21 April 2010

Sing the Song of Redeeming Love.

Every week I keep a list of things to write you—sights seen, lessons learned, moments remembered, etc—and sometimes they all fall nicely into a rhythm and a rhyme, an email I can write out like a waterfall, one paragraph running over and into the next.

This is not one of those emails. As SisLily just said, "What do you write when you've met a man who's met God in a sawah (rice field)?*" And that was kind of just only the beginning of our week. Things get crazier. So here's what I have, in no particular order or point or conclusion:

If I could catalog my sense of humor against all of Indonesia's on a Venn Diagram, the circles would overlap at Mr. Bean. He is universal and I am grateful for something to legitimately laugh at together.

The other night we were walking home and passed a long fence with the sign Dilarang Dibuang Kucing Di Sekitar Sini. Which is, I guess: Forbidden to throw away cats within this area. The throw away verb is the same one they use for throwing out trash. I don't know. I just laughed for a really long time.

Indonesians very rarely call each other by any legitimate name, i.e. the one that would be written out across their birth certificates. It's all nicknames, but not even nicknames . . . like, just "hey, you!" but more specific according to each person and your relationship with them. And I really like it; it feels more intimate, more I know you and like you and feel a connection with you. There's no Mr. or Mrs.—you call all your elders Bu (short for Ibu, or mother) and Pak (short for Bapak, or father), your peers Mbak (for a girl) and Mas (for a boy). With your siblings you say Kak for the older ones (short for Kakak) and Dik for the younger (short for Adik). With close friends you say Nyong, or Neng. If you are a Sister, the Elders call you Ter. If you are an Elder, I will call you Der.

"Gi mana kabarnya, Der?"

"Eh, nyong! Pinjam kamera, kan?"

"Pagi, Bu."

And I think I love it most when a wife calls her husband Mas, or a husband calls his wife Say. The Mas just seems so Young Love, and the Say, short for "Sayang", or "Love" itself (Indonesians have three words for love—sayang is the you're-my-everything sort). I like being called Ter and I enjoy yelling for Simanjuntak with a Nyong or a Neng and I love when siblings talk about each other as Kak and Dik.

Another language thing I love is the verb menitip: to entrust something to someone for a short period of time. Everyone here just cuts it down to the root and uses it for just about everything. This morning Simanjuntak set her scissors down on my desk while she went to look for a gluestick. "Titip, ya?" When I have a letter to get to Sister Atmi through the office, I hand it over to the Elders. "Titip, ya?" But my thoroughly most favorite best use of the word is when I'm about to pray and someone cheekily says "Titip, ya?" as in, send my prayer in along with yours, okay? It's an old and tired bit, but it gets me every time.

Sometimes I have really remarkable days, days simply saturated with all good things both soul and body. I wish these days happened more often, but I am mortal and I am weak and I fall down—stories for another time. Today I just want to say that sometimes I have really remarkable days, and this last Monday was one of them. Not for any particular reason but all reasons; for staying true to my Language Fast and not speaking a single sentence of English until 6 pm, for loving Ibu Wiwi and her pin-up curls and her house with the stuffed sea turtle on the wall. For teaching the Plan of Happiness to Mas Kuncoro as the sun set and the call to prayer rang out over my testimony of the Resurrection. For walking the city streets in the evening and getting lost in a maze of mosques and alley ways until we reached the Kaswat's house. For ginger water and learning to pray with their family. Every moment just felt so full, so alive—-it seemed as if even the rice padi were greener, the palms were taller, the sky was wider, the sun more golden; it seemed as if everything were more real than reality had ever been before. And as we were walking, past families that seemed so much more in love, past streets that seemed so much more open and promising, I was remembering C.S. Lewis and how in the Great Divorce Heaven is reality itself, that all that is fully real is Heavenly, that

" . . .at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say 'We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,' and the Lost, 'We were always in Hell.' And both will speak truly."

That's what that night felt like, and a thousand other nights beside. The world felt like Heaven, and I felt impressed that it was because that day I had loved "according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart." And then I pondered those words of Mormon, and remembered the words of Alma and how our "souls [are] illuminated by the light of the everlasting word" and I thought how great the grace of God.

It was still in this sphere of speculation that I arrived at Bhakti Lahur the next day at noon; we had come early to take a tour of the campus, as had been decided the week before at our lunch with Cecilia. It was a tour too long to recount here, with feelings and understandings that might never be translated into word, but what connected all to my Monday musings was this:
With fifteen minutes left before our English class started, we stopped in at the Bhakti Lahur School for the Blind, where we met six girls at their kitchen table and sat with them a minute while they ate. While talking, one of the Sisters mentioned that two of the girls sing, and we asked them to sing for us. Sister Valentin came back around the corner with a guitar, and these two girls straightened up in their chairs and leaned into each other and began to sing and . . . suddenly the world changed. Physically, significantly; lifted to a higher plane. It was one of the most Spirit-filled moments of my mission, the kind that leave you open and raw and sensitive For the Beauty of the Earth and Standing All Amazed. They had beautiful voices. They played the guitar with expert fingers attuned to not just the notes but the feeling of a song. But what was most extraordinary of all were the lyrics to the first song they sang, a song they had written together. There was no title, only the Pacific lilt of the melody and lyrics that told their story. They had written about being blind, about knowing nothing beyond the darkness—knowing nothing until they knew Jesus, for through Jesus they can see. Through God's love they are given vision, a True Reality. A well-lit way. And again, I turned to Alma. Have you felt to sing the song of redeeming love? Because I felt like I'd just heard it.

