S: Memoirs of India
FC: Brady Stratton | Memoirs of India
1: Dedicated to my family for their unending support and love and to the amazing people of India who have forever changed my life. I don't know why I'm frightened, I know my way around here The mango trees, the painted scenes, the sounds here. Yes a world to rediscover, but I'm not in any hurry And I need a moment. The hurried conversations on overcrowded highways, the atmosphere is thrilling here as always. Feel the early morning madness, and the magic in the making Why, every things as if we never said goodbye. I've spent so many mornings, just trying to resist you. I'm trembling now, you can't know how I've missed you. Missed the spiritual adventure, in this ever changing mission. And we taught each other. I'm thinking of your faces, my eyes already burning, Not long until the memories start returning. And the early morning madness, and the magic in the making Yes, every things as if we never said goodbye. -Andrew Lloyd Webber Sunset Boulevard
3: Introduction I always dreamed of becoming a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints. Anxious to share the gospel with others, I prepared for 19 years, wondering where God would see fit to send me. When the call came on August 8th 2008, my dreams came true in an unexpected way. I found out I would be serving in the India, Bangalore Mission, a mission I didn't even know existed and a people and culture that were unknown to me. These uncertainties went away as I labored in the field for two years, growing to love the people, the culture and the land of India. When it came time for me to return, I left a part of me there. People often ask what it was like. Words cannot describe it. Pictures don't do it justice. At times, it even seems like a dream to me that I was even there. I have prayed long and hard, asking Heavenly Father to help me keep the memories alive. This book is an answer to one of those prayers. I write it for myself, but for others as well. My prayer is that those who read it will be able develop a love for India like I have and that the legacy of the people herein will live on as an example for generations to come.
5: Table of Contents Transportation..........................................6 Food.........................................................14 Religions in a Nutshell............................20 Holidays and P-Days...............................24 Everyday Life.........................................38 Proselyting..............................................52 Places and People....................................70
7: I begin with the topic of transportation for a number of reasons, the main one being that I began this adventure with a 23 hour plane ride which turned out to be quite literally the longest day of my life. I will expound upon that a little later. There are many ways of getting around in India ranging from autorickshaws to cycles to foot. The majority of the population travels by motorcycle or motor scooter, at times fitting up to 5 people on a single vehicle. If you are well off enough you might own a car or if you enjoy mingling with others you might choose the bus system. Regardless of the option you choose, the amount of time that it takes to get somewhere is always increased by traffic, an Indian driver's worst nightmare. The following experiences illustrate the ups and downs of traveling in such a diverse place... The Thrill of Flying Ever since I had watched "Home Alone" as a little boy, I had always wanted to fly in an airplane with a "middle section", one of those international jets that have multiple levels. This dream was not all it promised to be. On December 23, 2008, I left the Salt Lake International airport, accompanied by seven other Elders on our way to India. We made a pit stop in Denver, Colorado and then boarded Lufthansa airlines. I'll admit it, the first couple of hours on this giant jet were pretty cool. Unable to watch any of the featured films playing, I flipped the screen in front of me to the flight map and sat back for a long ride. I had the absolute worst seat in the place, the middle of the middle, with very little room for my long legs. Sleep was impossible, even when we were hours in and I was exhausted, I could only close my eyes and pray to pass out. As I kept my eye on the screen, I realized that we were not following a direct route to Frankfurt, Germany but were instead heading up into Canada and past Greenland (little did understand about how the tilt of the earth figured into all of this, all I knew was that the pilot was bound to make this the worst experience of my aviation life). We reached Germany, switched planes and continued onward to Bangalore, giving me about a 30 minute window to stretch my legs. I'm happy to say that the flying became a lot easier after this and the journey home was like a luxury ride. Since our mission covered all of southern India, all of our transfers were by flight and so we would have had a lot of frequent flier miles had the program been there. I loved going to the airports. They were by far some of the nicest establishments in India, very modern and clean in their appearance. I would always look forward to getting a McDonalds meal and shake or a big cookie from Café Coffee Day (India's version of Starbucks). Whenever transfers rolled around, we would all pray that we would be flying Kingfisher. It is India's nicest airline with free complementary snacks and beautiful hostesses (the Kingfisher girls). However I would always roll my eyes and chuckle when the pre-flight instructions came on. Here is an example... "Welcome to Kingfisher Airlines. This is a seat beat. To fasten your seat belt, insert the tip into the buckle and....." (as if people don't know what a seat belt is!) By the end of my mission, I was used to flying a lot, having to go to Bangalore every month for a zone leader's council. It soon lost the splendor that it once held for me. Now Boarding Platform 2 Before my mission I had never ridden on a train (unless you count the ones at Disneyland). If you are in this same position, don't feel too envious because it is not all that it is cracked up to be. We were required to take the train for combined zone conferences and in some cases transfers. You know you're in for an interesting ride when you enter the train station. They were not the cleanest places on earth. But that didn't stop the people from crowding in. There were beggars on every side (I would keep my hand over my pocket to prevent my wallet from disappearing). There were men to polish shoes, men to carry your luggage and men/woman behind glass windows giving tickets to anxious customers. I never knew that you could fit three hands in one of those window holes but you would have thought that the end of the world was coming the way that people would forgo lines and rush the poor lady selling the tickets. Luckily we always had ours pre-bought and emailed to us by our trusty assistants. They would book us seats in the air conditioned cars and make sure that we were in the best situation possible.
8: Despite the dirtiness of our surroundings, I loved and looked forward to these train rides. The Elders would gather together, we'd kick off our shoes, talk about the work, play games and just enjoy being in each other's company. More often than not, we would go to the space in between cars and hang out the open doors, letting our feet dangle as we passed rice fields, villages and unsuspecting people mooning us as they took a dump in the ditches. Vendors would go down the aisles and sell warm samosas and cool drinks (all over priced in my opinion). We would have some pit stops here and there and it was always an adventure to exit the train and buy something, hoping we would make it back in time before the train left. The nicest train ride that I had was actually an overnight one. We slept on suspended bunk beds with bedding that they provided. I was scared that I would just sleep right through the stop but luckily we had an alarm on our mobile that woke us up. There was another form of train that I rode on, the commuter train of Hyderabad. This one spanned the width and length of this great city and allowed us to go on exchanges with the Elders in the other branches. Unless you hit the low time, these trains would be packed with people and you had to hold on to the bar and your wallet in order to make it through all right. Beggars and gypsies loved these trains and would congregate in groups. The adults would force their children to sing and perform to collect money or they would go around with a cup and bug you until you gave in. Lets just say that hand sanitizer was a must after a ride on one of these. Thank You Usha Another form of transportation that is more familiar to us in America is that of the cab/taxi. While these were pretty common in most places (villages excluded) the only time that we ever used them was when we traveled to and from the airport and our apartment. They would all have these ridiculously easy mobile numbers like 45454545 so it was never an issue of calling one. I was really impressed by the standards and professionalism of most of the drivers. They would always have a copy of their rules on the dashboard so that you could see them. They were clean cut, spoke English and always so eager to help and to get you to the airport on time. This however meant that most of them would speed and surpass the limit that we would call reasonable for a highway. Each cab had this little instrument hooked up in the front that was sort of like a GPS/speed control thing. It would give the driver directions and point out when he was going over the speed limit. One time we had this cab driver who was the funniest fellow. He named his GPS (I don't really remember what he called it but for our purposes lets just say it was Usha). He was lighthearted and very humorous for a cab driver and I could see that this particular ride was going to be an interesting one. Well, he got up to around 110 km/hr (70 mph) and Usha stated in a very calm and British voice "Please slow down, you are exceeding the speed limit." Our driver just chuckled and said "Thank you Usha." He continued to speed up, going around the curves with a lot of skill and again Usha said, "Please slow down, you are exceeding the speed limit"......chuckle........"Thank you Usha".........speed up....."SLOW DOWN NOW, YOU ARE GOING TOO FAST!!!!"......."Oh she sounds angry"......chuckle. Well to come to the point, we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Most of cab drivers were very easy to talk to. We would have gospel discussions with many of them, or discussions about culture. Many of them were hard working fathers trying to support their families. They were honest and humble and always smiling. That didn't mean that there weren't a few slick ones here and there. When you arrive at an airport and pick up your luggage, you are instantly bombarded with cab drivers from various companies vying for your business. We knew that Meru and Dot cabs were always safe and trustworthy for they always went by the meter. However, there was one case where my companion and I had flown in for a zone leader's council and because our flight had been delayed, we were running really late. All of the Meru and Dot drivers had lines of people already waiting and so we chose a man who looked decent enough and that was more than eager to help us. Well, he happened to be parked at the farthest point of the parking lot and after arriving to his car, we found out that he had
9: no meter and was going to charge a set fee that was double what we should be paying. We went all the way back and found ourselves a Meru guy. Now I don't claim to be an expert but I do know my way around the city of Bangalore and this guy took us the longest and most out of the way route to our destination possible, the meter just adding up the cost every minute that he wasted. I tried to reasonably explain that he was cheating us but he refused to listen and finally I gave up in frustration and shoved the money into his hand. Let's just say that Elder Stratton was not the happiest person when he was late and in an exhausted state. I Have a Pass I think that my least favorite form of transportation had to be the bus. It didn't matter what city you were in, they were always noisy, hot, crowded, smelly and unreliable. They were however, the cheapest form of travel there was and so we used them as much as we could within reason and as time allowed for they always set us back in our schedules. During the early morning or the middle of the day, you could almost always find a seat, preferably one by a window so that you could breath. But during the rush hours of a business day, if you were unfortunate enough to find yourself on a bus, you would be packed in like......like pickles. They stuff those things fuller than a turkey at Thanksgiving and if thats not enough you will have people hanging out of the door, holding onto the side railing or their neighbors arm, or foot. I even witnessed a bunch of guys climb on top of the roof once. With this close proximity to people, you could easily pick out what kind of Ax body spray they were using or lack of for that matter. Tickets were cheap but a hassle to buy. There was a bus conductor (almost always a woman) who would push her way down the aisle and collect change for the tickets. They were often very rough women, not caring if they smashed your toe or your knee or any other part of your body as they passed by. When you are trying to maintain a personal bubble (ha, this is no life for a claustrophobic) and also holding on for dear life, it becomes a challenge to retrieve your change from your pockets and give it to the conductor. For this reason, many Elders including my self would purchase a monthly bus pass from the transportation offices which meant that when ever the bus lady came to us, we could simply say "Pass" and she'd walk away. Even then, they'd sometimes ask to see it and then you're back to square one. Standing still and stable on the moving bus was not the only danger that presented itself. I became very good at entering and exiting a moving bus at a run or jump. I do not recommend that you try that at home. We would meet many different people in a bus. In fact, it was a very effective finding and teaching tool. We would teach whole lessons if the trip was long enough and if not we would OYM them with whatever the spirit prompted. I loved being able to hear about the lives of these brothers and sisters. They all had challenges, worries and sorrows and yet they would all smile just the same. If I was in the middle of the pickle clump-age and couldn't really talk to anyone, I would smile and see how many people I could get to smile back. Although many people on the buses were friendly, there was one experience that put me on my guard at all times. My companion had boarded a bus ahead of me in Bangalore and by the time I followed, he was already at the back. I turned to follow him and found myself surrounded on all sides by gypsy women, acting inconspicuous. I tried to pass by them but they kept their arms spread and hands clutched to the floor poles in the aisle. As I continued my attempts, the woman in front of me flipped her baby's blanket over my proselyting bag and started to unzip it, reaching inside for anything she could find. I quickly realized what was happening and threw chivalry out the window as I forced myself out of their trap and back to my companion. They glared after me and set off to the front of the bus to try some other person. Luckily I had all of my items remain with me that day.
10: The only other bus memory I can think of that is worth mentioning is that of the KGF multicolored shuttle buses. KGF was a small village about two hours outside of Bangalore that we would have to visit sometimes for exchanges and district meetings. In order to get there we had to ride on these buses that looked like something out of the 60's; colorful, carpeted and retro. Although the seats were padded, they did nothing to prevent head aches on the bumpy route. If you sat in the back it was like an amusement park ride, as you flew feet into the air whenever you hit a bump. They had a huge television in the front of the bus that would blare Hindi movies the whole time which added to the pain in my head. Thank goodness we only had to make this trip a couple of times! Elder, I Have a Flat Tire Ironically enough, the most dangerous form of transportation for us was the bicycle (cycle). No motor, no speed, just a lot of other things that posed a threat. There were only a few places in the mission where we had cycles, mostly in the villages or residential areas. While they were convenient and cheap, they were a real pain in the butt...literally. Indian roads are replete with speed bumps and going over them on a hard seat like we had did not agree well with my lower half. The following experiences were more of a threat though than a hard seat. One day my companion and I were riding side by side (something that you should never do). As we turned a corner, our handles became locked and tangled and we flipped over and ended up on the ground. Great way to build companionship unity. On another day in the same area of Hyderabad, we were on our way to the church, traveling along the main highway. When we had left our apartment, I had noticed that my cycle was a little shaky but didn't give it much thought. The moment that we reached the church and I was in the haven of the parking lot, my handle bar became detached and I spun out of control, crashing on the pavement. Had that happened only seconds before on the highway, the lorry behind us would have probably finished off the cycle and me as well. In the village of Rajahmundry, I was on a cycle for the first time in months. As we made our way to church in the evening when it was darker than I had thought, I drove into a ditch in the middle of the road, crashing and sending my pack hurdling towards the people doing pooja at the roadside shrine. About a week later, we were on our way to an appointment with a member and had to go up Central Jail road to get to the north part of our area. (I guess I should mention that our area in Rajahmundry was covered with the steepest and longest hills I had ever seen and we lived at the bottom of all of them which made for a nice coast home at the end of the night but a real workout any other time of the day.) Anyway, our member exchange Santhosh offered to tow us up if we would grab on to the sides of his motorcycle. Eager for a free ride, I left reason out of my mind and didn't realize that pulling the brakes at any moment of the ride would be a bad idea. Well, I did and I ended up doing a summer salt over the front of my cycle, like a water skier that got tugged too hard. Santhosh thought he had killed me, but the only thing that I remember was landing softly on my back as if a cushion had been placed there. I know this was Divine intervention on behalf of my stupidity and I am grateful for it. The privilege of having a cycle came with the woes of keeping it in shape and repair. I can't even begin to count the number of flat tires, wasted breaks, new wheels and so forth that we had to invest in but I do know that we made the Cycle repair men really happy. We had one special guy in Rajahmundry whose name was Shiva. All the Elders would go to him for repair and he would take advantage of the fact.
11: While he did fix our broken parts, a part of me swears that he would toy with other parts that would require us to visit him a day or two later when we discovered other problems; that or we were all just really bad drivers. There was another time when three of us got onto one cycle at once in order to save time. Now we always had two of us on at a time, usually me and the member I was giving a ride to but three was unheard of. The fact that we were all American and big boned didn't help either. The front wheel collapsed within minutes followed by the back. Shiva was very happy. Now even though I hated the flat tires, there was something that I hated even worse about riding cycles....the helmets. Mostly this was due to me hating helmet hair (I'm not the only one, Elder Pokhrel was the same way) but it was also such a hassle and we were the only people around wearing them which made for interesting looks from spectators. I was good at first, I put obedience above my vainness and set the example for my younger companion. It didn't last very long. We ended up just leaving our helmets dangling from the handles as we rode and because of our carelessness things would happen to them (not on purpose I assure you, it wasn't like we were trying to deliberately get rid of them...). Elder Pokhrel fell into an open sewage canal, what a treat we had cleaning that one up. They were also stolen on numerous occasions. At one point almost all of the Elders in Rajahmundry needed new helmets. When the shipment came me and Elder Pokhrel were sporting sleek blue ones while everyone else had Minnie Mouse on their heads. I end this section on cycles with one last experience concerning death. Elder Hunn was a big Elder and we were on our way to the church one sunny day. Well, he didn't see the puppy in front of him until it was too late. He ran over it and I'd never heard such sounds come from an animal before. The auto behind us finished it off, putting everyone out of their misery. Ouch, My Toe! I would be really interested to figure out the distance that I walked while in India. All I know was that it was a lot....No, I'm serious, a LOT! And we weren't in Nike sneakers either if you get my picture. Walking came with its own dangers. If we were on a paved road it was a blessing but most of the time we were walking through a path of stubbed toes in the making. I never realized how clumsy I was but by the hundredth stubbed toe, I had no choice but to admit it. Although it was tiring and at times mundane, walking was the best way to interact with others, which was why I preferred it to other forms of travel. My companions would probably disagree, they would often complain about my intense speed (Elder Umesh swore by butt was always on fire). It also provided great time for communication in the companionship, to plan lessons, discuss our investigators and their needs or to simply get to know each other better. The great adventure of walking came when it was time to cross a busy road. You could always tell the age of an Elder in the mission by his rode crossing skills. If he hesitated or crossed in a crooked manner, he was oh so very young. I remember talking to President Nichols in my first interview and saying that I now felt comfortable crossing the street. He looked at me with concern and said, "Don't! I don't want you to ever feel comfortable crossing the streets, thats when things happen." He was probably right, if anything was going to kill us on our mission it was going to be the traffic and vehicles. But I discovered the key and the key was confidence. You had to go out and not waiver in your path or timing. You just had to put your arms out, think of Moses parting the Red Sea and go for it. People would honk, some would give you dirty looks but in order to be truly Indian, it was something that you had to do. Eventually it became second nature to me and I would always chuckle when I was with a young Elder and they would shout at me or give me frightened looks as we crossed.
12: Auto, Auto I save this form of travel for last because I have deep feeling towards it, some good but most irritating. I had never seen or heard of an Autorickshaw before my time in India. In all fairness they are a convenient and easy way to travel as they are small and very numerous. I vividly remember my first auto ride, there were four of us shoved in the back, two on the laps of the others and I was pretty freaked out. There were no seat belts and I was not accustomed to that type of reckless driving. I soon became used to it though and grew to love the exhilaration and the wind in my face as we zoomed in and out of traffic. My frustration and irritation with these three wheeled vehicles came from their owners and drivers. If we would have let them, most of them would have cheated us out of our money because of the skin tax (our white skin) and because they thought that we were introduced to India just yesterday. Well, once you've been in a certain area long enough, you get to know the correct price for distances traveled. You learn their ways and are prepared to combat them. Allow me to expound upon my frustration. We had gotten out of an auto in Bangalore and I handed the driver a 50 rupee note. He owed my 20 rupees in change but as soon as he touched the money, he drove off, leaving me fuming in his fumes. Another time, an auto had dropped us off at our apartment and we were in a great hurry. We came up one rupee short of the meter and thought he would let us off like any other kind soul would do. We were wrong, he was determined to get that rupee and would not leave our apartment until I went up to our flat (on the top floor), searched every room for a rupee coin and went down to give it to him. Considering one rupee is equal to half a penny in the US, I was not too happy about his stubbornness. We got into an auto and told the driver to take us to the church; we had a BMC meeting and were running late. After a couple of kilometers, we came upon a traffic jam that was going nowhere. He told us to get out of the auto and demanded payment. Shocked and disappointed by the fact that he was just abandoning us by the side of the road, I refused to pay him a single rupee and walked off. He yelled after us but I was moving faster than the traffic so there was little he could do. There was one time where we got into an auto and told him to take us to a certain location for our next appointment. We agreed on a set price and set off. After about five minutes, he stopped in a location that was not only the wrong one but a great distance away of where we needed to be. I refused to give him the full price but paid him for the distance he did travel and walked away. He chased after me and snatched my arm and started yelling. I calmly unhooked myself from his grasp, told him that if he wanted a full price to learn the city better and walked away. It was hard to tell which one of us was more angry at this point. The ultimate experience that tested not only my patience but my compassion and charity as well happened in Hyderabad soon after I had become a zone leader. We were on our way home from a new area and I had agreed to what I estimated was a fair price, considering I talked him down about 50 rupees. We got in and started to drive and he flipped on the meter. Not a good thing to do with Elder Stratton. When we reached our apartment the meter read almost half of the price he was asking for. Now some people may call me ridiculous for the way that I reacted but we lived on a tight budget and were being supported with sacred funds and I would not have some auto driver cheating us like that. If he had left the meter off, I would have not known any better and would have given him the asking price, that was his mistake. I gave him the meter price and started to walk towards our apartment, trying to control my anger. He stormed after me, past our watchman Giri and followed me upstairs to our flat. He shoved the money back to me and glared at me with anger and disgust. I put the money in his shirt pocket and said, "Brother you need to be honest." With that I entered our flat, slammed the door and went to my room to repent of the anger I was feeling.
13: This was not the first nor the last time that drivers would try to take advantage of us. I stood my ground and refused to let it happen although I tried better to keep my frustration in tact. Some would deny the right price when I told them it and would reluctantly turn on the meter. I gained small satisfaction from the expression on their face when the meter read what I had said. Even though I dealt with countless dishonest men, there were also many that I met who were very humble, willing to help, friendly and completely honest. To these drivers I always made sure to give a tip. They would smile, thank me sincerely and I was given a little more hope for the future of my auto rides. Now to those who may find themselves in India in the future, here are a few auto tips. In available areas, take share autos. They are like communal taxis that have a cheap set price for certain distances. They provide a great way to get to know some amazing people. If you can't take these, stay away from the established auto stands. These are filled with the type of dishonest men that I have hitherto described. Just flag down a guy by the road and learn from my experiences. Sorry We're Late, It Was the Traffic I would not feel right ending this chapter without paying homage to this topic. I was very bad at planning travel time in the big cities, but it was an impossible feat due to the traffic that plagues the roads. In India, there are three types of traffic: steady stream, constipation, and total blockage. No matter how hard the police would try to help, there were no laxatives for it. It was a frustration that we could do nothing about so we would try to make the best of it. It provided time to teach your neighbor, talk to your companion, sleep after a full meal or just contemplate the amazing sights around you. There was one jam that I will never forget though. We were going on splits with two of the Elders in our branch in Hyderabad. We were in Brother Willden's car on our way to drop Elder Gervais and Brother Murthy off at their appointment. Brother and Willden and myself had a very important appointment with our investigator Praveen who was set to be baptized the coming Sunday. Satan had different plans and we were suddenly engulfed in a traffic jam from hell. It took us almost two hours to go around one block! We ended up canceling all of our appointments for the night except Praveen, who we taught via speaker phone. What an experience, I will never be able to complain about traffic in Utah again!
