25 November 2009



Selamat Malam and Happy Thanksgiving—an opportune opening for an email all about gratitude. There are just about a million new things to be grateful for, and you might want to hold onto your hearts here, because we're talking miracles. Lots of them:

One. (cue celebratory trumpet call) We have a baptism. Yes, we. As in, me and my companions. The first missionaries to have a baptism in all of West Java since July! We're pretty over the moon about it, but can't do so much rejoicing now as there's still a ways to go. Florentina's preparing to be baptized December 13th here in Jaksel, so we've got a few weeks yet of teaching and reviewing and growing to do. 

And now, who is Florentina, you may be asking? I've actually been teaching her from the beginning, starting with Sister Katam and even one lesson with Sister Sumarno, but she was out of town for almost three weeks in-between all that, and though we called, texted, etc., we never heard anything back and gave it up as a mystery. Then, di luar biru (that still doesn't work but I like to imagine Bro. Ross's squirmy face in the MTC), she woke us up last Thursday morning with a text that said she was back in the city and she wanted to meet us right there, right then. So we did (albeit a few hours later; we still had to finish up that service project), meeting her for an evening appointment at the Church, where I met her at the door and asked her if she'd been reading the Book of Mormon still, to which she replied, why yes, yes I have—and flipped open her copy of the Kitab Mormon to 2 Nefi 31. The entire chapter was underlined, noted, circled, cross-referenced . . . she pulled out the Restoration Pamphlet we'd given her months ago: same thing. “Can we continue to learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” she asked me. “The one where you said there were five principles I had to follow?” I waved her into the chapel, catching the look on Sis Mongan's face as she passed. Waduh, it said. Alhamdulillah.

We taught her Pelajaran Tiga that night, sharing scripture about Faith, Repentance, Baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost and (huzzah, my favorite) Enduring to the End as she scribbled away in her notebook, asking questions and exploring our answers and just basically approaching the Gospel like any A+ student in a top-notch University forum. We've never taught someone like this, someone so eager to know and understand, and I can really only express how much fun it was. It felt so good, seeing someone excited about it, wanting it, searching it out—plus it boosted our confidence to a level strong enough to extend the baptismal commitment, a question (Maukah anda mulai mempersiapkan diri anda sendiri untuk dibaptis?) that Florentina took only a second's silence to ponder before nodding to agree. “Mau,” she said. “Mau sekali.” I really love that the maukah questions aren't answered by a typical English yes-or-no but the Indonesian mau, which means “want.” 

And then there it was. A baptism. 

A baptism I won't actually get to see because (Two.) Tomorrow I leave for Bandung. 

Presiden called Saturday morning, and in that soaring innocence borne of So Much Happiness I didn't even dream that a call for me from Presiden himself could only mean a transfer. I was so set in my naïveté, actually, that I was honest-to-goodness rendered speechless. Me? Bandung? Impossible. There's still so much to do here in Jakarta, so many people to meet and serve and love and . . . maybe I cried a little bit—but not until I'd faked a cheery “Yes, sir” and said goodbye to Presiden first. 

I mean, here's the thing: I am in equal parts both sad and excited about the change. For one, I'm finally getting out of Jakarta and seeing the Real Indonesia, taking a three hour train up into the mountains and to Java's fourth largest city set against tea plantations and Art Deco downtown. Travel books will tell you that Bandung was once called the Paris of Java (though today their claim to fame is factory outlet shopping and a twenty-meter plaster cast of King Kong on the main shopping sprawl), that the city is still deeply immersed in the native Sunda culture, that there and there alone you find the most stunning mountainous vistas in all of Indonesia. So, excited? Pasti. But to transfer to Bandung means to leave Jakarta, and maybe leave Jakarta for good. I've served three months here, and in the usual pattern of things that means I've spent enough time in the capital to never have to come back. And despite the traffic (it took me two hours to get to the warnet tonight), despite the urban grunge, despite the lack of any really green, living thing . . . well, I'm going to miss it. I learned here, I grew here, I became here. And while there's certainly a lot more of that yet to come, wherever I may be, Jakarta will still be the first. 

