Bindu Sabbavarapu joined the church in her hometown of Visakhapatnam, India, in the face of cultural and familial barriers. She married another Indian Mormon and together they are striving to pursue lives that bear witness to their families of the goodness of the gospel. Soon after her marriage, Bindu immigrated to the United States, where she and her husband are pursuing advanced degrees and raising their 10-month-old baby girl. Although the gospel transcends culture, Bindu’s interview reflects the challenge of practicing a religion in a nation where Christians and Mormons in particular are a significant minority.
How did you discover the church?
I come from a place called Visakhapatnam; in short, we call it Vizag. We had only one mission when I joined the Church—the India Bangalore Mission. Four missionaries came to our city to start a home group. Through my friend’s brother, my friend and I met the missionaries. She was interested in the gospel. She invited me and we both went together. This happened almost ten years ago.
When we went to church that Sunday—interestingly it was a fast and testimony Sunday. It was all new to me. My husband and I went to missionary schools in our city. The predominant religion is Hinduism. A very small percent are Christians and I was used to seeing huge Roman Catholic churches. At first when she took me into the apartment, I was confused.
Inside there were four missionaries. By then there were at least eight to ten members. That was sacrament meeting in the living room of the elders’ apartment. That small home group turned into a branch. Now we have three branches back home, and a district. When I sit in sacrament meetings today in Utah with huge congregations I still feel the same spirit I felt in that small apartment with those four elders blessing and passing the sacrament. It is just a wonderful feeling.
What led you to investigate and join the church?
Growing up as a Hindu I was part of many religious rituals with my family. When I asked my parents why we were doing those rituals, most often, the answer was that it how it should be done, that is how our ancestors did it, or it is good to do. Many times, I wondered the reason and meaning behind those rituals. At the same time, I think my parents taught me good principles in life. They were God-fearing and taught me to be honest, to dress modestly, to study well and much more. I would like to say those were the basics that prepared me to embrace the gospel in my life.
On the other hand going to the missionary school helped me know more about Jesus Christ and his teachings. My mom reminds me that when I was a little girl I used to get a small Christmas tree from school and celebrate Christmas by hanging it with greeting cards and ornaments. I used to hide my interest in Christianity because of my dad’s strict religious views in Hinduism. He used to manage the affairs of a local Hindu temple apart from his busy full time job.
However, I never thought of becoming a Christian until I met the missionaries and learned more about the Church. I learned from the scriptures and understood the standards of the Church like going to church regularly to renew the covenants, communicating with our Father in Heaven through prayers, the Word of Wisdom, Family Home Evening, serving, and teaching one another and many more. This is what I wanted in my life. Learning more about the gospel drew me closer to Christ, and the testimony I gained about the Savior played an important part in my being part of this true church for which I am eternally grateful.
How did your family respond to your decision to join the church?
I did not have my parents’ permission to be baptized so I had to wait until I turned 18. A week after my 18th birthday I was baptized secretly.
I started preparing to get a temple recommend and I did not feel comfortable with one of the questions in the temple recommend interview because I thought I deceived my parents. I have a close connection with my family. I have two sisters, one who is older and one who is younger than me, who are close friends, and my mom is a great friend too. We shared our secrets with my mom. My dad was really strict with us. My friends used to call him “tiger”. But my mom gave us the freedom we needed. With my dad, we knew what we were supposed to do especially regarding his expectations for our education. With my mom, we knew we had that friend at home. I now think it was a great balance with the way our lives turned out to be.
With these kinds of relationships, I felt bad not telling my parents and my sisters that I had been baptized. I started with my youngest sister and told her. She freaked out. She said my dad was going to kill me. She is a year and a half younger than I am, and she said we should go to our older sister and put this problem to her to see what we should do. We then told my older sister and she reacted the same way.
Eventually my sisters helped me to go to church every Sunday. My younger sister used to accompany me to the church some times. They really did not understand why I joined the church but they always helped me. This went on for almost five years.
