned the power of faith. Starting with, I realized the importance of my faith in choosing to serve, not understanding really what was in front of me.

Every baptism that I've had, or every person I've found that has been baptized, was a miracle. Not in the casual sense, but really, honestly, each one was a miracle. That means I've seen a lot of miracles in 22 months. My faith has grown a lot and I see a vision for my future life.

I now understand what my Heavenly Father wants from me. I understand what the gospel is and how it applies to me. I didn't fully understand this before.

I've felt my Heavenly Father work countless times through me. I've also felt countless disappointments, letdowns, frustration at companions, investigators, etc etc.

Minute mission rules (or culture) might frustrate at times. This is for two main reasons. First, you will be asked to obey things you don't understand. Second, we are both generally self-motivated and do things our own way; in contrast, a mission is very regimented. Other missionaries are not always as self-motivated, they might need the regimentation more, but you might need it too. Rigid schedules -- scheduled exercise, planning and study times -- helped me in some surprising ways to discipline myself.

Finally, whatever your course in navigating and obeying the rules, don't be frustrated at them. The rules are made for the right reasons; frustration wastes time, energy and the Spirit.

Doing the Lord's work is so, so worth it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Coimbatore, October 3

We got 'grounded' for a couple days this week because the Ayodhya mosque decision finally came back. Nothing happened in Coimbatore but we were a bit worried so stayed inside.

As a result, on Thursday I had the chance to make chicken curry and chapattis to feed 6, it tasted reasonably well but took like two and a half hours. Probably because it was my first time (I normally don't have time to try). Luckily, I've seen my native companions prepare enough, and tasted enough dishes, to figure out what tastes right.

Also on Saturday it was Gandhi-jayanti, which is a national holiday so there was an activity at church. It started with lunch potluck, but only men were allowed to cook. (The branch wanted to give the sisters the day off, so they were officially not allowed inside their respective kitchens).

Yes, the food tasted good, and there was enough, though I heard in a couple houses the wives had to sit outside the kitchen and give their husbands detailed instructions. I made egg salad sandwiches which had two perks. One, no one had ever tasted it before and two, all I needed were eggs, mayonnaise, bread, and salt.

The main highlight of this week was a wonderful family we're teaching. The father and the mother are named R. and S., they have a 19yo daughter named R. and a 23yo son named P. The daughter is studying aeronautical engineering and the son is doing his MBA. The other elders had been teaching them but they got transferred, so I met them first in about the beginning of August.

Their native place is near the south end of India, a city called Valparrai about 3 hours from here. Studies are better in Coimbatore so after R. finished her 10th they sent their children here for studies and then moved here with them. (How many people would do that in America?)

They have obligatons in Valparrai; S. is a councillor in Valparrai -- it's a politician job, elected office, but not very work-intensive. R. owns some sort of a gas distribution center. Both of their duties seem to go on fine with occasional visits. (Usually one of them will go to Valparrai for half of the week.)

Elders have been meeting them for about eight months. They love us coming, they have great understanding and whenever we give them a scripture reading assignment they do it eagerly.

Since I met them we've been having a lot of spiritual lessons; they had been contemplating moving back to Valparrai in a couple of years, where they have their own house. To continue learning and growing in the church, however, they would have to stay in Coimbatore, and we talked to them strongly about that several weeks ago, and then left it -- they understood, and it's their decision to make. (And for them, it makes some sense anyway; their children are only going to get jobs in big cities; there is no market for their skills in Valparrai.)

After a particulaly spiritual lesson a couple of weeks ago, S. said unprompted to the member we brought on exchange, "We will stay in Coimbatore -- for this church only." They have come to church about 12 times now. Today we were especially excited because they stayed for all 3 hours, it was only the second time they had stayed, and then they met the branch president after church. They are going to be out of station on the 10th, and then their baptism will be on the 17th, Elder Riley's last Sunday.

Because elders have been teaching them for so long, like six or seven different families have come with elders to their house. Last night we were sitting at the church talking to a church member couple named R.and D., that we had brought over there before, and they asked us, "R. and S. are getting baptized on the 17th?" Yes, we said, shaking our heads, sorry, we forgot to tell you the news. We're excited about it, and it's exciting to watch them tell all their church member friends about it.

Thus is life,
with love,

Coimbatore, September 27

I am doing pretty good this week. Elder Riley and I were separated for most of this week - he was in Bangalore for a leadership training meeting and I was here in Coimbatore and then in Erode. So he left last Monday morning and got back only on Friday morning.

He is a really good missionary and is very good at helping me to improve. These last couple days as we applied the things he was learning in Bangalore we had a lot of spiritual lessons with people we were meeting for the first time.

Erode is very hot, Chennai-like. I'm not sure what exactly causes the temperature differential -- the cities are only 60 miles away -- but I'm grateful to be in Coimbatore. Erode is a pretty nice place but I was sweating a lot for two days.

The other highlight of the week - an American in town on business named J. brought his entire office to the church on Friday. He's a programmer but writes books and music on the side. It was a little bit of a miracle of organization what happened actually. One of the local leaders received a call from him on Tuesday so they called us, so we called his office members (you know the problem with having a cell phone while visiting India) and got hold of him.

After a 15-minute phone conversation -- he called back from his computer, while we were on the main road and struggling to hear him, we just cancelled our evening appointment and met him at his hotel room to coordinate plans.

His songs are all themed on gospel themes, so we planned a recital combined with a church tour, laid out the order, schedule and expectations and planning in the hotel room. Then I went out of station to Erode for two days, and returned on Friday morning. Surprisingly and amazingly, we were able to coordinate refreshments, agenda, recital, tour, and everything and it worked beautifully.

The only, completely uncontrollable, problem was that the power kept going on and off, which presented two problems:

(1) It was 7:30 at night


(2) J. was singing on a mic and playing on an electric piano.

With love,