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Former missionaries rejoice for India's first stake

Published: Monday, July 23 2012 4:55 p.m. MDT

Jake Willie, left, with a family in New Delhi, India, during his LDS mission.

Jake Willie

There were times when Joel Bottom wondered how long it would take for India to get its first Mormon stake.

For instance, when then-20-year-old Elder Bottom was detained in 1995 and he was the first of more than 50 other American missionaries forced to leave India, he wondered.

The good news was only 17 years away.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve officially created the first stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hyderabad, India, on May 27.

There church in India now consists of one stake, six districts, two missions (Bangalore and New Delhi) and about 10,000 Latter-day Saints.

"Hyderbad is the most populous in church membership, with a mature leadership base," Elder Oaks recently told the LDS Church News. "It is ready for a stake."

Bottom, now an insurance salesman in Idaho, celebrated the news by calling old missionary friends and sending a flurry of emails and text messages.

“I was excited. For so long, we put forth hard efforts and long days. Missionaries want to see the blessings right away, but you don’t see them right away,” he said. “I always knew there would be a stake. It’s great to finally see the fruits of your labors.”

Despite several attempts to establish the church in India beginning in the mid-1800s, it wasn’t until 1981 when government relations allowed an LDS missionary couple to establish a Mormon branch there. While most missionary teaching at the time was done in English, the Book of Mormon was translated into Telegu the same year.

The first mission in India, the India Bangalore Mission, was created in 1993 with a president who was a native of India and joined the LDS Church as a student in California and who later taught mathematics at Brigham Young University. At that time there were 1,150 Latter-day Saints in India in 13 church branches. Within five years, that number grew to 2,000 members in 18 branches.

In 2007, a second mission was organized in New Delhi.

Bottom was among the first called to the Bangalore mission in 1993.

“It was a service mission, but we were allowed to do some proselytizing,” Bottom said.

In 1995, the Indian government requested that all missionaries for Christian denominations leave the country, including the LDS Church’s missionaries who were in the country on tourist visas. Bottom, who was detained because of this request, was among 52 missionaries reassigned to other missions. He finished serving in Hong Kong.

“It was unfortunate, but it forced members to step up and learn the gospel, the doctrines and practices of the church,” Bottom said. “The members all stepped up in their callings and took an active role in guiding the church to where it is today.”

Kyle Christensen, of Clifton, Idaho, is another missionary who served in India before he was reassigned to Jacksonville, Fla. He was disappointed to leave because he had been there for about six months and was finally “getting into the groove of India.”

“It was an adventure,” Christensen said.

At that time, missionaries were given tourist visas and were classified as service missionaries. They could teach through member referrals, but no proselytizing was permitted. Amid the scorching 100-plus degree temperatures, Christensen said the missionaries did a lot of service projects, taught English classes at schools and put on basketball camps. Christensen was always flattered when kids asked for his autograph.

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