My mom eventually found out because I write in my journal regularly. My mom knew I was doing something apart from my assignments. She knew I was writing about something in my journal, and she used to ask me what it was. I told her I wrote my feelings and that I feel good going to the church. My mother was always worried, since she is an Indian woman who is dependent on my father like most Indian women are. She loves my father and does not want to hurt him in any way, but at the same time she loves me and wants me to be happy. It was a tough spot to be in. After few years, my dad knew I was going to church, and we had a big argument. He was mad and said, “What’s wrong with you? What have I not given you? You can have Christian friends; it doesn’t mean that you have to go to their church and become a Christian.”
For few years, we never discussed it again. I had to move out for my studies, I graduated with a Bachelors degree in Information Systems, and always performed up to my dad’s expectations. We three sisters graduated with engineering degrees in different specializations. He always supported us to get the best education.
Because of my education I always had great jobs and my dad was proud of me. Once when I was promoted as an Assistant Manager Operations in one of my jobs I was home when I heard the news and I saw my family so happy for me and took the opportunity to let them know that all the good that happened in my life were the blessings from God. I told them that Heavenly Father was watching for me. I expressed my feelings about the gospel and why I wanted to be a Latter-day Saint. I requested my dad to remove the social barriers like caste and religion and asked him to understand my desire. To see my dad from becoming furious to being calm and listening to me was another blessing in my life.
I am grateful for my parents who were supportive of my beliefs and who had to overcome social barriers from relatives of why I was going to a Church. I am grateful for the opportunity that my parents took to come to Utah to see my beautiful daughter and the way we lead our lives in the gospel.
Did your family approve of your marriage to your husband? Were they used to your faith at that point?
I always thought I was going to marry whomever my parents chose. My dad wanted me to marry one of my relatives. I always wanted to find out how that guy would react about my membership in a church. Little did I know then that Heavenly Father had a plan for me. I just knew my husband as one of the branch members and never ever thought I would be married to him. I was away in a different city pursuing my Bachelors and he went and served a mission. When he returned from his mission he wanted to marry someone from the church.
My husband tried to know more about me and even if I wanted to know about him I was always worried about my dad’s thought of marrying me off to my relative. I fasted and prayed a couple of times to see if he was the right person. Apart from my fear, I always felt good about my husband. He is a fabulous husband and a wonderful father to my daughter.
When we thought about getting married to each other, we thought that it was going to be fine since his family was Roman Catholic. However, it did not work that way. I never thought my parents would approve. Once again, it all happened because of my sweet sisters and my dear mom who convinced my father. I am sure the spirit touched him.
When did your husband join the church? Did he join the church in the same way you did?
He also had a friend who introduced him to the church, and he was 19 when he joined the church. When he wanted to serve a mission for the church, his mom did not approve at first. My husband is very patient, and he loves his mom to death. In India, as the oldest son, he is the fatherly figure for the siblings and his mom’s favorite. It was hard for him to do anything against family’s wish. He fasted, prayed, and knew he should do what Heavenly Father wants him to do. Eventually his mom knew he was going to serve Jesus Christ; that is the reason his parents approved for him to serve a mission. His parents also had social and family barriers about my husband joining the Church and marrying a girl from the church.
Eventually he baptized his brother, and his brother served a mission nine months apart from when he did. When he came back from his mission, he always thought, as I did, that he was going to make his family happy by marrying whom they wanted. However, he could not deny the spirit.
Were you sealed in the temple?
We were struggling between making our families happy and at the same time trying to follow the gospel. In those circumstances, all we needed was someone to support and re-assure that what we were doing is the right thing to do. Our spiritual and moral support is my husband’s Mission President and his wife. As my husband just returned from his mission, we could not think of anyone else who could understand us better. Counseling with them was an answer to one of our prayers and I am grateful for that inspiration that my husband had.
