9.19.2017

church in a restaurant (home group growing)!

 the Vijayawada home group, but you'd never guess that it's a home group.
 just outside the Askhaya Family Restaurant
 Prasad, Ashok, and us in Eluru (Prasad in front, Ashok in back)
beautiful sunrise over the city of Vijayawada this past week

HELLO everyone!!!

This week was eventful and fulfilling and many prayers were answered.  There were so many experiences, all of which I wish to share, however, for the sake of concision I will share but a few:

This week we went to Eluru, a nearby village that is about an hour's travel by bus.  We received a referral from a missionary whose cousin lives there and is interested to learn more about our church.  This brother, Prasad, is awesome, he recently earned a master's degree in chemistry and is currently searching for a job.  Our initial plan was to teach just Prasad, however, we soon learned that Prasad has a roommate named Ashok.  As we talked with Prasad, Ashok was bustling here and there getting ready for work but we could tell he was interested in us and our message.  We invited him to join us for a few minutes.  We shared the message of the Restoration with them and after the lesson, Ashok said something like, "I'm so happy you came today, God only sent you."  That was such a cool experience.

While traveling back from Eluru, we received a call from President instructing us to make arrangements to move our Sunday meetings into a conference hall we recently came across.  I don't know how much I've shared about our search for a temporary meetinghouse, but for the past few weeks we have been searching diligently to find a place that would meet the Church's standard's, be reasonably priced, and also located in a central location that people can easily travel to--and we finally found one: the Akshaya Family Restaurant on MG Road.  Up until now, our meetings have been held in the living room of a brother's home who lives in a village-type area on the outskirts of Vijayawada.  As one can imagine, our members, let alone our investigators, were not so keen on attending due to the complicated nature of travel to church.  So President's call and approval was a great blessing for us.  Our Sunday attendance this past week was the highest it's ever been: thirty in all, ten of which were investigators.  It was incredible.  It looked and felt like a branch, not a home group.  I will send photos.  It has been such a great blessing to be a part of the miraculous growth here in Vijayawada.  My first Sunday here there were just eleven in attendance and now we've nearly tripled that.

Last few experiences, sorry this is lengthy already:

We were tracting in what would fall under a more upscale area here in India, which is not common for us, usually people don't accept our message in such areas.  We hadn't had much success that day and we decided to give the area a try.  One house we knocked on, a woman opened the door and we asked her if she ever wondered why there are so many churches today.  She quickly and enthusiastically responded, "YES, come back tomorrow at 3:45PM."  So we went back the next day and shared the Restoration her and her 14-year-old son, they loved it.  They said, "This makes so much sense, where has this been all our lives?"  It was so cool.

That same night we made found this woman, in fact, right after the experience, we walked across the street from their home to a small neighborhood park in hopes to find someone to teach.  As we walked around, we saw a man seated on a curb, attempting to watch a movie but his eyes were fixed on us instead (common here, haha, we are quite the spectacle sometimes).  We felt impressed to talk to him so we sat down with him and almost immediately he opened up to us about everything going on his life, how he's been struggling for three unsuccessful years to find a job, his friends had left him and gone their separate ways, and he had been sitting at the park for hours that day contemplating whether or not God loved him and knew about him.  He told he was a Christian but wasn't sure where God is in his life right now.  We testified that God does love him and knows him and has a great plan and purpose for his life and that we would help him find peace through Jesus Christ.  He was so happy.  He told us, "God only sent you to me today."  Experiences like this make the whole two years that much sweeter.
Last night we met with brother Manoj, a close member to us in our home group.  Most recently he's been through a lot of problems: his roommate kicked him out, he's away from his family while trying to provide for them, his job doesn't pay well, he's having a lot of health problems, the list goes on.  He recently moved into a tiny half-room home under a stairwell near our apartment and invited us to come pray for his newly found home.  We did so and then he asked if we had a message for him.  The thought then came into our mind to share about Nephi's experience in 1 Nephi 17, where God commands Nephi to build a ship.  Nephi's wicked brothers make fun of him and tell him there's no way that he could build a ship.  Nephi responded to his brothers with faith and power and he tells them that if God commands something, whatever it may be, it will be done.  We related the story to Manoj and told him that he is like Nephi right now.  Though others may not believe in him and though he feels alone, God is with him.  God believes in him.  And God will lead him to the promised land of one day being reunited with his family and living the gospel together.  As we shared these verses, he wept.  He could hardly express how thankful he was to us and to God for the message we shared with him that night.

