31 March 2010

The Sky is Blue.

(and other eternal truths in all their extraordinary simplicity)


I live in a house. A real, live, with-a-floor-plan and even-barest-semblance-of-a-front-garden house. And it's a House Beautiful house. A house I would honest-to-goodness like to pack up and slow ship all the way back to America. It is white, and light; there are long open windows on every wall to illuminate soaring ceilings and the feminine step-shadows of crown molding in every room. There's a coffee table in the front room (there's a front room!) with Liahonas and letters to read before heading out the door; there's a chandelier (a chandelier!) above the foyer and a framed batik map of Indonesia above the loveseat. In the courtyard (there's a courtyard!) there's a water pump and geraniums and just enough square space for some six a.m. shuttlecock (did I tell you SisLily bought me a badminton racket for my birthday? Is life the best? Do I love her?) and in the bathroom there is limestone tiling and a shower head (a shower head!) and a western-style toilet. In my bedroom I still sleep on a sunken mattress on the floor—-but it is a sunken mattress on the floor next to a dark-wood armoire and full-length window with decorative metal screening and a sand-and-shell-framed Jesus on the wall. I sleep like the sea here; fathoms deep in shades of blue.

In the kitchen there is a table. It is square and lacquer-black and modern but classic and just big enough for the four of us. At night, after planning and journaling and the requisite second shower of the day, we gather for nasi goreng or girl talk or the occasional speaker-phone conversation back to Senopati. In the mornings we meet there for companionship study, and last night SisLily sat across from me to read out loud from this month's Liahona while waiting for 10:30 to send us to sleep. Oh! It is a home, and how I have missed a home! That SisLily is here to live it with me obviously makes the place instant greatness, but there is something to say about the Architecture of Happiness, and our little abode on Jalan Ogan has it in spades.

My new companion is Sister Rianti Simanjuntak, who has a Mandy Moore smile and all the dramatic flair of Katharine Stevens at a YTS casting call. She's from Sumatera's Medan, which means she's Batak—-and fulfills every stereotype of the tribe. Strong-willed and straightforward. Entirely independent and honest to a fault. It's been a whiplash sort of start for me, coming out of four months with Sister Atmi and a mission that, up to this point, has been all Javanese (read: the opposite of everything I just wrote to describe the Batak people), but we get along really well and teach particularly well together. I'm glad for the shock and jump start; I think I'd become far too comfortable culturally here, so this is taking me outside that safe circle again and pushing me further up and further in. Five days isn't much for a full review, but so far, so good.

Our other Indonesian counterpart is Sister Kezzia Bayodo, who is Raani Hippolite to a T. Sometimes I have to stop myself from frog hunter jokes, it's that crazy. She's bright and brave and incorrigibly cheeky; together, the four of us seem to have balanced out into the perfect formula for a freshman year in University dorms. It's been an interesting sphere-switch, at least for me; up until this point my companionships/housemates have been more of a mother/daughter or teacher/student situation, whereas this is all level and decidedly more adult. It feels great, but also strange—-where do I fit in the equation now? If my companion doesn't need me, who does? Good thing mission has taught me to like question marks. This place is full of them, plus a few interrobangs.

