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India-born leader sees blessings, miracles

The president of the Semmedu Branch is zealous about missionary work

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SEMMEDU, India — Though he has suffered his share of trials and challenges — including an elephant attack — India-born and Church leader Joseph Raju looks back on his life as one of blessings and miracles.

In an account of his experience as a member of the Church, sent by e-mail to the Church News, he declared: "Because I had the opportunity to join the true Church in 1971, myself and my whole family have been blessed by receiving many miracles from our mighty Father in Heaven."

One of the blessings was a trip a year ago to the Hong Kong China Temple where he and his wife, Kalvani, and sons Richard Ang, 16, and John Christopher, 10, were sealed.

Serving as president of the Semmedu Branch, Bangalore India District, for the third time, President Raju, also known as Joseph Rajarathnam, has been particularly zealous about missionary work in his native land.

He said he knew something about the Savior as a member of another Christian church at the time his family was taught the gospel and was among five families in his town that joined the Church in 1971.

As a youth, he was encouraged to memorize the Articles of Faith in his native language of Tamil.

"Every three months, the mission president from Singapore used to visit Coimbatore (near Semmedu) and hold a conference," President Raju said. "Every time, I had to tell the Articles of Faith by memory. I was given encouragement and received small compliments. This is a way my testimony of the true Church was being strengthened."

He knew many couple missionaries as he grew up, but he said he didn't really understand what a full-time mission was.

Then after he graduated from college, he was encouraged by his district president to go on a mission. Young Joseph struggled with the idea because he didn't know English very well and because, as the oldest son, he felt an obligation to help support his poor family. But, he said, he couldn't find a job and was sick so often that he actually became a burden to his parents.

"One day, I was thinking deeply about my life," he said. "Suddenly, a thought came to my mind that I have denied the call from God. Then I knelt down and prayed heartfully with tears to Heavenly Father to forgive me."

He applied for full-time missionary service and was received a call in April 1985.

In his first area of Chennai, India, he said he experienced a miracle. It was important for him to know English to serve an effective mission and, with the help of a missionary couple, he learned to speak, teach and preach in English within three months.

One of his companions had a disability and Elder Raju had to help him with such things as cooking, washing clothes and proselyting, and had to pedal him around on his bicycle. The blessing of strength to carry extra burdens strengthened his testimony, he said.

His mission was completed in June 1987. President Raju said, "I went on a mission as a child who did not know the knowledge of the world, but I returned home a mature and knowledgeable man by the help of the Lord Jesus Christ who is my personal Savior."

More blessings came quickly. With his mission completed, he immediately got a job and six months later married Kalvani, one of the people he helped convert to the gospel. He also helped prepare three younger brothers and a sister to go on missions.

In 1994, the Church group in his village was organized into a branch and he was called as the first branch president.

A sales executive for a plastic goods company, he was returning home from work in 2000 when he was in a serious accident involving a large truck. He said he was miraculously saved, but suffered head and leg injuries. He recovered well enough to return to work after six months.

After meeting in a small building since 1971, prayers of the branch were answered in 2001 when land was purchased where a larger, standard LDS meetinghouse could be built. As it was under construction, bad fortune again struck President Raju when he was attacked by a wild elephant near his village. He was again miraculously saved, he said, though he had to spend three months in a hospital.

Recovered from his injuries, he was able to participate in the dedication of the branch's new building by Asia Area President Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy in December 2002.

"Now we are growing in the gospel," he wrote. "My family is growing spiritually and physically. . . . I strongly believe that my sons and future generations will continue to be faithful to the true Church."

He concluded with an expression of gratitude that he has been able to see President Gordon B. Hinckley three times during the Church president's visits to India, most recently last August.