30 December 2009

Tujuan Kita T'lah Pasti.


Do you ever feel, when you're reading scripture, that you just want more? Especially in Ether, when you spin through centuries of Jaredite history in just a few verses of Moroni's abridgement, or Nephi pulls one of his "And it came to pass I saw the single most amazing, incredible, beyond your wildest dreams of a vision ever yet revealed and—-oh, sorry. Can't tell you that quite yet." And you kind of sigh, and imagine for a moment, and then write across your heart the promise to read every word of God ever revealed front to back and forwards again the minute it's all revealed—while tossing the month's unread Liahona/Ensign among the broken power cord and last year's White Pages and postponing your next scripture study for the next day.

Or I don't know. Maybe that's just me. At any rate, I'll give you the moral of the story before I even begin: there is always more. Because as members of the living Church of the living God, His word is given to us in very nearly daily doses through a living prophet—and then it's up to us to apply it in our own lives so that we become living ourselves.

That's what I've learned these past few days, after Saturday morning's phone call (Alhamdullilah! I love you.) spurred me onto some sort of premature spring cleaning spree here in Bandung. I started in the bedroom, scrubbed out the kitchen, and had just started in on the study room when I found in the corner a cardboard box just wide enough to fit a magazine and deep enough to hold a good hundred of them—which it did. A hundred, if not slightly more, Ensigns, New Eras, Liahonas . . . all in English. Christmas, indeed.

So for the next little while I sat cross-legged on the cold tile, sorting through the stack of them all, organizing them into piles of usefulness (as far as outside appearance goes, of course; they'd been there for a while and most were battered beyond repair) until I had a sizeable group of them just tall enough to fit at my bedside, which has gotten shorter and shorter with the week as I read each one cover to cover and then dive right into the next.

At times, this has been a stupidly painful process to put me through—turn a page and there's the Sharp family! Lindsey Brinton sitting pretty in pink on a front cover. A Kershisnik in full color. Susan Tanner eats cheese toast. You know, the little parts of my heart that leap up at me in odd places. But for the most part, it's been akin to . . . oh, I don't know . . . Malachi 3:10? Windows of heaven opening, and all that. Wisdom, counsel, comfort, Truth, words of prophets directed by God; I realize this shouldn't be so much of a revelation but up until this moment in my life I've never been so in awe of the resources available to us. Here we are, and Life is Hard. But then God goes and gives us a million ways to make it all the easier. I read stories from members all over the world, their faith strengthening mine. I read an article from a former sister missionary and didn't feel so alone. I read talks from Apostles that answered the very questions I'd just been asking. I read words from Prophets that spoke directly to my soul.

I read about Ruth May Fox. A British girl who crossed the plains as a teenager, a mother of twelve and champion of Woman's Suffrage. A woman called to serve as YWs president at age 75 and then lived to be 104. The poetess who penned the marching hymn "Carry On!"

I wanted to be more like her.

Then I read an article from Elder Holland on the progression of Eternal Self and the eons that shape our personality and realised I could.

In Indonesia, the Saints are fond of a hymn called Kita Maju Ke Kemuliaan—our "We Are Marching on to Glory." What is this little gem of a verse I don't ever remember hearing at home? Here they sing it like we sing I Am A Child of God; from Primary to Priesthood, they all know it by heart. And I've come to love it, too; though it's meant to be sung at a marching clip, they play it slightly slower here and the words are given this grateful gravity to them that fills me fuller with each new note. It's such a sure song, a bright song, a knowing song—that makes me want to do. Kita maju 'tuk kembali, the chorus reads, ke tanah yang suci. Tujuan kita t'lah pasti: Hidup yang abadi. We're marching to return to holy land, our purpose already sure: eternal and everlasting life. It's easy to put life back into perspective, when you see it like that. We are the lucky ones; we know where we came from, we know what we're doing here, and we know where we're headed. Our purpose is already sure. So why am I so easily beset by distraction, by weakness, by the ways of the world? With a message like the one we wave from our banner, there should be no need to deviate from our marching course. I've been thinking over this for these last few days, the memorized verses tumbling about in my head, and I've decided it's the chorus that I'll sing to greet 2010. I really want to change. I really want to grow. I really, really want to become. And these are new year resolutions I don't want to break. So, as the Indonesians would say, Ayo! It's time to march straight on into the light—even if that does mean walking, stumbling, on these shadowfeet. The secret is: we can (and should) lean on Him all the way.