So, what else? Oh, the branch. Is beautiful. What isn't, here in Malang? This city is shockingly clean, regulated, shaped and formed. The streets are swept up into tidy gardens and neighboring rice padi; the houses are kept and orderly, newly painted and ornamented with bamboo bird cages in bright reds and vivid blues. The sky is blue, a startling familiarity after seven months in grey-cloud, air-polluted West Java. Even the markets seem to be sanitary, a more organized mess of daily wares and wants that keeps each stall from sprawl and takes every new street corner back in time a few decades, an Indonesia before corporate candy wrappers or sponsored storefronts. In fact, I have a new thought of theory: I am a time traveler. As this move to Malang means I'll likely finish up my mission in Solo, my sixteen months here will have moved me in measured increments back through Indonesia's ages—-the up-to-the-minute 2010 rush of Jakarta, the emerging metropolis of a 1990's Bandung, the careful country life edging into city-hood of 1970's Malang, and (from my eight hours there last week) the bikes and becaks in 1950's Solo, the Spirit of Java. I have so far decreased in population size with every new transfer, which would hold through into Solo, too. This backward sprint has given me so much more appreciation for the underlying cultural ties of Indonesia's city life, for the country soil that holds each citizen to their tanah air despite the modern era's concrete obsession and technological juxtapositions. The way I'm moving through my mission, I fall more deeply and fully in love with this country every new life I live in this service. This past week in Malang has been . . . regenerative. In an old-is-new and I've-always-known-you sort of strength.

A lot of that comes from the branch here, the members and the missionaries. For one, this is Sister Katam's hometown—so my mission trainer was here to meet me at the chapel doors first thing Sunday morning. Her whole family is lovely and good and strong, something that holds true for most every other member here, too. It is a very open, friendly, and functioning branch of the Church here in Indonesia (which is so rare a beauty that just sitting to hear them sing in Sacrament kind of makes me cry). I think, too, I've finally found my footing here as far as language and cultural compatibility go, so I came into Malang without any of the excess anxiety and personal insecurities that had followed me to my former areas. I even made a hundred people laugh-out-loud in my Sacrament introduction—an occasion that, even throughout my entire lifetime, I could probably count up on one hand. I'm not a very funny person. But Indonesian humor never gets old, so the Javanese rondo meaning "widow" was still just as funny this Sunday as it was seven months ago in JakSel. Yeah. We got off on a good foot. Maybe too good—-we have dinner invitations every night this week, and that's more food than we really ever need in a year. The Javanese can't say no and they don't want you to, either—even when you clearly look like you're about to be sick after your third glass of banana juice.

Monday night we were invited to President Iwan's for Family Home Evening, on the condition that we teach his children the First Vision as if they'd never heard it before. It was an interesting challenge—the Iwan's are rock-solid members and their children particularly exemplary—and now one of my most favorite moments of the mission. It is fun to teach with Sister Lily again (we just have a natural rhythm and synchronized thought process that lends itself well to spur-of-the-moment spiritual direction) and, like I said, Simanjuntak and I teach well together, too, so our part of the lesson I think went really well, but it was President Iwan's follow-up that made it all the more real. When we were finished, he added his testimony to ours and then turned to his three girls, who were sitting in order of age about his feet and looking intensely up at their father for further light and knowledge (Liahona photographer, anyone?). They were so trusting and so radiant; their parents were so tangibly steadfast and sacrificing. Pres Iwan talked about how they, as parents, have always taught them, their children, the truth. How they have tried to bring them up in righteousness, in strength. It was a beautiful discourse on the family, on love. But then he said, "This will not be enough. Nila, Kenisa, Jessica? That story the sisters just shared with you is either true, or it is not. If it is true, of course, then it is the single most important message you've ever heard in this life. I have brought you up in the hope that you will be able to recognize the light. But that decision is ultimately up to you." And then he taught something I have been learning lesson after lesson, day after day, these last months: you choose. That's the glory of it after all; God did not give us a flippant wave and a ziploc of trail mix for the road as we left the Garden of Eden for this lone and dreary world but a blueprint for happiness, a road map to return, and the ability to choose. There is only so much influence we are open to, only so many road signs we can study or theater scripts to read before, ultimately, we have to step into the opportunity to live itself. To walk into the wind, take that road less traveled, step out into the spotlight on opening night. Everything we know, everything we do, and (did you see this one coming?) everything we become is up to us. This is incredibly obvious with our investigators, who mostly seem to want us to wave a magic wand and make it all better before they'll even consider stepping into the solution themselves, but it has also rung true on a personal level this last little while, too. And the days I choose God, to love Him and to know Him, have inevitably been the days I have glimpsed heaven here on earth, the days I've felt the strength of angels behind the pathetic movement of my mere mortal struggle. So when Pres Iwan finished again with his testimony of the ability to choose and the importance of taking responsibility for the knowledge we have been given, I could absolutely add my amen. And Sister Bayodo threw in a hallelujah, too.

