Sometimes, you’re in the right place at the right time. Once in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that place was Hyderabad, India, for the organization of the first Stake in the country of India. It was monumental. We had heard speculative rumors about the formation of a new stake just a couple weeks before we got on the plane. Sure enough, the first thing we did when we got off the plane was volunteer to help the joint West Mardepally branch choir. Little did we know that we’d end up volunteering for much more than that…
The energy and excitement of the members was like an electrical current. The members were looking forward to Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy, and Elder Perkins of the Seventy. All three came with their wives, as well as President Funk and his wife of the India Bangalore Mission (he happens to also be a close friend of my Mission President!! We didn’t think we’d get the chance to see them here!).
The same weekend there was an awesome India-wide YSA conference, with young adults coming in from Sri Lanka and Nepal as well. I managed to see (Sister) Maggie George from my mission there sitting just a couple rows in front of us (we went as volunteers to help with the conference). She almost jumped out of her skin when I tapped on her shoulder and said, "Hi Sister George!"
Our choir experience was quite the… experience. I attended because Katrina was attending. Not because I am blessed with profound singing abilities. I just wanted to pitch in if I could. Turns out I was one of the MVPs of the men’s section – they all tried to follow my pitch and pace and everything. Super stressful for me. Katrina of course became the star (along with Diondra, another volunteer from our team helping the altos). With a lot of effort from Brook Dorff, our country director, on the piano, Katrina and Diondra, and our wonderful chorister Sister Gutti, and of course a great deal of help from on High, the choir ended up sounding just wonderful.
Most beautiful, of course, was the significance of what happened for the Indians themselves. I am so impressed with the members, their strength and maturity in the gospel. The most I knew of the saints in India was a brief quote from President Hinckley years back about the Church having a handful of members amongst the “millions of India.” I pictured a young church, relying a lot on missionaries from out of the country. What a blessing to have my ignorance of India’s growth shattered the very first week here. We were greeted with a bustling branch full of loving and bright members and wonderful, spiritual meetings each Sunday.
Now that branch is a ward! The Stake Conference saw to that. Elder Oaks’ and the other Brethren’s instruction were phenomenal. They spoke of maturing in the gospel individually, just as the Church had institutionally matured in India. Elder Oaks bore powerful witness of the gift of forgiveness, the love of God, and of the Savior. A new Stake President was called – a former branch President who has proven to be quite the Indian saint. The first Patriarch in India was called. Twenty-two men were advanced to the office of High Priest.
On another side of things, Katrina and I were asked to prepare lunch for Elder Oaks and his companion brethren on Saturday. On one hand, I felt very blessed to have the opportunity, like how the wonderful Polynesians felt every time they had the chance to serve me as a missionary. I also felt super stressed about the whole idea. The Brethren requested relatively American-style foods, which made finding the ingredients difficult, and we don’t have the best cooking facilities around here either. But we got it all together and put a good meal on the table for them. At least, that’s what they said! Elder Oaks also teased me (indirectly, and very kindly) about being a sociology major. I tried to take it gracefully. J To say the least, it was a beautiful weekend.
Katrina also borrowed a saree from Modesta’s (our country director) sister. She looked BEAUTIFUL. And I can say that because she doesn’t scan my blog posts before I put them online... Adorable. See for yourself.