In short, I have felt a lot of things that I'm afraid I don't ever communicate very well. Life is happy and I am happy. I love you. The Church is True. So is the Plan of Happiness. So is Heaven. It is reality itself.


*Maybe one day she will tell you this story. But maybe not. She's still kind of traumatized by the experience.

07 April 2010

Kurang Ajar.

Dear Family,

I wrote you letters and so suddenly I have nothing to say. So I am writing what comes to mind at the moment, which is a short language lesson.

I like a lot of Indonesian response-phrases, the quick one-liners you can throw out in response to any situation and cover all ground. Like masak sih? Or Ahduhahduhahduuuuuuh! And Ya, sudah. But maybe my favorite one of all is the million-uses, say-it-like-you-mean-it Kurang ajar.

It doesn't have any direct kind of translation into English (and really, I'm starting to wonder, what Indonesian does?) but is built on the word kurang, meaning "less, deficient, lacking" and the root word from the verb diajar, which is "to be taught." Put together, you get something along the feeling of "you (or we, or they, etc) weren't taught enough"—which can be applied to anything from table manners to a practical joke. Sumarno used it when she opened her BR to find Meek had switched her head to a giraffe's body. Simanjuntak, flinging herself across her bed in dramatic despair last week, used the phrase like a curse when we explained to her that Sister Halverson's invitation to the Balekambang beach on April 1st was, in fact, an April Fool's joke. SisLily and I use it in reference to Indonesians who have whole-heartedly embraced the technological revolution with no care for textiquette. But that could probably be a whole email in itself, so I digress. The point is, we use this phrase a lot.

Especially when it comes to Indonesian men. In general, they are harmless. I am immune to their "Hey mister! What's your name?" catcalling, though I would be happy if I never had to hear it ever again in my life, too. I am used to being an oddity, a white girl in the first place and then one who speaks Indonesian, besides. That is all okay. I understand I am different here and for the most part it is not a problem and sometimes it is a plus, as illustrated in last week's photo journal of our foray into the dolphin ring. But at least once a week, some new Indo Man merits our kurang ajar!, said with not a little spite and a heavy dose of incredulity. Because since when was it ever okay for anyone anywhere to pull the stunts they do? They follow us down streets. They ask about boyfriends, family situations, potential marriage proposals. They sit too close or grab for your hand to hold or ask for photos or don't ask for photos and take them anyway, throwing an arm around you when you're not looking and oh! sometimes it makes me want to scream. I think it was Jordan who once wrote to me about the unwanted attention from members of the opposite sex on missions. It's the only trial of our work with no redeemable qualities, he said. Aminlah.

Have I told you yet that, once a week on Tuesday afternoons, we teach English to the nuns of St. Alma at Bhakti Luhur? I love it, from simply being able to teach English right down to the very idea of it—we Sisters in our name tags sitting across from the Sisters in their wimples. And they themselves are a sight to behold, the lives they live and the how they live it. Yesterday Sisters Cecilia and Valentine invited us over for lunch after the lesson, a little plate of nasi kuning and ayam goreng on a simple table in a sparse room of their dormitory. I am glad for them; for their company, their goodness, their sacrifice. Plus, they pray! They read—and study—the scriptures! They center their lives on Christ. It is humbling and uplifting and hopeful to see.

In Malang there is one permanent mission couple, an Elder and Sister Halverson that have been serving here for the last eighteen months. While technically proselyting missionaries, they don't know the language, so a lot of their service has been in befriending neighbors or organizing branch projects, camps, and activities—plus teaching five English classes a week at Bhakti Luhur, a school/orphanage/rehabilitation center of sorts run by the Catholic Sisters of St. Alma's here in Malang. At Bhakti Luhur they take in all the discarded, the unwanted, the unclaimed; a haven for disabled children from birth to adulthood. The Halversons have worked miracles within the foundation and yesterday let us in on a little bit of the magic—as the Halversons head home next week, they held one final farewell bash at their club house pool for all their students, plus the nuns. End result? An all-out afternoon of the unexpected, exhilarating, and eternal.

So. Malang continues to be something of a tropical Paradise and also unnaturally clean, kind of like film sets from the 1950s—-you know, where the sunsets silhouette palm trees in never-ending color and street scenes are lit a little too strategically? SisLily and I discuss Gospel Principles while quoting Galaxy Quest and translate Conference Talks for language study, much to the detriment of our pride. Tonight the daughter of one of our investigators is getting married and we've been invited to the traditional Javanese ceremony. Sunday I translated the Halverson's farewell talks for the congregation, which went really well right until Elder Halverson decided to tell a story about educational statistics and state legislature in Wyoming about halfway through his testimony. Good thing this Branch and I have already learned how to laugh together.

We have quite a few investigators, but none willing to change or grow or become if it means rearranging their lives to allow for Christ's Redemption. It is discouraging but also eye-opening and, though no one else seems to be wanting the light we bring, I find myself receiving new knowledge, understanding, and fortitude in abundance. It doesn't seem fair, being allowed to become like this when so many seem unable to take even the smallest falter of a first baby step towards All Good Things (can everyone please read Moroni 7 right now? And know that this Church is True?) but I am grateful for and aware of the Lord's plan for me, a plan that included this Indonesia and therefore this opportunity to prepare for the so much more that is in store for me, and for all of us. The best is yet to come.

I love you.


p.s. Why is avocado used like a vegetable in America? Why has no one caught onto the idea that it should be a fruit, and therefore good for juice, too?