Now we are out to Sister Maria's for dinner with a referral tonight; she is a particularly pixie-sized sister with an indefatigable excitement and bright countenance that defies all 46 years of her life. When SisLily told me to look for Tinkerbell on Sunday, I knew exactly who she was talking about.

Love it. Love you.

Sister E.

24 March 2010

From the Mission Home.


I write this from the desk of Elder Silalahi, or "Lala" as I like to say. I should probably ask him if that's okay. Anyway. The Office Elders are long gone down to bed but Sister Lily still sits beside me, reading things over my shoulder and sometimes out loud while also reliving our Jakarta day from Immigration Office to Mesjid Istiqlal with all the added commentary that our private review allows. This is something I would go into but soon enough that will just be old news and nothing special because tomorrow? Tomorrow I'm moving to Malang.

We'll be one hour on the airplane to Solo and then an overnight train to Malang, where we're calculating (given present positions and average transfer duration in the mission) that we'll have at least a month together, if not a full six weeks. In the meantime, we've lived these last two days in the capital as if they're all we've got, which has made for more than enough happiness when you throw Nixon into the mix, too. Meek and Greenwell came through immigration last week, but there's no need to fret because my move puts us all in one zone again, and next PLD's going to be a party. Plus the added benefit of a classic Meek Shock Face, when he sees SisLily and me back together. Oh, life. Malang, in Indonesian, means bad luck—-but this feels quite the opposite.

There's much to say but even littler time to say it this week, so here I sign off. There's a letter in the air with more on my last days in Bandung, and I hope the pictures helped a bit, too, but this really is the end because SisLily still has to send off a note to family and there are now exactly twenty minutes left to do that so kthnxbi I love you Next week from Malang, huzzah.


17 March 2010

Birthday Girl.

Dear Family,

I feel drained and dead-tired and when I just asked Sister Atmi what in the world I could possibly write to my family this week she dictated to me (in her bird's-twitter English lilt that I want to wrap in ribbons and keep safe in a silk-lined music box forever and always):
Sister Atmi was so, so sick. I helped her get better. But then I got sick, too. I am okay now. I love you. Goodbye.

Yep. That pretty much sums it up, and I doubt you want to hear about the fever and the headache and my (our) aching, aching bones. It was a bad one, but Atmi did get the worst of it, so I can't complain. Plus, it all cleared in a miraculous rainbows-and-birdsong way at about three o'clock the afternoon of my birthday, so I was well enough to go out to our appointment at the Swieliens, an eternal investigator family that I love. They still don't want to be baptized, but we did have a memorable evening of gospel study together and I (again) felt that rush of strength in simply feeling like I belong.

So. Apart from that, I really did spend most of my week in the hospital (Sis Atmi was that bad; I was just sick at home), got away for three hours of church (where little Lavona stared at me all through Sacrament, wide chocolate eyes never wavering though her little puckered lips moved from pout to ponder to full-out fish face every few minutes. We have kind of a love-hate relationship. She loves me, but only from afar. The minute I try to steal her out of her mum's arms, she's all tears. Sigh. Working on it. Especially if I still plan to smuggle her home in my suitcase.), then succumbed to the exhaustion I had originally thought was just me being tired like a normal person—not feverish, sore, and aching like the sick I turned out to be. But I am okay and it's not Dengue Fever and next weekend I will be in Jakarta for TWO WHOLE DAYS WITH SISLILY.

Life is okay. I love you. Thank you for all the birthday greetings/emails/photos/etc. You are quite truly terrifically the best.

love again,

10 March 2010

Krakatoa, West of Java.


