Archive for April, 2011

Easter e-mails

April 25, 2011

From Matt’s sister: Mentioned in an email to my brother Mattathais that it’s strange that we make a bigger fuss over Christmas than Easter, since without Easter Christmas wouldn’t matter. Here’s what he wrote in reply:

“Maybe we make a bigger fuss over Christmas because it’s a lot harder to avoid the pain and blood involved in Easter, which the world mostly wants to avoid. [There is] pain and blood that we don’t think about in Christmas, which is part of every childbirth. Both life and eternal life required pain and a lot of mess before the joy. Which might teach us something about how to handle pain and messes, and about how to really rejoice.”

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A few good eggs

April 25, 2011

I was regretting, early in this week, that I hadn’t done any special scripture study to prepare myself for Passover and Easter. And then, in my regular daily reading of the Book of Mormon, I came to Mosiah 24, which recounts the deliverance of another covenant people of God from another bondage in another land, showing that the love of God manifested in the Passover is universal and rebounds through the history of this earth as we are willing to place faith in him. So I guess God took care of my passover reading for me. http://lds.org/scriptures/bofm/mosiah/24?lang=eng

The hymn for this week is “Rejoice the Lord is King”. http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollect ion=1&searchseqstart=66&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=66&searchsubseq end=ZZZ

Rejoice.

I’m very grateful for a God who delivers his people, for the suffering Lord who bears my griefs and carries my sorrows, who endured chastisement that I might have peace, and stripes that I might be healed. And if for this small moment I also must carry a few griefs and sorrows, endure a few chastisements, it is a small, small price to pay for the joy I also feel daily in His service.

I only hope that I might also, at times, place the griefs and sorrows of others ahead of my own griefs, and that I as I am chastised I may correct myself, so as to become pure as he is pure.

Oh how I love this Jesus who so loved us.

In the words of Zion John: “God loved the world too much, so he sent his son, begotten…”

Rejoice.

This week in Kolar Gold Fields, we had the first missionary activity which I have been fully responsible for planning and carrying out. It was an Easter Fireside. (For anyone who might be confused, an LDS fireside very rarely involves sitting by a fire… it’s just the word we use to describe a less-formal Church activity. Someday I should make a dictionary of these things…)

The first half of the activity was focused on the Atonement. We divided groups to read and discuss scriptures about Christ’s suffering and resurrection, and then invited everyone to share their testimonies of Christ.

Then we had the cultural activity. I always like doing an arts activity because I love to see what people create. I’m always astonished by the beauty that comes from everyone. When first planning the activity, I asked Elder J. if Indians do egg painting for Easter, and he said yes, he’d seen it before in Delhi. Then we found out that no one here does egg painting. But we decided to go forward with it anyway. Saturday morning, I was pretty nervous about how it would turn out. But the eggs were bought and boiled, we had the paint and brushes, so we went for it.

And everybody loved it. Really, totally loved it. We didn’t have enough brushes, because we’d only bought ten thinking mostly the children would want to participate. But all their parents waited about twenty minutes to get a turn, and made amazing creations. I think Elder G. was the only person present who didn’t paint an egg– I had painted one as a demo, and he supervised while I took photographs.

The glory of each person in this world never ceases to amaze me. I think I’m just beginning to get a grasp on how much our Father must love each one of us. He sent His Son.

The Lord is risen. Always Remember Him.

Love,
Elder Westwood

With a sound of rejoicing

April 18, 2011

The scripture passage for this week is Mosiah 15, the prophet Abinadi’s testimony of the Atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection of the Son of God. http://lds.org/scriptures/bofm/mosiah/15?lang=eng For those of you who have never read the Book of Mormon and thus have no idea who Abinadi is, I invite you to read the whole story of Abinadi, in Mosiah 11-18. It has wicked kings and spies and politically/religiously charged trials and secret gatherings and everything! The hymn is No. 89, The Lord is My Light, which is Elder G.’s favorite hymn. http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollect ion=1&searchseqstart=89&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=89&searchsubseq end=ZZZ Elder G. is my new companion. He’s from Hyderbad, and I met him there in December right before he left on his mission.