But Bandung will be second, and I'm up for the challenge—because “challenge” is indeed the word to use here. I have two theories about this transfer: one, that Presiden has decided I'm just as much a problem as Sisters Atmi, Christenson, and Sodjo, and so he might as well contain all the crazy sisters in one city as to not cause trouble elsewhere or, two, Presiden thinks I've worked out strength enough here in Jakarta to jump into some serious Rehabilitation Work come tomorrow, giving me the three most trying Sisters in the mission to work with in the most trying branch in all of Java. Oh yes, huzzah, Bandung has some seriously not-so-good connotations around here—but whatever above theory turns out to be true, I'm determined to live up to the latter, because I'm ready and wanting to help. 

So tomorrow to Bandung, just after three. All of Java Barat meets up at Senopati for Thanksgiving Lunch. Presiden's still in Bali and left the Millecams in charge, so we've planned quite the party. I'll tell you all about it next week.

Okay, two minutes more and I'm out: Baptism, Bandung, . . . I feel like there was more (I mean, of course there is, but when is there not?). I guess this will have to do for now; I'm so glad all the letters got there safe and (somewhat) sound—-I just sent two more today, so here's to hoping for another quick flight across the sea. I love you, dearly, dearly. I miss you so very muchly. And yet time's simply flying and sebentar lagi we'll all be together again, a true Thanksgiving. 


Sister E.

p.s. Today I got interviewed by the Church for a documentary they're making about the history of the Church in Indonesia. Only to be distributed here, but still, I answered 5/6 questions all in Indonesian, so that was happy.

p.p.s. Talked to SisLily yesterday. She says hello and love to all.

18 November 2009

Lagi Lagu Senang.

So remember last week, when my email was a little rushed and a tiny bit ruined by some strange ADD adrenaline running through me coupled with a real inability to express myself at all? Yes. Add that to list of Migraine Symptoms, 'cause that all prefaced a major one. Three days out, my head raging against all medicinal help and my body confined to long stretches of sleep. On the plus side, one of those days was spent in a bed at Senopati—a real bed!—so despite the throbbing pain and semi-consciousness, I really couldn't complain. 

Also on the plus sign: Revelation. 

See, I've had about a million headaches since arriving here, a ridiculous more amount than usual and migraines on the upswing. For the first few weeks, I attributed it to stress, but when the day-to-day dullish sort of pain (the kind you get used to and just decide to live through) really never left, I had to wonder. Sister Mongan was convinced it was the sambal, because I'm always ordering my nasi goreng pedas sekali, but I wasn't so sure. The pollution, maybe? The sun? At any rate, I had plenty of time to think about it this time around, and in my more lucid moments this weekend I was led to the light: MSG. It's in everything here. They use it like salt. That had to be it—and so far, I'm pretty sure it was. From that day on (so, like, okay, the last three days) I've been careful to order every dish tak mejin and it's worked! For the first time in nearly three months, no headache. Huzzah. I am cured.

Sorry. That really wasn't the most important thing to launch into and then spend ten minutes discussing when there's plenty more relevant sorts of news to relate. Like: The night before I was assigned to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting, my migraine cleared and I was able to actually prepare the ten minutes of thought on Ephesians 2:19-20 that Mas Gandhi had asked me to deliver. Blessings of the Gos-pel. Even so, by the time I stood up to speak on Sunday, my heart was running like a rabbit. But I admitted it right then and there at the pulpit, and Elder Supriyanto was sitting below me front and center to laugh out loud and then smile wildly like he always does, so I made it through and that was that. Plus, as I took my seat again on the stand, Elder Subandriyo turned full around in his chair from where he presided over the meeting and put up two thumbs while whispering with all the tact of a toddler “BAGUS SEKALI!” And since he is the single most shining reason I have faith in Indonesia, that felt really good. 