My husband always dreamed about pursuing higher education in the United States. He strongly felt the need to go and pursue his education then and somehow find a way to be married to me. At first I was not supportive of his plans as I would miss my family and him too if he was gone. He always assured that it was going to work out. He is a great example of putting the trust in the Lord and following the promptings of the spirit. I have seen that time and again in all the decisions we have taken in our lives so far.
Missionaries used to show the picture of the Salt Lake Temple when teaching about temples. I always thought that is something I would see only in pictures and never did I imagine or dream that I would be sealed with my husband in the Salt Lake Temple. On September 10, 2008 we were sealed together for eternities. All throughout it has been an amazing journey. There were times we feel bad for not making our families happy but the joy that comes by following the gospel completely overshadows that. Especially now with our beautiful daughter being born in the covenant makes me feel it is all worth it.
After I was done with my Bachelors I thought I was done studying but my husband always reminded me of President Hinckley’s statement about education. He encouraged me to pursue my Masters. I recently graduated with a Masters of Business Administration and my husband graduated from BYU, Marriott School of Management. The jobs that we have been blessed with help us to be self-reliant and progress in our lives.
My daughter is now ten months old and she is the best thing that ever happened to us. She is a happy baby and brings so much joy into our lives.
Do you feel like a pioneer in a way, like you are in new territory and are forging a path that generations will follow?
Yes, definitely. This is the kind of story that I am sure you can hear throughout the world where there are cultural barriers and opposition for people to join the church. I am sure there are many people in my own country who are the pioneers for their generations in future. When we study about Mormon pioneers and their experience, ours seems to be nothing. We are dealing with differences in culture and opinions but our pioneers had to walk miles, cross-icy waters, and frozen lakes to get to the valley, and most of them lost their loved ones and themselves through their journey to follow the gospel. I am grateful for their sacrifices and for their example.
The whole purpose of fighting against the cultural barriers is to be active in the Church and to be able to have our posterity in the gospel. It is a crazy world out there and there is a great need for children to be raised in good homes and by good parents. Our parents are certainly wonderful examples of good parents because they have taught us great principles and prepared us to receive the gospel no matter they agree or not. My husband and I feel very privileged to be here and have the amazing experiences that we have had and will have in the future. We are blessed to hear from the Prophets and Apostles who guide us in these latter days. Following their counsel has helped us greatly in our lives.
The best part about living in Utah is to be around so many temples. Coming from India where there is no temple yet we enjoy living closer to the temples. We have had opportunity to write names of our family and friends in India who were in need of prayers. I treasure the special spirit while performing various ordinances in the temple and we are looking forward to complete the temple work for our ancestors.
What do you feel is in the future for you? Do you feel like you will stay here for a while or are you just here until you are done with school and then try to go back to India?
Every decision we took in our lives was through fasting and prayer. My husband and I have always experienced amazing blessings by counseling with the Lord and we never went wrong when we involved Heavenly Father in the decisions we took. We always wanted to gain all the knowledge that we could gain through our education here, by meeting people, and through our experiences here and use, those skills and knowledge back home. I would love to re-unite with my family and meet my husband’s family if an opportunity is given and at the same time, we would want to wait and see what is in stored for us. For right now the plan is to go back home after completing our education and gain some work experience that will help my husband have a better career in India.
Being a parent, I realize that it is very important to teach my daughter to do the right thing. I am glad I am not alone in this journey. I am grateful for the help and counsel that I receive from that Lord and from my dear husband to teach my daughter. Living here taught me many wonderful lessons in life which I am very grateful for.
At A Glance
Bindu Sudhir Sabbavarapu
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Marital status: Happily married since 09/10/2008 to the best man ever
Children: One 10 month old daughter
Schools Attended: RVR & JC College of Engineering for Bachelors in India, Stevens Henager College for Masters in Salt lake City
Occupation: Project/Business Analyst
Languages Spoken at Home: Telugu & English
Favorite Hymn: “Count Your Blessings”
Interview by Elizabeth Pinborough. Photos used with permission.