maju, terus maju.
I love you.

p.s. If Kemuliaan's my anthem, Ruth May's my conductor—she even inspired me to doodle a bit, too. Read up on her if you can! And sorry this is only a photocopy; the original's already long on it's way to Hong Kong (trade art for art, you see—at what point do you think this arrangement will work for an original oil painting a full wall high?)

Sister Atmi's been teaching me Cantonese. And now calls me "Ma" like they do in HK, which comes out like a short bark more akin to a distressed goose than a small child needing her mum. It makes us both laugh every time.

President did come with the package today, but I haven't opened it yet because right after moving in my new desk (huzzah, again!) he took us out to lunch and then to buy pineapples up on the mountain. But it did arrive safely and I'm sure I can thank you all in advance for the incredible depth and wisdom and love and humor and inspiration and encouragement that I am sure to find inside. You are truly, truly the best.

Also, I wrote you about Christmas and everything in a letter, which I put inside a package, which I shall mail sometime tomorrow along with SisLily's present to Malang. Just so you know.

Pres took us to Cafe Bali, which is this terribly expensive-looking little restaurant just a ways above our house that super swanky people are always walking towards and I always thought, "wow, that's so beyond anything we could ever experience" and then we go today and their prime steak dishes are maybe the equivalent of USD 4. The incredible jump between have and have-not continues to astound—astound—me.

Not a lot has happened here since we last talked (ha! we talked!), so . . . yep. That's it.
Love you.

23 December 2009

Satu Kesaksian Lagi.

keluargaku yang terkasih,

In just two days plus a few odd hours we will be talking voice-to-voice across oceans! Though I am sure even the few hours we have to talk won't possibly be enough time to cover the smallest news we have to share, I'm going to bet it will be enough to at least cover this last week and so focus this email on only one recent experience that I think might be all the more better for the writing of it than merely retelling (I've always been a sad sort of out-loud story-smith, anyway).

I have yet to tell you much about Bandung other than that it is lovely and of good-report and praiseworthy; I am still a bit in love with the tree-lined avenues and daily rain, so my original review remains the same. What I've failed to tell you is that Bandung deserves the same praises Church-wise—the chapel is a beautiful little building nestled among tidy greenery in a peaceful corner of the city, the members (though few) are close-knit and welcoming, and our Sunday meetings are Spirit-filled and sanctifying, a true gathering of Saints. And yet even after all that, the
Cabang Bandung has got an even greater claim to fame: Bandung was the first ever branch of the Gereja Yesus Kristus Dari Orang-Orang Suci Zaman Akhir in Indonesia; the first branch, the first chapel, the first congregation. This little branch is the mustard seed, the miracle, and last Friday I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with the man who had the faith to begin it all: Brother Bambang, the first member in all of Indonesia.

Sister Atmi and I visited him in his home that afternoon to share a Christmas message; age has now slowed his health and altogether diminished his physical ability to make the weekly trip to Church and so we were his Sacrament Meeting substitute. It was the first time I'd met the man, and I liked him from the very beginning—though it took him quite some time to reach the door after our knocking, he swung it open wide to usher us into his little living space where he'd already prepared a plate of biscuits and two glasses of honeyed-water for the occasion. He was in pajamas (a classic British cut) and barefooted, his white hair carefully combed behind his ears and his eyes magnified three times too big behind bifocals in thick, black rims. The image of it all alone could have sold me, but it's what he said that made it real.

