'Centers of strength' — Church flourishing in India
By Russell T. Osguthorpe
Sunday School general president
Published: Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011
We not only have missions in India, but we also have districts that are preparing to become stakes. The Church is being established in India in a deliberate and impressive way. And although North American members are contributing in important ways to the spread of the gospel in India, the Indian members themselves are the driving force as the truths of the Restoration spread across their land.
As I became acquainted with our Indian Church members, I kept thinking of President Gordon B. Hinckley's words: "The lives of our people must become the most meaningful symbol of our faith" (Ensign, April 2005). The power of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ can be found most easily not in the beauty of the buildings we construct but in the lives of individual members. I found such power as I became acquainted with those who have joined the Church in India.
Photo courtesy Russell T. OsguthorpeMissionaries from the India New Dehli Mission gather with Elder Anthony Perkins, left, Asia Area president, and Brother Russell T. Osguthorpe. New Dehli is one of the "centers of strength" in India from which the Church is branching out.
Upon my arrival in New Delhi, India's national capital with a population of approximately 20 million, Aneel drove us from the airport to the hotel. As I asked about his own pathway to conversion, he explained that he had been a member of the Church for several years and that when he decided to be baptized, his family members were not happy with him. He explained, "My brothers were angry with me, and they kept telling me that their [Hindu] gods were angry with me. Shortly after my baptism, I contracted an eye infection. They told me that it was a punishment from their gods and that I would go blind. I told them that if I went blind, that would be all right with me, because I wanted to follow Christ, and I knew that in this Church I was following Christ."
This is typical of the faith of the people. When they join the Church, as is the case with so many in the world, they are turning away from long-held family traditions and religious beliefs. Like so many Indians who join the Church, Aneel's heritage is Hindu, the dominant religion in India. About 15 percent of the population is Muslim and a much smaller percentage Christian.
Following my auxiliary training meeting in New Delhi, a minister from another Christian faith pleaded for the Church to teach in his town. He said, "I'm Christian, but the missionaries have been teaching me about the Restoration and the Book of Mormon, and now I can see that our beliefs are not complete. I want your Church to teach in my town." I later learned that his reaction is not uncommon but, as in all countries, the Church moves forward in a carefully planned way as it builds upon "centers of strength."
New Delhi is one of those centers of strength, and most members of the Church outside of India are familiar with this city. The Church is also well established in Bangalore and Hyderabad, other well-known names. But some may not have heard of Vishakhapatnam, another large city where the Church is established. These centers of strength are all located on the southeast side of India. Most have also heard of Mumbai (once called Bombay), a city of over 20 million on the west side of the country. Although there is a branch in this city, the Church has not yet sent missionaries there or to any other city on that side of India.
Elder Anthony Perkins, Asia Area president, and I visited members in each of the three districts in India: Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam, and New Delhi. The Church currently has two missions in India, the India Bangalore Mission and the India New Delhi Mission. The Bangalore mission includes the cities of Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam. A few missionaries from North America are serving in each mission, but the majority of the missionaries are Indian. Typical of these native missionaries is Sham. Sham lives in New Delhi and was called to serve in the Bangalore mission. He just returned from his mission a few months ago. I asked him to tell me about his experience as a missionary. He said, "I get emotional when I talk about my mission. I loved my mission. If I could go back right now and serve another mission, I would do it."
Sham's faith is like that of so many Indian members. You can feel their conviction even as they greet you. Solomon, a 13-year-old young man who is small in stature but large in spirit, looked up at me in the hallway and said, "You are the general Sunday School President." He later told me how he planned to serve a mission when he turned 18. To accommodate the higher education policies in India, young men are allowed to begin serving their missions at the age of 18.
Nora, a 14-year-old young woman bore her testimony in our fast meeting. With genuine excitement in her voice, she said, "I have been a member of the Church for only a year and a half, but already I'm an example for all of my friends. They see that I dress modestly, and they ask me about my beliefs. I don't have to wait until I'm older to serve a mission. I can be a missionary right now to all of my friends."
I asked several young people to tell me what the Church would be like in India 10 years from now. Without pausing for a second, each one said about the same thing: "In 10 years India will have many stakes. And the most important thing: India will have temples." The members in India are forward looking. Their faith in the future is not based upon a casual wish. Their faith is founded on their own actions. They see a growing Church because they themselves are helping it to grow right now. Missionaries told me that most of their converts come from member referrals. And the converts are coming at a very high rate with equally high retention.
India is evidence of the fulfillment of the words that came to the Prophet Joseph in 1842 when he penned the Standard of Truth as part of his letter to John Wentworth. The progress of the Church in India shows that nothing "can stop the work from progressing." Each time a new convert is baptized and each time a member increases his or her understanding of a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ, "the truth of God [goes] forth boldly, nobly, and independent" as it sweeps across the country of India. Will stakes be formed in India? There is no question that they will. Will temples be built? No doubt that they will. The Standard of Truth has been erected in India and it will continue to spread until it "has sounded in every ear" until the "purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say, 'the work is done.'"