Church History
Questions of Life and Death

Questions of Life and Death

Gurcharan Singh Gill

Gurcharan Singh Gill and his brother Bachittar, 2005

In 1953 eighteen-year-old Gurcharan Singh Gill worked on his family’s farm in Punjab, saving for travel to study at Fresno State College in California, while staying up nights to tend his ailing baby brother, Ajaib Singh. His older sister, Nasib, was also sick. Shortly before he left, both died.

“I brooded over the questions of life and death, asking myself what had happened to my sister and brother,” Gill recalled. “The questions rang in my mind day and night.” As he spoke with Catholics and Protestants in California, he was drawn to the idea of resurrection and eternal life as individuals—but he refused to accept that people who had not been baptized in their lifetime would not be in heaven. “Sikhism taught that God will take care of every human being fairly if we had trust in Him,” he said.

After some time, a friend’s mother told Gill that Latter-day Saints might have answers to his questions. He soon attended a Latter-day Saint meeting where the first talk was about the plan of salvation, and he was struck by the distinctive teachings about premortal life, salvation for the dead, and temple sealing ordinances that could link families for eternity. “[These] doctrines answered the questions I had been asking myself,” he recalled, “[about] where Nasib and Ajaib were, and whether I would see them again. I felt that the new doctrine I had learned built upon truth I had already learned through the Sikh teachings I was raised with.” He was baptized on January 7, 1956.

After his conversion, Gill wanted to do family history and temple work to link himself to his ancestors. Most genealogical training relied on American and European record types, however, and his village’s traditional genealogist had left for Pakistan at the 1947 Partition of India. He learned what he could from his father about their family history and village history. Because Punjabi culture is patrilineal, he also traveled from village to village to document his mother’s side of the family and to interview relatives.

In 1993 Gill returned to India as the first president of the Bangalore India Mission. Afterward, he felt prompted that he had not yet done all he could for his ancestors. As he searched, he discovered land revenue records dating back to the 1850s that identified each farmer by listing four generations of ancestors. With the help of other Church members and the Punjabi community, Gill digitized many records and transcribed tens of thousands of names and relationships.

In 2018 Gill felt prompted to contact Church leaders in Bengaluru, New Delhi, and Hyderabad to propose commemorating the mission’s silver jubilee with talks on family history and temple service. Although the nearest temple was in Hong Kong, the leaders agreed on emphasizing the temple in their teachings. That March, Gill traveled from city to city to speak. At the same time in Salt Lake City, President Russell M. Nelson was preparing for general conference. “The Lord told me on the eve of conference: ‘Announce a temple in India,’” Nelson said. Following that inspiration, he announced during the conference that a temple would be built in Bengaluru, the same city where India’s first mission had opened 25 years before.