Sister Neelima Mungamuri was called to serve a full-time mission in Kiribati, part of the Marshall Islands Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She was the first missionary from India to ever serve on Kiribati. She was learning a new language, loving the people and working hard serving the Lord. Her younger Sister Lavanya Mungamuri was also serving full-time in the India New Delhi Mission. Both were diligently engaged in the work. With unshakable testimonies of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, they became a strength to their missions and to the people they worked with.
Then, the unthinkable occurred. Sister Neelima was told she may have cancer. Her first prayer to God expressed a commitment to glorify Heavenly Father in all her days, no matter what might happen.
“I was so happy and doing really well. And suddenly this thing happened and nearly 500 people were praying for me. Some told me that nothing would come of it, and everything would be OK,” she said.
Sister Neelima was transferred back to her home country to serve in the India Bengaluru Mission and receive more tests. She was diagnosed with stage three cancer.
“I did not feel sad or angry or anything, but I’m so glad that God helped me to live. The prayers, fasts and Priesthood blessings strengthened me during my surgery and chemotherapy. Great strength comes from the knowledge of the true Gospel and I knew it was Heavenly Father’s will that I go through this trial,” Neelima said.
Adversity wasn’t new to the Mungamuri family Neelima explained, “My father died in an accident when I was 7 years old and my mother died of a broken heart soon after.”
Her grandmother agreed to raise the four orphaned children for the next several years. She was a good Christian and encouraged them all to go to church. When Neelima was 14, the family met missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Neelima, Lavanya and their two brothers embraced the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and were baptized.
Tragedy struck again when her Grandmother died. Neelima, the oldest, was only 17. With no other relatives willing to help, Neelima was responsible for raising her siblings. When her younger brother, Rahul, was old enough, he decided to serve a full-time mission for the church and was called to the India New Delhi Mission. When he returned, he was accepted to BYU Hawaii and is currently there, working his way through college. The other three also decided to serve missions and were called to serve at the same time. While all three were serving missions, Neelima contracted cancer.
Being diagnosed with cancer after serving one year of her 18 month mission required that shenreceive a medical release. Surgery and chemotherapy would certainly require a family member to help. Neelima’s younger sister, Lavanya, was serving in the India New Delhi Mission. She agreed to leave her mission temporarily and help her sister through the upcoming challenges. This would allow their younger brother, Shahil, who began serving the same month as his sister Neelima, to complete his mission. He was a zone leader in the India Bengaluru Mission at the time.
Shortly after the surgery, an aunt came and helped for a couple of weeks. After she wentnhome, the two sisters became a team, focused on the goal of recovery and hopeful return to complete their full-time missions.
Lavanya said, “When I told my sister Neelima on the phone that I was coming to be with her she told me not to leave my mission because her condition may not be very bad.”
Lavanya then asked, “Do you remember what it says on page 3 of Preach My Gospel (missionary guidebook). ‘The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home’, President Harold B. Lee.”1 Lavanya exclaimed, “Nothing is more important than helping my sister. Nothing can replace time with my sister”.
Neelima agreed and Lavanya left her mission to work full-time as her sister’s care giver. The children had recently been sealed to their parents in the temple. If faithful, they’ll be sisters for eternity.
Sister Lavanya said, “Because of temples, I know families can be eternal.”
The sisters lived together in a small basic apartment without even a refrigerator. Every few weeks they went for chemo treatments at a nearby hospital. Neelima went through extreme discomfort and pain, only understood by those who have gone through similar treatments.
“I know sometimes, we expect miracles and feel that something like this should be gone just like that, we pray for such things sometimes because of our sufferings and our afflictions. But in my life I learned that submitting to God’s will is the greatest thing that can help us to come closer to God. I want to see my parents and grandmother again but I know I still have some work to do in this life,” Neelima asserted.
Sister Lavanya testified, “We are his hands. God will always be there for us when we stay faithful. Even trials are a strength to our life.”
Sister Neelima concluded, “I believe in the blessing of the resurrection that I can get all my full hair and all my body parts and everything. Some people in the hospital asked me why God gave you this big problem while you were serving God. The only answer that came to my mind is that God loves me so much. And when we are given so many problems, he trusts us to have faith and turn to Him and not Satan, like Job in the Bible, who endured all those things, and this is our time to endure all these things.”
Neelima now lives with her youngest brother and attends the Whitefield Road Ward in the India Bengaluru Stake. Sister Lavanya Mungamuri has returned to and is currently serving in the New Delhi Mission.
1 Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, “What is my Propose as a Missionary,” p. 3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/what-is-my-purpose-as-a-missionary?lang=eng