15: If there is one thing that India is well known for, it would be their delicious food ranging from spicy curry to fresh fruit and vegetables in the market place. Before entering the mission field, I had never even heard of curry, I hated rice and I was very picky with what I ate. I soon found out that it would not be beneficial to my overall health to keep these food prejudices so I adapted and can now say that Indian food is my favorite food in the world. The following experiences highlight my food growth and some of my favorite dishes as well. Diet I remember how thankful I was the first time I stepped foot into the grocery store in my first area and saw that they sold Ramen Noodles and Peanut Butter. Everything else smelt very strange to me and I was not too eager to try it. So, for the first two to three months of my mission my diet included the following: cereal for breakfast (usually Kellogg's Strawberry or Honey Cornflakes which were my favorite), lunch (restaurant food,), and dinner usually included a sandwich (peanut butter or cheese), noodles and cookies (Hide and Seek or Oreo's). When we went out to lunch I would order from the Chinese portion of the menu (something I also hated but it had to be better than the gross stuff my companion was eating...). Well after a couple of weeks of fried rice and noodles with plain butter naan, I began to realize that the next two years would be torture if I continued like this. Plus, I was receiving endless teasing from the other elders for being a chicken. One of the best things I did was order my first "meal" when I got transferred to Bangalore. It was served to me on a banana leaf, rice in the middle and various curry dishes surrounding it. The other elders around me were digging in like it was a feast and I hesitantly followed and to my surprise it was delicious! Thus began my love affair with Indian food. After that, I enjoyed trying new dishes and I started to expand my diet to include fruits, vegetables and oatmeal for breakfast. Consequently with the added vitamins and nutrients that I was taking in, I felt a lot better and had more energy. Fork or Fingers? I remember the first time that I ate Indian food with my hands. I was at a family home evening at Sister Varalaxmi's house in Hyderabad and they brought out the dinner. She asked if I would like a fork or spoon and feeling adventurous I declined. I turned to my companion Elder Raju for guidance and he began teaching me the technique of hand eating (yes, there is a technique.) I guess the best way to describe it is this; take your right hand (left hands are considered dirty and are never used) and rake in the rice and curry with your fingers like an octopus sucking in the water. After you form it into a ball shape you pick it up and propel it into your mouth with your thumb. Repeat the process until finished. I'm guessing that I must have looked pretty funny when I started out considering the snickers that accompanied our feast but with enough practice I became quite the expert to the point that native Indians would compliment me on my technique. Wherever we went to eat, they would still offer utensils but I always chose my own fingers, the food tasted better that way. When I became used to the spiciness of the various curry my fingers served another useful purpose. If the meal was moderately spicy, my lips would tingle afterwards but if it was really spicy, my fingers would tingle for hours afterwards. A tip for the reader though, never rub your eyes when your fingers tingle. I had many a dinner appointment end in tears by doing this. Whats On the Menu? Because of the size of some of our areas and our busy schedules, it was necessary for us to eat out a lot. There were many, many hotels to choose from, it all depended on what we felt like and what we were willing to pay. Some of my favorite places to eat throughout the mission included Paradise, Nan King,
16: Sri Surya, Bawarchi, Godavari Heights, Swagath, and all of the small meals places where you could get a feast for fifty rupees. The menu's had a range of items to choose from, some of my favorites included the chicken curry dishes and the paneer curry dishes. When I was with an American companion and we were not as thrifty as we should have been we would branch out into the westernized places like Subway, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, Hard Rock Café, TGIF, and Domino's. These establishments were a blessing after living in a village for 6 months. When ever Elder Chagoya and Elder Frederick would come on exchange from the village of KGF when I was in Bangalore, one of the first things they would do was call the Domino's across the street and order a pizza. After serving in Rajahmundry I knew how they felt. The only "pizza" I found there was a crust with ketchup and cheese on it. We were encouraged by our mission president to stay away from the more expensive places like Hard Rock and TGIF because of the temptation to spend way too much money and he was right in thinking this. It was very easy to throw away 500 rupees on a delicious bacon and cheese hamburger and chocolate cake and...well I think you get the picture. The first time I went to Hard Rock Café with Elder Talk, I felt very guilty for going against what the mission president had advised. We requested a table far away from the bar and as we were being seated the waiter asked us where our other friends were. We asked what he meant and he said that about once a month a group of people like us would come in. We connected the dots and realized that these "friends" were the assistants and suddenly I didn't feel so guilty. No matter what hotel you were eating in, the staff and ambiance were always very friendly and prompt; American waiters should take lessons. Most of the places were very clean not counting the meal shacks where the floor was usually dirt and you had to wonder when they last sanitized the table. You were expected to leave everything at the table when you were done for it was the waiter's job to clean up. In places like McDonalds where I was used to throwing away my own tray, I would always chuckle when the waiter's would rush after me in a panic. In some of the more traditional hotels over there, they kept the lights very low with only neon fixtures here and there. There may be a couple of theories for this; they want to keep the place cool, they want to save on the power bill or as is rumored among the Elders, they want to hide the cockroaches that scamper across the floor. I never really found out the truth. At the end of every meal, they would provide finger bowls full of hot water and lemons to clean your utensils and get all of the oil off. I looked forward to these, it was like a hot tub for your hands. Hyderabad Biryani, A Taste of Paradise I would be doing the mission a disservice if I didn't pay homage to the most popular and sought after food among the Elders. The place was Paradise hotel, the dish was chicken biryani. All who served in the city of Hyderabad and all who visited for zone conferences fell in love with this hotel and craved it. The building itself was quite extravagant. It reminded me of the Titanic with different "class" dining rooms. There was the normal terrace room, the silver room, the gold room and the platinum room. Prices rose each level you went up but the food was the same. I cannot summon the right words to describe the taste of the biryani but perhaps the following experience will illustrate how precious it was. We had just finished a multi-zone conference in Hyderabad and were on the train headed back to Rajahmundry. A few of the Elders had picked up some carry out from Paradise and shortly after our departure were preparing to divvy it up. Elder Cunningham pulled the parcel out of the plastic bag and the bottom came unsealed, dropping biryani all over the train floor. Now, from my previous descriptions of the trains you would think that they would just pick it up and throw it away. Well, they did dispose of it but not through the garbage. Three elders quickly started shoveling the pieces and rice onto their paper plates,
17: leaving Elder Cunningham with the stuff touching the ground. I faced him in shock as he started eating and asked, "How can you eat that," to which he replied, "Its paradise, this stuff is precious!" Had You Your Dinner? Members, investigators and people that we met for the first time were always concerned as to whether we had eaten or not. It is part of the culture over there. Almost every single house we entered into they would offer us something to drink and eat. Some popular items were hot horlicks or complan, biscuits, fruit, crackers, samosas or sweets and cool drinks. These items I actually liked but things like buttermilk, sandballs, piasam and gee sweets took an effort to swallow down. Many times however, snacks were followed by full on meals that they requested we stay for and eat. If they were planned I was ok with it but a lot of the time they were sprung on us after a lesson and we were forced to eat and rush which I always felt bad about. However, these surprise dinners were by far the best tasting food I ever had in India. Each household had their own special recipes just like we do here. There was a process to eating in the homes of the Indian people. They would always be so gracious and hospitable but I enjoyed having some fun during these dinner times. First we would wash up in the washing basin. They would always scurry to find us a towel but I would always just dry my hand on my pants to which the aunties would tsk me and the children would laugh. We would then gather around in a circle (usually on the floor Indian style) and distribute the plates. It is in the Indian culture for the women to serve the men and often they wouldn't even eat until the men were finished and gone. We would always try to encourage the whole family to eat together. Self service was preferable but usually the mother would plop the biggest hunk of rice onto your plate while piling 3-4 rotis on the the side. Seconds were a must and it was a task to escape thirds. There is word in telegu (quenchim quenchim) that means small, small. Every single time we ate, we would try to say this to the aunties and every single time they would fill our plate up to capacity. When we were to the point of popping at the seams, we would literally have to cover our plates with our bodies to prevent the onslaught of more rice. Then came time for clean up which was my favorite part. I would always stand up with my plate towards the kitchen and without fail I was met by the mother of the house with her hands in front of me blocking my way. The game began. Since I had the height advantage, I would lift my plate high in the air and they would jump and reach for it. If I got to the kitchen I won. If I started washing that was bonus points but that rarely happened. Most of the time the mother would call her children to back her up and I was forced to admit defeat. Even though I was going against the culture, the aunties always smiled and laughed and I knew that they were grateful for my attempt. To show that we really enjoyed the meal, we would go sit on the bed or sofa and put our hands on our stomachs, pretending to be tired (it didn't take much effort) and this would delight the aunties to death. They knew that they had succeeded in making a good meal and we knew that we had succeeded in snarfing it all down. One meal appointment that I will always remember for its humor was one that I had with Elder Bennett on exchange. I was in the last months of my mission and was experienced in the art and task of home meals. Elder Bennett was fresh from the MTC, knew little about these sort of things and was low on his spice tolerance. I could see that we were being pushed on time but also knew that Joythi and her mother had been looking forward to feeding us for a long time. They whipped up the meal within five minutes. I had finished my seconds before Elder Bennett was done with his firsts. He was having a hard time, sweating and panting as he took each bite. I encouraged him and told him we'd be fine on time but he was reaching his limit. Suddenly he asked the mother, "Sister, do you believe in the prophet and what he says." She said that she did to which Elder Bennett exclaimed, "Good, because the prophet says we need to be home by 10:30, we need to go!" With that he was up and out the door getting his shoes on while we all laughed. I'm not sure it was the time he was concerned about rather than the fact that I knew he couldn't fit anymore in his stomach.
18: I'll Have a Thumsup Just as important as keeping ourselves well fed was keeping ourselves hydrated. There were many beverages that I loved in India and they were easy to buy. They have small "cool drink" shops every where; on the corners, in the middle of stores, and in the middle of nowhere. All of the cool drinks were in small glass bottles that cost as low as 20 rupees and we loved to stop at these small shacks in between appointments or to catch a breather from long cycle ride. My drinks of choice included Coke, Sprite, Fanta and Maaza (the most delicious mango juice drink on the planet). The members would usually give us Thumsup, a drink that tasted like a sweeter version of Pepsi. It wasn't at the top of my list but it was rumored to kill anything in your stomach that might have been bad so we often drank it following meals and in hotels. If we were trying to be more health conscious and stay away from the sugar of cool drinks, we would go to one of the many fruit juice carts. I loved all of the varieties of fresh juice that you could get although you had to judge whether it was worth it or not based on the cleanliness of the carts. Most were out in the middle of the roads, flies surrounding the cups, blenders and utensils and sewage flowing underneath. But man, when you have those cravings for fresh lemon juice or pineapple you sacrifice a little in the sanitary department. Other options included sugar cane juice and coconut water. I tried sugar cane juice once and declined after that. They would take shoots of sugar cane and squeeze it through a giant machine that had swarms of flies around it. The end result looked like green lawn water that tasted like sugar. Coconuts were no better. They were sold just as frequently as the cool drinks and were supposed to be good to treat heat exhaustion. The shop keeper would pluck a coconut off the bushel, chop the top off with their machete and plop a straw in for you. The best description that I have for the taste is sweat. I usually just stuck water bottles.
20: Religion in a Nutshell
21: The thing that I found the most fascinating during my time in India was all of the many religions that I was surrounded by; their beliefs, their customs and traditions and the people belonging to them. If I could describe the culture of India in one word it would be: religion. It shapes the daily life of the people in all aspects and no matter what you choose to believe, you are touched and influenced by everyone else around you. Even though I was there for two years preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ, I gained a deep respect for what others believe and upon further study of the religions and people of the world, can now appreciate the good they and their beliefs do for others and the pieces of truth they do contain. In this chapter, I don't aim to explain the various beliefs of the people but to instead give my observations and what stood out to me. Although there are many hundreds of religions and denominations in India, I will focus on the four major ones that I dealt with firsthand; Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity. Others that I saw but that were not as influential in my daily life include Buddhism, Jainism, and Atheists. Hinduism The majority of the people of India are Hindu. It is one of the oldest religions in the world and as far as I understand one of the most complex. With literally thousands of various gods to worship, and many rituals to attend to, it is a very involved religion (for those who truly practice it) and is more of a way of life than a simple belief. The devotion of the person depends a lot on which caste they belong to and the traditions of their family. The Brahmans are the most devout and the most against "outside" beliefs entering in; they are also the richest and most influential in government. The lower castes and poorer people can be just as devout but are usually more humble and open to new things. You could always tell a Hindu house by their door. They would have garlands of orange flowers or dried leaves hanging above, some sort of sticker, sign or symbol (a god or the om sign) in the middle and the doorstep was usually painted yellow with pooja marks on it. At the beginning of my mission we were not allowed to knock on such doors for the finding of Hindu's was against the rules at the time (dangers explained later) so we would just pass them by. When we were finally allowed to teach them, it was quite an adjustment for all of us. We had to teach and explain through a different angle and focus on different things according to their understanding. The lesson that touched them the most was the plan of salvation, where we would teach them about the true nature of God and their eternal potential as His children. I loved to witness the "light" come into their eyes when they understood and believed. Hindu worship takes place in the home and in the many temples and shrines that dot the streets. In most of the homes, there are pooja closets where idols of the family's favorite god would sit. Daily, they would light incense, offer food or gifts to these idols and say prayers for blessings and protection. A sign of their worship was the bindi on their forehead and I came to learn that different marks signified belief in different gods. This act of pooja was even on a bigger scale in the temples. Huge idols would be enthroned and people would worship throughout the day. Prayers and chants were played over loudspeakers so I always knew when we were approaching one. I was always amazed at how detailed and colorful these temples were. They were beautiful in their own special way. I had the experience to go inside and tour one while on a zone activity in Visak and while it was very reverent and magnificent inside, it was very apparent that the spirit was not there. I think that was the hardest thing for me as a missionary to see, my brothers and sisters bowing down to what they thought was god but what was really just a fancy, carved rock. It was always disturbing to me. However, I respect the spirituality of these people and their devotion and faith that they show in what they believe. Many are searching for something more in life and were very receptive. In fact, I baptized just as many Hindus as I did Christians.
22: Islam I will be perfectly honest, before my mission I was judgmental and scared of "Muslims". Events like the Twin Tower attacks and shows like 24 did not help ease my anxieties. On the off chance that I see one in America, I would automatically think terrorists. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have never met nicer and more caring people than some of the Muslims on my mission. While not having as big an impact as Hinduism, I was surprised at how many Indians adhere to the Islam faith. They were mostly clumped into certain areas of the country or city but the influence was definitely there and goes back thousands of years in their history. Islam culture has greatly influenced the architecture of the country. Some of the most amazing buildings, palaces and tombs were built by the Muslims. However the mosques, or their places of worship are the most numerous and iconic structures they have. I never knew the Disney movie "Aladdin" was based on the Muslim faith until I got to India discovered that the mosques looked like buildings in the movie and people were praising Allah. The mosques were big and often lit in a green light at night which was a little eerie. Only men and boys were allowed inside and we passed by many as they were worshiping and chanting the Koran, again a little eerie. At certain times during the day, someone would get on the loudspeakers and call everyone to prayer, at which time the Muslim people were supposed to kneel on their prayer rugs and face mecca. We had a mosque by one of our apartments in Hyderabad and as it so happened, this prayer call was timed at five thirty in the morning, often waking me up an hour before I had to (not a happy Elder Stratton). The people were extremely friendly and willing to help. Many of the merchants, auto drivers, and hotel owners were Muslim and loved to talk to us about our culture. Men always kept their heads covered and wore long kurtas. Traditional women would never go outside unless they were covered by a burqa (modern, less traditional girls would dress like Americans). These covered women often put a spell upon us Elders. Then only thing that you could see was their eyes and for someone like myself who finds eyes the most attractive part of a woman, it was bedazzling. We would often say hi and they would go into fits of giggles. Many Elders even bought their future wives a burqa (for what purpose I will not mention in this book...) Aside from these surface observations, I do not know much about the customs or beliefs of the people because we were not allowed to teach them. Any Muslim that converted was in danger of death from others and it was only through a lengthy process that required the approval of the first presidency that they could be considered for baptism. We knew a Muslim house by the name plate in Urdu which looked like a bunch of squiggles. I know that one day they will also get they opportunity to hear the gospel. Sikhism This is one religion that I never dealt with religiously, know very little about but think that it is very cool. What I know comes from observation only. Sikhs are a big influence in India (especially in the north). The religion dates back many centuries. They are the ones that wear turbans and have the sabers. They were very nice people to associate with (most are involved in business). The most interesting thing about this religion is the five things that all the men have on their bodies at all times; their long hair which they never cut, a bracelet made of metal, a comb in their hair, short undergarments and a dagger that they carry with them everywhere (even in the airports). My overall impression is that they are a people that are humble and that keep to themselves. Thats about all I have to say.
23: Christianity I have a funny confession to make, until I went to India it never really occurred to me that we as Latter-Day saints were included in the Christian religious category. I always thought that we were just "Mormon", a category on its own and while that is in part true, we are still Christian for we believe and worship Jesus Christ. However, I will admit that my knowledge of the Christian world was minuscule and I had a real eye opener in many ways during my mission. It was not the customs of the Christians in India that intrigued me, I lived most of them myself. It was not the way they dressed or their beliefs but the fact that there were so many denominations and branches of Christians, all claiming to believe in God and Christ but all differing in their methods and doctrines. I remember telling President Nichols in an interview, "Before my mission I had a testimony of the restoration, and now being out here, I have a testimony of the apostasy." As a whole, they were the ones that I got the most frustrated with, had the most trouble and hardship with and was the most surprised at. Perhaps it is because I am a Christian myself, but the way that the gospel has become distorted and twisted always really bothered me and for some reason we always had the most trouble trying to reason with those who already "knew" Christ. Most of the Christianity in India has been influenced by Hindu culture and superstitions. In many cases instead of one God, there are many different saints that you can pray to for help much like the Hindu deities. The pooja closets previously mentioned are converted into shrines for these saints where they they still do a form of pooja (whatever happened to "Thou shall not worship idols") In fact the Catholics have removed that commandment and replaced it by splitting the no coveting one in two. The contradictions and tweaking done are to numerous to mention here. I can not begin to count how many denominations that I came in contact with nor how many pastors would slap their "knowledge and authority" in our faces (detailed experiences to follow in later chapters) but it was something that definitely strengthened my own testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel and our church.
24: Holidays and P-Days
25: India is a land of celebration and holidays. With all of the different religions meshing into one culture, there are multiple festivals per month and even when there aren't any nationally recognized holidays, birthdays, weddings and house openings fill in the gap with partying, food and gathering of friends and family. As Elders we were able to observe and participate in a lot of these occasions but we also had our own celebration each week on our preparation day (p-day). The following memories highlight these festive times, beginning with the holidays that we are familiar with and moving from there into the unknown. Happy Christmas!! I love Christmas! I have so many fond memories of spending it with my family but Christmas as a missionary is not the same and Christmas in India is not exactly what you would describe as a "winter wonderland". The holiday is recognized only by those of the Christian faith, for others it is simply just another normal day. Traditionally, families will gather together and exchange sweets and small gifts, nothing to the extent of our western gift giving traditions. Santa Claus is known as Christmas Tata, a small mischievous man who causes trouble. Some families will decorate a small artificial pine tree but everyone puts a festive and lit star above their house or door. During this time of year, we would become "wise men" and use these stars to search for those to share a message about Christ with. Members of our church love to go caroling to other members during this time, starting the week before Christmas and going until 4 a.m. some nights. They would also throw a big branch party where skits were performed and songs sung. Since I was only there for two years, I don't have too many experiences to share but the ones I do have mean a lot to me. Christmas 2008 was both exciting and exhausting. We had just arrived to India the day before Christmas eve (I do not recommend international traveling during the holidays to anyone) and so everything was new and we were still in that shocked phase. We spent Christmas morning in the mission home with President and Sister Nichols, the Elders and the Couples of Bangalore. We sang songs, ate an amazing breakfast and did a small gift exchange. Our calls home that year were short and sweet since we had just spoken to our families at the airport a few days earlier. The best present I got that year was my first area assignment in Hyderabad 3rd branch. Even though it was not like the Christmas' I was used to, it was the beginning of my missionary service and will always be a very special one. Christmas 2009 was full of the spirit and of happiness. I was serving in Rajahmundry with Elder Pokhrel. Coming from a Hindu background, he had never really had a real Christmas celebration and I wanted to make it very special for him. I prayed for help and one P-day while we were out and about, we found a mini tree and a box of decorations. I remember how truly happy I was with our discovery, although we wouldn't be having a white Christmas, at least we'd have a tree. We also bought our own yellow star and when we got back to our apartment we spent the rest of the afternoon decorating. When we were done, we had a fully decked out tree, a star and snowflakes that we cut out of paper. That evening my Christmas package came from home, and I was able to put my individually wrapped presents under the tree. Every night when we came home, we would flip on the lights and enjoy the glow in our bedroom. Knowing that Elder Pokhrel wouldn't be getting any presents from his family, I spent the next few exchanges and p-days secretly buying him presents and wrapping them when he was in the shower. It was tricky keeping it hidden from him. We were at a tie shop one day and we both decided to buy a new tie. He eliminated his choices down to two but could only afford one. I bought the other one faking it was for me but wrapping it for him a few days later. I will always remember Christmas morning. I woke up a little earlier to put his presents under the tree. When he discovered what I did, he was so happy and that was the best gift I received that year. The morning moved onward and we had to prepare our apartment for the party we were throwing for all the Elders in Rajahmundry and Kakinada (our apartment
26: was the biggest). We cooked breakfast (homemade eggs, hash browns and m&m pancakes) and I even made homemade maple syrup which turned out to be more popular than the imported one Sister Nichols sent. After eating we did a gift exchange game and then dispersed to call our families. It was a miracle that the call worked at all considering the place we were calling from was an old telephone booth in the middle of nowhere. It was an amazing experience though, being able to hear my family when we were on opposite sides of the globe. After the call, we went caroling to a few of the members houses and then went back to await the branch carolers at our place. They came right after our nightly planning session. I opened the door and the branch president's wife, sister Glory pushed past me along with about 30 people (there would have been more but a group of them got stuck in the lift). They sat in circle on our floor, full of smiles and then started to sing. President Mummidivarapu was the last to arrive and asked me why in the world I let them in (Elders aren't supposed to have anyone in their apartments). I told him it was all his wife and he smiled and joined everyone. The spirit was so strong and my heart was so full of love for everyone in that room. It turned out to be a Christmas that I will never forget. Happy Turkey....Chicken Day... The only Thanksgiving that I had in India was sure an interesting one. We had been given special permission from President Nichols to take time out during the afternoon and have a special lunch with the Elders in our cities. What was supposed to be a two hour meal turned out to be a four hour one for us in Rajahmundry. Elder Hunn and I had spent the previous day making brownies, cookies and fudge for dessert. On Thursday, we arrived a little early to the zone leader's apartment to start cooking. Since turkey doesn't exist in India (unless you're Subway) we had collectively decided on sweet and sour chicken. I was in charge of making the sweet and sour sauce while the other Elders chopped up the recently deceased chicken into popcorn size pieces. We mixed up some rice, supplied some rolls and our meal was finished (I still don't know why it took us so long). There is one lesson that I gained from this experience; Elders should leave the cooking to the members and stick to preaching. It was the most disgusting Thanksgiving meal I have ever eaten. The only thing that was even remotely good were my gorilla poop cookies and that was because they were no-bake. I guess to sum it up, that year I was grateful for two things among many; being a missionary, and not having to suffer through meals like that everyday. Best Wishes for Your Birthday I have discovered that once you get past 20, birthdays aren't that special anymore. Its sort of a day that you just want to get over with and not think about. Well that is not the case in India. Birthdays are a big deal no matter what age you are. Families will throw a huge function at their homes with lots of food and prayers for the special person. The birthday person will get some gifts but mostly they are the ones giving others something like sweets or small toys, sort of backwards to the way that we do it here. My 20th birthday definitely did not live up to the Indian standard. I had just been transferred to a new area so I knew nobody and we were in lock down for Diwali. Elder Hunn was kind enough to make me a cake which pretty much turned out to be the extent of our celebration. My 21st birthday was much better. It was on a Sunday so I was able to spend it with everyone that I loved the most at church. Afterwards, the Willden family (an expat family from Nevada) surprised me with a little party and dinner. The kids had made be a big poster birthday card and presented it to me as they made me wear the "birthday hat". I was embarrassed but grateful and full of love for them. Stomachs full, we left to go back to our apartment to change when I got a call from my convert Christine who wanted to feed me a special birthday dinner. We agreed, praying that we would be able to shove
27: more food down. I felt so much love from everyone on that day and I counted myself blessed to be able to have such amazing friends and family. Elders of India Sang as They Walked and Walked and Walked... Members of the church in India are pioneers in many ways especially since most of them at this time are first generation. However, on July 24th, they along with the members in Utah celebrate pioneer day commemorating the members of the early church. On this day, members would gather together for activities and celebration. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in one of these celebrations. I was in Bangalore with Elder Pritchett and the Elders quorum decided that they would recreate the trek west. We gathered early in the morning at the church and assembled our own wagons which were bull carts with blue tarp stretched over it. Bless their hearts, I don't think the members knew what the pioneers really wore because the outfits they came in were quite interesting and humorous. Well, we split up into companies and started our journey to the new church property about 10 miles away. Throughout the journey, the leaders would read excerpts from Pioneer journals and quotes from the prophets. It was actually a really cool experience but Elder Pritchett and I had to abandon cart halfway through because they were moving so slow and we had appointments to get to. Just Met, Just Married Marriages are a huge part of the Indian culture and a source of great stress for many prospective spouses. Most of the general population still practices arranged marriages. Parents of the groom will start looking for their future daughter in law, judging on position/caste, money and beauty. Children usually have no say in the matter and many times will not even meet their spouse until shortly before the big day. Cousins may marry cousins and nephews may marry nieces. It is a part of the culture that the church is trying to stamp out of the members. President Nichols was known to tell the members that arranged marriages were an abomination and should be avoided at all cost. He was right. I met so many miserable couples who didn't love each other at all, wives who were abused by their drunk husbands and families that were torn apart from differences in religious beliefs. It was always a wonderful discovery when we found a couple who had had a "love marriage". The difference in their home and family life was very apparent. I was able to attend some wedding ceremonies and receptions and was surprised at how extravagant they were. Flowers would be everywhere in all variety of colors, the bride and groom were dressed like royalty and artificial lighting would caste a surreal glow on the scene, giving the audience a sun tan and the camera guy enough light to film the affair. The following high lights give further description . The first wedding that I went to I was asked to play the organ as I walked in the doors. Since all I had was the hymnbook, the bride came down the aisle to the accompaniment of Love at Home. I sat at the organ and watched them exchange rings (toe and finger) and sign their wedding certificate in front of the witnesses. The second wedding that I attended was a bit more dramatic. Two returned missionaries were getting married and were to be sealed in the Hong Kong Temple shortly thereafter. Well, the mother of the bride who was Hindu did not approve and halfway through the ceremony she burst in the chapel screaming and making a scene. She wasn't civil until the reception but by that time the bride was in tears. I am pretty sure that most of the people came to the reception for the food because there was sure a stampede to the serving tables and the food was gone quicker than it appeared. It definitely wasn't the bride's dream wedding.
