26 May 2010


Dear Family,

To begin: miracles.

Number one, all three hours of church this past Sunday were doctrinally sound. No odd magic-meets-spirit moments in Sacrament Meeting, no awkward comments in Asas-Asas Injil, no heated argument over deeply false doctrine in Relief Society. Either stars aligned among the celestial cosmos with Jupiter rising along Mercury's orbit, or God just gave us a good day for the sake of our two investigators who came to Church. In any case, this is the kind of thing that really makes a journal entry these days.

Miracle the Second: The entire Purwitanto family was ready and waiting for us Monday night at exactly 6:00. On time. All of them. This isn't all too incredible to the outside eye, but for us two missionaries it was manna in our wilderness. The Purwitantos have been inactive for absolutely aaaaagggeeessss and while we continue to visit them once a week I have seen no single slightest baby-step of progress the entire two months I've been here—-to the point where, I'm sorry to admit, I downright dreaded the occasion that took us anywhere near Jalan D. The mum is really unresponsive, almost hostile, and the dad takes very lightly the things of God and likes especially to smoke clove-scented cigarettes right in our faces while asking us about the Word of Wisdom (he's been a member since he was a kid, so he's just playing with us). When we teach, maybe one or two of the five children sit into listen, but the number varies weekly and mostly we're left only with Dimas, their 15 year old and oldest son—the only one who somewhat regularly still comes to church (which says a lot about the boy; we are grateful for him). Then last week in Weekly Planning Marno and I decided that this was obviously what we needed to do most since it was the hardest thing for the both of us, and planned out a Family Home Evening from opening prayer to dessert and stopped by their place Saturday night to make the appointment for Monday. They didn't seem any too thrilled about the prospect.

But then, Monday. We'd just come from Mas Kuncoro's and were already practicing deep breaths for what came next—-and yet needn't have worried. From the open doorway we could see them waiting; Pak Pur was playing the bongo drums to put a beat on "I Am A Child of God" while 2 year old Bayu provided the dance moves (akin to Nell and Daniel's running-in-circles choreography of Yale lore). Retno was leading the choreography, adding steps she'd learned in her kindergarten's Javanese dance class, and Dimas was in the corner clapping along while Arya leaned into his mum's side, smiling. Their house is painted yellow and green and blue and in that one little light bulb above the concrete floor everything was illuminated, all warmth and goodness and home.

Which put quite a really good spin on our whole lesson, a lesson that suddenly had willing listeners and learners, which in turn infused the teachers with the greater joy to Carry On. It really is a lovely little relationship, when it all works out. It was a good lesson and a good night and a good mission memory and, as we walked away with even the slightest skip to our step, Marno put words to my thoughts. "Sister. It was a miracle," she breathed.

Saturday afternoon we had a RS activity at the church where we made Japanese Ekado, which I love. It was really fun to be with all the sisters, especially when they found out that they could only eat the results of their labors if they used chopsticks. Those with Chinese ancestors took far too much pleasure in their superiority that last hour . . .

Sunday night President Iwan invited all missionaries over for dinner, which meant an Emergency Fast during the hours we had left between invite and actual dinner appointment. The few savvy second-timers among us took to the challenge with ease, faking third and fourth helpings with some award-worthy acting skills and remembering that no matter how divine that banana juice is, you drink it slow and steady to save you from two or six or twenty-four other glasses of it. So yeah, SisLily, Elder Miller and I were still far too full than normal but good to go—and Sister Bayodo could easily win any hotdog-eating competition East of the Mississippi, so food's never a problem for her. Marno and Martoyo, however? Not so lucky. At one point Martoyo was lying spread-eagle on the patio steps outside their front door, moaning that he was ready to die. And yeah, that sounds pathetic, but you haven't eaten dinner there either. It really is a rite of passage. Quality is above-and-beyond delicious (even and especially the sawah snails), but the quantity could kill you.

Twelve more days ‘til Zone Conference!

That's not exciting for anyone else, is it? Oh. Well.

SisLily and I played badminton this morning and kind of rocked at it. I have a new headband from a chicken nugget package; it's black and says SCOTLAND and I think I owe all new talent to that.

