21 October 2009

Cue Sister Lily.

And every day was a lifetime.

Really, it feels eons since I last sat down at a computer to write—or at least seven years, rather than seven days. A lot of change in these parts; a few trials, a few joys, and (as always) a whole lot of growing.

First, Sister Katam and I spent our final day together (Saturday) at the church again, from eight in the morning just about till five at night, where we proofread the final typesetter's copy of the newly re-translated Kitab Mormon. It was a blissfully relaxing exercise to me, reading aloud with a red pen in hand, glad for our packet portion that included Ether 2 right through Moroni 10, some of my most absolutely favorite passages (and so even easier to understand with my limited Indonesian). We had almost 100 people there that day, all grouped in twos to catch punctuation errors or grammar abuse, stopping only for water breaks and one lunch-hour rest. I really enjoyed the work, and even with my four months of Indonesian could really see the difference in this translation, how the language more closely matches the beauty of the English translation and even more fully conveys the glory of this Gospel. It was incredible to be a part of something that will obviously mean so much more to the Indonesian saints.

But the end of that service project meant the end of our companionship, and with weary eyes and full hearts we watched Sister Katam climb into the car and off and away. She cried! I've never seen her cry. It was an oddly stunning moment for me, realizing that we'd managed to become friends sweet enough to feel pain at parting—in the course of only six weeks, with the language barrier to boot. I'm very glad she's going home to Malang, one of the few cities where Sisters can serve here, and so that absolutely wasn't any sort of final goodbye. 

Still sad. And nothing could have prepared me for what came next, either. Presiden, thus far, had only waved us away when we pestered him about new companionships. “Belum,”he'd say. “Tunggu wahyu saya.” Not yet. Await my revelation. Which, I will add, was always said with a cheeky smile that makes me quite sure there was no such divine direction—an assumption cemented in fact once I heard the verdict. Just as we were about to turn home, he called me over to reassign me to . . . Sister Lie?

Sister Lie. As in just arrived from Solo, a brand-new missionary of barely 24 hours. And brand-new here is a little different from our brand new there—the newbies in Indo haven't been to the MTC yet, either. There are only a certain number of slots available all year round, so Sister Lie won't head to the Phillipines until November, which means that for the next three weeks, I'm officially a Trainer.

Meaning: maybe Presiden is a little insane. Or a lot insane. Maybe both. I've been here six weeks, not six months—and besides not knowing the language well enough for the task, Sister Lie hasn't learned the lessons to teach, either, so we're something of a sorry pair. Not that she's anything terrible—heavens no. We get along really well, and she's a talker with a capital T so there's never want for conversation and in these last few days my Indonesian has taken a definite upswing (she also knows absolutely no English). But I'll admit, I totally panicked. To be honest, I've had a pretty hard time with Presiden Marchant since the beginning, and this just kind of compounded a lot of anxiety/annoyance/uncharitability (word?) in me and it took a real crash-course in prayer and faith to get me through it. In the end, we JakSel Sisters banded together in a glorious display of our combined intelligence and sympathy and pulled off a plan that has this week worked really well: whenever I have an appointment, I split with Mongan or Sumarno (so we have someone who can actually teach the lesson), and whenever one of them has an appointment, Sister Lie goes with them to learn the ropes. Anything else and it's up to me—which means those notes I've been scribbling this last little while have really come in handy. 

So it's an adventure (as if it's ever not) and things are picking up speed, if only slightly; days literally feel like years but looking back at the last seven weeks I feel tricked as to the passage of time. Especially when things start to go really well, it's all I can do to keep up with the month and date. October? Almost over? Soon enough the next round of American Sisters (and last, for awhile, actually) will be here and we'll no longer be the newbies. 

Blast. I'm on a computer with a timer this week and it's quite the race. What else? Oh. Monday. The Best Day of My Mission Ever So Far.

So the very first week we were in Jakarta, Sister Lily and I met Sister Orton in the English Branch, an expat who's been here for eight years now and was ecstatic to finally have Sisters in the Branch. She had friends, she said, and she wanted us to teach them. We called Presiden right away and he okayed the split and there was much rejoicing as SisLily and I reveled in the chance to teach together again (we're quite the power team, if we do say so ourselves. *ahem*). But Sister Orton's friends were out of town, and then Presiden had one of his wahyu-wahyu, and SisLily was swept away to Malang and so when it all finally worked out, it was me and Sister Mongan at the dinner table, sharing the message of the Restoration with a lovely little family of three.