28: The last wedding that I went to however was very happy. Our Elders quorum president Sam was getting married to his sweetheart Pradhika whom he had taught, baptized and proposed to. It was a joyful occasion and was full of dancing, good food and beautiful decorations. I was so impressed with how beautiful the reception was that I told Elder Pritchett afterwards that I wanted to have one just like it (it would be quite different than what we are used to in America). Marriages, good or bad, continue to be celebrated with anniversary functions throughout the years. We were invited to one such party in Rajahmundry. Our investigator had invited every pastor in the neighborhood to his house and Elder Pokhrel and I were included in the invitations. The party was on the roof but to make sure that everyone could be a part of the "joyful" celebrations, speakers were set up along the street so that the messages and songs could be blasted into neighboring homes. The program was actually sort of sad, most of it was devoted to the husband and his many accomplishments while the wife just sat there and looked bored. We were asked to stand up and give a short statement and since we barely knew the family and were surrounded by pastors, I decided to go with our best tool, our testimonies. I got up to the stage and congratulated the couple and said the following, "We believe that marriage is ordained in the sight of God and can last forever. We hope and pray that this couple will do everything they need to do to have their marriage last forever as well." With that we stepped off the stage and snuck out as the couple smiled at us and the pastors stared. You can't go wrong by telling the truth. Holi, Day of Color We now move away from our traditional holidays and into the world of Indian festivals. Holi is a Hindu festival where people will buy colored chalk powder and throw it on other people. I actually don't have any first hand experiences with this day because we were always locked up for it. I just witnessed the preparations and the aftermath. The week of the holiday, vendors would line the streets and lay out bowls of multicolored powder that they would sell by the pound. I don't know exactly what people did with it after that but I imagine things like throwing color filled balloons or shooting colored balls at each other. Anyway, the result was always a little humorous to see. People would walk the streets for a couple days after stained on the skin with bright and interesting colors. The streets and the garbage would also be colored as well. It's probably good I was not allowed to participate because with white church shirts and my skin color, I would probably walk around stained for a month. You Have Entered the Twilight Zone The most stressful holiday for me was the Ganesh Festival. It was probably the biggest and most extravagant holiday we witnessed. It celebrates the Hindu god Ganesh, the one that is half man, half elephant and goes on for more than a week. Because it is such a major Hindu holiday, we were always put on very tight restrictions as Elders; having to take off our badges and sometimes wearing colored shirts. It wasn't like we were in real danger or anything, its just when you get a bunch of devout Hindus partying and poojaing in the street, it is not the best environment for Christian missionaries to be roaming around in. What would happen is on every street the residents would build a sort of stage like shrine and decorate it with lights and flowers and such. They would then purchase a huge clay Ganesh ranging from about 3 feet to 20 feet and place it on the platform. Throughout the week, they would dance around it and hold mass parties surrounding it. During this time of year, we would always have little children come up to us with clipboards asking us to donate to their neighborhood Ganesh fund. Since this broke many of our rules and a few of the commandments as well we politely declined. It was always a little creepy walking the streets at night because every corner we turned we would come upon a huge neon painted elephant god. It felt like the twilight zone, like we could never escape. There were many nights that we would
29: have to take alternate routes to our apartment to avoid getting into trouble. There were always big parades during this festival as well. The first year I was in Bangalore and was on exchange with Elder Chagoya. We were in an auto on our way to an appointment when out of nowhere, we found ourselves in the middle of a Ganesh parade; and when I say middle I mean middle. It was like we were a part of the parade which was the last thing that we wanted to do. We hid as well as we could in the auto, praying that nobody would see us and I called the other Elders to tell them to stay away from the main road. The next year when I was in Hyderabad serving as a zone leader, Elder Gervais and I were woken up one night by the loudest drumming that I have ever heard. We went out to our balcony and looked down upon the street. Below us were hundreds of people and in the middle of them was a big Ganesh being carried on a pedestal sort of thing. There was an eerie green glow coming out of it and smoke all around. I seriously thought I had woken up to a scene from hell, it was that creepy. It took the parade about fifteen minutes to pass and for the drums to quiet down before I could go back to sleep. On the last day of the festival, people will throw their Ganesh idols into a body of water, a sort of baptism ritual for it. Since they are made of clay, they just dissolve into the place they are thrown. For those who are too busy to go to a lake, they provide another way. I was waiting for a bus in Bangalore when across the street from me I saw a giant water tank on the back of a lorry. The sign underneath it read: Please fill free to immerse your Ganesha Idol in this tank. I couldn't help but laugh and wish we had a mobile baptismal font for our use. Boom, Boom, Boom Perhaps my favorite Indian festival was Diwali, the festival of lights. It was a celebration for some Hindu god or goddess but my favorite part and what it is most well known for is the fireworks. The best way to explain it is take the 4th of July, times it by ten and add a 360 degree view. We have little firework stands here in the US but there, they have streets of vendors selling all kinds of crackers and sparklers and things that are illegal to shoot off in the US. My first year in Rajahmundry was not so eventful because it is a small village and our apartment was surrounded by trees. My second year in Hyderabad was a lot cooler. We were allowed to go proselyting during the day but at 4 we had to return to our flats for safety. We couldn't risk the chance of walking around with explosives going off everywhere. Elder Gervais and I finished up our planning and work and then went onto the roof of our apartment to enjoy the evening. It sounded like a war zone but it was worth it. Ramazan, (Ramadan) One of the most celebrated Muslim holidays that I witnessed was Ramadan which is sort of the Muslim version of Lent only it lasts for a little over a week. During this time, the Muslim people will fast throughout the day and then at night they would hold celebrations and eat Haleem. What is Haleem you might ask? Well, they have these giant cauldrons that they put in these clay ovens on the side of the street. They either add chicken or mutton to these cauldrons along with gee, spices and gee. They let it cook throughout the day, stirring and beating the mixture with a big oar type thing and then by night it is ready to eat. I will admit it smelled wonderful but I was never brave enough to try the stuff. Elder Gervais was crazy about it and bought a few parcels to go. I watched in disgust as he ate it. His description of it was chicken flavored chewing gum.
30: Hail Holy Queen and Throne Above One holiday that I never really understood but that was really important to the catholics was the Mother Mary festival where they would celebrate the birth of the virgin Mary. First of all, how in the world do they know when Mary's birthday was and second of all, where in the bible does it say we should worship Mary at all. Anyway, on this day the Catholics would go to their churches and make a coconut offering to a giant Mary statue. It was a pain in the neck when it conflicted with our Catholic investigators and coming to our church for service that day. The most humorous memory of this festival comes from Rajahmundry. I was on exchange with Elder Diamond and in truth, any exchange with Elder Diamond was humorous. Well, we were riding on one cycle down the street (his cycle was broken) and suddenly in front of us we saw this enormous Mother Mary in a glass box being driven down the street in the back of a service auto. Elder Diamond whipped out his camera and started recording the event. We followed it for a time, while Elder Diamond added his commentary to the video. It turned out to be quite a funny experience!
32: P-Day, An Elders Sabbath It was a blessed thing when we reached preparation day every week. It was our time to take a breath, relax a little and prepare for the coming week mentally, physically and emotionally. It was in essence our own Sabbath in a way for even on Sundays we were extremely busy and involved in the work. I'm not quite sure how p-days work in America or other countries but being in one of the most amazingly diverse countries in the world gave us the opportunity to sight see and enjoy the culture around us. The following memories highlight p-day experiences and routines of an Elder in India. We would wake up at our usual 6:30 (there is no sleeping in for an Elder unless you forget to set the alarm clock, which happened a couple of times) and start our exercises. I will be the first to admit that this was my least favorite time of the day. Usually I would fill the time by getting an early start to the cleaning but there were a few companions that pushed me to be better about it. Elder Pokhrel and I used to go on top of our roof in Rajahmundry and play badminton. Our feet combined with our laughter usually irritated the residents below us so we had to tone it down. Elder Gervais, a former gym trainer, had me participate in his insane workout routines which I absolutely loathed. He had me do a bunch of lunges around our apartment one day and I was so sore in my thigh and butt area that I could not walk down stairs properly and couldn't sit without wincing. Not a happy Elder Stratton. After exercises, we cleaned our apartment and most of it usually fell onto my shoulders. I don't know if its because I am a clean freak or if the others ones were just lazy but I and my companion were always known to have top marks on our apartment inspections. If an apartment was disorganized and dirty when I first moved into it, within two days I would have it Strattonized even if it meant organizing my companions stuff a little. The first thing that we would do upon leaving the apartment was head to an ATM to withdraw our budgets for the coming week. I love the Indian ATMs because they talk to you in a seductive British voice. For example, slide card - "Please enter your secret number" - enter pin and withdraw money - "please take your receipt, Thank you for banking with us". It was always a temptation to withdraw more than I needed but I learned how to budget pretty well. I had to remember to be careful while withdrawing however and not let myself get distracted by the pretty lady's voice. There was one time when I totally left my card in the machine but luckily an honest man ran out and returned it to me after. Throughout the second half of my mission I was a petty cash officer, in charge of the expenses for Elders in our city. I would have to withdraw up to 100,000 rupees at the first of each month and I always felt like a secret agent while doing it, shoving the cash into secret compartments in my bag and rushing it home after before anyone could mug me. (Actually I was really safe but I never wanted to take any chances.) There was one time though where the power went out in the middle of my transaction. The money was deducted from my account but no cash came from the machine. It took a couple of weeks working through the bank, showing receipts for proof and phone calls to Bangalore before I got the money back. I told the bank that they should invest in backup generators for the future. Our next stop was to the Internet café to email our families. Since very few people have a computer in their homes, there are a number of cafés in every neighborhood. The smaller ones were ok besides the slow connection speed and the risk of viruses getting on your camera but our favorite was Reliance world. We were able to set up accounts there that were good anywhere in India , it was air conditioned, had backup power and great speed. Email time was like Christmas every week. It was my connection to my other life and my way of journaling my life there. There were a few special times where I connected with my mom because she was always waiting up all hours of the night to read my messages. I considered these special moments a tender mercy sent from the Lord. Technically we were only supposed to stay online for an hour but most of the Elders including myself would average two.
33: Our next stop might have included a post office. When I first stepped into one I was shocked at how disorganized everything was. You would give them your letters, and they would stamp them and then toss them over their shoulder onto the floor. I decided then and there that none of my letters home would go through the Indian post. I instead chose the courier services, India's UPS system. Even though it was 1500 rupees compared to 25, I knew that my letters would reach home safely. I received endless teasing from the other Elders about it though. Letters coming to us from family and friends were first shipped to Bangalore and then sent out in courier packages to the various cities so we never knew which day they would come. But when you live in Bangalore, you get to skip the middle process and just pick them up from the mission office. This was the next stop for me and Elder Pritchett and Otis during my time there. We would always stay a little and visit with the office Elders and Sister Linton who usually had some cookies made. I would then open and read my letters in the comfort of air conditioning. I had the reputation of being the letter harlot of the mission because on average I would have 3 to 4 every week (thanks goes out to my mother and grandmother). I treasured these letters and read them at times when I needed strength and comfort. Another p-day routine (at least every two weeks) was going to the barber shop for a haircut. Most shops were segregated and therefore only men cut mens hair, the difference being that these men were not gay like the ones in America. I usually had to search around when I moved into a new city for the perfect barber. In my mind it wasn't really that hard to cut my hair, I always told them short on sides, and medium on top. There were a couple of horrible instances where they messed up or didn't like what they did and just buzzed the whole thing. These were times of great testing to my patience and vanity. I'll make a confession, I was usually able to tell a good barber from a bad barber by watching them for a minute and I was always more then willing to let my companion take the turn if it was the bad barber; I know its horrible and it sometimes came back to haunt me. To shave our sideburns they would use one of those old fashioned razors but they would always be sure to show us that they were using a new blade so as to protect against AIDS and other diseases. Sometimes when I was feeling a little indulgent, I would spend 50 extra rupees for a head massage. They would use this special oil that cooled and tingled my head. It was amazing!!! Our next stop was usually to the grocery store. It always made me feel so grown up buying my own groceries. Our local favorites included Vijethas, Spencer's, MK Retail, Ratnadeep and Spar. If we had no other choice we would go to the More Store where the selection was horrible and the food rotten. Some of these stores had imported food items like poptarts or Hershey's chocolate but they were really expensive and therefore not an option for us. In all stores in India you have to check in your bag or purse to a security guard at the door and then they had to punch or highlight your receipt as you walked out. It was a great way to prevent thievery. In smaller villages like Rajahmundry, grocery shopping was a bit more difficult. We had to go to four different stores for our essentials, our milk, our eggs and our bread. It was during my time there that I became really grateful for Super Walmart. Because we had cycles in this city, it was a task to get our grocery's home safely. One time my the plastic bags containing my milk packets fell off my handle bars and exploded onto the street. I didn't cry over the spilled milk but I was sort of sad about the wasted rupees. Another time, my grocery bags fell off of the back of my cycle, the clip having been loose, and were run over by a motorcycle driving behind me. In the process one of my kettle popcorn packets was torn open and butter was all over everything. I can't even count how many eggs we broke on our way home. We finally invested in baskets that attached to the front of our cycles. This helped with the moving of groceries but also gave us endless teasing from the locals for only girls had baskets on their cycles.
34: The rest of our p-day was spent one of two ways. If I was with an Indian companion we would go back home and they would take a nap while I wrote letters or read a book (I hated taking naps). If I was with an American companion we would do some sight seeing and souvenir shopping. I loved walking the streets in the main part of the city where all of the vendors were and where they had the big shopping malls. Every shop was a colorful treat for the eye. Vendors would come up to you and pawn their stuff off and you had to make an escape or they wouldn't leave you alone. At times I would get headaches from all of the shouting that was aimed at me and others as they tried to sell their items. I learned the wonderful technique of bargaining while shopping for my own souvenirs. It was always helpful to have either an Indian companion or a member of the branch come with us on these shopping sprees because they knew the real value of the items being sold. Here is the process, the vendor will ask a starting price that is usually outrageous. You ask for a lower price but at the same time seem really interested. It goes down like this until he either sells it to you or you go to another vendor. All shops are conveniently set up by category meaning all of the shoe shops are clumped together, all of the furniture and so forth. There was one time when I was buying some fancy wedding shoes where I went down the line searching about 5 shops before I got the price I wanted. Its funny because usually the rejected salesman will follow you to the next shop and try to affect business and they always got a little mad when they lose. The key to successful bargaining is act interested, give compliments, keep eye contact and act confident. If they sense any insecurity in your decision, they will eat you alive. Sometimes we would go into the modern shopping malls to get a bite to eat and look at the merchandise. This was always a temptation for me because they would have items like DVD's from America that I knew I was missing and it took some practice to not become trunky in such situations. My favorite and probably most embarrassing memory of shopping in one of these malls was when I was in Hyderabad, looking for some clothes for my mom and sister. I have no experience in women's clothing, especially Indian womens clothing. Luckily a sales girl could see my predicament and offered to help me. By the end I had about three offering opinions and making measurements. I ended up spending so much money in the women's section that I got a free purse. Having no preference myself, I asked one of the girls which one she would buy and went with her suggestion. We would get free stuff in other places as well like the grocery stores but having no use for a pound of onions, we always gave this stuff to our watchman at our apartment. Zone Activities About every six months, we would gather as a zone and go on an outing of some sort. They were sort of like mini vacations for us and provided us with amazing opportunities to see the country and to spend time with the other missionaries. My first trip was a sight seeing tour around Hyderabad where we went to Golcanda fort, the tombs of ancient Mughal kings, the Buddha statue in the middle of the Hussein Sagar Lake and Necklace road park. My second trip was in Bangalore. After waiting for two hours for the late bus, we traveled to Mysore and visited the famous palace there. It was on this trip that I had my first elephant ride. On the way we also stopped at a silk worm factory where we were able to hold and examine the silk makers. My third trip was a tour of Visak while we were there for a zone conference. We went to a famous Hindu temple in the mountains, visited a famous monument of a Hindu god, toured a submarine, visited the fish port where we got on a small dingy and went out a way and then to RK Beach. My fourth trip was to Ramoji Film city, India's version of Universal studios. It was quite the experience and may have been a little too worldly for a bunch of Elders but it was fun regardless.
35: My last trip was in Hyderabad where we went to the famous Charminar and visited the Chowmahalla Palace. All of these places that I had the chance to visit were absolutely beautiful but they lacked the fun and laughter that my family would have supplied. Even though world travel is fun, it means little if you are not with the ones that you love.
38: Everyday Life
39: Everyday life in India is very different than what we are used to in the United States. Let's just say that there was never a dull moment, every day was like a new adventure to me. The following experiences illustrate the norms of life and highlights the parts of the culture that are truly foreign to us. Etiquette and Customs There were many small things that I had to adapt to in this category to keep from offending anyone for good etiquette was a sign of great respect and honor. The most basic was that of an everyday greeting. In most cases, instead of shaking hands and saying hello we would press our hands together and bow our heads, muttering a namaste to which they would reply back (this was not the case for church members who have adopted the LDS handshake and hug method). I grew to love this way of saying hi to people, it was very formal and dignified. It is also customary for people to refer to each other as brother and sister over there. There is no Mr. or Mrs. Everyone is part of one big family. Some of the older generation prefers to be addressed as auntie and uncle instead. I made the mistake of calling an older lady "sister" on time and received a stern scolding for it. I made sure to be careful after that. Most of the time when we would greet girls of any age, they would blush and break into a fit of giggles. They weren't used to guys being forward and open like that especially foreigners because men and women are very isolated in a way over there, at least socially. There was one time though when I was driving in an auto and a girl catcalled as I went by. It was both flattering and highly strange. There is a gesture that I label the Indian bobble head. It could either mean yes or no or maybe; it was actually quite confusing at times. New Elders, myself included would try to get this down but always ended up overdoing it looking like we had major kinks in our necks. Over time it came naturally and eventually I didn't realize I was doing it until it was pointed out to me by an American family in the branch. Another unique gesture was the "what" sign, made by shaking your hand like you're shaking a rattle. It could stand for how much, how long, where are we going, why, and so forth. We would use it many times a day with a variety of people from investigators to auto drivers. There is another part of etiquette that I found really interesting and it had to do with feet. For some reason they are considered very unclean over there. When someone accidentally bumped another person's feet or stepped on them, they would quickly apologize by making kissing gestures with their hands towards the feet of the other person. If one was begging or showing great reverence and respect, they would actually bend down and kiss the feet of the other person. In all homes and many holy places it was customary to remove your shoes which I thought was more comfortable anyway. At least I had socks to protect against dirt and such, for most people there wear chupples (flipflop) and no socks at all. Our church was actually criticized regularly for being the only church that allowed people to wear their shoes, it was thought to be unholy. I would rather that than the alternative of hundreds of barefoot people in a hot and humid room. One thing that I noticed about the Indian people right away was their smiles and their hospitality. They are kind to each other for the most part and very generous to those from out of country. Their smiles literally brightened my day. On many occasions people would say to me "Welcome to India" (whether I was brand new or two years old). I always did feel welcome though, it truly became my second home. Dress and appearance are very important to people there. Even the poorest people can be seen braiding their hair and brushing their teeth. I was very grateful for the modesty of everyone and often wished that America would adopt some of their fashions. The clothes were always colorful and beautiful and great
40: care was taken to ensure that they were clean and pressed. Since most people do not own a washing machine, clothes were put in a washing basin, scrubbed with a bar of blue detergent and then pounded on a rock and laid out to dry. I will say that many of the women were very fierce in their washing and pounding of clothes. I guess it was a good outlet for the stress of daily life but I would never want to anger an Auntie with wet clothes in her hand. Ease On Down the Road You didn't have to go far to sight see in India, all you had to do was walk down the streets. There are a number of shops and services that you will find on most; xerox shops, bakeries and sweet shops, alcohol and liquor shops, pan and smoking shacks, mobile phone provider booths, tailor shops, temples and shrines, and travel agencies. These were neighbored by the many various mini market stores, India's version of a 7-11. Most families would replenish their stock of rice, vegetables, spices and oils at these places. There was a plethora of fresh fruit carts that made home on most corners. If you were a hungry and weak Elder, a fresh banana or mango was a great pick me up and for only 2 to 5 rupees we could always afford one. These carts would also be pushed up and down the neighborhoods in the morning, making home deliveries. The vendors would shout out their items in these hair raising nasely voices that could be heard behind closed doors and closed windows and with ears plugged (I tried all). There were various men and women stationed among these shops that provided immediate service like shoe fixing, hair cutting and clothes ironing. The shoe repairmen became quite useful considering the state of the Indian roads and the amount of walking that we did as Elders. They had various methods of stitching up and gluing rubber onto the holes in our soles but none of these techniques were very lasting. I don't know if it was because we were just brutal to our shoes or if they purposely gave us opportunity to visit them again. There were also men and women who would iron clothes with a heavy steel iron fueled by hot coals. People would just drop off a bundle and then pick them up at the end of the day. Something very noticeable about the streets in India was the presence of garbage everywhere. The custom was when you were done with something, be it wrapper or water bottle, that you chuck it over to the side of the street. They would have people come and sweep the messes every morning in most places only to have them take the garbage to a dump in the middle of the neighborhood. I won't even began to describe the odor of such dumps. We lived very near one in my Begumpet apartment in Hyderabad and having to pass it twice a day was not the most pleasant experience. They were playgrounds for poorer children and buffets for the various animals in the neighborhood. About once a week these dumps would be burned by the locals, sending up clouds of smoke and doing nothing for global warming. In some of the more established neighborhoods, these burnings took place in circular concrete barriers and I always joked with my companions when we approached a burning one that it was a window to hell. The garbage in our apartment was set outside the front door and taken to the dump by our watchmen. However, in Rajahmundry we had a dump right below our balcony, on the other side of a wall. We would toss our garbage down the three story drop trying to have good aim but many times it would land in river and float away or land on the cows grazing in the waste (which was sort of funny). Babies, Beggars and Crossdressers With every street came the beggars. It was actually one of the saddest sights that I witnessed while there but it has unfortunately become a business for the less fortunate. Babies would be rented out for the day to draw sympathy from onlookers. Many children would purposely be maimed and broken while young, so as to have a permanent injury to beg with and others truly had no other choice. As missionaries we
41: were not allowed to give anything to these beggars, for our safety and to prevent it from looking like we were bribing people to convert. They were always very persistent and would surround us, when walking and while waiting in autos at a stoplight. The only thing we could do was ignore them which is easier said than done. Many would give us angry looks and swear at us in Hindi when we didn't give them anything. A few personal experiences with beggars that pop out in my memory are as follows. One p-day I was loading up my cycle with my groceries when suddenly two little girls came up on both sides of me and started to ask for money. I kindly said no and made to go but they grabbed on to my handle bars. Now I know that they were only about 6 or 7 but man, were they strong! I am embarrassed to admit that I couldn't move. After a little struggling, I finally broke free and rode off. They chased after me for a good 20 to 30 yards and were finally chased off by a policeman. Another time Elder Pritchett and I were in an auto in Bangalore when we heard a loud clapping sound. Suddenly a cross dresser appeared by our side. Now you may think that crossdressers are ugly in America but you haven't seen anything until you've seen an Indian one. They are rejected by society and forced to beg but they do it with a flare. This one started stroking Elder Pritchett's arm as I told the auto driver to quickly speed up. It was definitely creepy and disgusting but we laugh about it now. The last experience was actually quite sad. Elder Pritchett and I were finding in Bangalore one day when we found ourselves being followed by a young boy. I noticed that he was acting a little strange but couldn't figure out what is was. Well, we found Sister Goel that day and the boy followed us up to the gate. She asked who he was and we said that we didn't know. She allowed him in and he sat during our discussion. He continued to act very strange and we found out from Sister Goel that he was drugged up. She said boys like this would join gangs and sniff glue and chemicals and then go out to beg. It was extremely sad to see and will always be in my memory. It Looks Like Rain Southern Indian climate is very different from the dry and arid desert of Utah. I distinctly remember getting off the airplane in Bangalore and thinking to myself, "This is soooo hot and humid" and wondering if I would ever get used to it. The funny thing about that was that Bangalore was the coolest place in the mission but I didn't know that until later. It took a few weeks to realize that the heat was not going away and that it would only get worse during the summer months. Once I was adjusted to the tropical climate that I was living in, it no longer bothered me when I could feel the drops of sweat trickle down my back. A wet head was a part of my everyday life and by the time we would reach our apartment at night, my white handkerchiefs were stained with dust and drenched as if I had dipped them in a pool of water. In every area that I progressed through, the heat progressively got hotter and hotter. I never had to wear sunscreen because I swear that the sun is different over there and I never got sunburned. However, when I was in Rajahmundry, I noticed that my arms started to break out in tiny boils. I later found out that this was a case of "prickly heat" and could be cured by putting talc powder on them. It was also easy to get dehydrated with all of the walking and riding that we did. Coconut water was a remedy but as I already mentioned I didn't like it very much. All of the water that we drank came out in sweat. In fact, I have never drank so much and urinated so little in all of my life. There were times in the year during the monsoon season however when we got a break from the heat and the sun. Looking back I'm not sure that it was necessarily a better option. My only previous exposure to monsoons came from the movie "Jumanji" where Robin Williams said, "A little rain won't hurt anyone but a lot can kill you." I thought he was joking and that the movie was exaggerating but it turns out that
42: it was very accurate. The mornings would always start off really hot and humid and then towards the afternoon it would strike with very little notice. For example, we were standing on the roof of our branch mission leader's apartment in Bangalore one day, waiting for him to change and come on exchange with us. As Elder Pritchett and I looked at the clouds to the north, we saw them literally expand and darken before our eyes. Within minutes lightning and thunder were added to the mix and we knew that we were in for a pretty bad storm. Some other experiences illustrate the intensity of these monsoons and how we dealt with them. Elder Pritchett and I were on our way to an appointment with Neel and Usha on exchange. As we drove, the sky grew darker and we knew that we would have to hurry to beat the storm. Within a minute of us getting out of the auto, the rain started. We had some distance to walk but were unable to go very quickly for the ground had become a muddy mess and we had to navigate through the puddles and potholes. Usha ended up breaking her chupples and by the time we reached our investigator's house, it looked as if I had just climbed out of the ocean. They were kind to let us in and give us towels to dry off. I never thought that I would be cold in India but after instances like this my teeth would chatter on our way home in the auto. During the next monsoon season, I was serving in Hyderabad. Elder Radhakrishnan and I were driving home in and auto after our last appointment of the night. Suddenly it started to rain and within 2 minutes the streets were flowing with water. Our apartment was at the bottom of a hill and as we drew nearer, I stared in awe as I realized that we were literally driving down a river. The water's edge was lapping against my feet and the auto and the engine was having trouble as it slowly flooded. When we awoke the next morning, the water was no longer rushing in a current but the streets remained flooded. One other experience that I will never forget happened as Elder Talk and I were standing at a corner store drinking a cool drink and OYMing the other customers. It started to rain and we decided to wait it out under the safety of the store's awning. The store was about five feet above the ground and so we felt pretty confident that we wouldn't be getting wet. Well, the rain only fell harder and harder and I started to notice that the river that was once a street was steadily rising. It got to the point where it was about three feet in height . The flow of water was coming down hill to our left and turning the corner to our right. I didn't realize how strong the current was until three aunties tried to cross it and were knocked over and carried a little ways before they regained their footing. As we stood there, I watched household items, backpacks and even entire logs of wood float down this river. We waited for about forty five minutes until the rain stopped. The water was no longer rushing but the level was still about the same. Elder Talk and I had a dinner appointment on the other side of the branch to get to and therefore had no choice but to jump in and wade to higher ground. It was not the most pleasant experience I've ever had considering the sewage that is mixed with the water in these cases but it was definitely adventurous. The people are used to these storms and know what to do for precautions. Many use umbrellas; I myself did as well until I lost of couple of them on the bus and didn't want to waste anymore money. A lot of them will put plastic grocery bags over their heads for some believe that the water can soak into your brain and make you sick. There were times when these rains caused great amounts of damage to crops and homes. When I was serving in Bangalore, there was mass flooding in the northern part of the state and we were able to gather supplies in the branches and send a bus load of people up there to assist in humanitarian aid. The rain that I see now does not even compare with that of the monsoons in India and makes me miss those sudden downpours.
