Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Day with the Missionaries

Carolling at Priya Market
We spent Christmas Day with all of the missionaries in India - 26 young elders, 4 young sisters, President and Sister Sackley, Elder and Sister Black (Public Affairs, just arrived in November) and us.   We had a delicious  breakfast of various treats prepared by the "older" sisters, after which we had a white elephant exchange, skits by the missionaries and caroling in the local market. All the missionaries got stockings filled with "goodies" prepared by Sister Sackley and Sister Stevens.  Lunch was catered by a local member.  We had roast beef, mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, rolls and salad.  We even had jello with marshmallows - talk about feeling like we were in the US - at least while we were eating.  After lunch we had a devotional with talks and videos on Christ and  Christmas.  The event ended with too many desserts to count all made by Sisters Stevens, Sackley and Black.  It was a fun day, and helped us not think to much about being back home.  In the evening we were able to talk with all the grandkids right after they had opened their presents.  It was a very enjoyable day for us.  MERRY CHRISTMAS!  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Office Christmas Party

12 Days of Christmas - 3 French Hens
Unlike most mission offices, we have employees that work for the Church in the office.  There are 2 reasons, 1) the mission has not been able to consistently have senior couples called to New Delhi, and 2) as mentioned before many people, including most of the vendors, landlords and contractors that the Church uses in New Delhi don't speak English.  So we had a Christmas party for the office this week and had the mission's 3 employees and their families along with us and President and Sister Sackley gather for food and fun at the Mission Home (the home of the Mission President).  Kids are what make Christmas fun and we played games and sang songs and the kids got presents to open.  Our contribution was to teach the kids the 12 days of Christmas - a tradition we had all the time our boys were growing up.  I'm sure Bryan, Eric, Tyler and Jared are groaning right now as they think about the years that Dad would don the Santa hat and we would perform in front of their mother the 12 Days of Christmas.  Well boys, the tradition lives on now in India for a whole new generation...

Merry Christmas - A Time of Service

At this time of the year, we all look for ways that we can be of service to our fellow men and women to demonstrate our love for the Lord at His birth.  Most Latter-day Saints go about trying to do good without much fanfare.  Recently I read a talk by a modern Apostle, M. Russell Ballard.  In speaking about being anxiously engaged in good causes he said in part, "...Now, brothers and sisters, I'm not encouraging religious zealotry or fanaticism.  Quite the contrary!.  I'm simply suggesting that we take the next logical step in our complete conversion of the gospel of Christ by assimilating its doctrines deep within our hearts and our souls so we will act and live consistently - and with integrity - what we profess to believe.... In your morning prayer each new day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of His precious children.  If you do this, your spiritual sensitivities will be enlarged and you will discover opportunities to serve that you never before realized were possible.... if we multiply our efforts by tens of thousands, even millions of prayful efforts to share God's love for His children through Christian service, there will be a compounding effect of good that will bring the Light of Christ to this ever-darkening world." 

Sister Stevens and I invite you to join us this Christmas and throughout this coming year to do as Elder Ballard has asked - pray for opportunities to provide Christian service to our Heavenly Father's children. Merry Christmas.    

Our Love and Best Wishes,

Elder and Sister Stevens

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Off to Manila...

Sister Anu Lama (from Nepal in center with pink scarf)
and Sister Shruti Singh (far right in jacket) with us,
at the Mission Home the night before leaving for the MTC
This past week we saw off three young sister missionaries (sisters in the sense of the church, not biological sisters) going on their missions to the India Bangalore Mission.  They first spend 2 weeks at the Manila MTC to learn about how to be effective missionaries.  Both missions in India (Bangalore in the south and our mission, New Delhi in the north) are considered English speaking, so there is no language training for the missionaries.  In reality, only about 50 % of the people have passable English skills.  One of the three sisters are one is from Nepal, who came to New Delhi to be set apart as a missionary by our mission president.  The other two are "graduates" of our first missionary preparation class.  We have really enjoyed teaching the class these last 2 months.  The class helps the young prospective missionaries learn 1) why they are serving the Lord, 2) why it's important to be personally worthy to preach the Gospel, 3) how to recognize the spirit of the Holy Ghost, 4) how to invite the Spirit into their teaching 5) how to teach basis gospel principles like the restoration, the plan of salvation and the importance of keeping the commandments, 6) how to effectively use their time and 7) why it's important to be physically, mentally and spiritually prepared to serve.  For any youth preparing to serve a mission, I recommend that they receive this training.  It integrates well with the teaching they receive at the MTC.  And with the length of time at the MTC being shortened to allow more missionaries to go, it's even more critical than before to their success and effectiveness.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Friends from Houston