Sorry this is long, remind me to share of other experiences not included in here when you see me.

Have a great week, keep the faith!

Elder Tuscano

9.12.2017

Aloha!


HELLO, how goes it everyone?

At this point it almost seems like I should just tell you all these stories in person in a couple weeks here haha.

This week was good, we identified a bunch of potential places that could serve as our temporary meetinghouse for the Church here in Vijayawada, we are just waiting to hear from Bangalore on how to move forward here.

Cool experience: we have been teaching this cute family for a few weeks now and this past week, the grandma was there visiting.  As soon as we arrived at the home she started peppering us with questions and doubts about who we were and what our beliefs are.  What made it more interesting was that she is from Jehovah's Witness background (oh brother).  She expressed to us that she believes we were all born in sin and that there's no way we came from the presence of God because we're all sinners!  Each time we tried to answer her question with God's beautiful plan of salvation she would hit us with a new doubt, so much that she wouldn't let us answer.  That morning we had studied in companionship study about the Christlike attribute of patience and long-suffering, so we were both trying our hardest to put theory into application haha.  After this sister had finished her series of skeptical "sermons," something changed in her, even her countenance changed.  She recognized that our conversation was a bit one-sided and she then asked us kindly to share our beliefs with her.  So we did.  She loved our message so much that she made us dinner that night and invited us to come back the next day to share more.  As she learned about the nature of our service she spoke of how honorable she thought this is that we, at this age, leave our families for two years, forsake the world, and help others learn more about and come closer to God.  She said she felt that we were like her own sons.

I'm having the time of my life out here, despite the heat and humidity.

Have a great week everyone, keep the faith!

Elder Tuscano

9.06.2017

answers to prayers

not really one of the missionaries of charity but these elders are missionaries with charity
 not really one of the missionaries of charity but these elders are missionaries with charity
 in Guntar with a family that has a chicken
holding a Guntar chicken - haha

Hello hello and namaskaram, what is up?

This week was good, pretty routine, but good.  Our finding efforts were sort of slower this week.  Most of the Christians we talked to told us that they are "already converted" and that it would be better for us to share our message with the Hindus.

Pretty historic week though: this past Sunday was the first fast and testimony meeting ever to be held in Vijayawada!  It was so great to be a part of, literally every member in attendance bore their testimony, as did two of our investigators who attended.

Cool experiences:

The Vijayawada A elders, E. Tahiliani and E. Dass had a breakthrough this week which is noteworthy: these elders have been working so hard the past few weeks and just have not had much success with people wanting to listen to them, primarily because there is a communication barrier--neither of them speak Telugu, only English (and E. Dass, a Delhi native, speaks Hindi).  They have been praying a lot and pressing forward with a brightness of hope and help finally came this week: while they were door-knocking one day, a young man approached them and said that he knew about our church and wants to be baptized.  I think that's pretty miraculous.

Small miracle for our companionship: one brother in our home group lives pretty far away but is so faithful and travels every week to church.  This past week, he was unaware that our Sunday meetings were being held here in Vijayawada because in previous weeks, our fast Sunday meetings were held in Rajahmundry, and he is not included in the home group text message group (he is technologically challenged, we feel for him haha) so he wasn't notified. When my companion and I arrived at church and found no one there yet, we felt impressed to call this brother, so we did.  He answered the phone and said, "Is the church there today?" We said yes, and he said, "I'm on my way."  He was so happy we'd called.  That morning he'd prayed to God that his family would somehow be able to attend church and then we called.  It is so so cool that God hears and answers our prayers.  This brother shared testimony of this experience in our meeting.

Hope everyone has a great week and remembers that God hears and answers prayers.

Keep the faith,

Elder Tuscano

8.30.2017

elephants everywhere... happy ganesh chaturthi!

 my last zone conference
our recent convert, Krishna, with President Mortensen

HAPPY GANESH CHATURTHI, everyone!!!

As far as I know, I think "chaturthi" translates to festival.  Or possibly birthday.  Either way, there are GIANT Ganesh statues EVERYWHERE and people are just throwing huge parties and also ceremonial Hindu rites of worship, also known as "poojas."  I wish I could take pictures but it is disrespectful to do so.  For those who are unaware, Ganesh is a Hindu god that has the body of a human but the head of an elephant.  Ganesh chaturthi is a nine-day celebration celebrating him, it's kind of like Hindu Christmas haha, everyone gives you sweets and stuff.