On Monday night President Iwan came by on his motorbike with two bags of bananas, a box of orange jelly pudding, and banana cake still hot from the oven. We were still trying to recover from the night before.

And . . . The End. Of the rain and this email. Out into the night air for a (cross-your-fingers) new investigator appointment. I love you. Always.


19 May 2010

Theories of Relativity.

Dear Family,

We've just come back into Malang after a morning at East Java's Taman Safari (sister to the one I visited in Bogor last . . . November? Really? My word.), which I would go on and on and on and on about because there were white Siberian tigers and racing cheetahs and blonde zebras and TRAINED DOMESTIC CATS in the Baby Zoo show but . . . well. Maybe I've already reached my limit on the whole Animal Kingdom thing. To the point where I was singing Adam-Ondi-Ahman; the earth was once a garden place, with all her glories common . . . Suffice it to say, we are excited for the Millennial days of Lamb and Lion.

What I will tell you about is the Getting There, which was not just half the fun but most of it.

It began normally enough; the usual angkot with a switch to the bus about twenty minutes in. The bus then dropped us off along the main road just outside the side lane to Taman Safari, which was lined with ojek. The motorcycle drivers that take on pillion passengers for sepuluh ribu. The motorcycles that, as missionaries, we are not allowed to ride. And there was no other way up the mountain.

So, like any good missionaries, we decided to walk? What's two kilo, anyway? Because that's what the bus driver told us as we got off: two kilometers. Which we believed until we got to the sign that said 5 kilometers, and even that was okay. Until residents along the way (who were racing out to their front porches to watch those crazy bule, btw) insisted it was more like 7. Or 8. Or 10. And that was also uphill.

We were maybe one kilo in when the pick-up stopped, and it didn't take us half a second to take them up on the offer. Long story short: we hitch-hiked our way to the Safari entrance, spent a happy few hours among the animals, and then hitched our way home, too. Pick-up, '76 Mercedes, bus, angkot, angkot. The only thing better than riding in such style was to watch other people's reaction to us riding in such style. The ticket-takers at the gate? Priceless. So I'd like to say here and now, Thank you Indonesia. For your beautiful people. Your beautiful country. This beautiful day. SisLily: "I am exhausted from happiness."

Photos to follow (make that above). In the meantime, More News:

A sister in our branch passed away this week; she was not sick but old and so her death was not unexpected, but still sad. We all attended the funeral last Thursday, which was an interesting cultural experience for me that I haven't quite been able to process onto paper. It was very dust-to-dust . . . almost . . . primitive, and I'm afraid I didn't like it—which then led to some serious E Evaluation and thinking on the effects of ethnocentrism (word?) and what it means to be right or wrong in the cultural sense of things and am I just crazy? But maybe that is a (personal) essay for another time.

One really interesting thing about funerals in the Javanese tradition is that they last for years—the actual ceremony and burial is performed within 24 hours of their death, and then seven days later a sort of commemorative gathering is held, and then 40 days later is yet another remembrance event, followed by the hundred day mark, then the year's passing, and finally a thousand days' benediction. On our way to the Seven Day gathering Marno explained to me that they believe within the first forty days the deceased's spirit is still near (if not in) the house, close to family and friends to observe the comings and goings and commit to memory their earthly sphere. As every celebratory mile-mark passes, however, that spirit is traveling further and further from this Life and into the Next—-to a place that Marno couldn't quite clarify, but I suppose must be the Javanese version of Heaven. So it was all quite fascinating. And the food, prepared by member-chef-extraordinaire Sister Eni, was fantastic. Oh, nasi goreng. Yes, please.