Who could image all the Houstonians we have met in India.  This last weekend, Cliff Keeler was in New Delhi for work and came to our District Conference.  I really admire Cliff, since he didn't get in until 4 am and conference was at 10, but then again, when you're halfway across the world from home it's hard to tell your nights from your days.  After Conference, we had lunch together with the mission president and his wife as well as Elder and Sister Black, who just came to the mission two weeks ago from Kingwood.  We had a chance to catch up on what's going on at home and talk about old friends. 

Here is the other picture I was looking for with Elder and Sister Meehan.  I know it looks like all we do is eat, but it's more exciting than processing visas.  Anyway, Elder and Sister Meehan came to India from Hong Kong as part of their Humanitarian/Welfare assignment and took us to dinner a few weeks back.  We had a great time visiting with them.  They are now at the end of their mission and heading back home soon.  We wish them the best on their return

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Farewell to the Elder and Sister Crookston

We are saying farewell to another couple that couldn't get their visas renewed.  Elder and Sister Crookston are serving a 23 month mission and have been in India since February of this year.  They along with the Capeners were unable to get their missionary visas renewed for another year so they will be going to the Singapore mission, which includes much of Malaysia.  We'll miss the Crookstons.  Elder Crookston is the ultimate boy scout - ready for any and all situations, and the technical expert in the district that insures all the branches get the church broadcasts.  Sister Crookston is just fun to be around.  We have enjoyed their friendship and wish them the best in their new mission location.

Farewell dinner with President and Sister Sackley,
Elder and Sister Crookston and us at our favorite Thai Restaurant

For our astute readers, you might be asking yourselves "well, if the first 2 couples to finally get a visa to India in 3 years didn't get their visas renewed, what's going to happen to the Stevens?"  That's a good question, and the answer is we don't know.  Both the Capeners and the Crookstons had missionary visas and we have an employment (volunteer) visa.  We're hoping that we can get our renewed in country, but we'll just have to wait and see. 


Friday, November 30, 2012

Visit to the Taj Mahal

You can't come to India (even as a missionary) and not go to the Taj Mahal. The Taj is located outside of Agra which is about a 3 hour drive south from New Delhi. We went on Tuesday with another couple who is being transferred to Cambodia. They came to Delhi in early February with a missionary visa, but could not get it renewed so they will finish their 18 month mission in Cambodia. They have become very good friends and we are sorry to see them leave. The Taj Mahal is just like what you see in postcards. In fact, some of the pictures we took look just like postcards, but to prove we were actually there, we got a few with us in them. While we were there we also went to Agra Fort, which is (I think) the largest red sandstone forts in the world. It is still a working fort housing about 500 soldiers, so we were only able to see about 1/3 of it. We hope you enjoy the pictures.

No we were not photoshopped into the picture.  It was
a perfect day - low traffic, sunny cool day and low smog.
With our friends Elder and Sister Capener from Perry
Utah.  They are transferring to Cambodia on Friday
(Gate leading into the Taj Mahal)
Entering into the above gate, you get a panoramic view
of the Taj Mahal.  It looks like throngs of people, but this
was actually a very light tourist day
Intricate stone inlays are found all around the outside
of the Taj Mahal.  The more impressive inlays are
inside where you are not allowed to take pictures
Carvings in the outside walls of the Taj.  The Taj is
built of marble found in India which is much
denser than Italian marble
Looking up into one of the arches of the Taj

Standard tourist shot, but it looks pretty real.
The Taj is a mausoleum that took 22 years to complete

Can you believe it! A Texas pine on the gounds of the
Taj Mahal (behind it)



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More of Jaipur and Pushkar

I was going through our pictures from our recent trip to Jaipur and Pushkar, and thought posting a few more would be good. 