To add to the happiness? Indri showed up. Indri, who was all set to leave that very day.  I didn't see her smiling face until I was bearing my testimony, but that made it all the brighter. She was sandwiched between Elder Effi and Elder Allen on the back row, and afterwards pulled all three of us sisters into a big hug and told us she just wasn't ready to leave yet. She postponed her departure until next week, which means we have time enough to meet every single day until she leaves and cover every lesson point we possibly could in Indonesian before she gets in all again in English once she's made it to America. She truly is pure gold, this girl—and her progress has lit a fire in all of us this last week that's leading us onto greater heights.

Sunday night during planning we just decided that this was it; that there was no more time to pussyfoot around the truth, so careful for cultural sensitivity and religious affiliation—if ever there came the chance to bear our testimony, doggoneit, we were going to bear our testimony. Because we're not here just to bring people religion. We're here to bring them to Christ, to Christ through The Only True Church in This Entire World. And even though the prayer call's sounding just outside this little internet corner even as I type, that's not going to change our conviction, nor our dedication. 

And, because dad is right about everything, attitude is everything. This week, all three days of it, has been some sort of fantastic. Family. We've taught six lessons. That's six, as in SIX. In half a week, not one month entirely. We're visiting less actives, we're inviting former investigators to learn again, we're calling contacts from years' past until we get at least one to accept what we have to say. This mission's a seed-planting one for sure; but the glory of it is that even while we're planting seeds in this moment, we can turn back to check up on the small saplings that have begun to grow, nourish them again to grow up in righteousness, plantings of the Lord. It's working wonders. It's mighty miracles. 

Really, I've never ever had any week like it in all my life. We've been walking on sunshine amidst torrents of rain. Every night we drop onto our mattresses exhausted, the Spirit's power so full to overwhelming that it then lulls us to sleep. It's been luar biasa, this, and we're praying to keep it that way. 

Must run, as usual. Today's not actually our P-Day this week (we had another day of service today and we'll be back again tomorrow—the JakSel sisters are working with the Office Elders at a International Welfare convention thingy held at Hotel Gran Melia; we hand out headsets while the Elders translate the keynote speeches for each session. Wah, crazy. I'm determined to be able to do that a year from now) and we're emailing really late and have got to get home because we have an early sleep time tonight since we have to be up super early tomorrow and wow, I'm just rambling on all in one sentence so I'll stop here but I love you! I miss you! More than any silly little mark of exclamation could convey.

assalamu alaikum,
Sister E.

p.s. So rainy season's in full force, which I love, but combined with the too-chilled AC hotel lobby today and the palm trees ripped by wind just outside the wall of window, it literally felt like winter was on its way. Strange, strange shock, to walk back outside for the first time since early morning and find it still humid, hot, and nowhere near snow. I was very tricked by it. And quite miss the Seasons.

p.p.s. Here is an Indonesian word I like: nyong. It's like a term of affection, a title you can use to get a good friend's attention or explain thanks/love—like, “Makasih, nyong” It's got such beautiful sound to it. One of those things I know I won't be able to shake for the rest of my life.

p.p.p.s. The Elders tried to get me to help translate today. Ha, very funny. Except that Elder Supriyanto was totally serious. “Sister! You already know Indonesian! You can do it, I saw you speak on Sunday!” Because those were gospel words, Elder. Not international economics/development/governmental policy. Plus, when I'm put under any kind of pressure I break a little, suddenly stupid. Oh, it's such a long ways to go! Some days I think, Hey! This is such a trick! I'm speaking a foreign language like it's my own! And then other days it's more like Hmm, yes. Indonesian. Doesn't that go something like “Selamat Pagi,” or something? Followed by frustration because I kind of want more than anything to be able to really speak this language I love so I can really communicate with the people I love.

p.p.p.p.s. Shoot. Didn't follow up on Sister Lilis and her family from the photo last week. Next time. If you remind me again. Maaf. (See?! Another fabulous word! I mean, when has maaf never been a part of my life?)

