After growing up with hardships in India and losing his parents when he was a child, BYU–Hawaii student Rahul Mungamuri said he found purpose and learned about the love of God through his missionary service. After his parents died, he said he lived with his grandmother who let the missionaries in and his family joined the Church. Although he did not always receive the support he wanted, Mungamuri said he always had the Church as something that was constant.
Reflecting on the greatest blessing he received as a missionary, Mungamuri, a freshman and exercise and sports science major, said going on a mission “opens your eyes to the miracles of God. I thought I was the only one with problems until the mission.
“I met families who ate only one meal a day, and sometimes not at all. Some walked 50 minutes to come to church. The converts taught me so much about dedication and humility. My friends who broke the commandments now respect me.”
When he came back from his mission, Mungamuri said his old classmates and friends did not celebrate his return. With tears building in his eyes, Mungamuri struggled to describe the experience. “I felt so small. All my school friends mocked me for going on a mission. These were good friends, friends I had had for 10 years, and they were asking why I was still serving God even though, in their eyes, He took my parents away.
“They made fun of me for not having a career yet or any college education and were making fun of my mistakes before I left on the mission. They kept on asking me what I got from my mission. I said, ‘Blessings,’ and they just laughed at me. They told me ‘Blessings? You have no studying, no family, and you think you have blessings?’ My friends had parents who paid for their college, plenty of money, and a home.”
After taking several deep breaths, Mungamuri continued. “There were times I was not perfect. My friends had everything material, but I could recognize the real blessings in my life, which can’t be bought. I have my brother and sisters. I have a family. I am going to church every Sunday. It’s what kept me happy during those hard times.”
Despite the hardships, he said “I don’t care what Ph.D. I would have had by now, or how much money I could have earned if I had stayed in my job. Being a missionary and developing a greater understanding of the gospel was worth all those sacrifices. All the things I gained from the mission I could not gain in 10 years of schooling.”
Mungamuri said he went on his mission because of the appreciation he had for the missionaries who taught him. “As a child, I wanted to be just like them, to give happiness to someone else. I can’t explain how grateful I am to my missionaries for teaching me the gospel. I wanted to be that part of someone’s life.”
A family matter
Mungamuri’s older brother and two younger sisters are currently serving missions. He was the first in his family to do so. “After my experience in the MTC and the temple endowment, I think everyone should serve a mission. It has changed me and will change my family.”
While in the Missionary Training Center (MTC), Mungamuri said he was inspired by a talk given by Elder David A. Bednar, which emphasized the importance of an individual’s outward actions, and how that individual shows an inner belief towards Christ.
“The talk really set me on fire to do the work of the Lord however I could,” said Mungamuri. “There were times I just completely forgot about myself and my family and thought all about my investigators. They became my top priority.
“My brother is a very smart guy. He could get a free seat in most any college of his choosing, but he decided to go on a mission. He wanted to be a policeman in India. If he tries to apply for the job after he gets back, they will ask him why there is a gap of a few years. They will not accept a mission as an excuse.”
Vilas Karkala from Hyderabad, India, served in the same mission in Northern India. Although they were never companions, Karkala said Mungamuri “was a very good teacher and has a great talent when it comes to understanding people. He is able to get easily connected with people.
“I feel missionary service helped change him into someone better, and he became much more selfless because he saw how others suffered more than he did.”
Born and raised in Rajahmundry in Southern India, Mungamuri lost his parents at the age of 5. He and his siblings were raised by their grandmother, who he said “treated us like her own children. Even before she met the missionaries, my grandmother had the grace of God radiating from her.”
Mungamuri said his grandmother had dealt with the deaths of two of her sons. “When the missionaries came to her door, she felt they were like sons to her. She liked the character of the missionaries, the way they spoke, and how they taught her. She told us she wanted us to be like them one day.”
Within a few weeks, Mungamuri and his three siblings were baptized into the Church. However, their grandmother passed away from cancer several years later. He and his siblings were then forced to support themselves in order to go to school and eat, he said. “To go on a mission, I had to stop my studies and work for at least two years to earn enough money.
“Even before I was a member of the Church, I always wanted to help others. The moral in my life from my childhood was, ‘I don’t want to hurt anyone with my actions.’ Coming to church helped me learn more about charity.”
Serving in Northern India was difficult, according to Mungamuri. “Every hundred miles, the culture, language and clothing changes in India. A lot of westerners might think Indians are all the same. There are 1.3 billion people living in India, and about 330 million in the United States. We are far more diverse than the rest of the world might think. Delhi has a different language and a different atmosphere.
“Walking down the city streets of Delhi, I saw so much poverty and hardship. Outside a restaurant, my companion and I saw a fistfight. These two men were beating each other in the street. As they fought, I felt blood spray on my hand, but my companion said not to get involved. There were plenty of people around who could have stopped it, but no one did.
“In India, everyone is focused on their own survival. You could live next door to someone and never learn their name. People die and no one cares.”
Returning with honor
“There are two things I kept in mind when I returned. [I] saw a lot of people going less active after finishing their missions. One [goal] was not to be jobless and the other was to follow the Law of Chastity. When you are jobless or do not live a chaste life, you are further away from God.”
When Mungamuri returned home from his mission, he spent only 20 days in his hometown and returned to Delhi, where he got a job at a call center, making the equivalent of about $200 USD per month.
“I did the work only because I needed to make money to survive,” he said. “If I had been given the chance to do what I loved, it would be something to do with sports or photography. If I still had parents, I would ask them for help getting to a good college, but in reality, I knew it wasn’t an option to follow my dreams at the moment.”
Prior to coming to BYUH, Mungamuri had to sell his DSLR camera to finance his schooling. He said he hopes to make enough money in the future to afford a new camera and continue his passion.
While taking correspondence courses in Delhi and working, he described the call center as dehumanizing because of the long hours he had to work, as well as the indifference with which people treated him. “I knew I could not stay there forever, but in India, everyone is just trying to survive. I could not wait for money to just fall out of the sky. No one has time to help one another because they’re working to support themselves.”
Mungamuri learned from Vaishali Kilaparthi, a missionary from his mission, about the BYUH I-Work program. When he learned of it, he said, “Everything went on. All opportunities came at once.” He worked fast, getting ready for his visa interview and English test, which he passed after only one try.
Kilaparthi, a freshman from Visakhapatnam, India, majoring in accounting, said she felt blessed to be a part of the I-Work program, and is happy Mungamuri was able to participate in the program, allowing him to have a new life in Hawaii.
When Mungamuri arrived in Laie, Kilaparthi said she noticed a change in him. “He was so happy to be here and went to the temple often, as a way of thanking his Heavenly Father for the blessings he received. Laie is very different from Delhi.”