43: It's a Privilege to Pee For those who might be offended by potty talk you may want to skip this section. I don't write it to be crude or funny, I write it because it is a normal part of the culture. In India it is not uncommon to look out the side of the auto or to walk by someone (mostly men, but I saw woman as well) doing their business on the side of the street. The custom is, when the urge comes, you stop what you're doing, unzip and go; on the wall, in the bushes, in the trench or on the rocks. I was shocked beyond belief when I first witnessed this and it took me the longest time before I was able to ignore it and become desensitized. Something that is so private in the US is public and open over there. I even passed by a group of school children in Rajahmundry one day, all lined up and squatting over the gutter having a communal poop. They were chatting a laughing and having the darnedest time as I was trying to process what I had just seen and whether it had been real or not. I don't necessarily blame them too much because in order to use the public toilets (excluding the ones in businesses) you had to pay a fee of a couple of rupees. I for one would never use one for they were disgusting and dirty. As Elders we would always be sure that our business was taken care of before we left an establishment. However I will admit that there were a few times when we were out in the middle of nowhere with no houses and no businesses where we had no choice but to do as the Indians do. In one such case, my companion and I had taken shifts and were walking away from the garbage heap that had served as our urinal when two young boys saw us and asked us if we had been catching the snake. I had absolutely no idea what they meant but later found out it was child's lingo for going pee. I guess they were surprised to see two Americans embracing that part of their culture. I guess this would be a good place to talk about the squatter or Indian toilet. It is actually just a hole in the floor, sometimes encompassed by porcelain, where one would squat and do their business. Toilet paper is a privilege of the rich (luckily we could afford it) and so they would either have a bucket or a sprayer next to these holes. The left hand is considered unclean for a reason and so hand sanitizer was always an essential that I packed. I was unfortunate enough to have to use these contraptions a couple of times and am not too fond of them. Luckily in most of the nicer homes and apartments they have western style toilets or both so I wasn't inconvenienced too much. Our church buildings, being modern and very classy, had only western style toilets. Once Sunday, a member of the branch presidency got up and during the announcements in Sacrament meeting, asked the parents to teach their children how to respect the bathrooms. It turns out that some child had treated the western toilet like a squatter and had broken it. The Woes of Maintenance When something is broken in India, they will usually hit it with a hammer and hope to get a little bit more life out of it. It makes sense, many people are poor and can't afford to buy new things. There comes a point though where hammering won't do any good. Most of the repairs that we as Elders had were in our apartments. We lived in the nicest places in the area but over the years with a bunch of twenty year old guys taking care of home repair, things ended up getting broken. Here are some examples to prove my point. We had this fridge in my first area of Hyderabad that kept warming up. Thinking it was just because summer was coming, we let it go for about a month. Eventually I was storing fridge items in the freezer and could not longer buy icecream. We called a repairman and after replacing a number of parts, it was as good as new.
44: Another time, during the heat of the summer, our air conditioner broke leaving us with an open window and the fan. Because our schedule was very busy at the time and we had trouble contacting the branch repairman, we let it go for about a month and a half. I remember waking up in the morning, drenched in sweat and taking cold showers to get rid of the heat. By the time we finally got it fixed, it was actually a little chilly at night because we weren't used to it. There was one p-day when Elder Umesh and I were coming home from grocery shopping. As he went to open the door, the latch broke completely off, leaving us locked out. We called for help and our assistant church custodian showed up. In order to get in, we had to go up onto the roof and he had to shimmy himself down the cracks (a 40 foot drop) and onto our kitchen balcony. Once there, he kicked in our kitchen door, breaking that lock as well, and then dismantled our door latch from the inside. We had to stay at home for a day and a half waiting for it to be fixed and ended up holding district meeting in the apartment because of it. Our biggest problems always had to do with water. India doesn't have underground pipelines that transport water directly into the house. Instead it is sent to a big tank on the top of the house, apartment or establishment and every morning a pump would have to be turned on to fill the tank up. The watchman forgetting to turn on the pump was an easy thing to fix but having the well run dry was not. This is what happened to me when I was in Hyderabad in my second apartment. The building itself was brand new but the well that they had drilled dried up within about 2 months. They assured us that it would be fixed within a week and so we had to lug buckets of water from a nearby hose for a few days. Eventually we found out that it would take more than a month to fix and so we ended up moving in with the other Elders in the branch. It ended up being a blessing in a couple of different ways. About a year later I was again living in Hyderabad, this time in the big city part of it. The apartment we were living in was very nice but started spouting out brown and yellow water in the kitchen and bathroom. The landlord said he was in the process of fixing it so I let it go for the time being and used lots of soap. One day I was unloading my whites from the washing machine and saw that they had become cream with brown highlights. (Not a happy Elder Stratton). The landlord could sense my displeasure when I knocked on his door and showed him my shirt. It was fixed by the next day. There was one time in Bangalore when our washing machine refused to give any water, good or bad. I ended up having to wash my whites by hand in order to have clean garments for the next day. I do not envy the pioneers or the Indian women who do this nowadays. I swear that no matter how much I rinsed the soap would not come out. After about an hour or bending I had soap sudsy garments and a horrible backache. The electricity in India was another pain in the neck. Some places were better than others but there would frequently be power outages, in fact they routinely planned them every day in certain areas. There was many a night where we planned by candle light or where we walked home in the dark. Some apartments had back up generators that we could flip a switch to access the power but that was not the case all of the time. When looking up at the electrical lines that were run from building to building, it was easy to wonder how things didn't just blow up considering they were always a tangled, twisted, jumbled and disorganized mess. I'd hate to be the electrician repairing any of the lines there. Monkeys and Roaches and Bats, Oh My I had my fair share of run ins with the local animal life during my time in India. Many animals are
45: considered sacred and are therefore allowed to roam free in the streets. Others are just pests and can only be endured. The following experiences show the range of animal life that I saw and dealt with. The first time I woke up in my first area, I went to the mirror and was surprised to see that my forehead was dotted with what looked like chicken pox. Knowing that was impossible considering I already had had the chicken pox, I thought I was having an allergic reaction to the milk that I had drank the night before. Later that day at district meeting, the other Elders convinced me that I had a mattress with bed bugs in it and that I would have to buy a new one (they knew this was not the case and were only teasing me; ha ha very funny). Well that night as I worried and tried to fall asleep, I heard a buzzing near my ear and suddenly I knew what I was facing; mosquito's. That would not be the last time that they would bite me either. The mosquito's in India are three times the size of American ones and twice as vicious. They loved to bite me especially when I took my shoes off in appointments and my feet were hot and sweaty. They would swarm to my socks and I would spend most of the time twitching and moving my toes to get rid of them. Sometimes, I would have so many bites on my feet that they would swell up and became numb. There were many devices we had to fight these pests. There was the spray that was imported but it was sticky and smelly and I hated to use it. There was the coil which was like an incense burner that you lit and set in the middle of the room. There was the plug in night light that let off a odorless scent into the room that repelled mosquito's. My favorite weapon was the mosquito bat, a electric tennis racket that would zap them into oblivion. My course of action for my first encounter was spraying my face and then sleeping with my airline sleep mask covering my forehead. No matter how clean you kept your apartment, you could always find cockroaches lingering around. They loved dark and dry places, like garbage cans. There was one time when I was cleaning our apartment in Bangalore that I dropped the garbage can on the floor and a multitude of roaches fell from the crevice at top. Another time during a planning session with Elder Pritchett, I looked up to see a roach the size of a small mouse on the wall behind his head. We had a special spray that we would buy that would kill them but they always took their time to draw their last breath, twitching and sometimes squeaking the whole time. Another household predator that we had were the ants. Some were about an inch big with wings but the most common and dangerous were the small red ones. They would travel in great big moving lines, through any crack they could find. Most of our food was kept in the fridge to prevent the infestation of these little creatures. What you didn't want even more then them getting your food was getting bitten by one. One Elder was bit on the eye lid and it ended up swelling shut for the good part of a week. Another Elder had a couple crawl up his pants while he was sleeping and ....well I won't go any further than that. What I thought was a bad cold sore turned out to be a bite on my upper lip that made it swell to the size of Whitney Houston's and gave me trouble speaking for a couple of days. I had the privilege of walking among fruit bats during they night. They would swoop down from the trees and fly over our heads causing us to duck as we walked. One of these winged animals somehow made it into my first apartment. We opened the door, turned and on the light and fan and saw it flying around the ceiling. Elder Raju was freaking out and trying to get me to do something. I grabbed the only thing nearby, our mosquito bat and started to "usher it towards to open door. Instead of setting it free, I ended up hitting it against the wall with my weapon. It fell with a plop on the floor dead. I felt sort of sorry after that. An iconic image that comes to mind when someone thinks of India is a snake charmer. I never did see a charmer but I saw my fair share of snakes. We were driving in an auto one day on a busy road when suddenly traffic came to a standstill. I looked out and saw a seven foot greenish brown snake crossing
46: the road. I have heard of cow and sheep crossings holding up traffic but never snake crossings. Another time I had a flat tire and so we went to fix it at this cycle shack in the middle of BHEL. While the guy was fixing it, his friend handed me a plastic cookie jar to hold. Imagine my surprise when I realized it contained an Indian cobra. I tried to get Elder Valluri to come and see it but he ran far away because he was terrified of snakes. I on the other hand thought that it was extremely cool. I moved my finger back and forth and it would move its head in the same motion. It tried to strike a couple of times but the plastic held firm. The guy later invited us to see him release it but unfortunately we were booked that day and couldn't fit it into our schedule. In India there is no such thing as a household dog for a pet (Ok, there are a few but I didn't see many). Instead there are stray dogs that roam everywhere; I literally mean everywhere. I would often tell my companions it was because they don't have Bob Barker telling them every morning to spade and neuter their pets. Most of these dogs had definitely seen better times, some were hairless, many had missing limbs and one that we affectionately called cancer dog in Rajahmundry had a growth the size of a watermelon between his back legs. Most of the dogs would stay away from people but there were a number of times when I found myself in the classic missionary scene of Elder running away from dog. Sometimes we would have to throw rocks at them to get them to go away. Some were so used to this that the mere action of leaning down to pick up a rock scared them away. Sometimes we would see dog catchers in the neighborhood, rounding up all of the strays they could find and shipping them off to doggy heaven. Other times we would "walk in" on a dog rape (the males search out females and chase them). Children would often be standing on the sidelines laughing and pointing and I always thought to myself, "This is not the kind of education they should be getting on this topic." I broke a few laughs as well for sometimes the dogs would become entangled and stuck to each other. Yet another reason to spade and neuter your pets. One of the animals that I was most excited to see when I found out I was going to India was the monkey. In my mind they were cute and lovable creatures. I couldn't be more wrong. They travel in packs, jumping from house to house, or tree to tree. They have sharp claws and pointed fangs with hairless red butts. Elder Pokhrel and I were riding home on our cycles one day from the grocery store when we saw two girls being attacked by a couple of monkeys. The monkeys were clawing at the bottom of their chudidars and the girls were screaming at the top of their voices. We jumped off our bikes and ran towards them, scaring both the monkey's and the girls away. Another time, we were walking through a quiet part off our area with lots of trees when we saw a monkey sitting on a wall. We went up pretty close to it and Elder Pokhrel started making monkey sounds at it. It looked at us, bared its fangs, jumped off the wall and started to chase us. That was the last time we ever tried to OYM a monkey. These creatures were very fast and could jump to great heights with little effort. I was sitting on the porch of a house one day with one of my zone leaders on exchange when we saw this giant monkey with a four foot tail chasing a dog down the street. The monkey used a motorcycle as his springboard (knocking it down), bounced onto a nearby palm tree and then onto the roof of a house before disappearing. At least the dog got away unharmed, I can't say the same about the motorcycle. The last form of animal life was the most abundant and perhaps the most disgusting; the livestock. Actually, I can't really call it livestock because things like cows are considered sacred and are not eaten by most people. Just the same, cows, chickens, pigs and mutton were allowed to freely roam wherever they wanted to go, causing traffic jams, smell, and messes on the streets. They would congregate in the garbage heaps and lay in the wet mud and sewage. When eating such creatures in home or hotel, it was best to not think about where they might have been roaming. We always had to be on the lookout for cow pies or mutton pellets. There was one time when I barely touched the tip of my toe to what looked like a hard and crusty one. Suddenly it exploded from the top as if it had been boiling underneath and went all over my shoe. Cow waste is actually considered sacred to the Hindus. They would collect the
47: urine in bottles (I don't know what they used it for) and mix the dung with water, after which they would spread it on their front porches (again, I don't know why). It definitely wasn't the most welcoming smell when approaching a door. There was one time when I was actually chased by a cow. We were walking through the same neighborhood as the monkey chase when out of nowhere, a young calf picks me to pursue. I started running and it followed, chasing me around corners and trees. The whole time, Elder Pokhrel was sitting there laughing and not being helpful at all. I finally lost the calf by going in enough circles and zigzags, after which we got on our cycles and rode to another location. I Think I've Got To Throwup I was actually one of the only Elders in mission who never did throw up, but I definitely had my fair share of sickness. With the disease and filth that is in India, it is amazing that we all made it through as well as we did. The natives grow immune to much of the sicknesses and after some time, so did we in a way. Most of our sicknesses actually came from drinking bad water. It was easy to come by and sometimes the only thing we had on a hot day. We were cautioned to drink only from water bottles and to brush our teeth with purified water for tap water was considered unsafe. It was such a pain though to lug around a bottle all day and have to waste 20 rupees to replace it. I walked by a water facility one day and saw them filling up water bottles with a normal hose and then resealing them so in my mind it was all the same anyway. Besides, the people that we visited were always offering us a drink and I didn't think it was worth offending anyone over. Our drinking water in our apartments came from 20 liter jugs that we would have delivered every week. Most of it was actually purified but you still had to be very careful. Elder Walther and Elder Radhakrishnan were in my zone and were both very sick. I was doing an apartment inspection and found out that they had mosquito larvae floating in the 20 liter jug; diagnoses confirmed. Whenever we got sick or had need to visit a doctor, we were supposed to call the mission president's wife, who was in charge of the motherly aspect of our mission. Having served under two different mission presidents, I experienced to very different approaches to these phone calls. Sister Nichols' normal response was, "Just take some Ibuprofen and lay down for some time. If it gets any worse call me back." Sister Funk on the other hand was brand new and would always consult the area medical representative before making a diagnoses. Both were on top of it though, keeping track of the sickness reports in a little notebook and following up with those who were ill. I had to make a couple of phone calls myself but I tried to endure as much as possible. I was luckier than most, not only did I never throw up but I never had to stay in for a day due to illness. The following experiences chronicle some of my own sicknesses. There were two distinct times during the mission where I got a horrible cold and whooping cough. They lasted for a couple of weeks each and were so bad that I lost my voice on both occasions. This meant extra work for my companion for he was forced to do most of the teaching and it meant laughs from those we were visiting directed at me because I couldn't speak. I remember the coughs being so bad that my abs and my head literally ached for hours on end and I lost a lot of sleep. There was one time were I got instant food poisoning. We had run out of milk and so Elder Umesh and I ran down the street to one of those goods shops. The only thing they had was buffalo milk so we got it and went back to the apartment. Elder Umesh went to shower and I made my breakfast. What I didn't know about buffalo milk was that you need to boil it before it is safe to eat. I learned that lesson quick. I swear it was only ten seconds after I finished eating that my stomach was seized with a horrible pain and I had to go. Elder Umesh was in the bathroom with the western toilet so I had no choice but to use our squatter. We kept our washing machine in this bathroom and let it drain down this toilet since neither one of us liked to use it. I had to move the machine and unplug the hose, while the seconds slowly
48: counted down. I won't go any further than that, it would be like revisiting the explosion of Mt. Saint Helen. I was blessed to not have any more food poisoning experiences like this and was sure to stay away from buffalo milk thereafter. I caught something when I transferred from Rajahmundry to Hyderabad. I think it was a switch in water but I never found out. I only know that I had loose motions for about a month and I lost a ton of weight. Everything I took in came right out. It went away for a while but came back a few months later. I decided to visit a hospital and see what the problem was. The doctor said it was some sort of virus that was going around and gave me some pills to take. This cleared it up pretty well but by that time, I had lost about 30 pounds and didn't have the best amount of energy. Looking back on it now, I think I probably had some sort of worm. My weight drop shocked a lot of people when I went back to visit them. They asked me what had happened, said that I looked so frail and that I used to be fat. I took this as a compliment and sign of their love and concern. There was one time where I had a high fever for about three days while serving in Hyderabad. I thought it would just go away but it reached up to 101 degrees and almost 102 at one point. I remember sitting on the couch at the church one night, waiting for one of our meetings to start, just worthless and weak. I finally asked for a blessing from my companion Elder Gervais and the Elders quorum President, Brother Pydimalla. The fever was gone the next day. Sometimes in the midst of administering to others, its easy to forget that the same help is available to you. I will forever remember my first migraine. I was serving in Hyderabad and one day I just woke up and it felt like someone was drilling inside my head. I took some aspirin and prayed that it would get better but it only got worse. The sun was bright that day which didn't help and I remember having to stop and crouch over because the pain was so bad. I felt like I was going to pass out at any moment and I couldn't pay attention to anything that we were teaching that day. The bulk of the pain was gone the next day but it took a couple of days after that for me to feel like my head was on straight and for the pain to disappear. This next experience was actually Elder Pritchett's. He had been feeling very weak for a time, was always thirsty and always urinating. We both recognized symptoms of what could be diabetes. We ended up visiting the clinic below the mission office and the doctor said Elder Pritchett would have to keep track of how much he urinated for the next few days before we could do more tests. And so, for the next few days we had bottles of urine sitting all over our apartment. It turns out that he didn't have diabetes at all but a case of liking water too much. (I know, weird diagnosis but I've heard stranger.) These next two experiences aren't so much sicknesses as they are injuries. We were helping Neel, a member in Bangalore move into his new apartment. With all of the heavy lifting, my cyst on my left wrist acted up. I had to buy a brace and wear it for a couple of weeks before I could bend it without feeling the pain. Sister Vijaya, our Bangalore Auntie saw my brace and thought I had broken my wrist. When she found out how it happened she gave Neel a good scolding. I know she was very concerned but it was sort of funny. I assured Neel I wasn't mad at him but advised him to steer clear of Sister Vijaya. The next injury is a combination of many smaller things beginning with me stubbing my big toe on my bed one night in Hyderabad. When you add crappy Famous Footwear shoes, tripping multiple times on the rocky roads of Bangalore and wading around in sewage during the monsoon season, you end up with an infected and very ugly ingrown toenail. I let it go for over a year, bearing the pain and hoping that it would go away. My companions tried to convince me many times to go and get it fixed but I just told them that it was fine. Then during a combined zone conference, Elder Evans showed Sister Nichols his toe which was 1/4 as bad as mine and she said, "Oh Elder, you need to get that taken care of right away."
49: I went back to Rajahmundry and thought about it for a couple more weeks and then the pain became very unbearable (I think that the Lord was trying to give me a hint.) I called Sister Nichols and told her about it and asked her what I should do. She asked me whether it was infected and I asked, "What would you call infected?" "Well, is it bleeding and pussing and swollen?" It was way past all of these things but I didn't let her know that, nor the fact that I had let it go so long. "Yea, its infected." She told me that I would have to go to the hospital in Kakinada which was two hours away. I told her that our schedule was really busy and that we couldn't really waste that amount of time. She said that I could try to find a place in Rajahmundry and to call her back when I did. So I set out on what turned out to be a ridiculous and frustrating search for someone to fix my toe. I asked people in the branch if they knew any good doctors who could help me with my problem and I received a referral from our assistant branch mission leader, Raju. We scheduled a time and went to this doctors office. After waiting for about two hours, we were led in to his office. As we waited for him, I read his name plate and discovered that he was a gynecologist (like that was going to do me any good!) Still we had waited for so long and so I decided to see if I could get a referral from him. He looked at my toe and said that what I needed was a plastic surgeon. Luckily I didn't have to pay for such idiotic advice. After the appointment we went to pick up Bharath, one of our members, for exchange. After hearing about my problem he said that he had an Uncle that was a doctor and assured me that he would be able to fix it. We went to visit this uncle the next morning. He ran his practice from his own living room and I grew sort of nervous when I saw the dirty tools lying around. He examined the toe and said that before he could do anything, I would have to take some antibiotics to take away the infection. That sounded reasonable enough. I got the drugs and after taking them for a couple of days, the pussing and redness did go away. We went back for my follow up visit and after spraying some stuff on it and wrapping it up in a bandage, he said that it would be ok now. This was getting past the point of being ridiculous! I was about to give in and go to Kakinada when I had a thought to call the relief society president, sister Sushma. She took us to her own personal doctor. He spoke perfect English and recognized that my problem was not an ugly toe, or a sick toe but an ingrown toenail! Hallelujah! He gave me some more antibiotics to take and we scheduled a time for the surgery. Although it was still not the nicest hospital I have ever been to I trusted that he knew what he was doing. The day of the surgery came and sister Sushma was kind enough to pick us up in her car and accompany us to the visit. The doctor laid me down on a metal table and shot some stuff into the toe to make it numb. Elder Pokhrel had left the room to OYM another patient (great missionary instinct but whatever happened to always being with your companion? If I died, I would have to haunt him.) I didn't watch what was going on, I only remember clinging to the table as I felt him cut down the center of the nail and rip it off. After wrapping it up, he led me to a waiting room where I could relax for a minute. I remember that I broke out in a cold sweat and felt very close to passing out. We bought some more medicine (I'm not sure what he prescribed but man did it work! No pain in my toe let alone any other part of my body) and went home for lunch. I took about two hours to recover and then decided the work must go on. I ended up wearing chupples for a couple of weeks and it took about six months for my toe nail to fully grow back. All I can say is, "What an experience!" The following Sunday, we watched a movie in Sunday school that showed Christ washing the apostles feet and I broke into tears. It touched me for some reason aside from the fact that I was still a little drugged up. My experience in this small hospital is typical of any Indian village. In the city however, the hospitals were much nicer, even equal to what we have here in the US. I saw many as I had opportunities to visit those that were sick and to give them blessings. The nicest hospital was not even a hospital; it was called Apollo Health City in Hyderabad. It was a befitting name for this was the biggest medical facility I have every seen and put every place at home to shame. I had to accompany Elder Walther there when we were on exchange. He had woken up to find a growth on one of his testicles and had to call Sister Funk about it (not a phone call I would ever want to make!) She told us to go to this health city and have some tests done. The doctor was a very strange man and tried to convince us that having intimate relations before marriage was a good and healthy thing. We could have taught him the law of chastity but that was
50: but it was neither the time while he was in the middle of his examination, I think it would have been hard for my companion to concentrate. Other than that, it was a pretty cool experience to visit such an amazing facility. One thing that I thought was very strange and actually kind of scary was the fact that you don't need a prescription to get drugs at the pharmacy. All you do is go and tell them your symptoms and they take care of you. Elder Umesh had a really bad headache one night and so on the way home we stopped at a pharmacy (they are everywhere). After hearing what they problem was, they rummaged through a number of boxes, pulling out pills and put them in a brown sack. I didn't know what in the world he was taking and they didn't even include instructions. After that, I could understand why it was best to go through Sister Nichols for things like that. The Indian people have their own remedies and cures though and don't often feel the need to visit a pharmacy, for some it is actually against their religious beliefs. These cures took many forms and types but the two that I remembered the most were probably the most ridiculous. When the world went through the big swine flu scare, people would go around wearing medical masks everywhere. For those that couldn't afford one, they had half a bra covering their face to prevent it from spreading. The cure for chicken pox was to have your child lay on a banana leaf naked and to keep them from eating chicken. Now I can see where they could get the abstinence from chicken but what does the banana leaf have to do with anything? Give My Regards to...Bollywood The movie industry is thriving in India. I think that part of the reason has to do with the fact that things like music, art, acting and literature are such a big part in the spiritual aspect of daily life. Every state has its own version of Bollywood (because of the many languages) and movie billboards dot the roads as frequently as do the Hindu temples. I was educated in the movie culture by our members and the small clips I saw in homes and on buses. Each one contains a hero (usually a bearded fat man), a heroine (always an attractive and young woman) and spontaneous musical and dance numbers. The acting was horribly dramatic and the fight scenes could not have been more unrealistic but the people love it! These movies are reproduced mostly by pirating in the streets. They don't really have a rating system expect that x-rated movies here are called blue films over there, a topic we had to address in our chastity lessons with people. Popular American movies even made it over there as well. The biggest hit and headache for us as Elders was the release of 2012. I can't begin to count the number of people that we had to assure that the world would not be ending in that year. Those who wanted to prolong the disaster created films like 2014, 2020 and so on. Music was also an intricate part of the culture. Everywhere you went, whether it be auto, store or just walking down the street, you could hear a tune being played. Many songs were religious in nature, a lot were show tunes from the movies and some were borrowed from the west. When I first heard their music and style of singing, I found it very annoying. They sing and play, sliding from note to note, often not hitting it quite dead on. I became used to it though and it is now one of my favorite genres. American pop is a hit as well but they are behind about a decade; The Backstreet Boys and Brittney Spears are at the top of the charts. I remember what a tragedy it was when Micheal Jackson died. The whole country mourned for many people idolized him and his dancing. On that day, we were having a meeting at our BML's apartment in Bangalore. When we showed up, Vipparthi and another member were sitting on the floor watching Jackson music videos, with the most somber expression on his face. It made me chuckle.
