A Mormon her entire life, Diane Pritchett had read Alma's discourse in the Book of Mormon about experimenting with a seed numerous times. She could explain the concept forwards and backwards in her sleep.
"I have read Alma 32 but I had never really experienced that act of planting a seed, nourishing it and watching it grow," Pritchett said.
This past summer in India, the high school music teacher from Belmont, Mass., become a gardener. She wrote, produced and organized a Book of Mormon pageant with a cast of 40 LDS youths in New Delhi — an effort that yielded faith, stronger testimonies of the gospel and hope for future growth for the church in India.
Before the pageant seed was planted, another seed was sown.
Lant Pritchett, Diane's husband, works in the field of international economic development and specializes in poor countries. The family lived in India from 2004 to 2007. While there, the couple's three children attended school and the family was active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has approximately 8,000 members in India. Eventually, one of their sons was called to serve in the India Bangalore Mission.
"There is an energy and excitement there and it has been thrilling to be part of the growing church," Pritchett said.
Earlier this year, Lant suggested the family spend the summer in India so he could write a book and pick up their son from the mission field. Having already experienced the country, Pritchett hesitated, not knowing what she would do there.
"I had already lived there, done all the shopping and sightseeing I wanted to do," she said.
Then, the pageant seed was placed.
As the couple took a wintry stroll last February, Lant suggested his musical wife organize a Book of Mormon pageant while they were in India. At the time she was in the middle of directing a high school musical.
"Are you crazy?" Pritchett said. "That is what any rational person would say."
But the seed began to swell as she thought about it. Pritchett knew firsthand the needs of the Indian youths and how a pageant could impact their lives. Her feelings were confirmed after she communicated with Praveen Breesa, the district Young Men president in New Delhi.
"They (youths) are joining the church, they are hungry and enthusiastic, but we don't know how to plan activities for them," Pritchett said, recalling their conversation. "He was all over the idea. 'Whatever you need, let's do it,' he said.
As Pritchett gave way to the seed, she marveled at how things fell into place.
First, as the word got out, mothers in their Belmont, Mass., ward began asking if their daughters could go along for the summer and help with the pageant. In the end, it was decided that Emily Evans, 18; Annie Lazenby, 18; Caroline Sorensen, 18; Laura Carter, 21; and Kate Hoffmire, 21, would go along as pageant interns. These young women would help with details of planning the pageant and befriend the youths.
Pritchett searched the Book of Mormon for stories with action. The list was narrowed to nine stories. With the help of her counselor in the Relief Society presidency, she produced a CD soundtrack.
"I went to India with a script, a CD and the faith that if his seed would grow, the Lord would find a way," she said.
After arriving in New Delhi, she felt directed to a theater that had an opening on July 24 — Pioneer Day. She even got it for half price.
"God really does help," she said.
With five interns, 39 LDS youths, one nonmember and a few weeks to put the production together, rehearsals began. The cast goals were to work hard, have fun, bring the spirit and share the gospel. The cast homework was to read the Book of Mormon, which for some was a first.
"I encouraged them to read while we did the show," Pritchett said. "Some came back and said they checked to see if these stories were really there. They were there."
The seed grows
The curtain opened on the story of a teenager who resists the temptation of going to a nightclub. As a result, this young woman meets LDS missionaries who give her a Book of Mormon. The ensuing pageant takes place in her imagination while she reads the book.
Evans helped direct and choreograph the acting and dancing, which for her became a labor of love.
"We worked hard together and reaped the benefits of that hard work, them from onstage and me from behind the curtain," said Evans, now a freshman at BYU. "I love to perform and be the center of attention, but watching the youth sing, dance and act was much more rewarding than any experience I've ever had onstage."
Getting the youths to rehearsal was sometimes a challenge. Many were first-generation members who belong to part-member families that don't offer a lot of support. Schoolwork often presented a conflict. Public transportation was expensive. Sometimes they were late. This was also the first theatrical experience for most of the cast.
But Pritchett was impressed with the youths' dedication.
