23 September 2009

Lagi Ramadan.


The streets of Jakarta are speaking to me still—yesterday, in the crush of busway transport, I reached up to grab hold of the passenger handle to find a note tucked into the plastic case. There, written on the back of a used ticket for 3500 Rp— in black, blocky ink, the reminder to Haraplah! (Hope!). Which is an admirable admonition for any day, but this week especially as Sunday welcomed Idul Fitri, the Muslim equivalent of Christmas with all the festivity of a New York New Year's. The party began Saturday as the sun set, the final day of Ramadan's fasting going up in a blaze of fireworks and drumbeats echoing along the corridors of Jakarta's slums. It was an incredible eruption of life and color and light—a party I got to watch all night long as well, seeing as I'd eaten dinner at a member's home that afternoon . . .

But anway. Idul Fitri. For the Muslims, a party all night long and the promise of presents in the morning and a week's holiday. For the LDS missionaries, seven days of Not A Lot to Do. Jakarta is empty (or as empty as it could ever be) with families off visiting their childhood villages or far-off family, and those that are left are very decidedly Muslim and so very much off-limits. It's been a lot of walking and wandering mostly, desperate attempts to find people to talk to about the Gospel of Jesus Christ instead of the logistics of Hari Raya (which is also fun, just not quite as productive). Luckily, Keluarga Subandriyo understands all too fully our predicament. They have been watching over us since day one, but this week they've stayed especially close and caring and it's been a life-saver.

You remember Elder Subandriyo, right? His whole family's just as incredible and inspiring, a true and pure light among so much grime here in the city. Monday they had us over for FHE—all six of us, plus the Elders—which included a fantastic feast of all sorts of spicy entrees and cool desserts along with one of the most uplifting lessons I've heard in a long while. There's something so singular about this man, this Area Authority who eats with us barefoot and cross-legged on the floor and then proceeds to teach the lesson of the Restoration as if we'd never ever heard it before. I not only learned about a hundred new Indonesian words (his Bahasa is incredibly halus, pure) but went home to look up another twenty-five more, just to be able to describe the experience later. First on that list? Bermartabat. Dignified. Elder Subandriyo is that word personified.

So we had a most lovely evening there, and then today found Sister Stefi (his wife) waiting for us outside our house first thing. “Forget P-Day!” she said. “We're going shepherding!” And so out we went, searching out lost sheep and sharing Gospel messages. Sister Stefi knows absolutely everyone, and she doesn't bother with calling beforehand, either. We just show up at these less-actives doors and talk until we get up and move on to the next house, which may or may not be hours away. It was an adventure of the best sorts, the kind where you occasionally just turn to SisLily and bust up laughing. Where are we, who are we, what in the world are we doing, you know? Along the way she'd stop to buy us sweets or entertain us on longer drives with the story of falling in love with Elder Subandriyo or how she found the church in the first place, always laughing, smiling, so happy. Oh, the whole family is just so full of joy. Sister Stefi dropped us off only a half an hour ago, after which we all set off at a run to get to the internet before the day was officially over. And now here I am, sitting here talking to the Papuan man next to me, who just agreed to come to Sacrament Meeting on Sunday. (!!!!) Life's a miracle, a beautiful thing.

So once again this is short, but I hope it's full enough to carry over until next week. I'll try to get another letter off as well, but those missives tend to take a lot of energy out of me and now I've forgotten exactly what I wrote before and don't want to repeat myself. . . oh well. More later, as always.

I love you. Miss you like crazy, but love you even more.


Sister E.

16 September 2009

Mission Possible in Steppings with Jesus!!

*True Story bumper sticker I saw yesterday when riding the bus back home after one long, miserable day on busses across the city. God has a funny way of stepping in like that, doesn't He?

Halo semuanya!

So yesterday was my half birthday, which means that I have therefore promised myself I give this whole mission thing a good six months at least. By the Ides of March, I plan on loving every minute of this insanity. I plan on being able to understand what they're saying to me, and I plan on being able to talk right back. I plan on finally getting a handle of Jakarta street maps and Blok M bus schedules, and I for sure plan on feeling that kind of fire that makes me never ever want to leave. Six months. Because things take time. And I am learning patience.