11 November 2009

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah.


So I'm kind of in love with Indonesia. Like skipping up the street, singing in the rain, I-don't-care-who-knows-it in love with Indonesia. Last night I was walking home with Sister Mongan, the streets glittering with what little light penetrates the dark here to catch a reflection in the residue of recent rain, families gathered on front porches and curbsides to share food or newspapers or stories, the air crisp and clean after a storm . . . we were singing Primary Songs in Indo and I never wanted it to end. And maybe it was because I saw a particularly dashing vintage Peter Pan illustration at the Mal yesterday, but I was feeling a little bit NeverNeverland. A little Lost Boys, a little full of flight, a little made of magic. Lately, it's all I can do to stop smiling.

And this is all still in Jakarta, mind you. I had four days with Sister Sumarno before she was transferred to Bandung with Sister Atmi and then it was just me, Mongan, Christensen and the new sisters to stay in JakSel. More Americans by a long run, and it's making me dizzy. When Presiden gave us the verdict last Saturday, I was a little up in arms about the imbalance. How dare he take my Indonesians away from me! But then it was all okay because I just decided I'll become Indonesian in Sister Sumarno's place and we'll be halfway back to well. And I already like sambal and Bahasa Jawa, so it was a logical step anyway.

So now it's me, Mongan, and Hewlett in a trio, which has been some real fun and some real (relative) success these past few days. I'm going to have to cut a lot of corners here as I only have five legitimate minutes left of emailing (stretch it to fifteen . . .), but here's the gist:

We have a progressive investigator. And not just progressive, but maybe golden. Sister Sumarno and I met her at the mall with Sister Lily ages ago, and just in the last two weeks she started calling again, and has wanted to meet with us everyday since. Her name's Indri, she's 25, intelligent and educated and curious and thoughtful and yesterday testified to us that the Book of Mormon was true. We'd taught her about the Plan of Salvation, a lesson that went down in my journal as the best one yet since that first one with Pak Luther, and afterwards we're asking how she's feeling, if there are any questions, etc., and she sat still for a moment, gathering her thoughts together, one hand on the Bible open on her left knee, and the other on the Book of Mormon to her right. “It's true,” she said. “It just. Makes. Sense.”

Cue the Hallelujah chorus. You have no idea how amazing it felt to finally teach someone who could put the pieces together and see not only how they made a picture as a whole, but how they fit right into their personal picture, too. With that initial opener, she then went on to say how incredible she felt to hear that families can be together forever, that there was a life before this one and that there's a life after it, too. She said how she called us because she knew something was missing in her life, but she felt whole whenever she was with us. She told us how she'd gone home after her first lesson with us and called up her sister, telling her about this new scripture she just had to read. 

The catch? She's moving. And yeah, we've already sent in the referral, but it's going all the way to America. Because she's off to law school in South Carolina on Sunday.

Still. Investigator. Glory, glory hallelujah.

And now it's a storm to beat anything I've yet to see here, and we've got to go back out into it. I'm sorry there's not more story and substance here, but I've felt a real disconnect in my thoughts since I sat down to the computer an hour ago and it's just not working like I want it to and (as usual) there's just far too much to say. The basics: happy and hopeful. Love Sister Mongan. Sister Hewlett a welcome, witty addition to the companionship. Rainy Season = win. As always, heart the members most. 

Kind of never want to leave right now.

love you.

Sister E.

p.s. I can speak Indonesian! Crazy talk. I love it. And love you. Always.

04 November 2009


Keluargaku yang terkasih,

I'm just going to let you know from the get-go that I have yet to read a single email of yours this week—nor will I until I return home later tonight, and revel in the printed version for the quiet hour before bed. It's not because I don't love you, it's not because I don't need you; it's because the last seven days were Splendid + Extraordinary, and I plan to do them justice even with only an hour to write.

