Dear President Sudhakar,
Our key indicators for the week are 30 new investigators, 55 member-present lessons, 6 investigators who attended sacrament meeting, 1 investigator with a baptismal date. Zion Emmanuel is progressing but says he couldn’t afford the bus fare to make it to the chapel this week. I have asked Brother Dilip to pick him up next Sunday.
As you already know, our proselyting efforts this week were complicated by Elder Dnyaneshwar’s abrupt departure by train in the middle of the night on Thursday. I awoke to see his bed empty and his desk and cupboard cleared, and soon received a text message alerting me that he had arrived safely home to Visakhapatnam, and that I should not try to convince him to return.
I am sure you are wondering what led to this sudden action, and I have been wondering the same over these past four days. Of course, I should have noticed the signs. He had been even more homesick than usual for the past month, frequently mentioning his mother’s cooking and memories of his college friends. The work has been difficult here for so long, and the branch had been frustrated with him ever since his outburst at the member missionary fireside. With the upcoming election, he has been easily distracted by talk of politics. And any of his former companions will tell you that he could be moody and argumentative.
But I thought things were changing. We have redoubled our efforts, and you know that it is only due to Elder Dnyaneshwar’s persistence that I considered tracting in Bharatiya Colony, where we have had most of our recent success. I am ashamed to admit that I was fearful of the crowds of beggars by the rail station there, and I did not think anyone in the mud-spattered shanties under the elevated highway would be interested in our message.
It was Elder Dnyaneshwar who reminded me that the Savior himself had nowhere to lay his head, and that he was followed by crowds of people who yearned for daily bread as well as the bread of life. And with Rajbabu and Shanti, Isaac Sion and Ammamma, I saw how mistaken I had been. They have been filled with joy since the first day we shared the Plan of Salvation with Shanti at the auto stand. Shekar, Jhansi and their sons have pasted a picture of the Temple on the crossbar above their door and have begun collecting rupees in a jar with the hope of going as a family someday. And ever since Elder Dnyaneshwar challenged Naveen to prepare for a mission, he has been spending almost the full day with us, though he is still frustrated we will not let him take us to our appointments by motorbike.
So it came as a surprise when I awoke to an empty apartment after a day in which we had 16 member-present lessons to eager families and youth throughout the shanty-town, led by Naveen and Shekar’s 6-year old, Prakash. I had thought Elder Dnyaneshwar was relaxed and joking because he was finally starting to be comfortable here, not because he had decided to leave.
Some of the elders in the Zone will no doubt say he was always disobedient and rebellious, insisting on teaching in his own way and ignoring the counsel of his leaders. And given how he replied to the branch president’s suggestion that we were running faster than we had strength by teaching so many, or by teaching in the Colony at all, I understand why they think so. He was certainly a strong-willed missionary.
But perhaps it was simply that he saw what we could not. In a nation of 1.3 billion people, struggling in poverty, and unaware of their divine birthright, he knew the urgency of our call. We serve in a city of 21 million, 12 million of whom do not know where their next meal is coming from, in a branch of 300 members of record, 76 of whom attended sacrament meeting the week we arrived. If we alone carry the everlasting gospel and true hope of salvation, the balm for all the world’s ills, what are our efforts here but a drop in this ocean of suffering and need? The savior said the harvest was great and the laborers few, but if we truly recognized how great a burden lay upon us in this land, how could any of us stand?
A Q&A about this story with Mattathias Westwood is available here.