They're Indonesian, but speak excellent English; Sister Orton met the mother (Patricia) at a Bazaar a few years ago and now helps her sell her jewelry in the USA through a daughter in Texas. The father (Ek) is a Vice-Principal at what they call a Dual-Language private school here in Jakarta, and their wee daughter Alene (barely three years old) greeted us both with the dip of a curtsy and the politest English hello. It was an incredibly casual affair—they’d mentioned to SisOrton that they wanted to know more about the Mormons and so we simply discussed Doctrine over chicken enchiladas (an added blessing of the evening—oh, Mexican food!) while also talking about life and family in general. And family, this is how real missionary work is done. 

The Ortons really led the way, talking like the old friends they are but standing firm in Gospel principles (as Lutherans, the family had a hard time accepting that Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are separate beings). Sister Mongan was on fire, giving all the right answers in all the right ways in beautiful Indonesian that I followed wonderfully, nearly every word. By the end of our two hours together, we'd become friends, had a fulfilling conversation with a side of actual ice cream for dessert, and a return appointment plus the promise of Church on Sunday and that they'd for sure read the Kitab Mormon and pray, too. I can't quite contain what this all means in the space of an email and especially in the sad writing I manage to spit out under a time constraint, but suffice it to say: this is a miracle in the history of missionary work as far as Indonesia's concerned. But here's the thing: we were just doing exactly what all the prophets and apostles and MiK and MTC teachers have taught us over and over again: members. Members are the key to missionary work. 

Oh, you should have seen us in the taxi home. I was talking a mile a minute—me! talking! Like crazy! In Indonesian, too! Laughing for no other reason than that we were happy. It was a real feeling of strength and testimony, the boost and blessing I needed after having a rather rough time of it only the day before. In that hour's drive home, I watched the Jakarta streets rise and fall outside my window with the strangest feeling at the sight: I didn't want to leave. 

And of course there will be more trials. There will be more days where I cry, where the smallest touch of color or the most obvious cultural gap will hit me right where it hurts most and I'll long for home all over again. But for right now, today, this week, this month: it's okay. And it will always (happy, happy Hope!) get better.

I am sorry that I have reached no answers to your many questions in this somewhat lengthy email, but I have only a few seconds left and I've got to use them to print out your emails so that I eventually can get to the answers. I'm getting better at managing my letter time, so hopefully I'll be sending another envelope your way soon. Until then,


Sister E.

14 October 2009

There are four little children in this internet cubicle with me, watching the crazy bule type. It's more than a little distracting. But also terribly cute.


I am in way over my head.

I was feeling somewhat more confident last night, as I lay on my little mattress awaiting sleep, running through the happenings of a Tuesday in Jakarta and imagining what a Wednesday might bring. I'd just said my prayers, and in that sweet half hour of silence undimmed by the purr of our little fan (broken in two places and still struggles valiantly on), I just waited, and listened. And the thought that came was this: start taking notes. Know places and people and bus stops and phone numbers, because life's about to get a little harder. 

Funny how that works.

Presiden called this morning, with the “revelation” that Sister Katam is going to spend her last three weeks of mission in Bandung. As in, she's moving. Saturday. My senior companion and trainer, off and away just like that. Which means a few things: one, I'll have a new companion. Two, I’ll be the one that “knows” Jakarta and therefore holds the authority in where we're going and what we're doing and who we're seeing. Three, I’m going to be here for a while.

Part of me might be a little upset about that, but most of me knows it's a major blessing that I'll praise later—everyone says Jakarta's the hardest place to serve in Indonesia, and if I spend my first 4-6 months here, I'll never have to come back. And I can spend Christmas at Senopati. And keep teaching the children's English Class. And have FHE with Ibu Astuti. And know exactly where to find the most top-notch bebek goreng in Tebet.

Still. I was really set on finishing out these last three weeks with Sister Katam. Change is never what you think it will be, is it?

So that's the news from today, and here's the quick list from the week:

Spent all Saturday (9 am to 11 pm) at the Church, along with every other missionary from Java Barat and members from all over the Jakarta region. School supplies for children in Padang finally arrived late the night before, so we were set to work first thing pulling together backpacks and pencil cases and erasers and rulers and 14 hours later we had filled 12,000 backpacks and 5 trucks for the cause. It was a beautifully long day, full of good, hard, work and the end result of feeling like we'd finally done something quantifiable here. Plus, I made some good friends from Bekasi, and we sang while we worked. Lovely.

Monday morning got to talk with Sister Lily! Her companion called our house to get a number from Sister Mongan, so we had a few minutes to catch up beyond our weekly letters (I know, we're very nearly pathetic). That was quite lovely, too.

Yesterday taught a lesson, huzzah! Would write more but this computer has now died a total of four times and my patience is wearing thin along with the remaining time allotted. Am going to try to send photos again, too, so this is it for now.