53: Being a Missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is both the most fulfilling and the most difficult job in the world. It's a great (in both senses of the word) calling indeed when you are put in an area that includes over 2 million people and are told that they are your spiritual responsibility. Throughout the process, we were not alone. I could always feel the hand of God in our work and many times could see evidence of such. With the Spirit by our side, we went through challenges, successes, tears, and joy as we served our brothers and sisters in India. While the previous chapters have focused on the culture and sights of my mission, this chapter focuses on the missionary aspect of it. Registration and the FRO Any time we were transferred to a new area, we had to take a trip to the Foreigner's Registration Office to obtain a residential permit that allowed us to live and work in the place that we were assigned. These trips were a pain in the butt and I dreaded them. It was fortunate for us if we got out of the place before six hours had been wasted. Luckily we didn't have to go alone. We were always accompanied by someone in the branch who knew how to deal with the police. On our way there, we had to take off our ties and our nametags, and were always told that if the police asked us what we were doing, we were to respond that we were teaching free English classes. If they knew that we were missionaries and were teaching people about Christ, not only would they deny us a permit but they would also throw us in jail. Some of the policeman actually did ask us these questions but most just looked at us and stamped the permit. No rudeness intended but the police of India are some of the most grouchy people that I have had the "privilege" to meet. Their grouchiness had the tendency to rub off onto me and I usually left the FRO in a sour mood. Being in their presence in a hot stuffy room on hard metal chairs for six or more hours was not a good combination. Some specific experiences at the FRO stand out to me. In Bangalore, our liaison was Sampath, the mission president's driver. He would pick us up from the mission office and take us across town to the FRO. I loved Sampath because he got things done quickly. I think that he had an in or something with the policeman of Bangalore. Anyway, we would go into the office and after having us sit in a waiting area, he would disappear. After about ten minutes he would pop up again and say "Lets go" and we were done. This was an unusual procedure because usually the policeman liked to see who they were issuing a permit to. But with Sampath, things just got done. In the other areas that I served in, we weren't so lucky. In Rajahmundry we had to drive 2 hours in an auto or a bus to Kakinada in order to register there. These policeman were always suspicious and no matter how many times Elders like us would visit they would inquire as to why we were in the country. It was always a good idea to be serious and respectful in these situations. There was one time though where this proved a little hard to do. There was a whole group of us Elders standing in the chief of police's office as he signed our forms. His secretary who had a horrendous comb over was also there assisting. One of the fans in the corner blew at exactly the right time and angle, catching the secretary's hair and flipping it to the other side. We had to work at holding our laughter in as his comb over floated in the breeze while he sat there oblivious. In Hyderabad we had to go into the heart of the old city in order to register. This was probably the most frustrating FRO, for there were many times that we had to go back a day later only to waste more time sitting there while they did nothing. As I sat there in the waiting room though, I would meet many different people. One particular day was like taking a trip around the world. I talked to people from Finland, Nigeria, China, Iran and Afghanistan. The man from Afghanistan said to me, "As you may know, the relations between our countries are not good right now." Not wanting to go down that road with him I quickly changed the subject to families. It is truly a wonder that these offices are able to keep track of everyone. Most don't use computers and
54: most are very unorganized. Because of this, I was not surprised when I was held up at the airport on my way out of the country. Before we could leave, we had to surrender our residential permits to the police. I guess something was wrong with mine (some policeman didn't stamp or sign it right or something) and so I was held back for twenty minutes while they argued with each other as to whether I was legal or not. Luckily they let me through before I lost my patience and before the plane took off. Finding In a Sea of Millions Once we were registered, we set out to teach the gospel. Before teaching could begin however, we had to find the people. Now one would think that with the millions of people that surrounded us every day, that it would not be an issue at all to find someone to teach. In reality 50% were not interested or wanted nothing to do with us, 25% could not speak English well enough for us to communicate with them, 15% were only interested in us because we were Americans and white, leaving behind about 10% who were searching for something more and who were willing to progress. There were many ways to go about finding. Our preferred route was to visit the members and have them refer us to their friends. This way, the investigator already had a friend at church and was able to be supported after their baptism. It was the most effective and successful way of going about the work, in fact 25 out of the 39 people that I baptized were referrals from other members. The other 14 people were led to us (or we were truly led to them, either way). The most tedious and ineffective way of finding was door knocking but there were times that we had no other choice. We often assured ourselves that if we were faithful and knocked on enough doors, that our efforts would be paid off and we would receive a "golden investigator". Finding by door knocking was both frustrating and tiring. Each Nagar (neighborhood) had its own unique layout and numbering system and if we were in search of a specific door, it could take us up to two hours to find it. We had to be cautious and aware at all times to stay out of what looked like unfriendly territory, to listen to the spirit and follow the promptings that we received. The last five months of my mission, we pretty much eliminated this method of finding for we were so busy with all of the referrals that we were getting from members. Despite the tediousness of door knocking and street contacting, it was one of my favorite things to do for it was when we could be among the people. Being able to meet and talk with literally hundreds of people everyday was so fulfilling; being able to find out about their concerns, being able to put a smile on their face. My absolute favorite were the children. They loved us and we loved them. They would run up to us and grab our hands shouting "English English, or American, American". No matter how bad my day was going, it always brightened up when I was around them. Sometimes we would take a few minutes to fly kites with them, play ball, do magic tricks or just make them laugh. When the children would be on their way home from school, hunched over and carrying their fifty pound backpacks, I would sometimes go up and lift the bag off their shoulders and walk with them for a way. It was because of them that I gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the scripture where Christ said "Suffer the little children...for such is the kingdom of heaven." You Speak Telugu? The Church in India is conducted in English, this being the only language that could tie everyone together. The national language is Hindi and each state has its own language on top of that. To make things even more complicated, each of those state languages is spoken with a different accent depending on which part of the state you lived in. Therefore it was impossible to accommodate every language spoken and so we taught, spoke and conducted the Church in English. However, being around the people allows you to pick up some tid bits here and there.
55: Much of my mission was spent in the state of Andhra Pradesh where the people speak Telugu. It was not uncommon for people to mix that and English together and if you had a native companion who understood the language, a lesson could fly past your head with you only understanding a portion of what was said. This was extremely frustrating to me when I first started out. Elder Raju, my trainer, would tell me to learn as many phrases as I could because it would only help me as I served. I was angry with him at the time and refused to even try for our mission president had specifically told us to only speak English. As time went on, I caved in and learned as much as I could. While we still taught and spoke in English I got to the point where I could speak some phrases to aid with understanding and by the end of my service, I could understand most of what was being said to me in Telugu even though I wasn't a fluent speaker myself. Elder Gervais, my last companion, would turn to me for translation at times during our lessons and I was able to do so to the surprise of him and the joy of our investigators. As I practiced and polished my skills with Telugu, I had a couple of funny experiences. Elder Pokhrel and I were at lunch at an investigator's home in Rajahmundry. The food was delicious and one of the best compliments you could give to the woman of the house was to tell her that the food was good. This particular sister spoke and understood very little English and so I whipped out my "skills" to compliment her. Meaning to tell her that my stomach was very happy because of the food, I used the phrase "Ni Porta Challa Santhosham". Having mixed up one word, it instead came out as "You have a really happy stomach." I could tell by the laughter from everyone that I had made a mistake. By the time this next experience rolled around, I was much better off in my speaking understanding abilities. I was on exchange with an Elder in my district and we were visiting a pair of less active brothers. Throughout our entire lesson, they were bickering with each other in Telegu and causing a lot of contention. I finally had had enough and told them, "If you don't have anything nice to say to each other, don't say anything." That shut them up for a minute but it didn't last long. The younger of the two continued to be cruel to his brother and I suddenly cut him off and said, "Hey, I can understand Telugu." The look on his face was priceless. After he recovered from his shock he asked, "What did I say then." Now while I could understand the gist of the conversation, I was not about to claim perfect translation skills so I said, "You were saying mean words and I said you can only say nice words." That shut him up for the rest of the night and I left the appointment chuckling. You Speak English? While I was in the midst of trying to understand Telugu, I had to wonderful opportunity to teach free spoken English classes in some of my areas. The most successful one was when I was in Rajahmundry. When I first got there, Elder Hunn had been conducting the class and was teaching it like a college grammar course, going deeply into the meaning of words and suffixes and such. This was fine and dandy but meant nothing to the people who came. When he got transferred, I took over and threw that program out the window. Most of the students knew a enough English to get by so they weren't interested in the basics. They wanted to expand their vocabulary and to speak with an American accent. With these goals in mind, I set out to make the class a place where they could come to have fun, build up their confidence and interact with other people. Some of the things that we would do were role play, take quizzes and tests, fill out worksheets and play games like jeopardy and hangman. We went from having about 10 students to between 30-40 at one time and we expanded to teaching twice a week. It provided us with a great service opportunity and a chance for others to be introduced to the church in a non-threatening way. One thing that I came up with (thanks to the inspiration of the Music Man) was the think system. If the students wanted to learn English, they needed to look around themselves and think in English. This would challenge them to think
56: of new words and formulate questions. It turned out to be quite a success. When it came time for me to be transferred, I had developed a close bond with my class and they were very sad to see me go. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to teach them and help them improve their lives in that way. The Power of Music I love the scripture which says, "The song of the heart is a prayer unto me..." Music has and will always be a very important part of my life. When I got my mission call, I will admit that I was a little afraid that my talents would go unused and dormant in this area but I was blessed with multiple opportunities to use my voice and the piano to invite the spirit in. In my first area of Hyderabad, I was able to teach piano lessons to Vinod; a young man who along with his family had become inactive. We were under lock down at the time and so I had plenty of time while my companion read to teach at the church during the week. I had no course book, and really no lesson plan. The best that I had was my knowledge and the desire to teach it. Vinod would meet us almost every day and I would teach him and practice with him. More important than the fact that he was learning how to play was the time he was spending with us learning the gospel for most of our lessons would start off with a spiritual message. By the time lockdown had let up and I was getting transferred, we had him and his family coming to church again and he was able to play the treble clef of Choose the Right. I was asked in many of the branches that I served in to accompany in sacrament meeting. I had never done this before and was a little nervous at first. It turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the meeting. As I sat up on the stand playing, I would watch as member and investigator came in with smiles on their faces and as we sang, I would hear their voices praising Heavenly Father. Few things warmed my heart more than that image and those small moments were some of the most spiritual of my mission. Being the organist led me to becoming the choir accompanist in my last area in Hyderabad. As I spent time practicing with the choir and singing with them in church, I could feel the spirit so strongly. Aside from keeping my piano skills fresh, I sought opportunities to keep my voice in tune. I always welcomed the morning by singing in the shower (to the joy or dismay of my companions, I'm not sure). It echoed in the bathroom and made me sound like I was singing with the voice of an angel. I had the opportunity and blessing to be able to sing in small choirs and groups in zone conferences. But my most cherished memory of singing was when we were visiting Sister Vijaya in Bangalore. Her husband had just died and although they were divorced, she was very sad. We had gone to visit her and share a comforting message from the scriptures. In the middle of the lesson I felt prompted to sing her a song that mom had sent to me during one of the hardest times of my mission (Tender Mercies of the Lord). She understood very little English but as I sang I felt the spirit bear witness to me and her that God was there and that He loved her and I know she understood. It will always be a special memory in my heart. No Unhallowed Hand Can Stop the Work... Every mission I'm sure has its dangers I'm sure and opposition can be found wherever one preaches the gospel. Our mission was unique in this aspect. Because the culture and major religion of India is Hinduism, there were those who went to the extreme in persecuting those who taught otherwise. These extremists formed political groups like the BJP and the RSS and their aim was for everyone to stick to the old Indian traditions and the Hindu religion. Persecutions of Christians and Muslims have gone on through history and because of that we had many rules in the mission to protect us from danger. Our best weapon was the Spirit, to warn us and prompt us when it was time to leave. During times of political unrest, festivals, and riots we would have to go undercover; wearing colored shirts and talking to no one
57: other than our appointments or members. The following experiences illustrate some of these dangers and the fact that the Lord watches out for His missionaries. In my first area, I remember riding my cycle one day through BHEL, when suddenly Elder Valluri got a phone call from the assistants telling us to go back to our apartment immediately. This was a time of political unrest when elections were about to start and so we assumed it might have something to do with that. We found out later that night that one of our Zone Leaders, Elder Moses, had been arrested by a group of angry Hindus. It was in the papers and was spreading through the branches as well. This arrest combined with the oncoming elections put the city of Hyderabad into lockdown for more than a month. We were put under restrictions of no proselyting for a time and not going anywhere besides the church and our apartment. This turned out to be one of the most challenging times for me on the mission. While all of this was happening we got a phone call one day from Elder Nixon before a planned district meeting. He lived next door to the church and said that the BJP had set up their election headquarters across the street and that they were going to have a parade. This sent everyone into a panic and our meeting was canceled. It later turned out to not be as serious as we thought it was but we were still cautious. This event especially sent Elder Valluri into a paranoia and I came to find out that earlier in his mission he had also been arrested in Bangalore and kept in jail for a number of days. Elder Moses was released but the elections dragged on and on and I wondered if they would ever end. I left the area while they still had some restrictions. Bangalore was in a state controlled by the BJP government party and therefore was always under restrictions. We were never allowed to wear our name tags there and for a long time we had to go around wearing colored shirts. While never in real danger, we did have a couple of memorable run-ins. Elder Pritchett and I were finding in Ramamurthynagar down by the holy family church one day when we came across this man who was not at all happy to see us. He asked us what we were doing and we replied with some excuse as to why we were there (I can't exactly remember what). He started accusing us of converting (a criminal offense in India where people are paid to switch religions) and was using every vulgar word in the book accompanied by both hands flipping us off. If it wasn't such a serious situation, I would have laughed because he looked so stupid. He threatened to turn us in if he ever saw us on that street again and we quickly left. Every now and then, he would pass us on the street and flip us off as a reminder. On another occasion, Elder Pritchett and I were walking down a street when we heard a commotion behind us. Down the road two men had gotten into a fight; one man pulled the other one off of his motorcycle and started beating him on the head with the helmet. Neighbors came out and tried to help only to be pushed off. I felt horrible about the situation but we were not allowed to get anywhere near it or to offer any help so we just had to walk away praying the the man would be ok. There was one night when Elder Pritchett and I were on our way to a FHE at the church when one of the members called us and told us to stay away for there was this drunk man trying to get in the church, searching for us. It turns out that he was one of our former investigators who told us he was no longer interested. We stayed away until the coast was clear and then ran into the church. We thought all was over when we heard commotion and shouting down on the street. The guy was trying to get in again. Our security guard Raju hit him in the head and called the police (luckily the station was just down the street) and they came to get him. Later that night, we received a phone call from his wife saying they were now interested in taking lessons again. I could hear him whispering in her ear through the phone. Creepy!!! We quickly got off and put a red flag in the area book to stay away from that house. We never found out what he wanted but I'm pretty sure it was not the gospel lessons.
58: When I was a district leader in Rajahmundry, I had to call into the mission office to order supplies. They told me that the office Elders were out and to try back later. It went on like this for a couple of days and we all started to wonder where the office Elders had disappeared to. I found out from the zone leaders later that week that they had been arrested for walking down the street and knocking on a door and were still trying to get out of jail. Suddenly I wasn't so frustrated about not getting our supplies. My transfer back to the city of Hyderabad brought with a few interesting and tense situations. One happened when I was on exchange as a zone leader with one of the new elders in the mission. We were finding in my area when we came across a house that had a plaque reading "Jesus is the head of this house". We thought to ourselves "Oh perfect, someone who might listen." The minute the guy opened his door, he started yelling at us and threatening us. "How dare you come to my house," he said. "I am a lawyer and could have you charged for this. If I ever see you on this street again, I will turn you in. Now GO AWAY! If you are so brave why don't you go and teach the Hindus!!!" I drew two conclusions from this encounter. One, the guy was not happy to see us and two, Christ was definitely not the head of that house. I don't know what his issue was but we never went back to that area again. I was on another exchange with a new Elder (these things always seemed to happen to the greenies) and we got a call from a man saying that he had been taking lessons a year ago from the couple missionaries and that he would like to continue. At first when we said we couldn't fit him in that day, he became very anxious and frustrated in a way. Not wanting to lose such a "golden person", we agreed to meet him at a certain place and then to go to his home to teach. From the minute that we approached his house I could feel that something was not right. We went in and sat down and the feeling grew stronger. I started the lesson but was quickly interrupted by the man who asked us, "What is your aim here, how many Hindu's are you trying to convert?" We told him we weren't trying to convert anybody and that our aim was to simply share a message. We pushed on for a couple of minutes but it was apparent that he was not into the lesson. He kept texting someone and checking his watch about every minute as if he were expecting somebody. At this point the Spirit was firmly telling me to get out of there so I made an excuse and started to get up to leave. He tried to distract us with questions about colleges and told us he still wanted to meet another time. After practically having to force ourselves out of the door, we quickly left. I don't know what would have happened if we had stayed, perhaps I was just being paranoid but I know that when the Holy Ghost speaks, I listen. This last experience was one that shook me up the most and was one of the most dangerous. Elder Radhakrishnan and I were finding in our area one day and we came upon this house that looked decent enough. We were approaching the stairs to go to the upper lever when this man came out from the bottom house and cornered us. It was apparent from his dress that he was high caste Hindu and someone that we did not want to be dealing with. We started yelling at us, accusing us of converting, calling us obscene names and asking what "god" had given us permission to come to India. I tried to say something but couldn't get a word in edge wise. We finally got away and started walking quickly to our next appointment which was a few streets away. I turned back and saw him calling someone and told Elder Radhakrishnan to pick up the pace. We had just arrived to our investigators house when this guy pulled up on his motorcycle and continued on in the same threatening manner. We told him we were asked to come to this family but he didn't believe us and demanded us to bring them out. I thank Heaven that they were home at the time. We went in and explained the situation and the father of the house went out to talk to the guy. The family could see that we were a little shaken up and assured us that it would be ok. The neighbors, who had joined in to the shouting match, came and brought us outside. I was surprised and not happy to see that a big group had formed. We stood there for a couple of minutes amidst the shouting (Christians against Hindus at that point) and I prayed that we would be able to escape. When everyone was distracted enough, I pulled Elder Radhakrishnan's arm and we ran towards to main street, jumping in the first auto we could find. A few weeks later, we were on our way to convert William's
59: house when the same guy spotted us while riding by on the street. I didn't give him a chance for a second glance. We ran to William's and hid ourselves inside. It turns out that the guy had seen the direction we had gone to, went and got a group of his friends and followed us. He went to the landlord of the building and demanded to know where we had gone and what we were doing there. Luckily, the landlord knew and trusted William and told the guy to mind his own business and go away. After about an hour of waiting for them to go away, William accompanied us to the main road. I later found out that the entire neighborhood was full of RSS people and that it was not a safe place to be. I am grateful that we were protected. And I Spiritually Rolled My Eyes... Without a doubt, the thing that caused us as missionaries the most headaches were the various pastors that we came across and had to deal with. Their influence spread like a disease through the people they taught and we lost many wonderful investigators because of it. When you top this off with the love and literal worship of the Bible ("God's only word") that was abundant in the various denominations, it made quite a task for us as Elders. As I went throughout my mission and gained more experience with these types of people, my feeling went from sadness, to frustration, to sarcasm, to pity eventually culminating in the phrase quoted from Alma, "Why will ye die!" In Alma chapter 31, verse 19 we read of Alma's response to the Zoramites prayer. "And it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure." That describes perfectly my reaction to the apostate things that I witnessed. A pastor's common greeting to individual or congregation was "Praise the Lord" and not wanting to use the Lord's name in vain, we would always respond with, "Thats nice, or You too brother". They often viewed us as inferior to them, because of our age and the fact that we didn't get a degree in a Bible college. They were always up for an argument and were some of the most prideful people I have ever met, "modern day Pharisees" if you will. Now while some were truly humble and only wanted the best for the people, most were in it for the money and fame of it all. Sadly they stand out in my mind more then the humble ones. The following experiences illustrate my point. The first pastor appointment that I ever had was with our investigator Israel and his "spiritual father". Throughout the entire lesson, Israel would double check everything that we taught with the pastor who of course disagreed and said that we had no authority to be teaching such things. As a new missionary I became very frustrated and angry as the pastor ensued to bible bash us. We finally ended the lesson with a closing prayer which the pastor insisted on saying. He literally shouted to heaven, arms held up, asking that we be blessed with knowledge and led in the true way. This was the first time in my mission that I spiritually rolled my eyes. Elder Raju and I were finding one night in BHEL township when we happened upon a pastor who was very glad to see us. He took us into his house and showed us his bible collection, literally shelfs full of different versions of the bible. He told us that he was in the process of writing his own version of the bible and then he let us in on a little secret...He was an invisible prophet for the invisible churches. This was our cue to leave for how do you respond to that? In Bangalore, we had many chances to meet with pastors since we weren't allowed to teach any Hindus at that time. Elder Prichett and I had noticed that there was a man who had attended church a number of weeks on and off and we set an appointment with him thinking that he was interested. His name was Anil, Dr. Anil and he was a very educated man in regards to things of the world. We knew that we were in for an interesting appointment when we asked him why he was interested in our church. He told us that he had been coming to observe the members and not to investigate the doctrine for he was a member of the Assyrian Orthodox church, the "true Christians". He tried to relate the history to us but I was too
60: stunned by his initial response to pay any attention. The power went out which made the appointment even creepier as he went on to say that if he allowed us, he would teach us the philosophies of the world and convert us to the true way of Christianity. He told us that we had imagined our testimonies of Joseph Smith, that the Book of Mormon was derived from the imaginations of men, that God does not answer prayers and that there was no possible way for us to know the truth. To say that I was abhorred by what he said would be an understatement. We got out of there as quickly as we could. Dr. Anil came to church a couple more times after that to observe the members but we never made an effort to contact him again. One of the most saddening situations that I experienced was with small and humble family that lived just behind the church in a small little hut. They were very humble and nice and even though they weren't educated, they were interested in reading and learning about the Book of Mormon. We left them an English and Hindi copy and asked them to read a few pages. When we went back for a return appointment, they handed us back the books with sadness. They said that their pastor had found out that we had been teaching them and told them that if they continued with us that the family would go to hell. He had further inscribed in the front cover of the Book of Mormon, "Book of Satan". I was so offended and saddened by this and could not figure out why anybody would be so evil to do or say such things. The family out of fear for their salvation asked us to not come back and we left a little discouraged. We were finding in another area of Bangalore down by the Holy Family church when we found a pastor and his family of six. He introduced us to his wife and then his five children Gloria, Hosanna, Hallelujah, Praise and Worship. It was then that we guessed that it probably wouldn't work out for us and asked him if he knew anybody that would be interested. One of the most disgusting acts of the pastors and the various churches was the fact that they had turned the preaching of the gospel into a business, sucking money out of rich and poor alike in exchange for "blessings". Two experiences come to mind for this. Elder Pokhrel and I were finding in Rajahmundry when we came upon what looked like a Christian house. As we approached the door we saw that it was a pastor's house and were about to turn back when the pastor and another man came out the door. He asked us to sit and wait for a minute while he helped this other brother and despite our excuses to leave, we ended up waiting because he did not want to turn away "fellow servants of the Lord". As we sat, we witnessed the most horrible act of priest craft that I have ever seen. The brother had some health problems as well as employment trouble and had come to Pastor Nathaniel for help. Nathaniel took out a bottle of coconut oil and raising his hand high in the air, started speaking into the bottle. After pouring some of the oil down the brother's throat, he dabbed some on his finger and started drawing oily crosses all over the brother's bare chest, all the while saying prayers. Then the brother took out his new mobile phone and a picture of his work place and asked Nathaniel to bless them which he did. Then perhaps the saddest thing of all happened. The brother took out 2,500 rupees (which is a lot of money even for us as Elders) and gave it to the pastor. Nathaniel placed it upon an alter and started blessing it and after it was placed in the altar, the brother was dismissed. My disgust only grew when Nathaniel turned to us and explained that he had been a pastor for years and that he did none of it for money. I went home very frustrated that day. A second scene of priest craft occurred in Hyderabad while Elder Gervais and I were teaching some of our investigators. A pastor of their church showed up for his weekly visit and we thought "Oh crap". They turned the time over to us for our lesson and we taught about obedience, prayer and scripture study and invited to family to start living these commandments. It went pretty good and the spirit was there and then Pastor Prabhakar's turn came. He got up and turned to Psalms 91, read it and then gave a sermon on digestive systems and trees which had no relation to that passage of scripture whatsoever.