Mary asked me this week how Indians celebrate. I’ve been in India for three major holidays– Christmas, New Year, and San Kranthi– and Easter is now close at hand. And near as I can tell, each holiday has its own mode of celebration. From the beginning of December, Christian families put these big brightly colored stars outside their homes, and on Christmas day everyone came to Church. I mean everyone. We were showing the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, and where we usually filled 2/3 of the chapel on Sunday, we filled the full chapel and both overflows to standing room only. And there was a crowd in the hall, and downstairs, and during the rest of the day I think about a hundred people came to pray in the church. New Year involves parties, resolutions and staying up til midnight, same as in USA. And then San Kranthi, at least in Hyderabad, is the kite-fighting holiday. So every man and boy in the city is on a rooftop. Holi passed but wasn’t big here. That’s the color-powder holiday.

For New Year and San Kranthi, people put colorful chalk designs outside their door. I dont recall mentioning the chalk designs– they’re usually just white chalk, almost everyone has them, and they can be very simple or highly intricate. I’ll send pictures as soon as I can, but for those of you who get the New Era magazine, I think the October 2010 issue has some examples in the article about the Church in India. And then on special days people add colored powder.

I’ve also been here for a lot of informal celebrations and personal holidays. The standard way to celebrate a birthday is with a cake-cutting, of which the most important part is feeding everyone cake by hand. So everyone feeds the person celebrating, and the preson celebrating feeds everyone else. Sometimes, someone starts smearing icing on someone else, and then things just go crazy. Small children will give everyone else a sweet on their birthday, or if they get good marks, or if their is some other reason for joy. For graduations and major sports victories, people will parade through the streets with drums.

As everywhere else, celebrations can be a source of stress. There’s one member of the Church here who hasn’t come in two and a half months because she can’t afford to bring everyone sweets for her second daughter’s birth, and that makes her ashamed. And at almost every major party I attend, there’s at least one moment of tension where the hostess wants to feed someone more than they want to eat. But mostly celebrations stay happy, joy is joy, and the world rolls onward.

This week Elder J. left for Vishakapatnam, Elder G. arrived, and the work moved on. Everyone we had been teaching went out of town, or didn’t answer our calls, or did answer but professed extreme busy-ness, but we found some new people, including a couple who came to the Church and said they’re considering joining and they want to learn more, and a young man who started texting a member, and they talked to him and invited him to Church even though they didn’t know him at all.

Have a happy Passover and a happy Easter, and remember that there is a Deliverer who is mighty to save.

Love,
Elder Westwood

They that sat in darkness have seen a great light

April 11, 2011

The scripture passage for this week is Matthew 3 and 4. http://lds.org/scriptures/nt/matt/3?lang=eng The hymn is “Let us all Press On” http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollect ion=1&searchseqstart=243&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=243&searchsubs eqend=ZZZ

This week I have stories… but they’re not about this week. They’re stories from the life of Zion John.

Zion John is first counselor in the branch presidency here. He’s also Church security guard. He’s a man of amazing intensity and great knowledge and experience. His eyes have a light like fire. His children will regularly say “You know my father is a monarch

First story: Monday night was Zion’s wedding anniversary. We attended the celebration, and Elder J. asked “How did you feel when you first saw Vasi?” Zion told us. When he first saw her, it was seven years before their marriage. And he says right away he felt his soul reaching out after her, following behind her. His father was a prominent pastor, and wanted his son to have a good marriage. He started arranging one. Zion was distraught, but too afraid to tell his father directly that he already knew who he wanted to marry. He’d never spoken to Vasi in those seven years, just seen her from time to time. So as his father started making inquiries for brides, Zion made his own inquiries. He found out where she lived. He went with a cousin, and asked for her hand in marriage. Her parents said no… then three months later her father died. Zion and Vasi married in 1983.