One thing I already love about Indonesia, however, is the overly-bright and courageously cheerful stationary products that I occasionally pass by on my way to market or home from Jakarta Raya. You probably know what I'm talking about—the characteristically mangled English that comes out of these Asian countries in surprisingly insightful phrases. Or maybe that's just me. Maybe I'm so desperate for constant reminders of happiness that I find hope in these small moments, moments like “Maybe happiness is simplest” or “Today is the best day of living because I own four cats.” I also found quiet inspiration in this pithy phrase printed across a fellow passenger's bag on busway: “You are flowerful in the storm that rages.” But maybe most of all I liked this (somewhat legit!) statement, printed on a t-shirt in the pasar: “Find your passion and make it happen.”

I think I've actually been trying to live this particular motto most of my life, but had forgotten to apply it to mission as of yet—find my passion? Sometimes that seems near impossible, amidst the endless traffic, the constant noise and rubbish, the hopeless poverty. But this week I feel like maybe I came a bit closer to that passion, a passion I've found to be teaching.

Which we don't have a lot of opportunity for, to be honest with you. Though a 90% Muslim population in the fourth most populous nation means there's a good 29 million Christians still to reach, that same statistic applies to every day here and it's rare you find someone wanting to be taught even if you manage to find a Christian in the first place. Then, if you luck out with a phone number, chances are they're going to evade your call, or if you get all the way to a call and appointment, they're most likely not going to show up. That appointment I had to run to last week? No show. Same with two the next day. But that kind of despair only makes those rare teaching opportunities entirely more beautiful, all the more valuable. At this point, fourteen days into Indonesia, I've taught exactly two. But the power and truth I felt in those two hours was enough to make up for every busway rejection, every night stood up at the church. 

I actually wrote you a letter last week, a full six pages or so in teeny-tiny type that should make its way to you in the near future, if you keep your fingers crossed and also your prayers constant—dropping that fat envelope off at the Kantor Pos in no way really aided in strengthening my faith in Indonesia. But anyway, there's a letter on the way with all sorts of new information and exciting examples and details and I don't want to repeat myself here, so perhaps that will all have to wait. I'll also end off here because I want to respond to the other questions in your emails—I’m on another hour's time constraint because there's still shopping to do and then guess what? I'm going on the radio. I know. Of all the things to tell your kids, right? Once upon a time, I did a weekly radio show in Jakarta, Indonesia . . . Apparently a local English-teaching station asks us to come on and just talk for an hour so their listeners can get a feel for the language and also call in with questions. We are ridiculously excited, as you might imagine.

sampai menulis lagi,

Sister E.

09 September 2009


Keluarga yang kukasihi,

Cockroaches can fly. Did you know that? I didn't, not until my first night in Jakarta Selatan and one the size of my thumb winged it right into my face. You're imagining that I panicked a little, aren't you? And yeah, so maybe I did. But that was then. And now it’s six days later. You can learn a lot in six days.

Like how to kill a cockroach without a second thought, or how to buy gado-gado from the man around the corner, or how you turn on the AC very first thing when you're home for the night if you want to bring the heat down from a constant 30 degrees to a cool 29. And that's only the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to Jakarta.

Because heavens, is it something. There aren't words to describe it, and I might not even try. It's too big, too dirty, too busy, too absolutely crazy-insane. So for this email we'll stick to things a little closer to home. We've got a janji (teaching appointment) in one hour, so it looks like another race against the clock this week, too.

Firstly, SisLily and I are seriously so spoiled. Transfers came in along with Zone Conference this Monday, and it looks like we're going to be together for another two months, if not three, here in Jakarta. Presiden likes to keep us close and our immigration papers might take a bit longer so here we are, living the high life in Tebet along with four other sisters—one American (Sister Christensen) and two Indonesians (Sister Sumarno + Sister Katam). I've maybe mentioned SisLily was heaven-sent before. Well, that was nothing compared to the saving grace she's been to me here—most people mention that mission is hard, but that little word doesn't really convey the entire sense of the word when you're actually living it. Family, mission is Hard. To the point this past week I began living from minute to minute, and then hour to hour, and then morning to afternoon, until maybe today is the first time since arriving on the island that I feel a firmer sense of who I am or what I'm doing and how I'm going to do it. Today I'm living day by day, and it's a beautiful feeling compared to the heartsick panic I survived last week—which is not to say that anyone needs to hop on any planes or ring up Senopati to get me out of here. This was to be expected, this whole trial-and-tribulation bit. But it's one of those things you couldn't possible prepare for once you're thrown into the actual experience. 