Anyway, we had a great week.  Kinda crazy though, it was the last zone conference of my mission (and also the last time I have to take the long bus ride to Rajahmundry haha).  The highlight of the week was setting a baptism date for the husband and father of a part-member family: we've been teaching this brother for a few weeks now and this past week we were teaching him and planning to extend a baptism date.  We discussed the plan of salvation and in the middle of the lesson he stopped us and said, "Brothers, I only have one doubt: your church says that marriage continues in heaven but the Bible says it's not so."  He then turned to Matthew 22:30 where the Savior says that there is no marriage in the resurrection.  I tried answering his doubt with 1 Peter 3:7, with a brief explanation about the nature of the Millennial reign of the Savior, and he was not having it.  I said a small prayer in my heart that we would be able to clear his doubt and help him progress toward baptism.  At that moment, I got a thought, I asked him, "Brother, do you remember God's promise to Abraham?"  He said he did, that God promised his endless seed.  I think asked him how that was possible if marriage doesn't continue in heaven.  He was stumped, and said that made so much sense.  At the end of the lesson he accepted a baptism date.  How grateful I am that Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers.

We also set another brother with a baptism date and his date falls on my two year mark: 23 September 2017 haha.  I thought that was funny.

Have a great week, don't worship idols, and remember that God answers prayers.

Keep the faith,

Elder Tuscano
 
P.S.  I anticipate that one of the most frequently asked questions I will get upon my return is, "Did you learn how to make the food?"  YES.  Yes I have haha, your boy has gone to WORK in the kitchen.  I can make a bunch of various veg curries and also a number of varieties of rice dishes (tomato rice, ghee rice, tiger rice, etc.) so let the dinner appointments start lining up! :)

8.23.2017

a week full of firsts...

 Happy Indian Independence Day!
 for some reason, the city of Vijayawada has these RANDOM Avatar statues haha so me and my companion took some photos with them
 for some reason, the city of Vijayawada has these RANDOM Avatar statues haha so me and my companion took some photos with them
 a variation on Thank You!
 the island we went to, called Bhavani Island
an obvious resident on monkey island
 me and Krishna on a lion bench
 the Krishna Canal, where Krishna's baptism took place
 rare bird, indigenous to India, that I spotted while we were checking out the canal
VJW elders and Krishna (minus Elder Kommalapati, who took the photo and also baptized Krishna)

WHAT UP Y'ALL?

First and foremost, Happy Indian Independence Day!!  Exactly ten days after your boy celebrates his birthday, India celebrates her birthday (August 15th haha).  It was so much fun.  The subject of this e-mail reads "a week of firsts," and on Independence Day this past week, we were the first assigned missionaries ever to visit a nearby town called Guntur.  There's a part-member family that lives in Guntur, which is about 36km away and we received permission from President to go there and teach them.  Guntur is AWESOME, it is famous for its spicy chilis.  It's also famous for this dish called "Guntur chicken," which is ridiculously spicy and guess what: the member who lives there hooked us UP he made the most delicious Guntur chicken ever for us.  It was way spicy but that's why it was so good haha.  So that was cool.

But what was cooler?  THE FIRST BAPTISM EVER IN VIJAYAWADA.  As some of you may recall, Sam was the first person baptized into the Vijayawada Home Group, however, his baptism took place in Rajahmundry.  But Krishna, who was baptized this past Thursday, was baptized right here in Vijayawada, the very first ever to do so.  And where exactly was he baptized?  IN A CANAL.  Yes, a canal.  It was beautiful, but I'll get to that in a minute.  Why was he baptized in a canal?  Funny story: we asked all of the swimming pools in VJW if we could use their facilities for a baptism service but they all said no because they "would not allow anyone to enter the pool with clothes on."  But I think the real reason is because they're strong Hindus.  Anyway, we asked our home group leader what we should do and he said there's a canal near his office that is secluded and peaceful and relatively clean.  So we went and checked it out and it is a beautiful place.  It's literally like someone took the waters of Mormon and the River Jordan and combined them and placed the creation here in Andhra Pradesh.  So we got the okay from President, and Thursday night, just after sunset, Krishna Manelli was baptized.  There were six souls in attendance: the Vijayawada elders (4), Brother Rajiv (our home group leader), and Krishna.  The water level of the canal was perfect, but the Spirit of the Lord was overflowing.  The first outdoor baptism I have as yet witnessed, let alone the first in a canal.  Funny side note: the name of the canal is the Krishna Canal, haha.