King Jai Singh, built this for his first wife so she could see
see out.  It has 365 winddows and the whole building
is only 1 room deep. 

Sister Stevens at the Hotel Diggi Palace

Gypies that danced at dinner our first night in Jaipur

"Deluxe" Tents they booked for us at Pushkar -includes
a bathroom in the back.  We opted to stay in a real room
(no Boy Scouts among us)

Dry water color paints
Sunset at the man-made lake in Pushkar.  Earlier
that morning, 50,000 Hindus bathed in the lake
as part of a religious ceremony
Floor display as part of Diwali.  It's made of colored rice
Elder Stevens and President Sackley
arriving in Jaipur.  After the picture, we all
got rid of the flower leis because they were
causing us to sneeze

One of 500 churches in Pushkar, a city of 25,000 people


Out 6 months

Today we have been in the mission field for 6 months.  I wish I could say it has gone past quickly, but to be honest there are both days that whiz by and others that seem to go on forever.  Lately it's been more of the latter.  Angela has had a nagging cough that just won't go away that keeps her up at night so the next day she's dragging through.  She tries to put on a happy face, but I can tell it's getting to her after more than 3 weeks.  We've also had a series of problems with our living conditions.  It's either no water, no electricity, no internet, no gas, or a combination of them.  In India, a problem is never resolved, it's just temporarily in remission.  Not that we're complaining, just a fact of life.  Today we're in the Mission Office alone.  It's P-day for the missionaries and they are all playing the "Turkey Bowl" (football) at the park.  I told the APs that I wouldn't be there because I wanted to be able to walk the next day. 

We were blessed by a Hindu priest at Pushkar
(fortunately the paint on the forehead came off)
Tomorrow we are somewhat celebrating Thanksgiving.  It's obviously not an India Holiday (although it seems like they celebrate everything else, with over 20 official holidays).  We're going to Chili's (yes the American Chili's) at the Mall with all the Elders and Sisters after the transfer meeting.  We decided not to get turkey for dinner.  At $80 for a 12 lb turkey, we decided it was too rich for our budget.  A good buffalo burger at Chili's will have to do...  We wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trip to Jaipur

Elephant ride to the Amber Fort
We finally took some time off from the office and mission life and went to Jaipur, which is about 200 miles southwest of New Delhi.  The city was built by a man named Jai Singh, and was called Jaipur ("pur" meaning city or settlement).  It was also know as the pink city, because he had all the buildings painted pink when one of the kings of Great Britian visited.    For you movie buffs, this is where hotel in the movie "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was.  We didn't find the Marigold Hotel, but we found one like it called the Hotel Diggi Palace which has been in the Diggi family for over 100 years.  We spent a couple of days between Jaipur and a small out of the way town called PushKar (which interpreted means Lotus Hand).  Rather than running on about all that we saw, here's a lot of pictures you might enjoy.
Cobra dancing for snake charmer
Snake charmers (the one on the right is holding the snake)
Block Stamping - Used in making clothes and table cloths
Demonstration of block stamping
Largest sundial in the World (Guiness Record)
Elephant ride up mountain to Amber Fort

Vendor who followed us all the way up the mountain to
sell a hand-made bed spread.  He started at 4000 rupees ($80),
we settled at 1000 rupees at the top - and we probably still

Inside Amber Fort (lots of mirrors and reflective glass)
Elephant caught in traffic jam

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Recent Pictures of India

There are hundreds of baskets in the open market area, both empty and filled.  These baskets are given to family and friends as a part of the Diwali (sounds like "Da volley) festival in the middle of November.  It is the festival of lights for the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. 

As I might have mentioned previously, the Church has purchased a couple of 4 story houses.  One of the houses will include the church building in the basement and first 2 floors, the mission home on the 3rd floor and the misson office on the 4th.  The renovation of the church building has created massive piles of debris, from sheetrock and concrete that is hauled out one basket at a time on the heads of the workers.

This is the truck being loaded with the debris.  You might find the swaskita intersting.  Long before it became a symbol of Nazi Germany, it was a Buddist and Hindu symbol dating back all the way to the 3rd century A. D. 

