Our Recent Trip To Visit The Saints In India
By Donald W. Burnett
In late October, Apostle Terry Patience and I traveled to southeast India to visit the Remnant Saints there. This was the first time either of us have had the opportunity to travel to India, and I was very excited to see and speak with our Saints in the many villages throughout the area. I was very surprised to find out just how many groups we have there. Johny Raju has about 20 groups, and Srinivas Marisetti has about 30. The membership in these branches ranges from 20 to 25 members all the way up to some branches having 125 to 130 members.
Terry and I flew into Visakhapatnam on Saturday night, October 24th, and got through all the security, which was both intense and reassuring. We were met by Johny Raju and Srinivas Marisetti. We got into a very small car, as compared to American cars, and drove almost two hours to get to Johny’s house in Chodavaram. The time it takes to travel from one village to the next cannot be judged by the same standards we use here in America. It is only twenty-seven miles from Visakhapatnam to Chodavaram but you can only drive about twenty to thirty miles an hour and you must make many slowdowns for potholes and merging traffic and the occasional cow crossing the road.
We arose on Sunday morning, October 25th, to many voices down in the street. I went to the edge of the patio to see what was going on and saw a scene I will never forget. Some women who lived nearby had gathered at the water faucets which lined the streets every block or so and were filling their water pots to carry back to their homes. Water is free to all people, but they do not, as a rule, have water plumbed into their homes as it is too expensive. They must carry all the water that is used in their homes each morning of every day. Of course the ladies liked to talk with each other as they filled their water pots, and as they did, they helped each other to put the heavy water pots up on their shoulders to carry. I had no understanding of what they were saying, but it was fun to listen to the noises of the street as this small town came to life.
We later heard singing coming from the floor below, the sanctuary used by the Saints in Chodavaram. I asked Johny what was happening. He explained they were having Sunday school for the children. Terry and I hurried to get ready and we went down to watch the children have their class. A lady and some young priesthood men were teaching the children Bible stories through songs. Each child was also encouraged to stand and give a prayer. As they did, I saw many of them nervously glance over at Terry and I, but each of them gave a prayer. Each of the older ones carried their own Bible and were given the chance to read. Candy was passed out to each of them. One young man needed a little help getting his candy wrapper off.
Johny took us to three different groups to have services with the Saints in his area that first Sunday. Terry and I took turns preaching as Johny translated for us. He travels every Sunday to three and sometimes four groups to hold services. I found the Saints in India to be very friendly and warm. They walk to most of the places they go, a few ride bicycles, and fewer still ride motorcycles. However, all of the Saints would make every effort to get to church early so they could have the privilege of sitting in the front of the church. They fill their sanctuaries from the front to the back, unlike us who fill ours from the back to the front. They sit on mats they put on the floor, leaving their shoes outside. In all the groups we went to, and with all the shoes lining the doorways, (sometimes there would be 125 to 130 people at a service) no one ever went home with someone else’s shoes. The Saints of India sing for an hour or so before the preaching service starts, giving time for everyone to fill the building, or sometimes the street, in which we were having a service.
One evening service, in the middle of the week, I was sitting up front with Johny and Terry and I saw a woman come up the road and into the building. She was walking on crutches. The Saints sit on mats on the floor as close to the front as they can get based upon who gets there first, but they have a few plastic chairs they reserve in the back for those who can’t sit on the floor. When this woman came in, another woman offered her a chair in the back to sit in. She said no and walked up to the front, as close as she could get, and sat leaning up against the wall so she could be involved with the singing and the service. We found this kind of devotion everywhere we went.
The Saints in India carry their Bibles with them to Church and use them as much as they can. Any time Terry or I would make a comment about a scripture verse, they would turn to the chapter and verse as fast as they could and follow along with us as our words were translated to them. I could see that they used their Bibles often because, being as close as they were to me, I could see their Bibles were often highlighted and underlined. Even the children would turn in their Bibles to the scriptures I was quoting. Once I used a reference from Ecclesiastes and the kids who were sitting right at my feet knew where Ecclesiastes is located in the Bible.
We had twenty eight baptisms while we were in India; fifteen while we were with Johny, and eighteen when we were with Srinivas. We had ten who wanted to be baptized early in the week when we were with Johny. Three more were moved upon by the Holy Spirit in a very moving service we had one evening in the front yard of a small home in a farming village. It made me realize just how much God loves all people, for He is moving in the lives of men and women everywhere. He is calling to all people everywhere, and any who will listen to His voice He will touch with His Holy Spirit and change their lives forever.
Each day we would travel to another village to visit with the Saints and each night we would have a service, sometimes in a building, but often we would have a service right out in the street because there would be too many Saints to fit in the house we were visiting. We would just block off the street by putting down mats which became our sanctuary. No one would wear their shoes on the mats. All would gather as close to the front as they could. We would start to sing, louder and louder, to draw the people into the service. Many of the Hindu people of the villages would gather just outside of the crowd of Saints to listen to the sermons of these white missionaries. We had an auto-rickshaw driver, a Hindu, who had brought someone to the service, once stay to hear what was being said. He told me, through Srinivas as my translator, that he thought it was a moving service.
We traveled far and wide with both Johny and Srinivas. One day with Srinivas we went on an all day trip to a small village that could only be accessed by walking. We walked about a mile and a third through a rice paddy, across a small creek, and up a small hill. When we got there, they washed our feet and invited us to go into their small church building. We had to duck down to get in, and we could only stand if we were in between the rafters. Terry gave a moving service, and those wonderful people did not want to see us go. You can always tell when you are in the presence of people who love the Lord Jesus Christ, even if you don’t speak the same language. When we had our baptismal service in Darlapudi with Srinivas, we started at the church building and marched through the steets singing praises to God on our way to the river. People came out of their houses to see us pass by; some even joined us on our trip to the river. We had a wonderful baptismal service and, on our way back, people came out of their homes wanting Terry and I to bless them. As we passed them on the street, we stopped and offered a blessing on several. At times our group would get impatent with us taking so long to bless the people, but we thought it too important to pass up the opportunity to give a blessing to anyone who wanted one.
Ofttimes, as we would set up our services in the streets and gather the Saints together for a preaching service at night, we would find that many of the Hindu people would line the sides of the street to hear us preach. They did not join in the service, but they listened very intently. We would tell the stories of Jesus’ ministry from the Bible so they could hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some even told us they enjoyed the services.
All in all, I found the Saints in India to be a very righteous people who are enthusiastically worshipping the one true God through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I pray our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will continue to bless them as they labor through many adversities to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ as Saints in the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.