My Life in Zion

The life and views of a Latter-day Saint in the 21st Century…

The Church’s First Stake In India

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks at the organization of the Hyderabad India Stake, the first stake in India.

Last weekend was a truly historic weekend in the history of the Church. In a sign of the Church’s worldwide growth, on the 27th May Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles organized the Hyderabad India Stake — India’s first stake.

Elder Oaks presided over the formation of the new stake during a meeting of more than 1,500 members and friends in the Novotel Convention Centre in Hyderabad. With a population more than 4 million, Hyderabad is a center of strength for the Church in India.

The Church’s chapel in Madinaguda in Hyderabad. – Photo Courtesy of the Church News.

Speaking to the Church News afterward Elder Oaks said, “The formation of this stake was a unique and thrilling experience for [me].”

Before the meeting, the Brethren shook hands with almost everyone present.

“The attendance was remarkable,” Elder Oaks said. “There were 258 at the priesthood leadership meeting — which was over 200 percent of those invited — and 1,519 at the general session on Sunday when the stake was created.”

Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy, who was travelling with Elder Oaks, said, “The creation of the new stake generated excitement for members throughout all of the Church in India, not just in Hyderabad. Leaders came from throughout the country. Even after deducting an estimated 500 from outside the Hyderabad stake (mostly from a young single adult conference), the attendance amounted to 52 percent of the 1,936 members of the stake.”

Elder Oaks and Elder Hallstrom commented on the reverence in the general session. “Hardly a person in the audience, which included many children, stirred during the entire two hours.”

At the conclusion of the stake conference, Elder Oaks expressed gratitude to the nation of India for allowing Latter-day Saints “to meet and speak of the principles of our faith.”

The Church’s presence in India goes back to 1850, when two missionaries came from Great Britain to Calcutta. A few other missionaries were called from the Utah Territory in the 1850s, but these efforts did not thrive. Struggles with missionaries learning the native language hampered Church efforts.

In 1981 government regulations allowed a missionary couple to establish a branch. Most missionary teaching has been in English, but the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ was translated into Telugu in 1981.

In June 1992, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Twelve visited the Saints of New Delhi, India where “prophecies were given (conditional upon member sharing [the term used by Elder Maxwell to mean fellowshipping and teaching friends about the gospel]) that Delhi would have a [Latter-day Saint] temple and great expansion of the work.” At the time, there were fewer than a thousand members of the Church in India. But despite the great cost in time and money to travel to the closest temples in Hong Kong, China and Manila, Philippines, the Saints of India began to go.

The Hyderabad Stake Presidency with John Gutty, center, as stake president. His counselors are Suresh Natarajan, left, and Rajaratnam Bushi. – Photo Courtesy of the Church News.

President Gurcharan Singh Gill, a native Indian and professor of mathematics at BYU who had been called to serve as the first president of the India Bangalore Mission, made it his goal to assist more members to become worthy to attend the temple. He reported, “We had thirty-seven people go to the temple, and fifteen families were sealed together with their parents and children….That has really been a spark. Now the people know what being married forever means, what we have that other people don’t have, how our temple marriages are so sacred and different than their marriages from the other churches, and so forth….Those people have come back and really stirred the members into doing family history work, genealogy work, and beginning to pay tithes so they can go to the temple someday. It has really spurred a lot of enthusiasm.” (See R. Lanier Britsch, “South Asia 1982–1996,” From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia, 1851-1996 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1998) 553–554.)

Since that day the members of the Church in India have looked forward with eyes of faith to the day when a temple would be built in their midst. With a stake now created, that dream is inching closer to reality.

In 1993 a mission was created in Bangalore, with Gucharan Singh Gill, a native of India, as its president. At that time there were 1,150 members in 13 branches, which increased to 2,000 members in 18 branches five years later. The first meetinghouse in India was dedicated on 2 February 2002, housing the Rajahmundry Branch. Today, approximately 10,000 Latter-day Saints live in India. With the creation of the Hyderabad India Stake, there is now one stake and six districts of the Church in India. There are two missions, the India Bangalore Mission and the India New Delhi Mission (for which there is a link on the right side of this blog).

A choir sings during one of the session of the Hyderabad India Stake conference.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks shakes hands with a young Latter-day Saint lady prior to the Hyderabad India Stake conference.

Founded more than 400 years ago at the crossroads where North and South India meet and with a population more than 4 million, Hyderabad is a center of strength for the Church in India.

If you would like to read a story from Reuters News about the Church in India, you can do so by clicking here. If you would like to hear the stories of two missionary couples that have served as humanitarian missionaries in India, you can do so by clicking here and here. Enjoy!

– Unless otherwise posted, photographs came from Mormon Newsroom and are used according to their Licenses and Restrictions.

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