61: Then a hallelujah closing prayer was given after which the family offered each of us 500 rupees. We told them that we could not and would not accept the money but the pastor was more than willing to take our share which he did. This experience was not uncommon in the churches over there, thousands of pastors every week read psalms to their congregations, delivering their own interpretations and none of it required the people to do anything to change or come closer to God. It was a sad eye opener and a motivation for us to teach and testify to as many people as we could about the restored gospel. The influence of the pastors and the things that they taught spread into the homes of the congregation. We faced many rejections because of this but there were some cases where the people we taught were just downright disgusted in us, especially when we taught about things outside the sphere of the Bible. The next few experiences stand out in my mind and were both extremely frustrating, saddening and in some cases, humorous. Elder Pritchett and I were teaching a guy named Wilson in Bangalore. He was very interested in religion but could not wrap his head around the fact that there was more than just the Bible. When we told him that the Book of Mormon was another book of God, he about had a heart attack. He was under the impression that is was just a "lesser light" pointing to the "greater light". We assured him kindly and patiently that the Bible alone would not assure him eternal life and he said, "Brother Stratton, you can't say such things to me, they can't be true." He even started singing "The Bible is the only word of God" while hugging his Bible and doing a little dance with it. He never progressed much after that. There was another appointment that Elder Pritchett and I had with members Prince and Sophie on exchange. It was to a Catholic family that we initially thought would be interested but we were very wrong. You would have thought by their response to our message that we were trying to kill them. They fired back verbal attacks on both us and Prince and Sophie. They went on and on about Mother Mary and how their priest had warned them against us. The one sister was so angry that her eyes were bulging and I thought she was about to jump out of her chair and strangle something. They tried to get us to come and be a part of their church and leave our wicked ways. They ranted on Sophie for converting from Catholicism and told her she was evil and they were appalled by the suggestion of eternal families, claiming that everyone would be solitary angels praising God forever and ever (not my type of Heaven). Needless to say, we didn't get a return appointment. Another time, Elder Otis and I found a family and their response to our message was "Does the pope know about this!?" They weren't interested in much else. Elder Pritchett and I were taking Prasad Seerapu on exchange as he was preparing to go on his mission. We were hoping for a really spiritual appointment but got something a little different instead. We tracked into a house and were initially rejected by the wife but her husband came to the door and invited us in. He seemed interested enough and so we begin to teach about the restoration. Kishore, the husband, suddenly interrupted the lesson and asked, "Do you know how many prophets and miracles there are in the Bible?" We kindly answered that we did not and continued with the lesson. He was not satisfied. After a few minutes he blurted out, "Was Job a prophet?" Elder Pritchett replied, telling him that that question wasn't really important to what we were sharing but Kishore was extremely dissatisfied and what pursued next was 45 minutes of us listening to him. He attacked us on all angles, questioning our authority, rejecting what we were teaching and belittling our testimonies. He told us that we should not be coming in the name of the Lord unless we knew every word in the Bible because the Bible was the only word of God and he was offended that we would bring him any sort of message that claimed otherwise. When we shared our testimonies and that we knew what we said was true he became cheeky and said, "Oh, does God speak to you? Why isn't He giving you the power to answer my questions?" I
62: was quickly losing patience and so I looked him square in the eyes and said, "Because you wouldn't listen to the answers He gave us." The fury on his part went on for some more time but the part where I started to become a little angry was when Prasad asked him to go to Deuteronomy to look up a verse. After looking around in the New Testament, he gave up and said, "Just tell me what it says." One word flashed through my mind; hypocrite!!! How dare he criticize us for not knowing the entire Bible word for word when he couldn't even find the fifth book. In order to preserve any spirit that was left in the lesson we got up to leave but he stopped us and said that he wanted to have a word with our Head Pastor about us (he was very disgusted and angry at this point). I told him the address to President Nichols office and said that he would be more than glad to have a word with him anytime he wanted. When asking a non interested brother one day if he knew anybody that we could teach, he told us he couldn't say because he wouldn't want to encourage us. Sigh...... Another time when OYMing a brother about the Book of Mormon, he told us that the Bible was hard enough to follow as is and that he didn't need any more words from God. Sigh..... I was on exchange with an Elder in my zone in Hyderabad and we came across a very interesting old woman sitting outside of her house. She asked us where our church was and who our pastor was. I told her we didn't have a pastor but a volunteer called the branch president. She wasn't pleased with that answer and again asked us who was in charge and who we were under. I responded that we were under Jesus Christ and that He is the head of this church. She said we were all under Jesus Christ and that there had to be some sort of pastor who led us. I pulled out my picture of the prophet and the apostles and she looked at it for a minute and then looked up at me with disapproval. She said that he was not a prophet and there were no such things as 12 apostles. She said that we were in a false and satanic way and that our teachings were from the devil and that if we followed anything outside the Bible, we would be punished. Then she said, "I know what church your coming from, your from the Mahatma....the mar.....the martha.....the momo...." I interrupted and said, "You mean the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." She said that wasn't it and we left her still guessing. The last appointment that stands out in my mind was one were a church member asked us to go and give his son a blessing. We traveled to his in-laws house and were instantly met with contention from his wife's sister. She kept asking sarcastic questions like, "where does it say in the Bible that prophets will come again, or In the Bible it says that we should believe nothing but the Bible." She said she was concerned for our souls and that we needed to leave the Joseph Smith nonsense and come back to the truth. We decided that giving a blessing at that time would be like casting pearls before swine and just said a prayer (the branch president had already given a blessing). There are some hearts that a missionary just can't penetrate and a lot of instances where I had no choice but to spiritually roll my eyes. The Branches... We had the wonderful opportunity to become very involved and close to the branches that we served in. They became our family and our fellow missionaries as we all worked to help the Lord's kingdom grow. Every branch was different and contributed something unique to my experience. The following experiences highlight some of our dealings and responsibilities that we had in the branch. There were a number of times where we would be called on to teach a lesson or give a talk at the last minute (and when I say last minute, I mean last minute.) Notice came the night before, the morning of or even as the class started. The shortest notice I received was one Sunday in Rajahmundry. I was sitting in the congregation five minutes before the beginning of Sacrament Meeting when the counselor of the Branch presidency came up and asked if I had my talk prepared. Apparently I was to give a talk on
63: the blessings of tithing and I had less than 10 minutes to prepare. Luckily as missionaries we have a ready supply of scriptures and references to use on the spot. We also had the opportunity to teach gospel principles class and elders' quorum which I loved to do. I tried to make my lessons as interactive as possible, something which they weren't accustomed to. I often was taught more from them then they were from me. We were also requested to attend meetings other than our normal Sunday block. PEC and BMCM were amazing opportunities to learn from the leaders there. I look up to them, especially the Branch Presidents; they are great men. During the week in most branches we, along with the couple missionaries or activities committee carried out a FHE for all of the young single adults. They would come to the church and we would have spiritual messages and games that brought the youth together and helped us build a relationship with them. Once they trusted us and could see that we cared about them, they were more willing to help us with the work by introducing us to their friends and by coming on exchange with us. One memorable family home evening that we had was in Hyderabad 1st branch. Elder Gervais and I acted out the story of David and Golaiath using the words of the scriptures as our script to demonstrate how to overcome trials and temptations. Everyone loved it and we were able to effectively get the point across. We also tried to hold branch firesides every other month to provide an opportunity for the members to bring their friends to the church in a non-intimidating environment. Some of the activities that we had were tours of the church, movie nights, member missionary activities and skits. In Rajahmundry, Elder Pokhrel and I did a skit on how to be a bad home teacher. Our acting was so well received that we were told we should go to Bollywood. Perhaps the most fun and effective fireside that we had was a branch talent show in Hyderabad 1st branch. Elder Gervais and I spent many weeks preparing and getting people to sign up. It turned out to be a huge success. We had a great turnout, and a good percentage of the people who came were non-members or less active members. Elder Gervais and I even choreographed a fight dance and performed it in super hero outfits. Many people told us they didn't know that Elders had a fun side like that. All of these activities not only brought new people to the church, they also brought the members together which was important considering the fact that we are definitely a minority over there. One of the other things that fell into our realm of responsibilities were the baptisms. More will be told about those that we baptized in the next chapter but here are a few memorable baptism experiences that occurred. Elder Pritchett and I were told that we needed to help prepare a program for a primary girl that was getting baptized in Bangalore. Preparations were made and everyone was gathered for the ceremony when the branch president got up and told us that we were all a year too early. When he had conducted the interview minutes earlier, he discovered that the girl was only 7 years old. Hopefully she would still fit into her new white dress a year later. There was another time when I was in Hyderabad with Elder Gervias when we received a phone call Saturday afternoon from Auntie Jilpa, telling us that the branch president said her granddaughter could be baptized the next day as long as the Elders came and went through the lessons and made sure she was prepared. Talk about short notice. Luckily the primary had prepared her well but we went anyway to oblige Auntie Jilpa and went through the quickest run down of the lessons I'd ever done. The next day was frantic and hurried but we were able to pull it off and Kirtina was able to have a wonderful baptism. One of the more funny baptismal experiences was in Rajahmundry. We and the other Elders were holding a service after church. We asked the custodian to fill up the font and then went in for the sacrament. During the hymn, I noticed water running under my feet and turned around to see the font
64: overflowing onto the chapel floor. The sacrament was passed to the sound of squiggies pushing the water outside. From then on, we made sure to fill up the font before anyone came. Blessings, Faith and Miracles... Few experiences are equal to that of giving someone in need a Priesthood blessing. As missionaries, we had numerous opportunities to do so and were able to witness miracles and answered prayers. I wish to share four such experiences that stand out in my memory and that strengthen my testimony of the Priesthood. Elder Pritchett and I were about to pack up for the night and head home when we decided to stop by Sister Sheeba's house. She opened the door and welcomed us in with a grateful voice. She led us upstairs where her son was lying very sick with fever and asked that we give him a blessing. We did and then left for our apartment. The following Sunday was fast and testimony meeting and Sister Sheeba got up to bear her testimony. She said, "Two days ago my son was sick with a very high fever. Then like angels, the Elders came to my home and gave him a blessing of healing. In the blessing he was told he would be better by the morning. It worked, the next morning he was up and running around. I am so grateful for the Priesthood and I know its power is real." I didn't realize until that moment that we were led by the spirit to her house that night to answer her prayers on behalf of her son. This experience strengthened my testimony of Priesthood blessings. In Rajahmundry, Elder Pokhrel had been suffering with a really bad toothache caused by his wisdom teeth. I personally knew the pain he was going through, having been through it myself and offered to give him a blessing. He agreed and we put our faith together and relied on Heavenly Father. The pain went away quickly after that and didn't return (as far as I knew he was still fine when I left a year later). This helped me understand the power of faith and its place in blessings. There was another instance when Elder Gervais and I were coming home from church on Sunday in Hyderabad when we got a call from Brother Yadagiri's daughter Priya, asking us to come and give her father a blessing. We rearranged our schedule and headed up to their home. When we arrived, Yadagiri was hidden behind a sheet and the family was gathered around him. His wife Aruna told us he had been involved in a cooking accident where a pan full of sizzling oil had fallen from a high shelf and landed on the left side of his body. When they pulled back the sheet, I could barely recognize Brother Yadagiri. He looked worse then the villain Two-face in Batman. His entire left side of his face and chest were severely burned, so much so that there was no skin in some places. With compassion in our hearts and relying on God, we gave a blessing of healing and told him we would visit again in a week. When we went back the next Sunday, I remember my look of surprise when I saw him. He looked almost normal, like he had a bad sunburn or something. There was no scabbing or peeling at all. The family said it was truly a miracle and I add my witness to theirs. There was one experience that didn't turn out so well. An investigator that Elder Talk and I had been teaching named Praveen called us up one day and asked us to come to the hospital to bless his father who was in a coma. Both Praveen and his father were alcoholics and so it was no surprise to us when the doctor said he was dying of liver failure. Praveen begged us to save him. I ended up giving the blessing and as I spoke I could not bring myself to say he would be healed or he would live. I followed the spirit and left it to the will of Heavenly Father. He ended up dying a couple days later. When we went to check on the family (most of which were drunk), they received us harshly, blamed us for their father's death and told us to never come back. I wondered after that if I had done the right thing but realized that following the Spirit was always the right thing to do.
65: Leadership, A Calling of Example There are many different leadership positions in a mission, no one better or more important than the other. I had the opportunity to serve as a district leader in Rajahmundry and Hyderabad for four months and then as one of the Zone Leaders of Hyderabad for five months. It was both a joy and a headache at times but an experience that I am very grateful for. Some of my responsibilities were following up with the Elders at night and then reporting to the assistants, planning and conducting district meetings and zone conferences, keeping track of all of the investigators in the district and zone and how they were progressing, attending leadership trainings in Bangalore every month, and most importantly; setting an example in living and work for the other Elders. It was not an easy calling but it was one where I learned a lot and grew a lot as a person. As Zone Leaders, my companion and I were in charge of organizing a zone conference. This entailed assigning apartments to all the Elders coming from out of town, arranging for lunch to be delivered and served, conducting and teaching and making sure the Elders were to their interviews on time. I have fond memories of all of my zone conferences. They were spiritual feasts where we gathered together and were strengthened. We would also party it up in the apartments which in Elders' terms means staying up late with the lights out and talking about the work, about home and about our future wives. Those will always be enjoyable memories. Another responsibility that we had as leaders was going on exchange with the other Elders in our districts and zones. I loved and hated exchanges. They took me out of my area which did not make me thrilled but gave me a chance to get to know some amazing Elders and to teach them through example. As I met with them and their investigators, I was able to assess how they were doing as missionaries but more often then not, I went away from the exchange learning more than they probably learned from me. I definitely had some interesting experiences on exchanges though; here are just a few. Elder Diamond and I were walking down a street one day in Hyderabad when we passed by a church of another denomination. Elder Diamond was quite the blunt type of elder and said he cursed the apostate church. The next time we passed by it a few days later, it had been destroyed. Coincidence....hmm...you better watch what you curse Elder Diamond. Elder Chagoya and I were on exchange in Bangalore one evening and we tracked into a less active member of the church who looked exactly like David Archuletta, the American Idol star. It just so happened that he was in a band and we got to talking when suddenly Elder Chagoya volunteered us to sing a song then and there. We opened our mouths wide and belted out a nice rendition of "The Spirit of God". It was cool to see this member's eyes light up and to see all the heads poking out their doors to watch us. I definitely felt the spirit that night and was grateful Elder Chagoya pushed us to use those talents. Elder Frederick and I had an interesting exchange in KGF. We were taking a sister church member to an appointment of one of her friends. She got permission from her mother and we set out. It was a great appointment from what I could remember. We then dropped the sister off to her home only to find her father, Brother Zion John waiting for us. His ultra righteous name says much about his character. Apparently his daughter had not received his permission to go anywhere and spent fifteen minutes yelling at me for taking his daughter out of the house at night. I had never met the man before and Elder Frederick tried to take all of the blame but his focus remained on me. He told us his daughter would never be helping the missionaries again and said he would be calling President Nichols about this. Elder Frederick beat him to the punch when we got back to the apartment and called President himself. President Nichols had dealt with Zion John before and took our side; telling us not to worry about it.
66: Zion John eventually forgave the Elders and I think his daughter ended up preparing for her own mission. One of my favorite exchanges was when I was in Bangalore with Elder Otis. There was an Elder about to leave for his mission to Provo that was assigned to us for a few days until his MTC date arrived. His name was Elder Parisutham and he was a bundle of energy. At that time, Elder Otis and I had been struggling with the work and our investigators and things were going very slow. Elder Parisutham's optimism and energy reminded us of why we were there and helped our attitudes and outlook improve. He had a gimpy leg from childhood polio and it was a struggle for him to walk. However, he never complained once and set forth an amazing example to me and to all of our investigators that we taught during those three days. I knew his personality and spirit would give him great success in Provo. Did That Really Just Happen? You get to see many different things in the course of your mission, some more strange and random than others. The following scenes are those random tidbits that don't fit any where else but that stand out in my mind. When I first arrived to India, I kept seeing these strange little booths everywhere with the letters STD painted all over them. As I continued to see them, I became very worried and asked Elder Raju what they were used for. He told me they were telephone booths, which was much better than what I had been thinking. We would often walk down the road and see women washing their clothes and saris. They then did something that I never really understood. They would take the clothes and saris and lay them out to dry in the middle of the dusty road, to be passed by cows, people and cars. It sort of defeated the purpose of washing in my mind but whatever worked for them. Elder Pritchett and I were on our way to an appointment one day when a little kid approached us to show us his picture bible. I smiled as I took it and turned through the pages. That smile faded quickly however when I came across a picture of John the Baptist giving Christ sprinkling baptism and one of Jesus choosing 12 friends to follow him. Something had to be done about this apostasy. When we went home that night, I rummaged through our supply closet and found the Church's illustrated New Testament. I traded it with the child the next time we saw him and threw his apostate bible in the trash, or the river...I can't remember exactly, but I know I disposed of it. I was on a bus in Hyderabad one morning when a man got into an argument with the conductor and driver. The argument reached the point of yelling and pushing and suddenly the bus came to a complete stop. We were in the middle of the crowded highway and the cars around us started honking. We sat there for almost five minutes while the two men yelled at each other and I kept thinking to myself that pride made people look very foolish. As Elder Raju and I were riding our bikes one day through BHEL, we passed by a man lying dead on the ground. Nobody was showing any sort of concern or attention to him even though he was a bloody mess. Unable to get involved in such things, we passed him by as well and my heart became heavy. That wasn't the last time that we passed a dead person on the street and each time it happened, my heart ached. As I was walking with Elder Diamond on exchange in Rajahmundry, a man approached us and wanted to sell us something. I took a look at the bottle of liquid he was peddling and read the label which said, "Salt Water from the Great Salt Lake in Utah". The man said that if we added a few drops to every meal or drink that we had that it would cure disease and make us healthier. I couldn't help but laugh. I
67: uncorked the bottle and was greeted by the familiar scent of brine shrimp. I really hope nobody was gullible enough to drink it. Elder Otis and I were at a member's house in Bangalore one night holding a lesson for their non-member sister in law. We wanted to show the DVD "Finding Faith in Christ" but they told us that the DVD player was not working. Apparently their young son had taken a DVD and jammed it into the player. Elder Otis said we could fix it if they had a screw driver. They gave us one and after unscrewing the player we were all shocked to find not one, but 20 DVD's lodged into the thing. They thought that they had simply lost all of the movies that were in there. They thanked us and set the player in a higher location where their son could not get to it. I always carried around small bottles of hand sanitizer from Bath and Body Works and they became very popular with those around me who caught a whiff of the smell. Well, one day I was finishing up an exchange in Rajahmundry and had put some hand sanitizer on. The watchman of the apartment who was twenty feet away smelled it and came running over. He didn't speak English, but I could tell that he wanted some. I handed him the bottle and he preceded to spread it on it hands, his arms, his face and legs. It was more of a bath than a hand wash. I later gave him an extra bottle as a gift and he was indeed happy. One morning, Elder Pokhrel and I were awakened by a loud trumpet and drum concoction outside out apartment door. The apartment across the hall was being poojaed by the family that was moving in. There was a line up of people who had come to pay their respect and join in the festivities. This ridiculous noise and commotion went on for most of the morning and through out our studies and made it very difficult to concentrate. Thank goodness we don't do this back at home whenever somebody moves in. We were having dinner with a less active family in Hyderabad one night and were trying to figure out why this family had not been coming to church. The mother did not speak much English but the daughter translated on her behalf. She asked us if we knew about the secret of the Church, and then went on to tell us that some Relief Society sister had told the mother that the Church prepares you to go to the temple and then once you enter you disappear and are not seen again. I had to hold my chuckles in as I explained that this was definitely not the case and that she could come back to church without fear. Elder Pritchett and I were knocking on doors one night in Bangalore when we came to this one house. The door opened up and we started to state why we were there when we were interrupted by the rest of the family coming out. The mother had something wrapped up in her arms and said we would have to excuse all of them because they needed to take their parrot to the doctor. I will never know if they really had a parrot underneath that wrapping or if that was simply the most bizarre excuse not to meet with us. Elder Gervais and I were walking out of our apartment one day when behind us I heard a motorcycle revving it's engine. Before I knew what had happened, Elder Gervais was knocked off of his feet. He landed by a muddy garbage heap and the guy who hit him was lying a few feet away. The miracle was that Elder Gervais was not hurt in the least way nor was he dirty while the guy on the bike was bloody and moaning. A crowd of people gathered around him, not caring to see if my companion was alright. Seeing that the man had enough help, we silently slipped away and said a prayer of thanks that it didn't end up worse. While finding in Rajahmundry one day we came across a man who had just bought a new car. He called us over and asked us to bless the car for him. I explained that it would be better if we just said a prayer instead, so I prayed and asked that the brother would have safe travel as he drove. Not much of a
68: blessing for the car but it was the best that we could do without being sacrilegious. As Elder Pokhrel and I were walking the beaches of Visak during a zone conference trip, we saw what looked like a little silver statue of a boy. You can imagine my surprise when I saw this boy move and come towards us. He was painted from head to toe with silver metallic paint and was charging money to take a picture with him. I'll admit, it was a clever way of doing business but he didn't get any of our money that day. One afternoon in Bangalore, Elder Pritchett and I were walking down a street when we came across an interesting sight. There was this man sitting on a porch rubbing the bare naked butt of a...mannequin. Upon further observation, we realized that we had just tracked into a mannequin factory. There were body parts all over the place and real people trying to put them together. I unfortunately did not have my camera on that day. While shopping for a birthday card in Rajahmundry, my eye caught a card with the picture of the Salt Lake Temple on it. The message in it read "Hope you have a great day" or something like that. It was one of the most random things I have ever seen. It had nothing to do with the Church and was in one of the most remote places in the world. I ended up buying the card to prove just how random it was to those back home.
70: Places & People
71: We now come to the part of the book that has the most meaning to me. When you go on a mission its amazing to see all of the sights and to live in a foreign place on your own for two years. You experience things that you never would have dreamed of. But when you come to the close of it all, the sights, the food, the activities mean very little. It's the people and the places in which you served that have made the imprint on your heart. You never forget them. You think about them everyday and pray for their welfare. You love them forever. The following section tells the story of the most humble and amazing people I have ever met. Their legacy of faith will forever ever be with me just like a part of me will forever be with them.
72: Madinaguda | BHEL (LIG, MIG, HIG) | Lingampally | Ashoknagar
73: Hyderabad 3rd Branch Dec. 26 2008- May 1 2009 | RC Puram | Berumguda | Chandanager
74: Rahul Baptized 3/1/2009 Rahul was the first person that I had the privilege of baptizing on my mission. His parents, Victor and Indu, were somewhat less active and one day, Elder Valluri and I were informed about their family by our Elders Quorum president. We started visiting and began the process of bringing the family back to church. Along the way we discovered that Rahul wasn't baptized yet and was almost 10 years old. We started preparing him and within three weeks, he was baptized and confirmed by his father. The whole time was an absolute treat. He has got to be one of the most intelligent 10 year olds I ever met. We developed a very close friendship. He would come to church, search me out and leave his parents to come and sit by me. At home he would always go through my bag and ask me when he would get all the things in there. He is going to be an amazing missionary one day. The scriptures speak truth when they say that we must all become as little children. I think I learned more from him than he did from me. I remember how he would always want to | wear my tie and name tag during the lesson. It was amazing watching the transformation take place in their home as they all became active together. I remember the last appointment that we had together before I was transferred. I had promised Rahul for a long time that I would teach him how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We made them together and had a spiritual lesson on enduring to the end. Then it came time for goodbyes. There were many tears and hugs from both sides but the thing that I will always remember was when I was walking down the street away from their home and Rahul ran up and gave the biggest bear hug as tears fell down his face. I was blessed enough to visit the family again more than a year later. It took a lot of searching to find them because they had shifted homes and had different mobile numbers but miraculously enough they saw two other Elders on the train one day and asked them if they knew Elder Stratton. They gave the family my number and we were able to come in contact. The meeting was wonderful. The first thing that Sister Indu said to me was, "Elder, what happened? You are looking so frail." (I had lost a lot of weight). I was able to visit with Victor and Indu for about an hour before Rahul came home from school. They are amazing parents and I love them both so much. Rahul was more than surprised to see me sitting in his home. We had an amazing visit, reliving memories and sharing testimonies with each other. I am so grateful to Heavenly Father for leading us to this family.
75: Chenna Reddy, Adhilaxmi, Surrendhar, and Dinesh Baptized 7/5/2009 Elder Raju and I were spending a long afternoon of finding in BHEL and as we were walking down the street, we were approached by Dinesh, who asked us what we were doing. I told him we were sharing messages about Jesus and he gladly replied, "I'm Christian, my whole family is Christian! Come to my house." We gladly accepted the invitation and followed him home. Part of the miracle here is had we not met Dinesh on the street, we would never have knocked on his door because it was a decked out Hindu home and at that time we weren't allowed to track into them. His family accepted the message right away. They had converted to Christianity a number of years before but had never joined themselves to a church, feeling that none of them were what they were looking for. When we invited them to be baptized, Surrendhar said this was an answer to their prayers and was what they had been waiting for. From the very beginning I always said that I knew that Heavenly Father had a plan for this family. As we continued to work with them we became very close and I developed a strong bond with Brother Chenna. I remember in one Sunday school class we were asked who our hero's were. Brother Chenna stood up and said, "My hero is Stratton." That was a very humbling moment for me. Although they were progressing well, it would be a long road before they actually reached their baptism. Brother Chenna had to give up his smoking habits and the boys had college exams interfere with things. I ended up being transferred before we reached that point. We were all sad but I had faith that things would work out. Two months later I received a letter from Elder Lima who had taken my place. It included a picture of the Reddy family dressed in white on their baptism day. There were few times on my mission where I was so spiritually happy and grateful. I couldn't stop smiling as I looked at their smiling faces, I knew my prayers had been answered. I was able to visit the family about a year later while I was in town for a zone conference. They were doing pretty well. Brother Chenna had had heart surgery and was slowly recovering but the branch was taking good care of them. We relived memories and enjoyed each other's company. They will always hold a special place in my heart.
76: Elder Richard Raju This is my beloved trainer, Elder Raju from Coimbatore. He was an amazing missionary and taught me so much about the Indian culture, the ways of the work and how to be a leader. I remember when I first got off of the plane, he ran up to me and gave me a great big hug and welcomed me to the new area. He was well respected by the members of the branch and by me as well. We had our ups and our downs. He was strict and direct with me but I wouldn't have had it any other way. The skills I learned from him, I was able to carry throughout my whole mission. | Elder Raj Valluri Elder Valluri from Rajahmundry was a bundle of energy and the best follow up trainer that I could ever ask for. We got along amazingly well and our neighbors were apt to hear us singing hymns at the top of our voices during our morning preparation. He was such an example of faith and humility to me. He had gone through a lot during his service, (including being tossed into jail) but he was like the missionaries in the Book of Mormon; stronger and more powerful because of it. | Elder Krishnan Umesh Elder Umesh from Chennai was my third companion and my most challenging one to serve with. He suffered a lot throughout his mission and even had his father pass away. I really admire his strength to stay out and continue. However, my time with him was what I'd call my mission trial and those six weeks seemed like an eternity to get through. Looking back though, I would have to say that I grew more as a person and a missionary during my time with him than I did with anyone else and for that fact, I am grateful.
77: Elder and Sister Fullmer I had the blessing of serving with many amazing senior couples on my mission and the Fullmers fit right into that category. They were sent to Hyderabad 3rd branch to proselyte and help the branch function. Their example of service and humility inspired me then and continue to now. Elder Fullmer was deaf in one ear and had a hard time hearing what anyone was saying. I remember our branch meetings with the leaders as a time where Elder Fullmer would loudly speak his mind and put everyone in his place. He always ended the lectures by saying, | "Now, I want you all to know that I love you and that the Church is true," or something to that effect. It was hard not to love him even when we were all getting lectured. Sister Fullmer was soft spoken but was very sweet and many of the branch sisters looked to her for advice. They both took wonderful care of the branch and of us as missionaries. We would go over to their apartment at times for Elder Fullmer's famous waffles. I can only pray that I have his energy when I get to be his age. | Keshamalla Family (Satish, Varalaxmi, Shravya, Varun, Vandanna) I love this family so much. We taught them the recent convert lessons and had family home evening with them almost every Monday night. Sister Varalaxmi had that new member excitement of the gospel that was contagious. The children loved to participate in our lessons and we even gave them the chance to teach which they did a wonderful job of. We often lost track of time when we were with them and were late home on more than one occasion because they insisted on feeding us surprise dinners. I can't help but smile when I think of them.
78: Gali, Sailaja, & Raveena This is one of my favorite families in India. They set an example in the church, in the community and in their family/marriage. Brother Gali loved to help us with the work and to share his own missionary experiences. He and Sailaja loved to feed us American Jello, French fries, French toast, mashed potatoes and fruit custard (which was my personal favorite.) They sort of followed me throughout my mission, from Hyderabad, to Rajahmundry and back to Hyderabad. Raveena loved to learn about music and play the piano in church and I was able to help her out a little. They are all examples of modern day pioneers who live the gospel and share it freely with others. | Sister Rykalla, Vinod, Deena and Veena We found Vinod one day and discovered that he was less active. Since we were in lock down at the time, we were able to spend a lot of our focus on him and his family. His mother was a feisty woman which trait was passed down to her daughters. They used to love to tease us and make us laugh. Vinod was interested in learning to play the piano and so we met him at the church a couple of times a week and I gave him lessons using the simplified hymnbook as my resource. By the time I left he could play a very simple version of "Choose the Right". I had many a spiritual lesson with this family and was so proud of the progress they made during our time working with them. When I transferred, they were again coming to church and were a lot happier than they were when we found them.