For the first half hour it was simply the lesson we came prepared with and the usual conversation. He told us about his early life, meeting the missionaries, his miraculous conversion (which I will relate more fully when time allows) and, pulling a photo album off an obviously sacred shelf in his small library, the time he was invited to Salt Lake City for the 1976 April General Conference—and to meet President Spencer W. Kimball. He passed the album to us as he spoke, recalling every detail from what he was wearing to the time on the clock to the pattern on Sister Kimball's blouse, each sentence told ever-so slowly but at the strongest register his voice could muster. He remembered arriving at the airport, greeted by an Apostle. He remembered his first moment in the office of a prophet, when President Kimball stood up as he entered the room and announced "Brother Bambang. You are a wonderful person, and I love you."

He did not have to testify then of a living prophet, of a priesthood restored or latter-day scripture; we felt it all throughout the room. He said those words twice more, obviously feeling again the magnitude of that moment so long ago. "You are a wonderful person, and I love you."

He then resumed the retelling, commenting on the talks given that conference and the time he had to spend with the Elders (now husbands and fathers) that had baptized him, and then closed with his final meeting with the Prophet, just as he was about to return home. "Here is what President Kimball told me, all those years ago," he said, voice wavering. "'The Church is True, all over the world,' he said." There was a long pause as the Spirit confirmed the testimony he repeated, and then he began again, this time looking us both in the eyes with a new solidarity to his voice. "And to that I add: The Church is True, all over the world—even in Indonesia. It is true from Banda Aceh to Jayapura, and it cannot, cannot be destroyed."

I have to say, up until that moment I was having my doubts. Not about the Church, nor about the Restored Gospel, or any of the principles or doctrine that have been given us through divine revelation—never anywhere close. But about this work in Indonesia, I have wavered. I imagine there are those who, when hearing there's even a mission here in the world's most Muslim nation, react in much the same way that Ammon's countrymen did in Alma 26:23. I myself at times have smiled to hear the call to prayer sung from the minarets even as I walk the streets with Book of Mormon in hand, intent on convincing these people that there is a Christ; that He lives; that we, too, may live—in full joy and glory—if only we will turn to Him. There is something of a backwards feeling to it all, at times.

But no. There is no doubt, there is no fear—family, the Church is True, even in Indonesia. From Banda Aceh to Jayapura we will continue to preach and sing praises because even though we have no contacts, even though we have no investigators, even though we have no single person here yet interested in what we have to say, we are never alone. If there is one thing I have learned more entirely in these last six months of my mission it is this: Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the World, and what's more, He loves us. He knows us. He wants us happy. He wants us whole. And because this is not always immediately possible, He will be with us every smallest second of the way to that glory. I have felt Him here in this work, and what's more, I have felt Him here in my life—and I know He is constantly with, and watching over, yours. He is the reason this Church is true; because it is His Church, and it will march on ever onward from Palmyra to Pakistan, from Salt Lake City to Senegal and everywhere in between. Even in Indonesia.

I am grateful everyday and this Christmas especially that a Truth so incredible is mine; mine to keep—and mine to share.
Inilah kesaksianku: bahwa Dia hidup, dan selama Dia hidup saya akan menyanyi, memuji, berseru dengan sukacita terus. Gereja adalah benar, dan saya tahu bahwa Yesus Kristus sendiri adalah kepalanya. Bahwa kita hari ini dipimpin oleh nabi yang hidup, di bawah petunjuk Tuhan serta para-malaikatNya. Saya tahu bahwa karena Dia telah turun dibawah segala hal, kita semua dapat mengatasi segala hal. Dengan sepenuh hati saya merasa kebenaran ini, dan saya bersaksi mengenaninya.

Dia hidup! Dan Gereja ini, itu benar. Bahkan di Indonesia.

love and Christmas wishes,

Sister E.