Love you. Always.


07 October 2009

You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)*

*I introduced the Indo sisters to Josh Groban this week. They can't get enough of it, and I certainly love waking up to Sister Sumarno singing in the lilt of her English “when your heart's heavy, I, I will lift it for you . . .”

Dear Family,

Would you believe me if I only said that there's not much to say? Because I've been sitting here in front of this blinking screen for a good five minutes now, at a loss for words. The week's flown fast, today's been a blur . . . I don't know where to start or what to hold onto for any sort of stepping stone into what this email should be. A list, maybe? I'm in no place for transitions at this point, especially as there weren't any landmark experiences to pass on as far as these last few days have gone.

+  First SisLily, then Greenwell too. Secretly the Sisters think it's because we (Greenwell + I) get along so well and can't help but talk up entire hours when we're together, but logistically it all made sense, too. So yesterday it was off to Yogya.

+  Which meant it was me and Nixon this morning at the basketball court, the last of our original Fellowship. Glad to have him around still—it’s funny how the smallest touch of the familiar adds much to your comfort. This morning (we met up with the JakRaya Elders for kasti (I couldn't explain it even if I tried; a sort of baseball-ish game?) at the church, and then stayed for a round of half-court basketball, too) Elder Nixon grabbed Elder Hartanto at the waist and threw him over his shoulder as his way of tagging him at second base. The Indonesians just eat it up—I may be Sister Barbie, but he's The Hulk. Far more cool, I assure you.

+  Plus Meek's still close by, and we'll meet up this weekend and next, first for General Conference (I'm looking forward to Elder Holland—as always—from all the rave reviews I found in my inbox today) and then for an October 17th gathering of Indonesian saints in a renewed effort to translate the Book of Mormon into Indonesian. The current translation isn't so much spectacular as somewhat haphazard, and from what I understand we're going to spend a full 24 hours next weekend in our JakSel cultural hall, running editing checks while the natives switch out vocabulary and grammar. Still, I don't really know entirely what's going on or what exactly to expect, so I'll wait that one out and fill you in when it's all actually happened.

+  In other news, every appointment but one in the last six days has fallen through. Oh, Indonesia. Much of missionary work, so far at least, has been just a lot of waiting.

+  Which is really not helping as far as the whole homesickness thing goes. More time to wait = more time to think. And a good 90% of those times, my thoughts are always directed to you. Last Thursday was a low point for me (as (ahem) was evidenced quite clearly in my emails), and though it has gotten better since then, I've experienced enough of these swings in the last few months to know that wasn't the last of them. Still, I feel like maybe I should explain myself more fully, as apparently my letter to Naomi still hasn't arrived:

It's not Indonesia. It's not the people, it's not the places, it's not the language or the food or the heat. I adapted quite quickly to this country; it is very easy to find things to love, to appreciate the sights and sounds, the smells and tastes, to immerse yourself in this culture that's nearly exactly upside-down and opposite from the one I lived at home. It took me all of one day to take to the native cuisine, a weekend after that to adjust to the smells that switch up on you from sewage to simmering curries in a matter of steps and seconds. One week more and I got all the directions down, how to cross the streets and flag down a Metro Mini or navigate busway. I can bargain for a bajai, pick out a papaya, sing along to the summer's pop hit whenever Vierra's voice hits the station speakers. I get along like best buddies at a Beehive Camp with the other Indo sisters, inside jokes and secrets included. And there's nothing I love more than a muezzin's call in the setting of an orange sun.

I could live in Indonesia for another fourteen months, no worries.

Whether I can handle another fourteen months of missionary work in Indonesia is what gets my mood spiraling downwards, my heart heavy and spirit flagging. There is very little progress by way of Restored Gospel here, which actually wouldn't bother me so much if only we could do so much more. In a mission that “proselytes” like we do, we desperately need more to fill up our day—we need appointments to go to and projects to work on to keep us constantly busy, or else it's just a lot of wandering in one of the world's craziest, sprawling cities. I wish daily for more opportunities to serve, ways to reach out and do. Other missionaries assure me this is just Jakarta, that the capital's the toughest assignment here, but I don't want to work that way. Maybe I agree with them, but I also feel like we should be able to overcome that. I've just . . . got to think of something, and quick, or it's all cabin-fever from here on out. 