Monday morning I stretched out of the back of a black van in the parking lot of a beach at Anyer. The same parking lot at the same beach at the same Anyer that I stepped out into my very first weekend in Indonesia. The same coconut palms, the same pebbled patio giving way to white-sand beach. The same bayside-bungalows in woven bamboo and cheap abalone trinkets for sale at the gate, the same smiling caretaker at the cafe desk. And really, who's to say that black van this March wasn't the exact same black van of September? I walked right out of my flip flops and barefoot over to where
Presiden was standing, hand raised above his brow to take in the horizon. Same turquoise sea. Same sleepy waves. The shattered peak of Krakatoa a smudge of blue shadow at the ends of the world. Presiden turned to me. "Anything changed since last time?" he said. I remembered how, last time, it was Sister Lily to my left, or how, last time, it was Elder Greenwell who pointed out the volcano's tip. But I shook my head. "Just me, Presiden."

And while my trip to Jakarta last week was a tricked-out time warp of its own, this weekend's afternoon at Anyer was a little too T.S. Eliot to handle. To end is to begin, only to end again in order to begin something else. And I know I'm dramatic, but there were some real goodbyes there, some real definitive endings. Elder Meek moved to Semarang today, clear across the country (though not completely off the island quite yet). Elders Supriyanto, Supriyanto, Effi, and Bayodo headed home for good that very night. It was Sister Mongan's last Zone Trip. It was a whole lot of implied sentimental if I thought too hard about it. So I tried not to. And it turned into one of those This Is The Best Day That I Love sort of journal entries.

Because, just after lunch (as the thunder rocked the ocean swells but before the rain began to fall), we took a walk. The original crew, plus Hewlett, down the beach to the furthest edge of the bay. It was a beach walk, just like any other beach walk—same sand, same shells, same errant child's toy washed up among the seaweed—but I think that's what made The Beach Walk. Because there I was walking and talking and laughing like I would any old day with any old friend; except, wait. I am walking in Indonesia and talking in Indonesian and laughing at inside jokes only six months old because (my word!) I actually haven't been here my whole life. I actually haven't had these friends for always. I actually haven't always been able to eavesdrop on foreign conversations, or follow a Jakslang joke. And the sky was steely grey across an ocean pale and rolling, the sand licking up at our ankles as the sprinkle turned to downpour and Krakatoa stood still. It was a moment. The moment where you realize you belong, and it is infinite and irrevocable as you stand at the start of the storm in perfect peace.

And then Supri yells at you to run, so you do, to where the rest of them sit along a wall under a tree, a surprisingly quiet cove along the rocks. And we sit there and think, and watch, and think again, and the grey world is not sad and symbolic but wild revelation. It is intimately public, like all the world is rejoicing in what we so quietly share. I started to think about friends. I started to think about happiness. I remembered the parting words of verse five in Alma 44—"yea, and also by the maintenance of the sacred word of God, to which we owe all our happiness. . ." And I started to think: that is why this exists.

Because that's how it works, then and there and here and now. Obey the commandments and prosper in the land. Sunday I was reflecting on the idea of rules making you free and what that really means, and I guess in that moment at Anyer, in the rain under the tree with my friends, my people, it kind of all came together for me. Because of this Gospel, because of the commandments we receive and how we choose to obey them, I am free. Not in the sense of wild irresponsibility, but in that steady stability that comes of knowing. That when I maintain the sacred word of God, I obtain all my happiness. Not some, not a little, not a day's worth or even a week—-but all. Because of choices I've made and the choices these Elders and those Sisters have made—we are free. We are alive in a perfect brightness of hope, the ability to step out into a world of uncertainty with the knowledge that our future is assured.

Keep the commandments and prosper in the land. Life is hard. The Gospel is not.

