Sunday, November 28, 2010

Coimbatore, November 21

Life is going pretty well, taking care of 50% more stuff is pretty interesting but it seems to be going well.

My main lessons this week are about how to organize stuff instead of doing it myself.

We need to help the wives of a couple of the families that we are teaching learn English. Instead of trying to do it ourselves, we realized that the branch president's wife Sh. and her mom M.C. were free all day and would be more than willing to help.

So we went over to S. and M., some members who knew the families we were teaching (V. and C., the one I wrote about last week) and explained the idea. Then we took S. and M. over to the branch president's house and together we explained the idea to Sh. Then we told Sh and V. and C. to come to church at the same time to meet each other. And now everything is set up nicely for this week and we just have to follow up with everyone.

Some new member families were saying they had a hard time understanding the scriptures so we gave the husband, wife, and adult children some reading tips, a journal and a dictionary and told them to write down what they understood. Then we just sat silently in front of them and watched magic happen. We did this one like three different times in three days with three different families.

I know some missionaries who are, for example, really good motivational speakers. This helps them to help people do some things that they didn't think were possible, like quitting drinking or smoking.

Personally, I'm not great at pep talks or encouraging people. Sure, I've learned to do it if need be. But my particular point of excellence seems to be getting people to read stuff and understand the ideas and apply them. So I do that the most.

The signs of coming home are creeping up on me but I'm having too much fun and so am doing my best to ignore them :) I will be happy to see you though.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Coimbatore, November 14

Dear mother,

Elder Prabhakar went off to Erode, so I'm with Elder Meservy now. It's going pretty good so far, he's pretty laid-back and generally quiet but flexible.

Spent last night running around and saying goodbyes with Elder Prabhakar. Spent the morning cleaning the apartment -- this time I actually got a sense of the order in which I should clean to be most efficient, so that was good.

We're busy also, no neatly tied up stories to tell. There's one family we started newly visiting; and it's amazing to see as we came to their house how easily love transcends language barriers.

Their names are V. and C., and their children are J. (4) and Ch. (0). They can understand half English but not reply well, I can understand a quarter Tamil but not speak. So they'll ask simple questions in mixed Tamil and English and I'll point them to something they can read in Tamil to answer their question. This family goes out together to the market, and whenever we're there in their actions and in the way they answer questions we can see their love for their children. Ch.’s teeth are coming in and when he starts crying I just make a pitch-pipe like humming sound and he becomes happy again. It's very funny.


Coimbatore, November 7

I have learned a new language on my mission. It's called, "Indian English."

When I am trying to get someone to hurry up, I tell them to "Come
fastly." When someone is late and I call them on the phone, I ask them
"Where you are now? How many minutes you are coming?" When I need to
know how many of my 24 hours I've used, I stop and ask someone on the
road, "Brother, what is time now?" Moreover, I sign whatever I speak.
When I say "think," I point to my head. When I say, "feel," I point to
my heart. Occasionally, Indian English includes basic local language
words like "romba" - pronounce "ro" as in "rowing" - for "very" or
"uthkaringa" for "please sit down".

Sometimes I still speak the language we used at home, known as
"American English." Because my companion speaks good English, there
are other American elders, some members of the branch can understand
this language, and I'm in contact with you, I still remember how to
speak it.

Unfortunately, due to lack of usage, while I have maintained my skills
in "American English," I do slip up now and then and am certainly not

Life here continues to be crazy. For various reasons, including being
senior companion again, I am back on my organizing drive. On Saturday,
I finally was able to turn a long-awaited plan into reality.

There's a basic principle I've learned on my mission. Everyone likes
elders, but the amount they actually trust you and are willing to do
stuff for you is usually directly proportional to the amount of time
you spend with them.

I told you about M., the kid from the orphanage we're teaching.
Well, we really wanted to get him some mature people to be his
friends. We were thinking about it, and the best candidates were
actually J. and S., the family we are teaching that I was
telling you about. All the necessary steps -- introducing them,
setting up the appointment, finding the house -- were easier because
both already trusted us, we knew their schedules, where they lived,
etc. This is pretty unorthodox -- you usually introduce them to church
members -- but it was the easiest thing to do. So on Saturday, Elder
Prabhakar and I pumped up our cycles and cycled 30 minutes on some
pretty washed out roads to get to M.’s orphanage, picked him up, and
walked a mile and a half to J. and S.’s house.

In addition, while I was trying to work out all the logistics through
calling M. on his friend's cell phone, we also talked J. into
sending their daughter R. to a church picnic for children on the
same day. They're pretty protective of R. and it was the first time
R. -- who is 9 --ever went somewhere without them but she really
enjoyed it so it worked out.

It was also good before we thought having J. and
S. serve someone else would be good for them, and we plan to
continue this in the future. Also it was a megalith of planning, and
it worked and they really developed a strong bond so it was good.

So I'm getting a new companion, Elder Meservy. Actually this is
because some elders finished their mission and are going home so they
are combining our two companionships in Coimbatore. So now there are a
couple million people in my area. And we're going to have 15 people
coming to church every Sunday. While I'm excited for the new
responsibility, I'm afraid my head is going to explode.