Large cook pots
Large pots for cooking lunch and dinner in the streets

India's version of the Fuller Brush Man

Elephant 2 - The Sequel

Just when I think that seeing an elephant walking down the main road is a rarity, we see another one. We got our iPhones out in plenty of time to get some head shots. The man riding the elephant stops and offers us a ride (I'm sure for a price). We were headed to do some shopping for our visiting general authorities next week so we declined (it was a convenient excuse for not wanted to climb on an elephant in church clothes).  As we were standing there, the elephant swings his trunk over at me - I jump back a little and grab it - another "first" for me. Then he swings his trunk up in the tree and breaks off a branch of leaves and shoves it in his mouth. We didn't think about doing some video, but captured a couple of close ups. They seem much bigger when you are standing next to one, but it wasn't as scary as the cow that chased me - must be the horns...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Elephant Ads

While walking to church Sunday morning, Angela was caught off guard when an elephant came lumbering down the main road, mist the constant honking of motorists, auto rickshaw drivers and scooters.  She tried to capture a front view, but elephants are remarkably quick, so here's a side view.  If you look closely, an ad about some Global business is stenciled on it's side.  I told her she should have pulled on his tail and he might have stopped and let her take his picture.  I'm sure she would have, but she was running late for church.  Maybe next time. 

Let The Sun Shine Through

Since we moved into our apartment, we have only had heavy drapes in the apartment and since our dining room looks right into the dining room of the mission president, we tend to keep them closed most the time and get no light in the apartment.  So we were very happy after weeks of asking, to have the drape maker come and measure for some sheers (at our expense).  In my naivety, I thought, "this is an expert curtain maker, he obviously knows what he's doing".  So he takes measurements and says he will come later in the week to hang them.   On Friday, he comes about 2 pm with the sheers, and the rods.  First off, all the rods are the wrong length, so his assistant sets up shop in the middle of our living room and starts sawing the rods off, leaving metal shavings all over the floor.  Next he realizes, he's forgotten to bring something, so he leaves and comes back about an hour later to start hanging the rods.  As I'm watching, I say to myself, "he really isn't going to hang the sheers there is he? They will hang in the way of the drapes and every time we open the drapes the sheers will drag along."  So I jump in and tell him in my best English why what he is doing isn't going to work and he tells me something in his best Hindi(???).  Again through sign language we get it straightened out where they should be placed.  

After he gets the rods up, he hangs the sheers.  So much for his measurements.  They barely cover the width of the window and as you can see, they are anywhere from 2-3 inches short.   The general contractor, Kuldeep, the Church hired to keep things in repair, says something like, "it covers most the window", while giving me that look that says, "it's close, why are you upset?"
After several days of debating to have him come back and fix them, I have decided to just write about it in the blog and leave them alone (I just don't know what I might get the second time around) Oh well, if it looked good, what would I write about....

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Next Time We'll Take The Elevator

I might have mentioned previously that although we live next door to the Mission Office, we are on the 3rd floor and the Mission Office is on the 4th floor.  We have an elevator that works on and off in our building and the elevator to the Mission Office building is broken.  Each day we trek up and down stairs, hoping as we get to the Mission Office that we don't pass out from lack of oxygen. 

As we leave our apartment each morning, we need to decide do we take the elevator or the stairs.  This morning, we were carrying 4 new pillows and some other supplies to outfit the apartment where sister missionaries will be living in another week (we have never had sister missionaries in India, so this is a pretty big deal having them in our mission).  I start walking down the steps, not even thinking about the elevator.   The steps are made of granite, are somewhat narrow, have a curve lip at the front and always have a super-fine layer of dirt on them (it seems they are never clean), so we always walk very carefully and generally hold the banister, but today, we had all this "stuff" we were taking next door. 

I'm in the lead with Angela close behind.  We get about 6 steps from the bottom and Angela slips and can't catch herself before she hits very hard on her tailbone and hits her arm badly.  While sitting there resting and checking to see if there is any major damage, she says she feels like she is going to pass out.  I tell her to put her head down between her legs.  The next I know is that she has passed out.  I think this is the first time either she or I have passed out.  It was quite scary.  Fortunately, I was in front of her and was able to prevent her from rolling down the remaining steps.  It's true what they say about "dead weight" when someone passes out, and also fortunately she was sitting down when she did.  She was out about 20-30 seconds and then came out of it. 