I have, at least, been able to fulfill a part of my assignment here in JakSel. Presiden made it clear in my first interview here that a major part of mission in Indonesia is within our companionships, the strength and testimony we can give our native companions in the short time we share together. Many of them are converts of only a few years now (Sister Katam included), come from backgrounds we can only faintly imagine, and helping them pick up some English alone gives them a major head start for life after these 18 months here. This is something I can—and love—to do. I love spending time with the Sisters I'm currently serving with, and try to come up with new ways to grow closer and help out as often as I can, a crusade that transfers over to our member visits, too. I've said before that these are the hours I look forward to the most here, those lessons we share from the floor of a family's home, in the dim light of a single bulb overhead and the feeble relief of a corner fan. These are the days I feel like I'm doing real work, making real progress. There's hope in those homes. 

Lha, maaf—I’ve deviated into ramblings now, not quite sure where this is going or how it's going to end. Just please know that my emails of more desperate diction I write only because I know I can write to you in honesty, with the assurance that the reply will come only along the lines of that Church News snippet you sent me a while back: “Dear Elder, We don't miss you. Love, Mom.” Because there's no real thought here of turning back, of giving up, of stepping down. I love the people too much. I don't want to miss the places. I can't leave these Sisters. And I have yet to muster up the courage to take even the smallest bite of durian. So I'm here for the long run—which, actually (as every other return missionary, my dear companion, M in Brazil and Presiden himself has said) isn't so long after all. 

I love you. 

Sister E.

01 October 2009


This email, of course, was meant to be written yesterday. But that was before all power decided to die in our little corner of Tebet Jakarta Selatan, and so here we are on Thursday. I'm sorry for any panic that might have caused but no, I'm not buried under the rubble of earthquake or lost among the slums of the city. Hopefully a few photos will make up for it all.

My dear family:::

Our Golden Compass moment has arrived di luar biru, and SisLily is already moved to Malang. It happened so quickly, all in the space of 48 hours—the phone call, the general panic, the hurried packing and planning. There is a very real chance we won't ever see each other until the very last days of our mission, and while we've long known this day would come, the surprise that accompanied it was a little unexpected. We'd prepared for this, right? Apparently not enough—waving her taxi off yesterday morning was just as traumatic as leaving you all at the MTC. Luckily we had a good hour to practice Apparating after our morning run Tuesday, and when that didn't quite work out (perhaps Less Developed Magic accompanies a Less Developed Country?) we hurriedly made up a Portkey set to send us wherever the other one was within Indonesia. 

So here we are, the Breaking of the Fellowship—though there's some good to report, too, as one of our original members has returned. Elder Greenwell's been transferred to Jakarta Raya, which means a District Meeting every Friday with both him and Nixon in attendance. And though even two of them couldn't quite make up for SisLily's absence, I am glad to have Greenwell back. He's just a stellar missionary, a really top-notch thinker and good friend; having him around keeps me working hard, too.

In other news, the stress of separation manifested itself in me finally giving into temptation and cuddling a small kitten on my way home last night—though really it couldn't be helped. This particular cat has been following me around for days now, along the streets close to our home, very clearly without a mother or any siblings to speak of. And there he was, crying from a corner of the deserted play park, and there I was, secretly crying from the corners of my weak heart, and so there you go. Sister Katam was horrified, Sister Sumarno laughed and shook her head, and the wee little black thing shushed his mewlings and curled up in my cupped hands (yes, they are that small). And we took a few quiet minutes to mourn together before going our own separate ways, the kitten to his corner and I straight home and to the nearest hand sanitizer.

It was so worth it.

Also took all the Sisters to dinner in honor of my lovely Mother on the occasion of her birthday, which then actually turned into a farewell of sorts for Sister Lily as we'd just gotten the transfer call. Pictures to follow, though I haven't got those on CD yet. Just know that you are very loved and very appreciated, as we did this all in your name. Beautiful FHE, as well.

But Family! One month! Three months total! That's one-sixth of my mission (I've become very aware of fractions since becoming a missionary; I assume this mathematical inclination is temporary) and while part of me is rejoicing at the milestone, most of me knows it's only the beginning. I have moments, of course, where I can stop and honestly tell myself there's nothing I'd rather be doing, that I love the country, the people, the work and the language. But those are still only moments and I need to work harder for more of them. I'm sorry my emails haven't been the uplifting praises of most missionaries, that I haven't yet reached any solid way to write details about my investigators or contacts or more missionary experiences in general, but I  . . . I will have to work up to that. Bear with me while I grow.

Though this morning, I opened to Alma 39 to begin my Book of Mormon Study, where I found a note from SisLily, directing me to the New Testament. It's something of a tradition with the both of us, leaving post-its in hidden places to find at random—some funny, some serious, some downright ridiculous—and she must have snuck this one in before I woke up early yesterday to see her off. Romans 8:18, it said. And I'm holding to that.

love you, miss you. so. so. much.