Large Hindu temples, some made of gold, fill almost every street in the city of Rajahmundry, India.
It’s a stark contrast from the peaceful but picturesque setting of Auckland, New Zealand where sister Lavanya Gorrela is currently serving her mission.
Sister Gorrela, 24, is the first missionary from India to be called to New Zealand.
“In India, it is rare to get called to another country. I feel like it’s a big responsibility to come here and be an example for those back at home.”
The LDS Church has 13,000 members in India. India is expected to surpass China as the world's largest country by 2020.
In India, Hinduism and Islam are the dominant religious groups.
The Gorrela family were born into the Lutheran religion and Sister Gorrela remembers her dad being very strict.
Although Sister Gorrela attended church every Sunday, she didn’t really believe in God.
“There were so many religions around me and I was confused about which was the right one. I just went with the flow.”
Her big sister Sowjanya met missionaries on the street in 2000 and it stirred Sister Gorrela’s curiosity.
“My sister is a role model to me. She’s really strong,” she said.
Despite opposition from her dad, Sister Gorrela’s sister was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and went on to serve a mission in Washington. She was the first missionary from India to be called there.
“I saw that through her faith she didn’t compromise anything,” she said.
“My testimony was strengthened when I watched her serve a mission and then get married in the Hong Kong temple.”
When she was thirteen years old, Sister Gorrela and her mum were baptised. After school, she worked two jobs so she could raise money to serve a mission. That included teaching at a local school throughout the day and then evening tuition at night.
“I was pretty exhausted,” she said.
“But I really wanted to serve a mission, so I knew I had to save up money. I didn’t think about the amount, I just did the best I could for myself.”
Her dad surprised her when he made the ultimate sacrifice and sold a gold chain to help fund sister Gorrela’s mission.
“My dad is the biggest miracle to me,” she said.
“He saw my sister’s example and he wanted to help. God was there for me and I knew He would take care of everything.”
And the miracles didn’t stop coming, Sister Gorrela said.
Because her dad doesn’t know how to email, Sister Gorrela sends him video clips talking about her mission experiences in New Zealand.
Her dad, she said, was moved to tears.
And last Christmas, Sister Gorrela decided to make the most of the yearly Skype call with her family.
She taught her dad about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. She was shocked when her dad told her tearfully, “when you come home, I will get baptised.”
“I was so happy. I felt like it was a great miracle. My prayers were answered,” she said.
“It was my biggest dream to get sealed with my family in the temple.”
“New Zealand has changed me totally. I’m so grateful to serve here and get to know the culture.
I need to learn everything from here and take it back home, so I can grow the Church in India. This is why God called me here.”
Sister Gorrela had also never heard of the Pacific Islanders before her mission.
“Pacific Islanders express their love with food- they love us so much. It gives me energy, so we go out and know we can do anything!”
“I see God has blessed me so much in my life. He’s blessed my family, they are why I’m here. The Atonement of Christ has helped me to understand who I am, why I’m serving, and it gives me strength and hope through His love. I truly believe when we have faith in God that leads to action, and it gives us hope to know He is always there. “
Sister Gorrela will return home this April.