Second story: Zion became a pastor after his father. He had his own congregation, with over 40 familes, more than 170 members. Then in 2000, in Bangalore, he found a Church that claimed to have apostles and prophets, divine revelation, new scripture. And he came. The message elders shared set his heart aflame. He prayed. He knew it was true. He was baptized. He told his church he was done, he had found the true Church, and he couldn’t be a pastor any more… not one member of his congregation followed him.

Third story: At one time, Zion became frustrated with the Church. He stopped coming. He told his family also not to go. But the same fire he had had also gotten into his daughters. And one Sunday, they snuck out in the morning to go to the church. They planned to go for twenty minutes, just take the sacrament and come home, but once there, they decided to stay. After forty minutes, Zion noticed they were gone, and came up the stairs to the church, shouting for them to come, to tell him why they’d disobeyed. They came out, and he took them home, but from that day he never again told them not to come to Church.

Fourth story: Today Zion spends every day in the church. He read the scriptures fervently, trying to determine what they’re telling him to do. He wants to understand as much as he can. He’s worried about the young men in the church, who don’t have the same fire in their hearts that he does. He worries about how to help them, about what to do to strengthen their testimonies, to make them strong enough to serve God, who will ask for everything. He worries about his own sons, who don’t come to the church even now, who all work on Sundays. He thinks about how to reach out to them, how to bring them back, how to keep them from making the mistakes he made. He loves their children, his grandchildren, and dotes on them. He still loves Vasi as fervently today as he did in 1976, when he first saw her. He still follows behind her.

Zion John is a saint of God, one of the pillars of testimony I’ve had the privilege of meeting on my mission. He is a great man, made greater by his faith. He has been a stubborn man, but he has always come, in the end, to where he hears God calling. I hope to do the same always in my own life.

Love to you all,
Elder Westwood

Stories

April 4, 2011

The scripture passage for this week is Jacob Chapter 1, in the Book of Mormon. http://lds.org/scriptures/bofm/jacob/1?lang=eng The hymn is “True to the Faith” http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollect ion=1&searchseqstart=254&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=254&searchsubs eqend=ZZZwhich I think is even more beautiful and stirring in French. http://lds.org/cm/fra/Cantiques_164_VasTuFaiblirOJeunesse_fra.pdf

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about why I write what I write on Monday.

I write mostly about the Gospel, and I’ve been writing mostly discourses, rather than experiences. And I think there are two main reasons for that:

1)I write about what’s most pressing to me. And usually that’s the scriptures, or the overarching lessons I see from what I’m doing. Because I feel the urgency of these things now, very much.

2) I write what’s easy to write. Which is the overarching lessons, and not the day to day work. Which is the principles, and not what life is like in India, or what A.B. told me this week that put me in awe of God and in awe of his faith, or the kids I saw dancing with flags in the street because India was in the Cricket World Cup Final on Saturday. I write discourses because I teach the Gospel and write about the Gospel so much that discourses are easy, and come to my mind quickly, and anything else takes a lot more thought and time, which is scarce.

(For those of you who don’t know, India won.)

I think reason number one is a very good reason. I think reason number two is a very poor reason. And I don’t think discourses are the most useful writing I can do.

I’ve been thinking about the scriptures. There are a lot of discourses, but probably even more parables, and visions, and stories. The scriptures are full of stories. And in most of these stories, there are clear lessons, but the scriptures don’t just tell us the lessons, they tell us the stories.

Perhaps because stories teach in a way that conclusions alone cannot. Because stories can teach us in a lot of directions. Because we live our life in stories more than we live it in conclusions and principles, which are easy to say but often hard to live.

And this week, I’m out of time to tell some more stories about this Gospel I love so much and the work I do sharing it here. But I promise three good stories next week.

Love,
Elder Westwood