This e-mail is lengthy as it stands, but just one more miracle: amidst our many travels this past week, we were waiting at the city bus station one evening to catch a bus back to our apartment.  While waiting, a lady came up to us and asked us if we were the elders from the Church, we said yes.  She was overjoyed and in her excitement she expressed to us that she is a member from Hyderabad and had recently moved to Vijayawada a few weeks ago.  No one had told her about the Church's new presence in Vijayawada and she was so sad because she thought she and her family wouldn't be able to attend church anymore.  But she said God answered her prayers when she found us at the bus station that night.  Also her husband is not a member, can you say part-member family?  We can.

God does His work.  I believe in and have witnessed miracles.  It is such a privilege to be where I am right now.

There are so many other stories from this week, of lesser significance, but remind me to share them with you soon because they're still great.  Also we saw monkeys on an island this week, I will explain later haha, but for now I'll just send pictures.

Keep the faith,

Elder Tuscano

8.15.2017

home group growth and kitchen adventures (food poisoning and tomato rice - separate issues)

the Vijayawada elders, with our investigator Krishna!

"Elder Tuscano, are you still healthy despite your apartment mates all being sick/injured?"  Good question, I am now!  Haha.  This past week I got food poisoning, unfortunately, perhaps from eating some expired bread, so I was down and out for about 24 hours but now I'm back to 100% again.

This past week was good, we are continuing to teach the wonderful families that we're working with, two of which are progressing towards baptism.  We also started teaching two new young men and they're awesome, one of their names is "Baktha Singh" I thought that was a cool name haha.  They invited us to come teach their families this coming week.

I also learned how to cook an Indian dish called "tomato rice" this past week, I've made it a couple times already and it's turned out fairly well (important side note: me in the kitchen and me getting food poisoning are two separate, unrelated events haha).
 
Yesterday our little home group's attendance exceeded the room!!!!  we didn't have enough chairs for everyone haha.  So please pray for us to get a building soon.

Hope everyone has a good week, keep the faith!

Elder Tuscano

8.08.2017

Weekend of Celebrations

 me and Gandhi-ji.  Haha this is a cool set-up at one of the malls here in VJW.
 "did you all plan to wear red ties?"  yes.  It was my birthday, I thought it would be fu.
don't know how well you can see this one, but this is one of about six identical connecting bridges to the city of Rajahmundry.  It is surrounded by a river, it's kind of like Pittsburgh, but Indian version
 me and E. Ramishetty outside the Rajahmundry chapel on Friendship day.  There's a whole ceremony that goes with it, remind me to tell you about it when I get home haha.
 happy birthday, Manoj!  Manoj is one of our member's, it was his birthday this past Tuesday.  In India, it is the custom to feed the birthday person a piece of cake haha.  It's a lot of fun.
E. Tahiliani is taking the selfie, then from left to right: E. Ramishetty, myself, Krishna (one of our investigators), and Elder Kommalapati.  This was my birthday lunch, the food was life changing Chef Ajay (Elder Kommalapati) cooks really well.

 me, Elder Kommalapati, and Sam, one of our recent converts.

Hello all, how goes it this week?

This past week was awesome, we found two new SOLID families to teach, both of which are strong member referrals and they're awesome.  Cool little background story about one of the families: the husband and wife were both strong Hindus before and right after their marriage, until one day, something happened (I don't remember what exactly, the story was relayed in Telugu) and the wife fell from a three-story building.  She called out Jesus' name and was not injured or even harmed from her fall.  From that day forward they have been strong believers in Jesus Christ.  I think that's pretty cool.

This weekend was a blast, it was a weekend of celebration: Saturday was my birthday and it was so much fun.  Elder Kommalapati, serving in Vijayawada A (haha), made ghee rice and chicken fry upon my request for my birthday lunch.  That afternoon we traveled to Rajahmundry and had a small birthday celebration which consisted of eating beef kebabs, Arun brand ice cream (the best ice cream in the world, the one I got was caramel, banana, and cotton candy flavor), and drinking Artos (a drink that strongly resembles red creme soda haha).  Then Sunday was Friendship day, which is a big thing here in India, so that was fun.  And today is Raksha Bandhan which is like Sibling day I think, so shout out to my siblings, I love 'em.

Lotta photos comin' your way this week, enjoy!

Have a great week and keep the faith,
 
Elder Tuscano