And yet even that needs another disclaimer: please do not expect anything especially spiritual in the following paragraphs. My adventures of late have not been so heavenly and I'm about to rattle on about baby tigers and cowboy shows.

Yep. You heard that right. I have officially fulfilled any dream I could have ever dreamt and today, this very day, spent the morning in company of wee leopards and lions, plus an orangutan and a particularly saliva-blessed zebra. Taman Safari Indonesia, family! Put it in your planners, because this is one thing I can't exaggerate: this little gem just outside Bogor is the Best Zoo in All the World. 

Plus, it was all a secret. Sisters Trip. Elders in the dark. We meet up with Millecams and Reebers (the other mission couple assigned to Jak) in the church parking lot at eight and got out of there as quick as we could, escaping to the mountains in the black mission vans with the angel Moroni trumpeting from the back window. The drive alone was worth it—Indonesia! It is green! It is beautiful! There is life outside the capital!—but the Safari itself? Magical. First you pay all of seven bucks for your entire car to get through, passing about a hundred signs that warn you not to feed the animals, keep your windows closed, etc—and then promptly roll down all windows and pull out the box of carrots and bananas you've just bought in bulk at the pasar down the road. For the first hour it was just winding up through this wild jungle, feeding anything that came close enough. Which was just about everything—zebras, camels, antelope, strange-striped deer only found in Sumatra, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, the works. Oh, llamas. Those are so weird-looking. Anyway, we're just feeding these crazy animals, no big deal. Also hilarious because I'm the only one who would stick my arm out the window and offer a bunch of carrots or a banana, half-peeled. Indonesians are unbelievably frightable (word?), and my companions spent most of the ride squealing in the back seat. 

So there I am, living my PetVet Dream at new heights, when we arrive to the main concourse and the BABY PETTING ZOO. Which is where I commenced a bit of squealing, too because HAVE YOU EVER SEEN LITTLE BABY WILDCATS UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL?!? Sorry about the shouting. I'm still a little intensified; the five-year-old in me hasn't quite worn off yet. It deserves the capitalization, though, and I've got the pictures to prove it. Maybe we'll just leave it at that?

Except, real quick: favorite part of the whole wild ride: the elephants. I could've spent hours at the Plaza Gajah, feeling a friendly trunk wrap about my wrist or snuff against my back in search of more bananas. They're so beautiful, these giant works of nature, and so gentle—though that didn't stop all the Indos from their constant worry. “Jangan!” they kept shouting, shying from the beasts as I reached up to wrap my arm around a neck. “Sister! Awas! Awas!” Bonus: Being called brave all day was a beautiful irony I more or less reveled in. When I sat with the mum panther, for example, a whole crowd of Indians had gathered to watch the spectacle (Team India!) and just kept saying over and over again, “So brave, so brave!” And I really loved to imagine them gathered about me on any other typical Indonesian day, as I hesitated to talk to the person next to me on a bus or angkot. Big cats? No problem. Actual missionary work? Still got a ways to go.

But I'll let the photos cover the rest of that experience, because now I've got to speed-type into the other highlights of recent living, the major moment being PLD (Zone Conference) this weekend.

It was bound to be good, seeing as we've been looking forward to it for weeks now. That first week we arrived was our last one, so on parting the five MTC originals were all handshakes and promises that we'd see each other at least by next PLD. Which turned out to be a little untrue—Greenwell and Lily have left us for the Solo PLD these days—but the reunion was no less joyous. Plus, it was only the beginning of a full weekend of gathering; our PLD coincided with District Conference for all of Jawa Barat, which meant we got a General Authority in the mix, too. 

Elder Kent D. Watson presided. Presided, uplifted, enlightened—the gist of his lessons and presence will have to wait for a letter (things on the more emotional side are never any good to explain in the rush of a time constraint). His wife was especially encouraging, and just the general atmosphere of the meeting was something I've missed for awhile; it was all the electricity of an MTC Sunday, with the added vivacity of being together as missionaries, as feeling some sort of unity in a country that constantly makes us feel the smallest drop of water in a tumbling storm. Within fifteen minutes of the opening prayer, I was feeling pretty good about life.