(My companion Elder Prabhakar is going to a nearby city Erode, and
Elder Meservy's companion Elder Ludlow is going to Hyderabad to be
companions with Elder Gervais, my old companion. I really like Elder
Ludlow; this will probably be the last time I see him on my mission,
though he lives in Modesto so we'll probably meet again.)

Thanks for the election news. I read about Jerry Brown when I was
learning about California political history, I didn't know he was
still alive and hopping! So in the race to replace a mucle-packed
weight-lifter and action movie hero, married to a daughter of a
dubious dynasty, a semi-antique, semi-hippie former governor beats the
former CEO of the dot-com era's top 5 success story. Here in Tamil
Nadu we've had the same chief minister for the last 20 years. I'm not
sure which form of theater -- excuse me, government -- I prefer.

Also as you may have heard, Obama is in India. All the Coimbatore
elders wore red, white, and blue ties on Sunday in honor of his visit.


Coimbatore, October 31

Mostly it's just rainy season here, so we're busy getting wet. Yes, we have umbrellas, but we also have bicycles. I've gotten pretty soaked about three times in the last week.

Other visible effects include a decrease in Church attendance -- even though Sunday was clear -- with the general reason that "I have a fever (= a cold), I was out walking in the rain."

It seems rather medically dubious to me (a cold is a virus, right? Does being out in the rain really affect your immune system that much? Does everyone in Seattle and Portland have a cold all the time?) but everyone believes it here.

As per my companion: Elder Prabhakar's name is actually Vasanth Prabhakar; his father's name is Prabhakar. He is from Karnataka, and in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, they take their father's name as the surname and don't have any family surname. (In Andhra they have a surname, same as in the US.) The Maharashtran system, having a surname and your father's name as the middle name, makes the most sense to me. Can you imagine the difficulty of record-keeping without surnames? Abbott and Costello would have a ball...

We are still crazily busy, ie, life is still looking up. Everyone is busy preparing for Diwali. Most everyone will have holidays on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so we are going to try to get about two weeks of work done in four days. Due to various reasons including our busy-ness, other people's busy-ness, we aren't meeting people frequently enough.

For example, we need to meet J. once or twice in a week to help her have enough upward oomph and encouragement, but we've only been able to meet her once in two weeks. We need to meet another brother named A. every week, but we've only been able to meet him four times in two-and-a-half months.

The main cause of the problem is that in the last two weeks 18 different people that we're actively responsible for came to church at least one week. Of those, 14 are preparing for baptism. Normally, that would be like 6 and 2. This is hardly cause for complaint -- we're really excited -- but it does cause us to be rather busy.

I've gotten to this stage before in Hyderabad with Elder Gervais, but then everything fell apart. Over time we discovered that people just liked Elder Gervais and myself rather than being interested and able to change their lives. So they kind of all fell off the map sooner or later. Part of our mistake was that we failed to honestly evaluate people's motives and challenges and part was we failed to make the right plans and concentrate on the right people. I hope to avoid making the same mistakes here. One difficulty is that I probably won't be able to get much help with Elder Prabhakar with such evaluation, it takes some experience as a missionary, which is why I made that mistake in the first place.

I also have tons more stories to write, but a part of them would not really suffice, so I'll leave it at that.


Coimbatore, October 24

Now that Elder Riley went home, I have a new native companion named Elder Prabhakar.

He's really good actually, great guy, very funny, people person and hard worker. He's new on his mission -- he's only been in the field for a month -- so I still have to gently poke him at 6:35 in the morning to make sure he gets up. He'll get used to it, I'm sure.

He's a very people-oriented person and has already developed a lot of the skills that I had to work hard to develop on my mission. On Saturday we were visiting a church member named W. at his shop when his childhood friend R., who is also the neighborhood rowdy, walked in to say hi to W. After 10 minutes of conversation somehow Elder Prabhakar had made this guy into his best friend by showing a kind of love for R. that is difficult to describe in words. And as a result, we have the potential to help this guy reform his ways...

In a lot of good ways, he reminds me of Elder Gervais. Though we're very different people, we should be able to blend our talents well. Right now he's teaching me how to cook Indian food and I'm teaching him to cook American food. This morning I made french toast and he took the cap off of the maple syrup and started pouring it out because he'd never seen a pop-and-squeeze cap before. The small things you take for granted..

We've been able to have a ton of good things happen in the lives of people we're teaching. 12 people we're teaching came to church today which was really wonderful but also completely crazy.

Today in the leadership meeting before church the branch president made a special plea for everyone to befriend M., the orphan kid I was telling you about. As a result, three or four different people put their arm around him; went and sit next to him, and so forth. It was wonderful.

The question, of course, is: shouldn't this happen spontaneously?

Of course, and believe me I would be very happy about that also. But something I've come to understand is that this requires the correct culture. And culture isn't spontaneous; it must be carefully cultivated.

Moveover, a while back I would have been too frustrated that "this should happen spontaneously!" to do anything to make it happen.

I have some goals for the rest of my mission and am trying my best to complete them as my time window gradually closes....I hope it works...

With love,