BENGALURU, India — Clad in bright clothing showcasing the energy and beauty of this nation, Indian Latter-day Saints line up, hours before a scheduled meeting with President Russell M. Nelson on Thursday.
Collectively they speak of two things: The leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the temple he recently announced for their nation.
Weeks earlier, in the closing moments of general conference, President Nelson said the LDS Church would build seven new temples — including one in Bengaluru.
But it almost wasn’t so.
“Our plans were to announce six new temples at conference time,” said President Nelson. “The Lord told me on the eve of conference: ‘Announce a temple in India.’ … That was the Lord's doing.”
The new temple is proof of “how much the Lord thinks” about members here and “loves them,” said Robert William, an Area Seventy in India.
President Nelson’s visit to India — the fifth stop on his world ministry tour — marks a return to the nation and people he learned to love 52 years ago. In Bengaluru, he conducted meetings with members and full-time missionaries and also viewed possible temple sites.
As part of the nearly-two-week trip, President Nelson also visited England, Jerusalem, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. After leaving India, President Nelson — accompanied by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland — plans to visit Thailand on Friday and Hong Kong on Saturday.
An intense nation
Standing on a street corner within walking distance of the LDS church’s member meeting in Bengaluru, visitors view three Hindu temples, two Christian churches, and a Muslim mosque. Motorcycles, auto jeepnees and cars maneuver the street to the constant sound of honking horns. Locals milk cows, then sell the liquid by the cup, along with chickens, produce and spices. The pungent smell of fresh meat lingers.
There is no running water in this neighborhood, home to thousands, yet across the street a high-rise complex houses the nation’s wealthiest residents.
In India “it rains with sweat and insects and floods — and that is just before 10 a.m.,” Elder Holland told missionaries in the church’s India Bengaluru Mission.
A country of deep spirituality, dense populations, spicy food, and bright colors, India’s residents are used to intensity.
“They are not wimpy people,” said Sister Nelson. “They know the riggors. When they receive the gospel of Jesus Christ, they hold fast to that.”
It has been 52 years since President Nelson first visited India in 1966 to participate in the Fifth World Congress of Cardiology in New Dehli. A young stake president and experienced cardiac surgeon, he met with other world-class doctors and shared information. He returned to the country to teach and cooperate on patients.
In 1992, he returned again, this time as an LDS apostle. “I felt something special here,” he said. “They love God, and I love them.”
The city, now 12 million strong, “has grown exponentially,” in the last half century, he said.
This place and the intense energy here — as well as other stops on the tour — have invigorated President Nelson, said his wife.
“He is doing so well,” she said of the trip’s long hours, flights, and his addresses to multiple congregations, adding “I just watch him getting happier and younger as the trip goes on."
Since January “the man that I greet at the end of that day is different, just a little bit different, than the man I said goodbye to in the morning,” said Sister Nelson of President Nelson.
But on this trip, meeting with congregations across the world, the difference was jaw-dropping, she said. The “man at the pulpit” spoke with profound clarity, boldness and focus.
“I watch him even become younger at the pulpit,” she said. “I said to him, ‘Do you realize that you shed about 20 years there.’ That was just amazing. I saw him 63, 73, never 93,” Sister Nelson said. “I watch the Lord move upon him in a most remarkable way.”
The first missionaries arrived in India in 1851. But the church did not organize a first mission in the country, the India Bengaluru Mission, until 1993, more than 140 years later. The first meetinghouse was dedicated in 2002, and the first stake was created in 2012.
Elder Randy D. Funk, a General Authority Seventy and former mission president in India, said “watching the church and its members grow in strength and beauty in India” has been a choice experience.
When he arrived in south India eight years ago, two districts in the area had just been divided into five smaller districts. Today, there are three strong stakes and three strong districts in south India, with a fourth stake in New Delhi.
Elder Holland first came to India as the church’s Commissioner of Education in 1977. “I was here to a district conference three years ago. At that time I thought, ‘This district is as strong as any district I have been in. It is bound to be a stake, surely we will have a temple,’” Elder Holland recalled. “We had that stake, and now we have a temple.
“It is wonderful to see the church being born in a sense before your eyes.”
Elder Holland said the growth in India is just beginning. “You can’t imagine what is going to happen in India,” he said. “Your loftiest dreams … will be painfully shortsighted.”
Elder William said the announcement of the temple in India "is by far the most exciting thing that has happened."
"This is their dream come true. Most of the membership are trying to digest this announcement. Now they do not have to travel to a foreign country with visa and other issues taunting them. They will now see their own children getting married in their own temple.”
Gideion Piabhudas is a second-generation member in India. The temple announcement left him "speechless." When he could talk, he made himself a promise. He would do whatever he could to help build the temple in India.
Sister Monica Yadav, a LDS missionary from India, said she never thought in her lifetime she would see a prophet or have a temple in her country.
“It makes us fly,” she said. “It is like we are so close to heaven.”
Many in India have suffered much to go to the temple, taking time from work, managing finances and dealing with customs in foreign countries. Now those days are behind members in India, she said.
In addition, the temple will bring her family a special blessing.
Yadav began her mission in February 2017; her grandmother died three months later in May. “Now I can do my grandmother’s temple work,” she said.
Elder ManshrichanaKya Gollapalli, also a missionary from India, attended LDS Primary as a youth with his Mormon uncle. He knew the words to “I am a Child of God,” before he was 8.
When his uncle moved away, a former church associate — who was then serving as a missionary — sought Gollapalli out, and he was baptized at age 13. His mother and younger brother followed. Now he is sure the temple will motivate his father to investigate the church.
Experts predict that India — home to 17 percent of the world’s population — will soon be the world’s most populous nation with 1.35 billion people, including some of the world’s most poor.
President Nelson said church leaders worry about members in every country.
“Our approach is to take the poverty out of the people, not the people out of the poverty,” he said. “As we teach them that God loves them and as they keep his commandments, they will have joy in their life and they will be liberated from the bondage, not only of sin but of deprivation. The gospel of Jesus Christ has only one purpose, really.
"Bottom line: That is to make life better for people. That is what we are going to do.”
Elder Holland said the gospel energizes its members. “We have seen it all over the world and we see it in India. We have seen it in the generation of the church here. … We don’t try to attack the social or cultural issues so much as we bless the people and they rise above it.”
Elder Holland said President Nelson hasn’t stopped smiling since he announced the temple for India.
As the Church grows in various part of the world, temple building is essential, said President Nelson. “It was a thrill for me to receive the real impression that I should announce that there will be a temple here in India. This will bless not only the people of India but in neighboring nations.”
In a way, he said, “it is easier for us to build a temple, than it is for us to build a people who are ready for the ordinances and covenants of the temple. It is going to take you a while to get ready.”17 comments on this story
With a temple in India, members will have to “give up contention, learn to love one another even better than we already do, we will have to keep the commandments, we will have to be honest, we will have to be fair, we will have to be covenant-keeping people.”
President Nelson told the congregation he is looking forward to returning to India to participate in the temple’s dedication. “I am 93 years old,” he said. “You have better hurry.”
That will be a happy day, he concluded. “That will be the only day that will be even happier for me than today.”
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Gideion Piabhudas's first name was incorrectly spelled Gidean.