Former missionaries rejoice for India's first stake

Published: Monday, July 23 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Jeff Grant, who works in Salt Lake City, was thrilled to hear about the new stake. He served in Hyderbad for six months during his mission from 1999-2000. At that time, the city consisted of four branches and one was presided over by future stake president John Gutty, Grant recalled.

“He’s an amazing man,” Grant said. “His first counselor in the stake presidency, Suresh Natarajan, was a companion of mine, and I’ve never met a missionary quite like him since. Absolutely nothing could break down his cheerful attitude and optimism.”

Rajaratnam Bushi, the second counselor in the stake presidency, was one of the district leaders in Grant’s missionary zone.

“He was one that I could count on to always be doing what is right,” Grant said.

Grant taught and baptized Prasad Rao, the man who was called as the stake patriarch. Prior to his calling as patriarch, the nearest LDS patriarch was in the Philippines.

“It’s amazing that this man just joined the church 12 years ago and is already a patriarch,” Grant said.

Terry and Erma Niederhauser, of Powell, Wyo., served as Church Educational System missionaries in India from 2004-2006, training teachers and priesthood leaders. Young adults they mentored as students are now serving as bishops and in other leadership positions.

The Niederhausers recalled meeting a man named Appa Rao from a village near Hyderbad who had an incredible story. Despite suffering from polio in his youth, he served a mission, married his sweetheart and they started a family. He made a living as a school teacher and could only afford the bus fare to church once a month. With some help from the church's special temple fund for patrons who live long distances from a temple, the family was eventually able to travel to the Hong Kong Temple to be sealed.

With stalwart families like the Raos, missionary work has flourished in recent years. Jake Willie, of Pocatello, Idaho, served in the New Delhi mission from 2008-2010. He and other missionaries taught and baptized numerous families and individuals. The New Delhi mission baptized 100 people in 2008 and nearly doubled that in 2009.

“Missionary work became New Delhi’s mantra. I had never seen people so willing and eager to share the gospel despite cultural difficulties,” Willie said.

Another couple, Duane and Cynthia Tanner, of Saratoga Springs, served as humanitarian missionaries in New Delhi from 2008-2010. For the Tanners, news of the first stake was “thrilling.”

“We’re thrilled for the church, but also for their country,” Cynthia Tanner said. “They are wonderful, humble, dedicated people. The culture is not Christian at all, so the members are very special individuals. Our hearts are there with them.”

Despite a language barrier, service and kindness helped Cynthia Tanner develop friendships with several women. She remembers seeing one grandmother helplessly watching over a sick grandchild. One of her most cherished activities was holding terminally-ill babies.

“My heart just broke for them,” Cynthia said. “We couldn’t speak to each other, but spirit to spirit and heart to heart, that’s how I felt about the women we were interacting with.”

The Tanners, who blogged and posted photos from their mission, as well as those from other former missionaries, could talk for hours about their great memories of India and the growth of the church there. Incredible things are happening, they agree.

"The church is moving forward in India and it won't stop," Grant said. "There are so many people there with an amazing amount of faith, and more and more are hearing the message of the restoration and believing."

The Niederhausers agree.

“Our little branch has grown into two or three wards,” the couple said. “There are literally millions of people who could be taught the gospel."

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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