09 December 2009

Notes from a Not-So-Small Island

I'm sick. Or Sister Atmi is. Or then it's Sumarno. Or then it's all of us together. Whatever the day, at least one of us is down and out, all with this weird sick stomach but not a flu thing that's made this week not really one enough to report. I very vaguely remember yesterday . . . something about cinnamon toast and I think we listened to Josh Groban's Noel. Monday I got a hair cut! But only a trim, so that's it for that news. Sunday I sat on the first row in Sacrament Meeting and sobbed through most of the testimonies but most especially the one where the first (and only, actually) counselor and his family stood all together at the pulpit to sing "Families Can Be Together Forever" on the two year anniversary of their only son's death to leukemia. And then went to Sunday School where there were flowers on the table and we read The Family: A Proclamation to the World (is that what it's called in English? I can't remember) and the light through the windows was like New Zealand winter and the Brother sitting behind me was teasing me like a Maori and up on the board someone had drawn a little flock of frolicking sheep and I don't know . . . it's just one thing after another these days.

I'm still a little sick (as in, I thought I was healthy enough to follow Sumarno around malls all day, but that kind of energy expended has quickly caught up with me and I'm ready to sleep like the dead right here, right now) so sentences aren't fully making sense right now, so I'll try a quick list and hope the photos make up for the rest of it.

1. Last week I left you in the hope that my English class at En-Hai would save my sorry state——that was an understatement. My two hours on a campus in a classroom setting with an eager cast of intelligent, willing students restored more than a sense of happiness to my soul; it was my month's manna. I felt more myself than I have for quite some time, refreshed and recharged by their questions and curiosity and tangible enthusiasm for education. I stayed long after I was supposed to, chatting in the courtyard with Ernest and Sandy in a workable mix of Indo and English while the (no joke, praises be) juggling club practiced under the jackfruit tree behind us. Knowing I get to go back tomorrow has kept me going through the more trying moments of this week, for sure. I just feel like I'm really doing something worthwhile there, making a difference, seeing actual progress—-and also, it's just something I can do. I rode the
angkot home last week in this overwhelmingly foreign sense of confidence. I'm relatively good at something again! I'm not entirely useless! I have a skill I can share!

2. Saturday I called
Presiden to ask permission to come to Jakarta this weekend for Florentina's baptism. He still hasn't replied. At first, it was an absolute no—-missionaries are asking to stay for baptisms all the time, and the whole island would go crazy if he allowed it—-but when I reasoned that I'd be coming to Jak Sunday night for the following morning Zone Conference and therefore miss the baptism by mere hours, he seemed to give a little. And told me he'd get back to me. . .

3. Today I sent letters from the post office and watched them ACTUALLY CERTIFY AND SORT THE LETTERS INTO OUTBOUND BOXES. I love Bandung.

4. Don't ever buy clothes in America ever again. There is absolutely no reason you should be paying even $25 for an Old Navy blouse when the outlets here have the exact same one for a mere three. Oh, and Marc Jacobs? Or maybe a little Dolce and Gabbana? Yes and yes, all at about 80% off the price you're paying over there. (Olivia, are you so sure you want to be in Paris next December?)

5. Today I passed a billboard sponsored by the Department for Bandungese that said something to the effect of "Let's be honest: who's looking out for Indonesian anyway?" Which basically captures the entire country's attitude to their adopted national language—-they've been speaking their own way for centuries, so why make the switch? Um, so I can understand, please. Today I got in the
angkot here and the guy next to be said Mau ke mana except it was in Sundanese so I didn't know what to say until Sumarno explained and then I was like "Oh, try Indonesian, I can understand that," but he shook his head and said "I only know a little" at which point I decided that I'd speak in English and he could reply in Sunda and we'd make just about as much sense as ever.

6. I bought a sweater (it's legitimately cold here sometimes, esp. at night).

7. Time is almost up and I still haven't replied individually. So I guess this is over and out, with the prayer that there will be more to say next week.
kukasihmu. selalu serta selamalamnya.