Thing is, everyone also says its the best possible thing they've ever done in their lives, and I've seen enough glimpses of that vision these past few days that I'm willing to hold on and figure that out for myself. I love Indonesia, for example. Really and truly one hundred percent, despite the heat, the humidity, the general disrepair and unfathomable poverty. Because above and beyond everything else, they are an incredibly optimistic people. I've touched on this before, I think, as far as language goes—remember belum vs. tidak? And they're always going on about semoga (hopefully), with a heavy dose of insha'Allah (God willing). But maybe one of my favorite examples of Indonesian optimism is in the humble busker. Indonesians, unlike the blessed Polynesian missionaries we so loved at the MTC, are not blessed with beautiful voices.

We naik bis (ride buses) to and from absolutely everywhere, these rotting little metal tins with their numbers painted in acrylic over the front window and sad sashes of decades-dirtied fabric along the top. They hardly make a full stop for their passengers in the first place, but buskers have an even harder time, jumping in and out of any passing bis with a running leap. Once onboard, however, they stand erect at the front, guitar/tambourine/harmonica/keyboard/take your pick held close like a child as they address us as their audience. Occasionally this means a short speech about the hard life of a mortal or the changing views of the modern world, but my favorite are the mini sermons that last a good full minute or so and call everyone to God before he launches into some song or other as varied as folk to rap. Lyrics? Maybe. If you can tell one word from another, or even so much as one note from the next. But they hack at it, oh they do. Wonderfully dedicated to their art and so serious, too. After their musical spiel (which honestly only lasts about two minutes and usually not an entire song) however, comes my most favorite part: the thank yous. Like notes prepared for the Academy Awards, they thank everyone for listening, their families for loving them, the bus driver for supporting them . . . the list goes on as if the great artist was invited to sing in the most grand of concert halls or most popular music venue in all of Jakarta. A quick shake of the money bag and then they're off at the next intersection, minutes before another busker arrives and the entire cycle begins again.

This is a very nearly constant part of my life, and one that saved me last Saturday. I was having a particularly rough time of it when some such busker hopped on the 62 out to Blok M and stood there so significantly, as if centering his soul before the performance. I couldn't help but smile, and by the end of his sincere attempt at song I was nearly laughing for the joy of it. How grand, how full, to take on a job so small with such intensity. In that moment, I could keep going. I could do this. I could do this for a long time yet.

I think that will have to be Part One for Jakarta from here on out, and I'll just fill you in on the quick notes now, because I know you'll need to know:

My companion is Sister Katam, a wee wisp of a girl from Malang. I am entirely convinced she is the reason Disney puts wide-almond eyes on every Princess—she has a stunning small face with the most startling eyes I've ever seen. She's very shy and crazy-quiet; she moves about on cat-paws, I swear, always there and ready to help. A little mother (Amy Dorrit, yes?) and big sister all in one. Whenever I'm sick (which happens a little bit more often than I'd like, but I was warned. Oh well. Nothing serious ever, don't worry) she stays close and takes care of me; she's very aware of life around her and takes care of most everyone, actually. She's the most senior sister here, too—going home in only two months! I like her rather quite a lot, though she refuses to speak the English I know she understands perfectly so sometimes it is frustrating when I desperately need something explained and she only hesitantly describes it in Bahasa Indonesia

Luckily, Sister Sumarno (SisLily's companion) was studying to be an English Teach before her mission and takes every opportunity to practice the language. She's incredibly bubbly and lovable, really energetic and pretty much open to anything. The four of us all together have become pretty good friends together; we balance each other out nicely. 

Let's see . . . the Elders. We're all still near Jakarta—Nixon to Jakarta Raya (Central), Greenwell to Bekasi (about 40 minutes from us) and Meek to Bogor (2 hours away). Our parting was actually pretty pathetic—sometimes I feel like we only imagined the strength of our bond in the MTC, but this last week simply proved it was stronger. With Zone Conference this last Monday we all met up in Jakarta for the day and it felt like a reunion of long-lost siblings, the way we went on about it. Then Tuesday, at the beach, we hung out together all day like old times (ha) and everything felt a little more right with the world. We've all had quite a bit of trouble adjusting and our fair share of doubts and desperate moments of homesickness, so it was good to touch base and know we're not alone. Goodness, I love them. Last night we said our official goodbyes for at least six more weeks (until next zone conference). I'm going to miss them.

Still, there are a million more things to be grateful for, something I try to remember every day. Count your many blessings, right? That always gets me back on track when my sanity starts to slip. And you guys are always at the top of my list, first and foremost. Oh, how I love you. How I so overwhelmingly miss you. How infinitely grateful I am to be so sure that my afflictions are only ever a small moment, that in patience and faith all is made gloriful and I not only return to you so soon but get to keep you for always. I love you. Madly.


Sister E.