Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Worshiping with the Saints in India

Note: Originally posted on the Deseret News and Mormon Times 

Business travel has been a significant part of my life for the past three years. This has allowed me the opportunity to visit nearly every state in the continental United States and a few foreign countries. It has also afforded me the opportunity to visit several temples. Many great personal spiritual experiences have ensued when attending temples in places such as Manhattan, Toronto, Orlando and Detroit. However, what has perhaps been the most rewarding experience I have had while traveling occurred recently when I was in New Delhi, India.

There are four branches in the city. I chose to attend the New Delhi 1st Branch because its meetings had the earliest start time. When I arranged the driver with the hotel, I told the concierge I would be going to church. He asked if the place where I was going to say my prayers was close, and I told him it was only about 18 kilometers (11 miles) away. Then he seemed surprised when I told him the four-hour minimum charge for the driver was no problem, likely thinking I would “say my prayers” for a few minutes and then return.

I knew four hours was actually about the right amount of time. But just to be safe, I left the hotel 45 minutes before sacrament meeting began because I already had ample experience in New Delhi traffic.

The drive was a breeze. No one was out at 8:45 a.m. on a gorgeous Sunday morning in this culture that starts its day an hour or two later than we do in the U.S. Fortunately for my blood pressure, my driver did not drive on the shoulder or the wrong side of the road to pass another car even one time that morning!

After my driver got out of the car to ask directions from a local resident in Lajpat Nagar Part 1, I thought we were well on our way to the branch, located at 23 A, Lajpat Nagar, Part 4. Not long after, while waiting at one of the few traffic lights in the city, I looked over at the car next to us. In the back sat a man dressed just as I was — white shirt and a tie. A smile crossed my face. I thought, “At this hour, dressed like that, he has to be going the same place as me.”

Our drivers proceeded to each stop at the same places to ask locals for directions. By the third stop, they realized they were going to the same place, which my driver had not believed when I told him upon first spotting the other passenger.

Eventually the driver of the other car spoke with the right person on the street who knew the way. We finally made the 11 miles to the branch in just under an hour. I told my driver I would either be one hour or three, depending on whether the services were in Hindi or English.

Once inside, I had one of the sweetest experiences of my life. The large branch of about 70 to 80 filled the room. Most of the women wore the traditional 5 meters of unstitched fabric known as a sari. The men were dressed more like Americans. A tall white gentleman sitting on the stand appeared to be the branch president. The first talk was given in Hindi, so I thought I would only be staying for sacrament meeting. Then the next talk was given in a combination of English and Hindi.

I think the speaker was speaking in English and then translating the same words to Hindi, but a couple of times, the English broken by the Hindi did not connect, so he might have been filling in parts of his talk in Hindi. I will never know. The third talk was given by the tall white gentleman, who turned out to be New Delhi India Mission President William Jackson, a doctor by trade from the U.S. and a fantastic teacher of the gospel.

The talks were on the most basic of topics, but never before have I felt such a spirit of strength, true testimony and utter conviction. Although I did not learn any new doctrine from the speakers, my soul felt the true faith of pioneers. I was uplifted in a way I have never before felt. It was a temple-type of experience.

Once sacrament meeting concluded, I think just about every member of the branch came to me and shook my hand, including a kind young brother, Vinjay, who had whispered to me the scriptures being quoted during the talk in Hindi. He excitedly came to speak with me about, of all things, American politics, one of my passions. He was shocked to learn that my positions were the polar opposite of his perception of the majority of Americans.

I spoke with Sylva, a student from Kinshasa, Congo, who came to India to study and is my newest Facebook friend. I also met President Massey, the actual branch president, who is a humble servant of the Lord.

President Jackson taught a combined Sunday School, with at least six investigators visiting, again displaying his heaven-sent teaching ability as he drew an analogy for the plan of salvation. The third hour consisted of a combined meeting, with a discussion based upon Elder L. Tom Perry’s last conference talk led by President Massey.

At the conclusion of the meetings, there was a baptism. Feeling so uplifted, I decided to stay. A sweet baptismal talk preceded the ordinance performed in an outdoor font in the courtyard behind the chapel.

Enjoying Sunday meetings with these pioneers — I was told the New Delhi 1st Branch was the first in India, commissioned only 15 years ago — was such an uplifting experience. To see these faithful members with powerful testimonies of the true gospel of Jesus Christ was an experience that will forever touch my life.

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