Okay. Getting over my romantic ruminatings for a lightning-fast bulletin of an update:

Sister Christensen has Dengue Fever. We had to leave her at
Senopati yesterday and got word that she's in the hospital this morning.

So we're in a trio here in Bandung—Marno, me, and Atmi. Both our appointments fell through today. Same old, same old.

Still waiting for word on the Jakarta trip at the end of the month; am terrified they're going to break up the Sisters rotation and I'll miss SisLily by mere hours. Does this count as righteous desire and therefore something I can sincerely pray about?

Our kitchen/laundry/hallway/staircase/room-whatever-it-is has a leak in the ceiling and is basically falling apart. Our shower water comes out chocolate brown during rainstorms (ie, always). Our street must have flooded while we were gone and took all our garbage cans with it. I was writing in my journal last night and a cat walked in. I cried the other night because I thought too much about a
becak driver. I am secretly coming up with a million different ways to meet up with Effi, Bayodo, and Supri x 2 before I have to go home. They're all from the same branch in Bekasi so who's to stop us from taking a boat out to Krakatoa together?

I am afraid there won't be a word for the way I'm going to miss this place.

Okay, time's long over and up and I'm out of here. Sorry there are no investigators to talk about or miraculous missionary moments to share—we're still working on that. But for now, as Elder Nixon likes to say, here's to another day in Paradise! I love you.


03 March 2010

Mohon Maaf.

Well, the good news is our mission is finally important enough to be included in the great Gmail migration of 2010. The bad news is that this internet cafe/MyLDSMail is so katro (. . . um, old school?) that it has taken me the better part of forty-five minutes to create such an account, after which the entire thing went up in flames and then wouldn't let me sign into my shiny new inbox for ANOTHER fifteen minutes anyway. I am grateful the powers that be at Church HQ have seen the light and made the switch, but shouldn't that direction have come along with the blessing of an extra hour allotted to our actual email time this week?

I was also faced with a conundrum this past Sunday, when I sat down to write my weekly family letter. Wait, I thought, wouldn't it really be more lasting and life-affirming to get all this weekend down in your journal before you sent off the cliff notes version to home? I pondered this. And yes, yes it was more important. Because ten months from now, you can read my journal entry, and ten years from now, and twenty, and fifty-five, etc etc so . . . there's no letter for you this week, either.

Here are a few miscellaneous notes I'll throw out there before I have to run:

Only 4% of Asia has a missionary in their city.

All 4 countries with largest Muslim population in the world are within the boundaries of the (our) South East Asia Mission.

Indonesia is the only one out of that four that allows Foreign missionaries to proselyte.

Elder Nelson is undeniably an Apostle of the Lord, but it was his wife who changed my life this weekend.

Being in Jakarta for a full four days was kind of a warped time-travel-trip for me. I felt small, like these last six months hadn't happened and I was starting all over again.

Elder Subandriyo is a living sermon. He simply stands to walk to the pulpit and Truth floods even the most wide-open spaces.

If you read the Church News account of Sister Wendy Nelson's address at BYU-I (re: Holy Woman), that will at least cover the Saturday afternoon session of our District Conf. here.

I bought rain shoes, which were all of two dollars and so totally practical, except that now I take every possible opportunity to step in puddles, which embarrasses Sister Atmi to no end. She is so fun to embarrass. Just like my sisters.

There's a new elder in the office, Elder Schmidtlein, who was in the MTC with Sister Jess Richey. They still write letters occasionally so he filled me in on all that news, plus brought out the map of Malaysia, too. In our circles.

And, since I've got a new friend in the office (praises be for shared sense of humor and a common interest in dictionary definitions), word is that there's a move from Malang in the near future—plus an all
bule missionaries reunion in Jakarta at the end of March for requisite Visa renewals. Are we all wild hope of a SisLily/Rhondeau weekend in mere DAYS? Yes, yes we are.

I can't race the clock any longer. This has got to be over and out.
Mohon maaf maaf maaf I love you The End.