79: The Natarajen Family (Suresh, Somya, & Blessy) I look up to this family so much. They are shining examples of a family who loves each other and is doing their best to live the gospel and share it with others. Suresh is in charge of the Church Education system in India and has a strong testimony of missionary work. He and his wife loved to come on exchange with us and we loved taking them for they often added more to the lesson than we could have alone. The spirit in their home was always one of love and peace, presenting a nice difference and contrast to the many homes we visited throughout the day. Blessy is an angel but was afraid of the Elders when I was there. We would try to say hi and be nice but she would give us a scuzzy look and walk away. I bribed her with chocolate and over time we were on speaking and handshaking terms. | Pavan Pavan will always hold a special place in my memory. The first time that I met him he took Elder Raju and I into his room and told us to listen to something on his computer. He then turned on Britney Spears and started singing and dancing around. That was not the last time he tried to convince me to listen to 90's pop. He, his sister Pallavi and their parents were recent converts during my time there and I had the privilege of sharing many lessons with them. They loved the Elders and we loved them. Pavan was an amazing missionary and loved to come on exchange with us. His fun personality and love for the Savior attracted many people to the gospel.
80: Ramesh Ramesh was the first branch member that I met on my mission. He came to the airport with Elder Raju to pick me up and we had a great relationship from then on. His humility stood out among other amazing traits and his favorite past time was wandering around with the Elders as we shared the gospel with others. I had the opportunity to ordain him to the priesthood and was able to watch him continue to grow and progress while I was there. | Ravi Ravi was a great member missionary who loved to help us Elders. He was the son of our Elders' Quorum president and was always willing to serve wherever we or the branch needed him to. I guess he was quite the ladies man as well because he would always come to us for answers to his various "girl relationship" questions. We helped him as much as we could but it was definitely not our forte at the time. | Divya Sister Divya was not only a wonderful missionary and friend to our investigators, but she was also in charge of the music in the branch. We worked together a lot, me on the piano and her at the music stand as we brought music to the meetings. Her spirit of compassion and love for the gospel helped many feel at home in the new branch.
81: Hyderabad 3rd Branch Young Single Adults | Other People That I will always remember include... Brother Ratman and his wife Mary, the Bommaji Family, Anil (the church custodian who we couldn't have survived without) and his wife, Elder and Sister Kasper, Vijay Babu and his family, Johnny the peddler man, Sandhya and her brother Praveen, Pollamatti Sagar, Jonikuti Raju and family, Lavanya Braganza and family, Anthony Kalkanda, and Emmanuel Karthika
82: TC Palya | Ramamurthynagar | ITI Colony | Babusapalya | Indiranagar | Koramongala
83: Bangalore 3rd Branch May 1 2009- Oct. 17 2009 | OMBR Layout | Banaswadi | Kasturinagar | Horamavu
84: Richard Baptized 5/31/2009 I met Richard at church one Sunday only a few weeks after I arrived in Bangalore. He had a couple of friends that were church members and they invited him to attend the meetings with them. The first time that he ever came, he was fully dressed in Priesthood attire and many people including myself thought that he was already a member. His friend Rakesh introduced us to him and it turned out that he was very interested in meeting with us and learning about the gospel. The teaching process went very smoothly. I was impressed by his understanding and willingness to change. He was baptized shortly thereafter. One of the miracles here was that his father was a staunch pentecostal church leader. Instead of fighting against us as most pastor people did, he was grateful his son was getting any sort of religion at all and encouraged him the whole way along. Richard received many blessings as he embraced the gospel, one of which was a new job. This ended up being sort of his down fall however, making him become less active and distant. He is in good hands with the amazing branch to reach out to him. As I think back, if we were to do it again with him, I think I would have given him more time to build a stronger testimony and to develop more commitment to the gospel. I have the hope that one day he will return to full activity and reap the blessings that come from the gospel. He's a great guy and I'm grateful for the experience of teaching him.
85: Chandra Sekhar Baptized 8/16/2009 | Elder Pritchett and I were in PEC one Sunday when President Nitya turned to us and told us that Brother Alfred had a brother in law who had been coming to church for a number of weeks and was still not baptized. We jumped at the opportunity and started meeting with him. His sister and brother in law were an amazing support the whole way through and were there at every lesson to help us teach. His English understanding was a little less but we worked with him and even gave him the illustrated story book version of the Book of Mormon to help him better understand as he read the real version. He loved it so much and loved to tell us what he was learning. Although he was quiet and didn't speak a lot, you could see his testimony grow as the light and happiness in his eyes grew brighter and brighter. After his baptism he was blessed with a job that had him working long hours and even sleeping at the work place. Despite this, he would always make it a priority to be at sacrament meeting. One week as I was greeting those coming in to the church, I saw him out of the corner of my eye filling out a tithing slip. For some reason, this just warmed my heart. I knew at that moment that he understood, had a testimony and would be fine. I loved teaching him and watching him join his family in the church. I keep in contact with him over Facebook and he is still continuing strong | Brother Alfred Victor and His Family Brother Alfred and his wife were a tremendous help in getting Chandra Sekhar baptized and I will be forever grateful to them. They are both amazing examples to me. Brother Alfred went on to become a branch president in KGF (two hours away) and had to travel every weekend back and forth. Their sacrifice greatly blessed the saints in that place.
86: Meena Baptized 8/16/2009 Meena was one of my favorite people to teach. She was living in her sister's house and was surrounded by church members. They were all very supportive of her but wanted to allow her to make her own decision as to whether she would be baptized or not. When we began teaching, she was so shy that she would barely utter a "Hi"to us. She was reserved through many of the lessons and would often answer us through her sister Roopa. you could tell she was understanding however because her eyes were lit up and she was always very happy at the end of the lessons. As her baptism drew near, we were faced with a minor obstacle. She had taken a very important exam and if she passed, she would stay in Bangalore and finish her studies. If she did not pass, she would be moving back to her village hundreds of miles away. This created a lot of tension in the family and her date was put on hold until the results came. We didn't give up hope though; we prayed every night that she would pass and she did. After her baptism, she came up to me and eagerly shook my hand and said, "Elder I am so happy, sooo happy! Thank you." This was the most that I had ever heard her speak. There was another experience shortly afterward that touched my heart. We were teaching her about the resurrection and the story of Mary and the empty tomb and she turned to me and said with the biggest smile, "Elder, I want to see Jesus one day!" Her testimony was strong then and as continued to grow. I visited the family shortly before I came home and was pleased to not only find Meena strong and active but also her cousin Ashwini, who we had been teaching a little bit, baptized as well. They are all doing very well. | Murali & Roopa Pavani & Suresh These two couples were a great help in getting Meena baptized and loved to support the missionary work in general. They loved the Elders and we loved them. They are strong leaders in the church and set an amazing example to the members over there.
87: Idhaya Raj, Inbarnai, &Stephen Raj (AKA The Kids) Baptized 8/30/2009 Stephen and his father were introduced to us by their less active cousin John Rakesh. John showed up to church one Sunday and I thought he was coming for the first time so I arranged an appointment with him. We met and he brought the other two with him. We found out that he was already a member of the church and that his family was interested in learning. Afterwards, he sort of disappeared and we never really saw him again. However, his family was golden. Just thinking about them brings a smile to my eyes. At first we taught all five members but at that time, the parents were facing some financial problems and spoke less English but they were very supportive of their kid's decision to come to church and be baptized. Our appointments were always enjoyable and I have many funny memories working with them, like the time Stephen misunderstood a question in the law of chastity lesson and answered yes to being married and having more then one wife. They are very bright kids and progressed very well. On the day of their baptism, their mother was able to come and support them. Idhaya Raj had to be immersed 3 times because he was so tall and Inbarani literally froze up in the water. They continued to grow in their testimonies and faith. The boys would come on exchange with us and tell it like it was saying, "Just get baptized, its all true," and things to that extent. We kept in contact by letter after that and 5 months later I was pleased to hear that their parents, Thyaga Raj and Radha were baptized as well. Those are the moments that mean the most, when families are united together in the gospel. A few days before I left for home, I was able to visit them. They were strong and active. Stephen who had grown about a foot, was very sick and I was able to give him a blessing. This was the last blessing that I gave on my mission and was very special to me just like this family will always be.
88: Timothy Baptized 10/18/2009 I love this guy so much. His story is amazing and so is his testimony of the gospel. A number of years ago, Timothy and his family were living in Manipur in northern India. Timothy's father, Brother Daniel, was visited by this old man and told that the true church was the Church of Jesus Christ. This started Daniel's search for the true church, eventually bringing him to Bangalore for employment opportunities. Timothy made mention he had seen our church one day on the road and Daniel came the Sunday after. As he came in during the middle of Sacrament meeting, he knelt down on the first row and said a prayer. I admit, I was confused and intrigued by him and we made an appointment to meet with him and his family. He introduced us to Timothy who was the only one with enough English to progress and we began to teach him. Timothy was skeptical at times but his father already had a testimony and reassured him more than once. His progression was amazing to watch and we all became very close. As his spiritual birthday drew near (my actual birthday, the most amazing present ever), I found out that I was to be transferred the day before it was to occur. We were all saddened by this, especially Timothy. He wrote me a song and sang it to me the night before I left. In my heart, I had no doubt that he would be fine. As we stayed in contact through letters, I was able to further witness his progression as he received the Melchezidek Priesthood, baptized his best friend and stood up to pastors who ridiculed him. We were able to reunite when I was in Bangalore for a conference and had a wonderful time. I was amazed to see how much he had spiritually grown. After returning home, Timothy called me one night from the call center where he works and since then we have been able to stay in contact. Elder Pokhrel taught and baptized his parents and they are all doing wonderfully. I have a feeling that one day, Timothy will be a big part of bringing the gospel to the people of Manipur.
89: Priti Baptized 2/7/2010 Priti's conversion is one that I will always remember; its a story of patience and answered prayers. Elder Pritchett and I found her one day while door knocking in a new area. I know we were led by the spirit because she was prepared. In the beginning she was debating as to whether God really existed or not. We invited her to learn more and that next Sunday she came to church and was faithful in coming after that. We didn't waste time in inviting her to be baptized but she had a her own schedule in her mind that was always different than ours. Her progression was amazing and evident by the lifestyle changes she made. I remember that a concern was brought up in Branch council about some of the things that she wore (she was very modern in regards to Indian standards). We gave her a For the Strength of the Youth pamphlet and the modesty issue was never brought up again. She stood up to her friends when temptation came and changed her outlook on life (she let us know she didn't like doing it but I didn't believe her for a second:). Despite her amazing progression, it took some time for her to be baptized. We developed a very good friendship and the day I was transferred, I told her that if she didn't get baptized, I would come back and haunt her. During the following months I prayed for her on a regular basis. It was a happy day indeed when I received news and a picture of her baptism. There was a transformation in her and she looked so much more confident and happy. I was able to visit her right before I came home and was proud of her and the way she was staying true to her testimony. She will always be my most feisty convert but I am so grateful for the chance I had of teaching her.
90: This is my companion from Boston. He was my first American companion and one of my favorites. He was very spiritual and I was blessed to be able to work with him throughout the mission in other districts and zones as well. As a companionship, we had great success in turning our area of Bangalore around and making it the most productive area in the zone. I will always remember the times we would walk down confusing streets, me humming to myself and him explaining various physics problems that went in one ear and out the other. We had different styles of organization as well but despite these differences, we got along great and I will always look up to him as an example. We've stayed in touch since then and he is now majoring in Physics at BYU (no surprise). I will always be grateful for our time together, it was a blessing from Heavenly Father exactly when I needed it. | Elder Luke Pritchett | Elder KC Otis was from Mesa, and was a determined and spiritual companion to work with. He had gone through certain things in his life that deepened his testimony and allowed him to touch specific people. He was more laid back than the companions that I had previously worked with but a good missionary nonetheless. He went on to go into the army and set a good example there for people like my friend Justin Stanford (what a small world). Although we weren't the closest of companions, I still learned a lot from him and we were able to serve effectively. | Elder KC Otis
91: Vipparthi Here is the best BML I had the blessing of working with. Vipparthi was fully involved in the work with us and was a great motivator to get the branch involved as well. We quickly became close friends and I knew I could rely on him for anything. I remember fondly our meetings with him in his penthouse one room apartment and the spirit that he brought into many of our | Elder and Sister Fairbanks | I love the Fairbanks so much. Out of all of the couples I served with on my mission, they were my favorite and the ones that I got the closest too. They were like a mother and father to us and to all of the branch members whom we served in Bangalore. They loved to come on exchange with us and added a spirit that was powerful into our lessons. Their wisdom and insight taught us many lessons both in our proselyting and at our district meetings. We worked together to host a YSA family home evening every week for the youth and because of that, the members of the branch trusted us and got to know us real well. In turn, they were more willing to help out with the work. Sister Fairbanks was also an amazing cook and we could be found at their apartment more than once enjoying a tasty meal. Their service and example did a lot to strengthen the branch and they will be forever remembered by those they served. | lessons. As a returned missionary, he set an example for us and would often tell us of experiences that he went through. We had fun teasing eachother and joking around but because of his leadership and dedication to the work, my time in Bangalore will be one that I will never forget; one of the best times of my whole mission. If all BMLs could be like Vipparthi, the mission would be in good hands!
92: Sister Vijaya and Family I love this good woman so much, she was like our mother while we served in Bangalore. Her and her family have gone through many rough times during their lives but they remain strong and active in their faith. I will always remember Sister Vijaya perching herself on her balcony, waiting for us to walk by. We could never pass without being fed something. She would dance the food out to us and then visit with us for a time. Even though she didn't speak much English, her and I communicated spirit to spirit and became very close. It was a sad day for both of us when I got transferred. | Usha, Sharath and Family These two young adults were like pillars in the branch. They were anxious to be involved in missionary work, and church service. Usha would constantly tease us as Elders and I swear that she was sometimes flirting as she batted her beautiful eyelashes at us. Sharath was an amazing example to all of the young men in the branch and will one day make an amazing missionary as well. | Brother Raghu and Sister Satya Here is one of the most humble men I have ever met. He and his wife not only lived the gospel, they loved the gospel as well with all of their hearts. It shined forth in their eyes and in their actions. I loved to visit with them and fill of their spirit and testimony.
93: Ramana and Aruna If I was asked who I thought would be the next General Authority from India, I would answer Brother Ramana Seerapu. This couple is one of the most loving, strong and faithful couple that I met in India. You can tell from their pictures that they live and have a rock solid testimony of the gospel. He and Aruna loved to help us with the work and went beyond their call of duty to reach out and connect with our investigators and new converts. The feeling of peace and love that was always in their home was a refreshing change to what we experienced every day and reminded me of my own home and family. | Prince and Sophie I really look up to this couple. Their example is a gospel lesson to everyone who knows them. They have this unwavering faith that is to be sought after. The best word that I can think of to describe their lives and how they treated us and others is Christlike. Whenever they came on exchange with us, they would teach far better than we were able to and our investigators would often inquire about them afterwards. | Vivek, Rubecca and Deepshika This family were recent converts when I was knew them and we had the privilege to work with them on the new member lessons. They lived very close to our apartment and so we were able to visit a lot. They loved it when the Elders came especially Deepshika. She would go into performance mode and keep us laughing the entire time. I'm so grateful I was able to work with them.
94: Sister Goel I have a very special place in my heart reserved for Sister Goel. She lives a life of charity and service to others and her example taught me lessons I will never forget. She was a faithful investigator and even though she might not be baptized in this life due to her circumstances, I have no doubt she'll be in the front of the line in the spirit world. She referred to us as her sons and adopted us in a way and I will never forget her. | Daryl and Jimmy These two were my rock and roll brothers. They went through major changes in their lives while we were teaching them and were always very involved in the lessons. Even though they weren't baptized, I believe we were meant to run into them for a reason. Whatever that reason was, I am grateful for my association with them. | The VanWeillan Family Jon, Vicki, Autumn, and Keira were expats living in Bangalore for Jon's work. They were as un Indian as they come but embraced the culture regardless. We ate a number of amazing meals in their mansion house and had adventures trying to get back to our apartment on time. They were a great strength to the branch.
95: Robert William and Family Brother William was a member of the Mission Presidency and did so much to help further the work in India. He is a born leader and his family is united and faithful in the gospel. I saw him many times throughout the mission and he would always come up to me, call me by name and shake my hand with a huge smile. | Jerry Louis, Maglin, Lindsey and Kevin Jerry was a member of our branch presidency and he and his family were highly involved in the branch. Maglin was also the relief society president during the time that I was there. | Sailaja, Bharati and Neelima These faithful sisters adored the Elders and were very helpful in the work. Bharati and Neelima were not afraid at all to open their mouths and share the gospel with their friends and family members. I love them all but loath their dog who could smell us from blocks away. | President Nitya and Family President Nitya was my favorite branch president that I served with. He trusted us completely and we looked up to him and grew from his council and leadership. Together, we worked to meet the branch's goal of ten baptisms for that year.
96: Neel Basina Neel was a strong support to the branch but hated to come on exchange with us. He would find every excuse to not have to and yet when he did, he was a great support and was able to reach others where we could not. | Sam and Pradhika Sam was our Elders Quorum President and Pradhika was his newly converted wife. I was able to attend their wedding and see them both serve with full hearts in the branch. | Sister Sheeba Sheeba was an example to me of living the gospel even when others around her were not. Her husband wanted nothing to do with the church but that didn't stop her and her son from enjoying every fruit that the gospel offers. | Deepak Deepak did not have the greatest relationship with the Elders when I first got there but we quickly changed that. He became one of our greatest helpers and went on to serve a mission of his own. | Prem Prem worked at the church offices and was also the branch secretary. Although shy, he has a strong testimony and lives his life as a true disciple of Christ. | Antonin, Nina and Nikhil Antonin was head of the distribution center and he and Nina were heavily involved in the Branch, especially with the youth. Nikhil was a handful but what primary child isn't at that age?
97: Bangalore 3rd Branch Young Single Adults | Other People that I will always remember include... Elder and Sister Linton, Sampath, Amos and Prakash,Preetha, Vinod and Venus, Sabitha, Hepsiba, President Doriswamy and family, Brother Karthick and Family, Garce, Ramesh and Babloo
98: Rajahmumdry 2nd Branch Oct 17 2009- Apr 3 2010 | Central Jail | MIG Colony | Korunkonda Road | Y Junction
99: Kambal Cheruvu | CTRI | Prakashnagar | Lala Cheruvu | Cyclone Colony | AVA Road
100: Priyanka Baptized 11/8/2009 Priyanka had been found a couple of weeks before I got to Rajahmundry and was in the process of being taught when I arrived. She is a very sweet girl, quite the opposite of her cousins Kamal and Abenetri. She is actually betrothed to Kamal and since she was living with him and his family, we had to get special permission to baptize her. She had a very low English speaking ability but her understanding was reinforced by Abenetri who was a great help during the whole process. I remember Priyanka would always get so nervous to say the closing prayer in our appointments but she always did an amazing job and after the amens were said, she would always have this big smile and shocked look on her face as if to say, "I did it!" It always made me smile. There would be many times as well when we would ride up on our cycles and she would be sweeping dust off of the porch. I would always sneak up behind her and get the other broom and start sweeping myself. Her and Abenetri would freak out and yell at me as if I was going to break my back or something. By the time I had left, Priyanka's English had improved a lot and she was active and happy. Her shy and quiet nature were the perfect balance to the outgoing and spunky nature of Abenetri and Kamal. They were not afraid to speak their minds and constantly teased us but I am so grateful for the help they gave us as Priyanka accepted the gospel.
101: Chinna and Manga Baptized 12/6/2009 Brother Chinna and Sister Manga were referred to us by the Rajahmundry zone leaders. Their sons, Rajesh and Harish, had been baptized one year earlier. Since that time, Chinna and Manga had been showing their commitment level in attending church every week since they knew no English. They came faithfully every Sunday that entire year and when I was there it had come time to prepare them for their baptism. The lessons went by very quickly; they had been prepared well by their little missionary sons. Their baptism day was an extremely happy and well anticipated event, not only by their family but by the branch as well. I will always remember the spirit of peace and happiness that resided in their home, it reminded me a lot of my own home and family for everyone loved and respected each other and family was number one. I can never forget how much joy they got out of feeding us as well. Before any lesson could start, Brother Chinna would have us sit down and then he would say, "small snacks" (one of the few English phrases he knew) and then Manga would bring out a dinner sized plate of tiger rice or something else she had made that night and then she topped it off with her home made fruit juice. It was so good and I always told her she should open up her own juice shop. I love this family so much and am grateful to have been able to witness them unite together in the gospel.
102: One night as we were cycling to an appointment, Elder Hunn got a phone call from a member named Adhi Narayna who wanted us to come and meet him and his friend right away at the church. We changed course and peddled quickly to see Srinivas waiting eagerly there for us. At first, he was only interested in learning better English but we mixed in the gospel as well. He came from a Hindu background and had absolutely no idea about Jesus or anything. I remember watching his eyes light up as we taught the plan of salvation and he was willing and ready to accept a baptism date when we invited him. Elder Pokhrel and I grew to love him very quickly and the three of us became best friends. I always looked forward to our appointments together for he would get so happy to learn more about the Savior and we could see his testimony sprouting. He would always mock me in English class with slang that I used and soon our traditional greeting was a hearty "good to see you" with a big hug. Since he didn't have a background in Christianity, I decided to give him my old seminary scriptures with their multiple markings to help his testimony continue to grow. He treasures them and keeps then in a special cupboard in his home. His example has overflown into his family and friends as well. At first his father wasn't too happy about him converting but the one time I visited his family, his father came up to us and thanked us for helping change his son. You could tell that he was proud of Srinivas and so was I. | Srinivas Baptized 12/27/2009
103: Ramesh Baptized 1/10/2010 Ramesh was introduced to us by Srinivas a few weeks after we started to teach him. He was eager for his friend to have the same happiness he was experiencing. They were more like brothers than they were friends for they were always together and had a lot of similarities. Ramesh spoke less English and was also from a Hindu background. He was so humble and no matter how many times I would have him try to call me Elder, he always referred to Elder Pokhrel and I as Sir. He was often in our lessons with Srinivas and so they were able to work together. His testimony blossomed and he became happier and happier as the gospel worked into his life. I remember one special day when he brought us to his home (it was about 40 minutes from the church) and introduced us to his family . He was so happy that day and couldn't stop talking about it afterwards. I also remember his smile on his baptism day, the spirit was felt by both of us. He was so sad when he found out that I was leaving. Between him and Srinivas, he was the quieter one but also the more emotional. I'm glad they can support and rely on each other in their journey.
104: Bunny Baptized 1/17/2010 Bunny was the brother of Vikki and the son of Sister Mahalaxmi, both recent converts to the church. He was actually only eight years old but the Branch President asked us to go teach him and prepare him for baptism since his father was a non member and the other two were new to the gospel. We gladly accepted the assignment and I was excited because I love teaching children who are free from the stains of apostasy and sin and who have so much faith. Well, we really didn't have to teach him much for he was a very intelligent child and remembered almost everything from the lessons previous Elders had taught to him and his mom and brother. In fact, there were times when we wouldn't go as much into detail and would leave stuff out and he would correct us and bring us back in line. I used to always lovingly tease him and ask him how his girl friend was and even offered for him to marry Lindsay but he declined. As he joined the church, it was a great blessing to his family and his father even came to witness the baptism. He has a great start in the church and will be an amazing missionary one day.
105: Naveena Baptized 1/31/2010 Elder Hunn and I were walking through a neighborhood looking for a less active member when we found Naveena instead. She told us that she had met with Elders before about 2 years ago but that they had stopped coming suddenly due to her exams. She was excited to have us back and was willing and wanting to be baptized. We had a great task in front of us. She lived behind the Bible Mission Church, one of the most apostate churches in Rajahmundry and to which she and her mother were members. The teaching went well and her progression was good but her mother withdrew permission for her baptism, being swayed by friends and relatives. We persuaded the mother otherwise and things continued onwards. Then shortly after new years, Naveena told us that the pastor had baptized her into the other church on New year's eve and had pictures to prove it. We were frustrated of course but she assured us that she knew it didn't count and so we continued working towards her date. The day before her interview, her mother again denied permission, saying she was already baptized and that there was no need. Naveena was devastated as were we, but none of us lost hope. We fasted and prayed and a couple of weeks later, her mother's heart was softened and she was baptized. She is a very strong willed young woman and always made fun of us. She had a sweet spirit though and a testimony of the true gospel. Being baptized took courage on her part but showed an amazing example to her family and friends. I was able to visit her a number of months later and it turned out that her mom and old pastor were making it hard for her to go to church but she had hope that it would get easier.
106: Deepak and Harsha Baptized 2/14/2010 One day, Brother Chinna brought Deepak and Harsha, sons of his co worker, to church with him and told us that we needed to meet them, teach them, and baptize them. We were eager to start the process and made a return appointment. I distinctly remember the first lesson we had, it was for me one of the | most spiritual lessons of my mission. I felt the Spirit testify through me and touch their hearts as we discussed the first vision. It strengthened my own testimony and I knew right away that they were ready. They felt a little uneasy about committing to a date but we specifically promised them that if they did what we asked, they would be ready. Their progression was wonderful, fueled by their faith and desire. I remember at their baptism, their mother came up to me with tears in her eyes, thanking me for what we had done for her sons. We didn't do much, they were prepared already. Deepak broke his arm the night of his baptism and was confined to bed rest for 3 weeks postponing his confirmation. We visited him regularly and brought him chocolate and Liahona's to read. We all became especially close just like brothers and it was a sad day when I was transferred. I was able to visit them months later and was proud to find out that they were fully active and had received callings in the church. We continue to keep in contact through email and by phone and I continue to be amazed and proud by the reports that I hear from them. About a year after their baptism, their mother and father also joined the church thus uniting the whole family together. Deepak recently got his mission call to serve in the New Delhi mission, my first convert to continue the work by serving a mission of his own. I love their whole family so much and look up to the example that they set for me.