We sat there for another 5 or 10 minutes and I finally convinced her that she wasn't going to the office and needed to go back to the apartment and lie down.  I helped her up and we went down the last few steps and I pressed the button to get the elevator to take us back up.  As I'm holding her up, she tells me she is again feeling faint, and before I know it, she passes out again.  Again, fortunately, I had 4 pillows that I had thrown on the bottom of the steps and was able to gently lay her down on them.  Having no experience with fainting, it was a little unnerving to see her passed out with her eyes open with a blank stare.  She was out about another 30-40 seconds and then she came too.  She laid on the floor for about 10 minutes before I was able to get her up, in the elevator and back into the apartment and into bed. 

We immediately called the young missionary elders who live close to us and they came over and help me give her a Priesthood blessing that she would make a quick recovery.  She stayed in bed most of the morning, but by 1 pm, she was actually able to get up and walk a little.  While she still has pain where she hit the ground, we would both call her quick recovery miraculous.  Her arm has for the most part quit hurting and she is able to walk without pain.   My challenge now is to convince her that she still needs to take time to recover completely before worrying about her "work" at the mission office.   We are indeed grateful for the Lord blessing her and know that it was through the Priesthood that she has recovered so quickly. 

And next time, we're taking the elevator...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Missionary Preparation

This is starting to look like all my past journals.  I start out strong, and then before you know it the entries are further and further apart.  I'll try to do better.  I mentioned to someone recently that I started the blog exploring things that are different and unusual here in New Delhi, but the longer we are here the more the unusual becomes normal -  whether it be the constant honking of car horns, cows everywhere you walk or the stark differences between the rich and poor.

 Saturday, we started the first district-wide missionary preparation class.  There is a great desire among the young people here to serve the Lord on a mission, but in many/most cases they are ill-prepared for the schedule, rigor and knowledge necessary to be effective missionaries.  For the short time that we have been here we have seen significant differences in the missionaries that have left for the Manila Philippines MTC.  We currently have 5 missionaries with MTC start dates of December 15 - 4 in New Delhi and one in Nepal.  While we also have missionaries also being called and serving in their home land of Pakistan, we don't have any contact with them, and rely on the indigenous members of that country to prepare them.   
We have 5 enrolled in this first class.  We hold the class in our apartment and have tried to create a teaching environment similar to what they will experience in the mission field.  All of these missionaries will be serving in their own country of India in the India Bangalore Mission which covers the bottom third of the country.  On a side note, it is interesting to see that the Bangalore mission includes only 1/3 of the country whereas our mission includes the top 2/3, as well as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.  Of the 4 we have in our class leaving on December 15, one has a passport, two are in the process of getting a passport and one is still trying to get a birth certificate so he can apply.  3 of the 4 are young women.  I'm quite certain that at least one or more will need to have their MTC start date changed due to passport issues.  The last one we have attending is 19 and is attending because she is excited the Church has now dropped the age for young women who want to serve to 19 years old.  We had a great introductory lesson and look forward to working with these young people as they prepare themselves to serve.  We'll keep you posted on how things progress - and who actually will be leaving in December....

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What a Deal!

President Sackley likes the challenge of finding the cheapest haircut he can find.  He doesn't want to pay more than the locals, so he always asking the Indian missionaries where they get their hair cut and how much they paid.   He found a new place that one of the Elders told him about and with the help of his Indian driver was able to negotiate a 25 rupee haircut (my first haircut at what might be close to a US barber was 600 rupees or about $12).  He 'convinced' me that I should go with him.  I kept telling him there's more to a haircut than how much it costs.  He went first, and the barber really went after his hair (which was what President Sackley wanted).  I was up next, with the barber next too him.  My first comment was "not as short as his" pointing to Pres S.  Things were going pretty well until he got to my cowlick.   I tried to explain with hand signs what thinning scissors were, and to my surprise he had some (probably the first time he used them).  Well to make a long story short - with a haircut to match - I won the contest for shortest hair.  Angela said she doesn't remember my hair being this short since she saw my 4th grade picture.   If you take a picture on my 'good side' in a dark room, it doesn't look to bad.  For another 10 rupees, I could have gotten my armpits shaved - but that's a story that best not put in print.