Church History
“I Will Establish a Church by Your Hand”

“I Will Establish a Church by Your Hand”

Dharmaraju Family

Edwin and Elsie Dharmaraju as they departed American Samoa to become the first missionaries called specifically to independent India, 1978

Edwin and Elsie Dharmaraju, Indian citizens living in Western Samoa, appreciated their friendship with Richard and Lillian Ashby, who were serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But they balked when the Ashbys invited them to seriously investigate the Church. “I come from a long line of Anglican Church members,” Edwin explained. “For us to leave our church and join another church would create the most severe disappointments imaginable.” The Dharmarajus only reconsidered after Lillian died of cancer and left them her triple combination, a book of scripture bound to include the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. Within a year, Edwin, Elsie, and three of their grown children joined the Church.

Soon Edwin and Elsie, once so concerned about their family’s reaction should they ever change their religion, wanted their relatives in India to have a chance to embrace the restored gospel. They wrote to Church President Spencer W. Kimball, requesting missionaries be sent to Hyderabad—and were surprised to be called themselves on a short-term mission to teach their family members there.

As they sat on the plane in December 1978, Edwin recalled, “Suddenly we realized the magnitude of our responsibilities as missionaries, and we were seized with fear. Anything wrong said or done by us would hurt the Church and damage its future.” As Indian citizens serving as missionaries in their native country, they knew their actions could affect future government willingness to issue missionary visas to foreigners. To calm herself, Elsie opened the now-familiar triple combination Lillian Ashby had left them. “Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come,” she read. “Yea, I will open the hearts of the people, and they will receive you. And I will establish a church by your hand” (Doctrine and Covenants 31:3, 7).

During the Dharmarajus’ short mission, 22 members of their extended family joined the Church. This group formed the beginning of the Church presence in Hyderabad. Thirty-four years later, the first stake in India was organized there, fulfilling Elsie Dharmaraju’s hope that a Church would be established by her and her husband’s hands.