107: Suresh Baptized 3/27/2010 | I was on exchange with Elder Pacanos and felt prompted to knock on a random door in this area I had never been to before. It was then that we met Suresh and I thought he had great potential. His family members were converted Christians but hadn't been to church for years; his father being offended by the politics of the Lutheran church they had been going to. We began teaching him and I was impressed with his questions he would ask. He is a very analytical person and liked to know the deep stuff. He started progressing well and the time came to set a date for baptism. He was scared and had many reasons he didn't want to be baptized including fear of what his father would say and things to do with his future job and position in society (caste system). We tried many different routes and were constantly praying for inspiration on his behalf but he wouldn't budge. He assured us he would be baptized, just after he knew his future was secure. We actually came to the point of almost letting him go because we just didn't know what to do. We were inspired at this time to read Alma chapter 32 with him and talk about faith. This was a turning point for him. As soon as he showed his faith, everything started to work out, his father gave his consent, his exams and job searching were on track and he was a lot happier. His baptism was sort of a secret ceremony; he didn't want to make it a big deal, fearing that his employers or the government would find out. I am sad to say that this fear was part of his downfall, he let it get to him and fell away shortly after I left. I tried to visit him when I was in Rajahmundry a few months later but had the phone hung up on me when I called. I hope and pray that one day he will come back and rely on the faith that I know is in him.
108: Elder Ashish Pokhrel This is my absolutely favorite companion from Nepal. I cannot say enough good things about him or about the six months that we served together. He went from being my companion to my friend to my brother and I love him a lot. I had the blessing to be his follow up trainer which was a great learning experience for me and probably a burden for him. He is the only member from his high caste Hindu family and has shown tremendous courage and strength in his spiritual progression. We had great success together and it was the most enjoyable six months of my mission by far. We continued to keep in contact after I was transferred and even after I returned home. He went on to be a zone leader and eventually the assistant to the mission president. I am so proud of him and the work that he has done. I look up to him a lot and draw strength from his example and faith.
109: Elder Andrew Hunn Elder Hunn from Mesa was my companion in the MTC and then again when I was first transferred to Rajahmundry. We had our differences in many aspects of how we did the work but we were able to put those aside somewhat for the six weeks we were together. He has a lot of humility and faith and was able to reach out to a lot of people. | Jeshwanth Here is the Elders best friend in Rajahmundry, Jeshwanth. He might as well just wear a name tag like the Elders because he was always with us and was as much of a missionary as we were. His desire to share the gospel is amazing and he and I became very close. We joked, we talked, we served and we testified together and I will never forget him. If there was a Jeshwanth in every branch of the church, we would definitely be in good hands. | Prudhvi Prudhvi comes to a close second at beating Jeshwanth as the most involved member missionary. He loved to come with us for hours at a time and participate in the work. He was preparing for his own mission and had lots of advice to ask and was obsessed with speaking more like an American. We love him a lot.
110: Auto Raju and Sudeera Raju owned his own Auto with CTR painted on the front of it and loved to drive the Elders places. His wife, Sudeera, was a member of my English class and an amazing cook. They opened their house every day to any Elder who wanted a cheap delicious lunch. They will live in my memory as happy, laughing, amazing members of the church forever. | Sushma, Sumanth, and Raju Pennigula Sister Sushma is the mother of Aruna Seerapu and was the relief society president while I was in Rajahmundry. She is a natural leader and was always willing to help the branch and the Elders. It is thanks to her that I was able to find a doctor to fix my toe. Her husband owned our apartment and was a great land lord. The family is an example to the whole branch and their service is ever helping the church grow. | President Mummidivarapu and Sister Glory He was our branch president at the time that I served. Just barely off of his own mission when called, he and his wife were excellent leaders in the branch and helped to make Rajahmundry one of the most productive areas in the mission.
111: Sujatha, Sushmitha and Bharath This amazing family had the fire of missionary work in their hearts. Sister Sujatha introduced us to many of her friends and loved to come with us to teach them the lessons. They loved to have us come and visit, sit on their porch and eat some amazing snack that Sujatha had cooked on the spot despite our objection. They have so much love for each other and for the Elders. | Polupalli Polupalli, known for his big smile, was the elders quorum president when I was serving there. He was great at reaching out to new comers and made everyone feel welcome. Although he was a returned missionary, he continued to serve his mission in his everyday life. | Naresh, Pavani and Dyamani These siblings were recent converts who we worked a lot with during my time there. They loved having the Elders come to their home and I remember many a fun FHE with them. They all have amazing testimonies and are very strong and active in the church.
112: Arun Arun loved to skip out on school and come with us to appointments throughout the day (against our wishes). He was full of energy and would always dress up in missionary attire. His personality attracted many new youth and made them feel comfortable at church and at activities. | Bharath Bharath was a very spiritual returned missionary who we loved to have come with us to our lessons for the spirit was magnified whenever he was there. He knew how to really connect with the people and I learned a lot just by watching him. | Naveen Naveen was made our BML towards the end of my stay there and it was such a wonderful change from what we had been working with. He was excited to serve and help the branch grow and took his calling seriously. | Phani Phani (pronounced Funny) had a personality that fit his name. Light hearted and lovable, his influence stretched across branches and made even our new members feel at home. | Prudhvi and Sudhakar These two young men also loved to help us with the work and were great role models in the branch. Sudhakar ended up joining our missionary force right before I got transferred. | Jack Even though Jack wasn't in our branch, we both wish he was because we got along great. He knew excellent English yet still came to my class just for the fun of it.
113: Rajahmundry 2nd Branch Young Single Adults | Other People that I will always remember include... Pushpa and Ashwini, Alma, Ebeneezer Paul and family, Vijay Paul and family, Shiva our bike man, Ramachindra Rao our amazing church custondian, President Chinna, the Galli family, Venkatesh, Elder Gantyada
114: Begumpet | Pattigadda | Secunderabad | West Marredpally | Sindi Colony | SR Nagar | Banjara Hills | Yousufguda | Mehdipatnam | Ameerpet | Erragadda
115: Hyderabad 1st Branch Apr. 3 2010 - Nov. 17 2010 | Punjagutta | Somajiguda | Chintal Basthi | Khairatabad | Madinaguda | Masab Tank | Borabanda | Sanathnagar | Motinagar
116: Ravikanth Baptized 5/2/2010 I came to Hyderabad and joined in the process of teaching Ravikanth. He is a good young man with an excellent understanding of the gospel and of the scriptures. His brother Srikanth was baptized about a year earlier and was a great support to his brother along the way, encouraging him to be to church and participate in the young men's program. For a person of his age, he had many interesting questions and many of our lessons ended up getting side tracked as we tried to clear up his doubts. He lived just over the trash hill to our apartment and every Sunday he would come to pick us up for church. He was always about 10 minutes early which means we were running behind according to him. His desire to share the gospel grew after his baptism and he was a great help to us in our future efforts with converts and investigators. He will be an amazing missionary one day.
117: Kalpana Baptized 5/22/2010 Kalpana's story is one of patience and eager waiting. We were at church one Sunday when the zone leaders came up to us and told us that Brother Pulla's wife had received permission to be baptized and to contact her and start teaching her right away. It took us a couple of weeks to track her down and get an appointment but when we did we found out that she had been waiting for over a year to be baptized because of some situations that had been going on before. Since that time she had had her first baby and her heart had been softened and changed. Her husband Ramoth was there every step of the way and was so excited for her. Since the birth of their daughter, they had a great desire to go to the temple to be sealed as a family. We went through a number of interviews and phone calls to President Nichols to get her to the point where she was ready and by the end I concluded that this had to have been one of the most complicated baptisms that I had ever gone through. All was worth it in the end however as the day finally arrived and she was baptized by her husband. You could sense the happiness descend as the long awaited even took place. Ramoth gave me a big hug at the end and thanked me from the bottom of his heart for helping to make this happen. They continue to be strong and active in the gospel and are still working towards that sealing day.
118: William Baptized 6/20/2010 Elder Radhakrishnan and I were finding one afternoon, searching for anyone who was even interested in listening to our message. We came to William's building and decided to go from top to bottom. While approaching William's door, we could see him in his bachelor flat, sitting on the floor by his computer and listening to rock music at full volume. It took a couple of attempts to get his attention and in the back of my mind I thought, "there is no way he is going to be interested in what we have to say." Well, he definitely proved me wrong and was actually very interested. After our lesson on the Gospel, he stopped us and said, "I was baptized before but I don't think it counted." He told us the story of how he had payed about 3000 rupees to have this famous pastor give him a false baptism. He explained that after what we just told him, that he needed to be baptized again. We set him with a date and he progressed wonderfully and was happy and content as he was baptized in the Lord's way. He may look rough and tough on the outside but William is one of the most sensitive and caring people I have taught. He was always concerned about our health and well being and sort of became our mother, making sure we had enough food and sleep and took our vitamins. I learned a great lesson about not pre-judging individuals as I worked with William and am grateful that Heavenly Father lead us to him.
119: Douglas, Christine and Bevan Baptized 7/25/2010 Here is the miraculous story of one of my favorite families. I was on exchange while Elder Radhakrishnan was in Bangalore and I had to plan out a day for him the next day because I would again be on exchange out of my area. I couldn't think of anything to do in the morning but a thought popped into my head to go visit a less active member. I discarded it knowing it didn't make any sense for he wouldn't be home at that time. The thought kept coming back though and so I wrote it down and sent Elder Radhakrishnan on his way. They went and of course the member wasn't home but while coming down the street, they bumped into Bevan who wanted to bring them home to his Christian family living on the top floor of a Muslim house (we never would have found it on our own). It just so happened that Douglas wanted to be at home that day because of a headache (something which he says never happens to him). They accepted the message, came to church that first Sunday and eagerly accepted a date soon after. Their progression went as smooth as possible until the end. The adversary started to kick in as their baptism date drew nearer and we had to work extra hard to overcome some hurdles. There happened to be a lot brewing under the surface that we didn't know about and I have a testimony that we were introduced into their lives at exactly the right moment. Out of the members of the family, Christine became the most converted and underwent a change that would help her make it through her future trials. Shortly before I left for home, I received news that she was leaving Douglas and moving up to Calcutta. Although their story doesn't have the exact happy ending that we were all hoping for, they needed the gospel at that time to get them through. Christine remains faithful and as active as she can be being far away from the church and Bevan still attends when he is in Hyderabad with his dad.
120: Madhav Baptized 8/1/2010 I am always amazed and thankful when I think about Madhav's story. Madhav was a referral but for the life of us we can't remember where he came from or who gave it to us. His number just appeared in Elder Radhakrishnan's possession one day and so we called it. I'd like to think it was given to us by an angel or something because he was super prepared. We called his number and since he couldn't understand our English, we invited him to church. He came that Sunday and stayed the whole time. We met him later on that evening and there began the teaching process. At first we couldn't understand each other at all and I wondered if it would work out or not. After a couple of lessons, language became less of a barrier. His wife was pregnant during this time with their first child and we offered to give her a blessing before her delivery. Because of the blessing and Shashi's perfect delivery, Madhav developed a very strong testimony of the Priesthood. His baptism was postponed a number of times because he would always go out of town to visit Shashi but he stayed strong throughout the whole thing. After his baptism, his English greatly improved and he would bring his family to church every week. I remember how happy he was on his baptism day and on the day that his son was blessed in the branch. We even started to teach his wife with his assistance and it was during these lessons that I knew he truly understood what we had taught him. He is an amazing and humble man and I am so grateful for the mysterious referral that led us to him.
121: Steeven Baptized 8/15/2010 Steeven was introduced to us by his friend Deepak, a recent convert to the church, a few weeks before I become companions with Elder Talk. He had seen the changes in Deepak's life and wanted to learn more because of them. He progressed rather quickly and was eager to join his friend as a member of the church. he had to make some sacrifices however and work hard to get to that point. He was working at a shopping mall which required him to work on Sundays so he was diligent in asking his boss for the morning hours off so that he could come to church. He also had to sacrifice some priorities with his girlfriend who was not Christian and didn't understand some of his values. He pulled out all right and was very happy on the day of his baptism. His desire now is to bring the rest of his family and his girlfriend to the gospel as well.
122: Matthew Baptized 10/3/2010 | I was standing at a corner store drinking a cool drink with Elder Talk when Matthew came up to us and asked about what we were doing. When we told him we were coming from church he instantly invited us to his bachelor pad on the top of this huge apartment building. He was living in a room with some other single men, all were choreographers or make up artists for Telegu movies. Matthew didn't know a lot of English but he had the faith and desire to progress and when we invited him for baptism, he took it upon himself as a personal goal that nothing would get in the way of it. I really am impressed by his dedication, many times at church he would not understand what was being said 100% but he still came and sat there regardless because he knew it was true. When his whole room planned to go back to their hometown, he declined in going in order to come to church and because of that example, they all changed plans and waited for him. On the day of his baptism you could sense the peace and happiness come over him as he finally reached his goal. We developed a great bond and he loved to teach us Micheal Jackson dance moves after our lessons.
123: Daisy Baptized 10/3/2010 Elder Gervais and I were walking down the street one day when I turned to him and said, "We need to teach and baptize Deepak's sister Daisy. Call him up and see if we can come right now." It was totally spur of the moment but the impression was strong and so we went. Even though Daisy is only twelve years old, she has the heart and understanding of a wise woman. Ever since her brother Deepak had been baptized in July, she had been coming to church and participating in the young women's program. She progressed really well and in a good manner of time. Throughout most of our lessons, she was very silent and contemplative. Sometimes I wondered whether or not she understood a particular concept because she was very shy and wouldn't give a direct answer. However, the prayers that she would always say at the end of the lessons reassured me 100% that she understood. Out of all of the people I have ever taught, I think she definitely has the best prayers. She would review what she had learned with Heavenly Father, and plead with Him to help her live that principle. Just by listening to her prayers, you knew she knew who she was talking to and that they had a very close relationship. I am so grateful for blessing of being able to teach her and watch her testimony grow.
124: Srikanth Baptized 10/17/2010 One day, Elder Talk and I were doing our weekly planning when we were given a call from the Rajahmundry Elders. Elder Allred told us that they had been teaching a brother named Srikanth, that he had been coming to church for some time, that he was ready to be baptized and that he was moving into our area. We were very excited about this and although it took about a month to track him down, Elder Gervais and I finally found him and started the process of review and preparation. Srikanth has a strong desire and testimony and I really admire him for many things. He moved to Hyderabad to work to help support his family, he was living in a small 2 room apartment with 15 other young men, he knew no one in the city or the branch and yet he worked extremely hard to make it to his baptism day. I remember how happy he was when that day finally arrived. I know he has a great future in store for him as he continues to grow in the gospel. My thanks goes to those Elders in Rajahmundry for preparing him and also to Heavenly Father for allowing me to teach him as well.
125: Yohan Baptized 10/24/2010 Yohan had been investigating the church about 2 years before he met us but decided to stop because of other priorities. Between that time and the time when we met, his two cousins, Yohan and Simon, were baptized and grew to be extremely strong members of the church. Yohan started coming to church with them and that is where we first came into contact with him. He was very hesitant to set a date to be baptized, knowing that it was a big commitment and that he would have to make some big changes in his life. We encouraged him and promised him blessings and he took that step of faith and set a date. His cousins were a great support and encouraged him along the way. A week before his set date, he and a friend got into a motorcycle accident in which his friend's leg was shattered and which Yohan miraculously escaped with a sprained ankle and some cuts. We visited him after the incident and asked if he wanted to push back his date. He told us no and firmly said now was the time, that he had wasted two years of his life and he wouldn't push it off any longer. He came limping into church that Sunday but he was happy and ready. His determination and faith have made him a strong member just like his cousins and I am proud of him and his choice to follow the Lord.
126: Shyni and Pavithra Baptized 11/7/2010 These two little angels were brought to our attention by their uncle and our BML, Sandeep. He told us that this brother had two daughters that were still not baptized. We were excited to meet them and help them prepare. They were very intelligent little girls to teach and I couldn't help but chuckle every time we went over there. Pavithra, although only eight years old, has the spunk and attitude of a diva. She would constantly roll her eyes at me as she answered questions as if to say, "Elder I already know all of this, just move on already." I couldn't be irritated at all because it was so adorable. We prepared their father Ravi to baptize them and I will always remember how happy he was as he came up to me after and hugged me and said that this was one of his happiest days. Now as a family, they can all progress together towards receiving more blessings and being sealed one day in the temple. I've always loved teaching little children and this wasn't an exception, they will always be my little angel converts.
127: Praveen Baptized 11/7/2010 Praveen is one of my most favorite converts that I taught because of the struggles we had with him but also because of the miracles. He was introduced to the church by his friend Pallavi from 3rd branch. He was very interested in learning more but had no confidence or faith in himself that he would be ready for baptism. He had some of the most thought provoking questions, most brought on by his Hindu and Muslim friends. He continued to progress well, but as his baptism date drew closer, he became less and less comfortable. After some work we uncovered a number of concerns, one of which had to do with knowing whether or not God was there. We promised him that if he prayed that night he would receive a direct answer, and he did. There after, in every appointment he was telling us about answers he was receiving. Despite this, there was some underlying concern that we uncovered having to do with the past and for years he had been carrying around this large load of guilt. We knew he needed the blessing of baptism more then ever. The night of one of our last appointments before his big day, we got stuck in a traffic jam from hell. Satan did not want him baptized and we were feeling it. We decided to do something unusual, a conference call appointment. He thought we were a little crazy but I afterwards found out that if we had not come by or contacted him that night, he was not going to show up to the baptism. Well Satan did not triumph here, he was baptized and the difference and happiness that he is now having are truly miraculous. I continue to stay in constant contact with him over the web. We have developed a special bond and understand each other very well. He still faces struggles and temptations now and then just like we all do but he is courageously fighting to overcome them.
128: Karun Baptized 11/14/2010 Out of all of my converts, Karun's story has the most drastic transformation, literally a 180 degree turn in life. He actually found us or I guess I should say was led to us. We were walking down the street with a member named Govind, and he pulled up on his motorcycle. My first impression was "who is this punky rowdy kid?" If you would have told me that he would turn out to be one of my strongest converts, I probably would have laughed a little; another serious mis judgment on my part. He had a side that was deeply sensitive and spiritual and he was prepared before we even met him. I remember one of our first visits, we asked him what he had learned from his Book of Mormon reading assignment and he gave us a perfect recitation almost of the first 8 chapters. I was amazed beyond all measure and knew then that he would be baptized. He had to work hard to get to that point. There were many times we would meet with him at Subway or his house or at the church to get him away from his friends who where bad influences. He had been addicted to smoking Hookah and our follow up calls during the night were regular checkups to keep him from the temptation. We weren't the only one who noticed him changing. His mother, Sister Uma saw the transformation and was just as shocked and happy as we were. She is rather a feisty woman but she grew to love us as her own sons. It was my great honor to be able to baptize him on my last Sunday in India. I was so proud of him at that point and he continues to amaze me up to this day. Shortly after I returned home, he got a calling in church, became heavily involved in the YSA program and even received the Melchezidek Priesthood. His example and conversion have taught me more than we probably taught him. We still keep in contact and he is preparing to serve a mission of his own.
129: Elder Karthik Radhakrishnan Here is my companion from New Delhi. He was fairly new on the mission when he came to me and was suffering from some anxiety and depression of sorts. I did my best to help him and support him and ended up learning a lot of compassion from the experience. He went on to become an amazing Elder and zone leader. | Elder Brad Talk Elder Talk from Provo was not only my companion but also my fellow zone leader. I learned so much about leadership and running a zone from him. We got along great and I will always remember with a smile his forwardness with people and his sense of humor. He's extremely intelligent and is attending Harvard. | Elder Luke Gervais Elder Gervais from Cheyenne was the only member in his family and had gone through a lot in his life that made for him a rock solid testimony and desire to bring others to the gospel. We got along pretty good minus the early morning workouts and my time with him as a zone leader turned out to be the most productive time on my mission.
130: Sandeep Sandeep was our faithful BML. He was very involved in the work with us and was great at his calling. He was organized and knew what was going on but also allowed us to do a lot of the work. I'm grateful for his service and example. | Pydimalla and Sudheera Pydimalla was the Elders quorum president during my time in the branch. He was very diligent in his calling and put his whole heart into it. He and his wife loved to serve with us and help us in the work. They also loved to feed us a home made meal after every fast Sunday. | Kishore and Padmaja Brother Kishore was a member of our branch presidency and was very involved in the work with the Elders. He has a passion for the gospel and for service that are truly admirable. Sister Padmaja and I shared the calling of branch pianist and shared a love of music and singing.
131: Rajiv and Madhuha This couple were not only good missionaries but also a prime example of a loving and happy marriage which is something that is uncommon in India. The spirit that they emanate creates happiness for all that know them. I am grateful for my association with them and for their example. | John, Mary and Family John and Mary were recent converts with the fire of conversion burning inside. John used to be a pastor but put it all aside to join the church. He was a missionary machine as he introduced us to many of his friends and family members. When ever I think of him and sister Mary I think of the scripture, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." | Yadagiri, Aruna, Vishal, Vivek and Priya This was also a recent convert family that we worked a lot with. Brother Yadagiri is the one who had the horrible cooking accident. Their family's faith and love of the gospel allowed for miracles to occur in their home and in their own personal lives.
132: Rajesh, Fathima and Auntie Jilpa All three are very active in the church and had a dream of going to the temple. As we visited with them, that desire was manifest through their testimony and personal preparation. The day came that they were able to go and I will never forget Auntie Jilpa coming up to me in Church and saying, "Stratton, I made it, I made it!" | President Gudey President Gudey was our district president and one of the oldest members of the church in Hyderabad. He was involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon into the Telegu language. His devotion and service in the church have helped Hyderabad grow to the point of almost being the first stake in India. | President Boddu and Family President Boddu was our branch president during my service there. He and his family led out the branch through their examples and testimonies. He really trusted the Elders and was always willing to lend a hand when we needed it. | Brother and Sister Pulla Some of the oldest members in the branch and in India, the Pullas are truly pioneers. They were looked up to and respected in the branch and did their part in helping the gospel grow. | Prem and Daniel Recent Converts, this couple impressed me by their humility and dedication to their new found faith. They attracted people to them by their loving and friendly personalities. | The Boddu Family This family was a pillar in the branch to which people looked up to. Their testimonies were powerful and rock solid and they loved to share them with others.
133: The Willden Family: Matt, Shannon, Spencer, Zack and Allie This family came to Hyderabad for Matt's work and took us in as their mission sons. They loved to have us over for dinners and to have family home evening with their kids. Completely inexperienced with the Indian culture, they turned to us for help and advice which we gladly gave them. I am so glad that they came to our branch. Their experience in the gospel and the insight that they possessed did more for the branch than I think they know. They reminded me so much of my own family and I am blessed to be able to know them. | Jane Carter Jane was working for the American Embassy in Hyderabad and was a member of our branch. She was loved by all of the members there and was in charge of the branch music and choir. She asked me to be the choir accompanist and we both worked together to bring the spirit of music into the meetings. | Madhu I knew the minute that I met Madhu that we were kindred spirits. His passion is music and performing just like me and I had a blast visiting his home and seeing his collection of music and having musical and spiritual conversations with him. He was preparing to serve his own mission while I was there and we were able to offer him a lot of help and advice as he was preparing. He's an amazing guy. He and I will be the first to sign up for the choir in Heaven.
134: I wish that I could dedicate a whole page to each of these individuals, all of whom were a huge part in helping us with the work but that would make this book much longer than it already is. I am grateful for my association with each of them. They are truly chosen spirits of our Heavenly Father and are the strong future of the Church in India. (From top and going clockwise square to circle) Wilson, Mohan, Pradeep, Sangeetha, Sravani, Prahalad, Priyanka, Sushma, Satish, Sateesh, Augustine, The Terrupalli Sisters, Govind, Kranthi and Dileep. | Amazing Member Missionaries
135: Durgesh I was greeted by his smiling face everyday as I descended the stairs of my apartment. He and his family lived under the stairs, his father was our watchman. He was my favorite child in India and we developed a close friendship. I gave a copy of this picture to his family and they put it in a gold frame on top of their TV. | Sai This is my good friend Sai who owned a craft shop where I bought most of my souvenirs. He taught me excellent bargaining skills and I spent my fair share of hours in his shop on P-days. I continued to bring him business with every companion that I had while serving there. | The Hyderabad Zone Here is a picture of my zone when I first became a zone leader. They were all amazing Elders and I am blessed to have been able to serve with them. Together, we brought about much good in the city and zone of Hyderabad.
136: Hyderabad 1st Branch Young Single Adults | Other people that I will always remember include... President John Gutty and Family, President Gangadar, President Prem, Pinky, Vicky, Sunny and their mother, Brother Edward and family, Jude, David and their family, Sai, Madhura and her sisters
137: President and Sister Nichols I truly believe that Mission presidents are meant to have the Elders that they do. This is how I felt with President and Sister Nichols. I learned countless lessons from them that I will carry with me forever. Their leadership moved the gospel in India forward at a tremendous speed. President Nichols was | large in stature and in Spirit. He treated us like men and expected us to act as such. He was direct and to the point and very blunt in our interviews but you had no doubt that he loved us like his own sons. If you didn't think out your conversations over the phone with him very carefully you would end up regretting it. For example, I called him up one day with a question about our investigators and told him that we had informed the Branch president of something. He said, "Elder Stratton, we don't inform the Branch president of anything. We ask for his help. Now you call him back up and do it the right way." You can understand why I planned my conversations very carefully after that:) Sister Nichols was also a spiritual giant and her lectures on gospel topics in our zone conference taught me more that I learned in my years of Seminary. I know that they were inspired in their callings and I love them both so much. They will always be role models in my life. | President and Sister Funk I was lucky enough to be able to serve under the leadership of two amazing mission Presidents. President and Sister Funk were very different from the Nichols, almost polar opposites in personality but they were exactly what the mission needed at the time. Their vision for the church and missionary work was astounding and I knew they were called by Heavenly Father right when I first met | them. President Funk was a soft spoken man but his spirit drew us all in and he could open insights from the scriptures that were inspired. Sister Funk was very sensitive to the spirit and her testimony encouraged us and gave us motivation to continue onward. I know that India will continue to explode under their service. I also love them both and am grateful for the short time that I had with them.