02 December 2009

Begin. End. Begin Again.


I write from Bandung, but not of Bandung; in a moment of inspiration I've decided to Follow the Prophet and make my every Monday night here as close to Family Home Evening as I can manage and forgo my journaling hour to instead write a real letter to you. Ya kan? I'm already a good few pages into this week's missive, then, and will write up right until Sunday so that you get a steady week's worth of thoughts, notes, and observations to be sent off the afternoon before I begin a new one (we have a set appointment at the post office every Monday afternoon to send our green letters to the Presiden). And unlike the dodgy post desk in Jakarta, Bandung boasts a real live Kantor Pos, complete with legit signage and corporate counters and everything! So there is room to hope that this might actually work out into a stable sort of system.

In that light, then, I fill you in on my last two days in Jakarta . . .

Thanksgiving morning we woke up pagi-pagi to a stunner of a storm, the deluge relentless and our morning soccer plans surely kaput. Still, I went forward putting on the last touches to Sis Mongan’s sneakers (she had the white canvas keds, I had the Sharpies. It was a wonderful sort of wedding) since she was determined to show them off anyway and we packed into a taxi for Senopati, me with my suitcases in tow. On arrival at the Office we found all the Elders had already left to brave the rain in a city walk—-I think more to escape from having to change into their batik than anything else—-and so all the American sisters went over to Elder & Sister Millecam’s to help decorate their Christmas tree while I and most the Indo sisters went out in the storm to search out our Elder counterparts, who we found just about halfway down the road from 115, completely satched and smiling. Therein commenced a somewhat epic round of photo-taking (Indonesians are so Asian. Oh, my word. The amount of pictures they deem necessary . . .), noteworthy in that I was the only white face among them. We took them in the middle of the road, along the river/sewer, in front of the mission home fence, on the porch bench . . . basically every step we took required another picture so that, with this exercise and the somewhat late hour I'd spent up the night before in order to have everything packed, by the time we took the last picture in front of the Millecam’s fish pond I walked one last step into their living room and fell right away and straight asleep there on the couch. It was, quite frankly, one of the better moments of the whole day. Pumpkin pies all set out on the table, Mariah Carey belting out the Christmas carols from a corner by the tree as Sister Hewlett hacked at a Martha Stewart magazine for paper ornament instructions and Sister Sumarno tied pink ribbon to whatever pine branch she could get a hold on. I think it was then that the homesick began, curled up on a real couch in a real home with a real Christmas tradition . . . I made it through that without crying, at least.

Then it was the actual Thanksgiving Dinner (Lunch), so I kept busy with honeyed ham and sweet yams and a so-happy homemade strawberry jam while Sister Hewlett filled me in on her friend's mission to the Dominican Republic, which definitely gave us a few things to be thankful about, and I taught Elder R a few more words in Italian and met Elder Bayodo who (sad day) took Elder Supriyanto’s place in the office since he transferred to Medan. I even kept up the composure through the next exercise, a round-the-table testimony meeting of what we were thankful for in our mission and why—-though Sister Mongan’s tears did tempt mine a bit, to be sure. Really, it was a lovely way to spend a holiday right up until the moment an afternoon movie was announced: October Sky.

Remember how American that movie is? How beautifully home of the free and the brave and rockets red glare that movie is? How it's also one of my heart's favorites and how the music speaks soaring eternities to my soul? Yes, that October Sky. I almost stopped myself right there in the beginning with the first blink of Sputnik, knowing this could do no good to the still-so-small strength I'd managed to build up for myself in the past three months, but once Jake Gyllenhall graced the silver screen I couldn't help it. I sat down. . . Would that I had run away.