Until it came to talks—every PLD the message goes out from Presiden what the topic will be (usually you can choose from 3-5 principles of MiK) and we're expected to prepare a three minute ceramah just in case it's our name called from the pulpit. That's the way it's presented on the program, too: Ceramah . . . . Mungkin Anda (Talk . . . Maybe You). And wouldn't you know it, by an inspired process of revelation known only to a GA, Elder Watson pulled my name out of his pocket. Mine, Elder Sutarno's, and Elder Meek's. 

Which was okay, because I was prepared! Two pages written out in neat Indonesian script so I wouldn't miss a syllable of pronunciation, with clear references to the scriptures I would include if asked to speak on Hope. Except that Elder Watson, as the power and authority at the meeting, put a new spin on things: If you had been serving longer than a year, you had to use your second language. So Indos in English and Americans in Indo. But, if you had been here less than a year, you would share your thoughts in your mother tongue. 

And there went my talk. 

Because, given that I'd prepared it in Indonesian, it was a lot more simple than I would have kept it to had I been given the chance to speak in English. And there I was, given the chance. Luckily Elder Sutarno took the stand before me (delivering an address on Charity in fluid English, I might add), and by the time Meek got up to go next, I'd arranged enough of my thought into a somewhat workable outline that allowed me to listen to my former DL in relative peace.

It was classic Meek, very simple and balanced but powerful to every point. And I couldn't help but smile; he'd chosen Hope, too. When I got up to follow him, I mentioned that we were definitely on the same wavelength still, as these last two months have been something of a crash-course in the principle. And then I just talked. For exactly three minutes, managing to say all I needed to say and, in a true manifestation of the Spirit, saying it the way I wanted it said. It was a really good experience for me, realizing that I have changed these past four months, that an assignment that would usually mean excruciating hours working every last word to perfection and then read from the pulpit had become an easier thing for me, a rush, even. I didn't do it all on my own, of course, but it was still the push I needed to feel a little more the strength I've slowly cultivated since arriving in the MTC only four months ago. And afterwards Presiden pulled me aside and thanked me and shook my hand with more feeling than any interview I've ever had with him, and that felt good, too.

Right. So if that's not enough, the rest of the PLD was super stellar, and then the very next day we all got to meet again with the Jakarta saints and then as missionaries at Senopati for a Halloween dinner, that ended in us singing Called to Serve in the loudest chorus we could muster, all thirty crammed about the piano where Elder Lewis pounded the keys with little attention to any musical marks other than Forte all around. Sunday we taxied to Senayin, where the saints of West Java filled an entire conference room full with hymn and prayer and the little Primary choir that started it all was enough to break your heart and bind it up all over again. Joy, so much joy. It was the soaring high we all needed—numbers are lower than I would even want to tell you and it's only a sight like Saints that could overcome it. 

Which leaves me to my last magical moment, which I should have mentioned first: Noah said hi! Third-hand, but one of those bright little miracles all the same. I walked into PLD on Friday and Elder Beus practically ran to meet me. “Do you have a friend in Taiwan?” he asked, and I looked confused. “An Elder Kerchi—Kerzow—” “Kershisnik?” I offered, not imagining it could be right. “Yes!” he said, snapping his fingers in connection. “He says hi.”

Turns out Elder Beus' businessman dad ran into Knoah at the airport, just a few hours from his arrival in Hong Kong. Can this be included under the tender mercies folder? Because it certainly had that bright-eye, light-step effect on me.

I've got to sign off on this epistle if I'm ever going to get to pictures and a few more quick answers, too. Apologize for all the ADD. Love you. More than wee lions and a sea lion show, plus a hungry hippo.

Sister E.