When the night of the performance finally came, more than 300 audience members packed the auditorium. Full-time missionaries in the area came with investigators. Each cast member was also instructed to invite a friend. And while the rehearsals leading up to the performance were rough around the edges, the youths pulled it off, Pritchett said.
"For me, the night was a wonderful experience," she said. "My goal was to give these children an experience, so it didn't matter if it was good by my standard, but it was really good. It was miraculously good. Not one mistake, everything ran smoothly."
"Friends and family saw the joy the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring," Evans said. "We couldn't have asked for anything more."
Breesa said his favorite part came at the end when Christ visited the Nephites in America and the youths sang "The Spirit of God." The warm feeling in the auditorium caused tears to flow.
"Every part was beautifully done. The spirit was so strong, some were really moved and it changed their lives," Breesa said. "It was the highlight of the performance."
Months later, Pritchett, her interns, the youths and others are cherishing the summer experience of the Book of Mormon pageant.
Breesa said many positive things have happened since then. For one, the youths have stronger testimonies of the Book of Mormon. He hopes this will help strengthen the next generation of LDS Church members in India.
"They are still talking about the pageant," Breesa said. "Parents appreciated the participation of their kids and have better understanding of the book. Nonmembers felt the spirit and some baptisms have taken place."
Riya Sunny, who filled the role of the main character, relished the missionary experience.
"People will think, 'Yeah, they are Mormons. Mormons are great,' " Sunny said. "Maybe Heavenly Father was watching, saw us working hard and feeling the Spirit and had fun also."
Bill Jackson, president of the India New Delhi Mission, commented in an e-mail that the pageant accomplished many purposes. Not only did it impress investigators, he said, but it served as a template for future activities, helped unify youths from different branches and was fun.
"The church in India is still very much a first-generation affair — lots of enthusiasm, little experience," President Jackson wrote. "I have high hopes for the future, particularly for the rising generation. The gospel can and should be fun. Our activities can serve to not only teach but elevate and inspire, provide fellowship and direction. A good pageant should accomplish all of those things. I believe this one did."
Pritchett said after the pageant a young woman came to her and said she had decided to serve a mission.
"She wasn't afraid anymore," Pritchett said. "If one person made the decision to serve, it was worth it. I got a flower out of that seed."
Just like Breesa, Pritchett prays her efforts will inspire the youths of India to prepare for future church service. Perhaps more seeds have been planted.
"They need the youth in New Delhi to step up and serve missions. They are part of the growing church, and the future of church there is really resting on them and they need to step up," she said. "I was fortunate to be a part of that."
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The LDS Church in India:
(As of Jan. 2009)
Estimated population: 1,166,079,000
Church Members: 7,576
General information: India is a federal republic with a population that speaks 16 languages including the official language, Hindi, and associate official, English, and is 83 percent Hindu; 11 percent Muslim; three percent Christian; and two percent Sikh.
Highlights from the history of the LDS Church in India:
Joseph Richards was the first missionary to arrive in Calcutta in 1851. He performed the first convert baptisms in India and organized a branch. By 1852, there were 189 baptized members in Calcutta, comprised of a few European converts and many local farmers. In 1853 nine more missionaries arrived in India.
Then-Elder David O. McKay became the first general authority to visit India when he passed through Delhi and Bombay in 1921. Between 1944 and 1946, several Latter-day Saints were stationed in India with the U.S. military and met together in small groups to hold religious services.
In 1982, the church was incorporated as a legal entity and the Book of Mormon was printed in Hindi. The Genealogical Society of Utah began microfilming Indian records.
In 1986, the first Indian missionaries were called to serve in their own country. Natives were allowed to actively proselyte, where foreigners were required to take a passive approach.
In 1993, the church created the India Bangalore Mission. By mid-1995, with approximately 1,500 members.
The first church-built meetinghouse in India was dedicated in Rajahmundry in 2002. In 2003, there were more than 4,600 members.
In 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley met in New Delhi with 600 members. In 2005, membership was nearly 6,000.
In 2007, the India New Delhi Mission was organized, the second in the country. It includes Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Source: 2010 LDS Church Almanac