That movie transported me. No one could have convinced me I was still in Indonesia, nobody. It was America! It was Fall! It was family and home . . . [and] I was floored. As the credits rolled I woke still dreaming, determined that I would turn to my left to find Daniel instead of Elder St., to look up and meet Olivia's eye instead of M's. No such luck. I guess we should have known the Holidays would be tough. But we should really also know rather well just how weak we really are (that much is made clear at least five times a day in the mission)

The next morning it took us five minutes to get from Orton's to Senopati—-the only traffic confined to the sidewalks as hundreds of Muslim pilgrims made their way to their respective Mosques for Idul Adha*, a hari raya or holiday. It was a holiday we'd been expecting all week, as soon as little farm plots were started popping up outside each neighborhood prayer house, a little like the way Christmas tree yards start appearing in the days before Thanksgiving except that these little stables were full of goats, a sign overhead declaring "Mosque ____ is ready to accept your sacrifices." Sister Orton refused to believe that the poor little darlings were all destined for death, but so goes the tradition and come that Friday morning, the sewers ran red. In your emails yesterday you mentioned sacrifice and while I really don't understand it as well as I should, or apply the principle of it to full advantage, I imagine that now I have a pretty good look into a more physical reality of that word and a few good experiences to share the next time I'm called to teach an Abraham and Isaac lesson——we arrived so early to Senopati that I got in on the trip to their mosque just around the corner, following the Elders to watch it all (no other Sisters wanted to see).

I was going to send photos along with this email, but the computer's not cooperating and maybe that's a sign to just let it go—-I don't find the blood too disturbing, but maybe I'm strangely desensitized? I don't know. At any rate, it was quite the send-off out of Jakarta. Just after the last of fourteen goats was dispatched (hm, euphemism) I had to race back to the office to catch our ride to Bandung, saying only a fleeting street-talk goodbye to Elder Supriyanto (he's taught me most of what I know and still laughs at me every time I slip it a "gituloh, ya kan?") and a see-you-soon-enough to Elder T and Elder Lewis. Two hours later, Bandung. Been here ever since. . . . Dad, you were dead-on as always—-mission is a revolving door of stress, and change has never been kind to the more sensitive souls like mine . . . but mostly it comes down to what it's always been: I love you. And I really, really don't like being without you.

Q & A

How are my companions?: Luar biasa. I'm paired up with Sister Atmi and we already got along quite well in JakSel, so we're a good team here, too. Then there's Sumarno, Suhendro, who will go home two weeks from now, Sodjo and Christensen (different from JakSel Christensn).

Living conditions?: Some things are better than Jak, some things are worse—-though for natural lighting, I can't complain; this Bandung house is all-a-glitter in the mornings and it helps to make me happy. I'm also sleeping on an actual mattress on an actual bed frame. Perk. Plus there's a wee rooftop terrace where I like to go to be alone and quiet. And it's in a really clean, family-full sort of neighborhood, with a mosque two steps away so that the call to prayer's especially loud and lovely all day long.

Contacting?: Ha. I'm not even going to go there. Await my letter.

Is it less Muslim? More. Unbelievably more. A mosque every other house, it seems—-the combination of so many calls to prayer is out of this world.

Is it more beautiful? A loud and huzzah Yes! Green and mountains and clean (well, relatively) and white ponies with pink manes in the park. It's kind of magical.

Was it harder than you thought leaving Jakarta? Yes. But you know what a sentimental sop I am, so what else is new?

I am now about to be late to University, where I get to teach English class, HUZZAH. Here's to hoping that will cure my sad, selfish state—-but I would also appreciate your prayers.

It's a good thing, knowing I can at least make it to our Christmas phone call. And in between that there's a Zone Conference, which means Jakarta and Sister Millecam and Elder Millecam . . . and I'm also trying to swing things my way to make it back to Jak for Florentina’s baptism. Mah, here I am again, living landmark to landmark. How weak the mettle of mortal!

I love you.

Sister E.

*The Muslim calendar moves up eleven days every year . . . so there's the slightest chance, given the way my release date stands as of now, that your arrival in Indonesia could coincide with the next Idul Adha and you could see all the . . . um, guts and glory for yourself! Now, ain't you excited?