Elder Greenwell was transferred to Medan, the first of our 52B to leave this island. And yeah, we knew it would happen—and, if anyone, that it would be him—but we were strangely upset by the development. (Selfishly; this means we won't see him next Zone Conference, and I'm beginning to think I won't see him the rest of my mission. It's funny. We're family.) In another round of somewhat sad news, I was struck with a really stupendously-sniffly case of some sort of sinus infection. I was okay for a minute, but then it put me in bed for a few days with the whole heavy/puffy/throbbing head thing. I learned two things during this time of confinement:

The first: being sick is not fun. I think we all know this, but you'd have to agree that sometimes, just sometimes maybe being sick is kind of fun. You get to rest. Stop a minute. Breathe (at least through one nostril, or your mouth). And yes, that is nice. But not for three days. And not in Indonesia. On your mission. When you are sick on your mission in Indonesia for three days there are no books to read or movies to watch or family members to pester into pointless conversations. There are scriptures (which are good, but a bit much 24/7), and there are chicken nugget sandwiches, and there is SisLily. But it is not the same. Walking outside yesterday was quite literally new life and I fell in love all over again with this place. The women driving motorcycles in stilettos! The banana market set up on cardboard boxes before you reach the station! The babies snug all rag-doll-style from their mothers' batik wraps, asleep amidst the chaos.

The next thing I learned, or rather thought about, was a line from an article sent to me in the happiest of red envelopes from Martha. This article about the latest trends in Doggie Mansions was mostly just gobsmacked sort of hilarity (" . . . a vineyard owner on the East Coast hired an artisan to hand-paint each brick of her doggy's digs to match those on her own mansion . . . ") and would have stayed that way if it weren't for the very last sentence, attributed to another mutt's mom commenting on how she felt about outside criticism for such flagrant excess (we'll just skip over the glaring juxtaposition given current economic situations, shall we?). I don't have the exact article with me, but the sentence went something like this:

"Of course there will be criticism. But everyone has their own standards. There is no right and wrong."

Pause. Rewind. Excuse me?

"There is no right and wrong." Since when did the World adopt this motto and why did I only ever seem to see it so starkly since becoming a missionary? I have come to thinking that I was actually quite naive all of only eleven months ago. I mean, I didn't think so (but is that part of the innocence?); I read, I watch, I listen. The Times, BBC, NPR. So yeah, maybe I could keep up with current events and throw in a few cents when it came to people and places and things. But psychologically? I was not prepared for what the World really is.

Because that quote kind of encapsulates just about everything I've had to learn this last little while on my mission. To a lot of people, there is no clear-cut right-and-wrong. There is no strictly good or explicitly bad. There is no black, there is no white, and who is God, anyway? seems to be a lot of what I've been hearing—-or more correctly, seeing. Because you can, you can see it. In the consequences. In the blessings. And, actually, is it not completely obvious? The World is so flagrantly deceptive, so blatantly . . . base.

Moral Relativism scares me.

A thought that will have to be completed next week, as time is up. Sorry to jump off at such a critical moment—but maybe you already have all this figured out, anyway, in which case you can easily fill in the blanks. I love you immensely and miss you especially—there are no shades of grey here: you are Good. Great. The most best and brightest thing in my life. Sampai nanti, kan?



05 May 2010

Due to circumstances beyond our control and outside of any sort of reason, Sister Liljenquist and I got to be companions for a full THREE DAYS last week. Was it the best three days of our mission so far? Were we happy to all ends of joy?

We walked through a bird market. We met a whole mosque full of Muslim girls and took photos together along the wall. We talked to people on angkot and in alleyways and at malls and in parks. We found a public library. We read a chapter of Lemony Snicket in said library. In Indonesian. And gave out English class cards. We taught said English class and then went home to make sandwiches. Sandwiches. I hadn't had a sandwich in eight months. We made ours with chicken nuggets, which I fried in a wok. So it wasn't the same, but it was. Because we made sandwiches. And sometimes life doesn't get much better than a really good sandwich.

We were cat whisperers. We were entrepreneurs. We were best friends and awesome companions. We were happy and strong and also, really great missionaries. We taught with rhythm and reason and With The Spirit. We taught lessons we'll remember for the rest of our lives. The lessons that when people ask, "So how was your mission?" we can say "S'wonderful, s'marvelous." You think I'm exaggerating. I'm not. It (we) really was (were) that good. I extended a baptismal commitment and Mas Kuncoro said "Mau." And maybe this is going to sound silly, but I learned a great lesson in the process—the importance of marrying someone you don't just love, you don't just get along with, but a person with the same vision, the same goals, the same desire to work to get to that dream. Because that's all sorts of Transformation when applied to mission, and that's why SisLily and I felt the flight of angels this weekend.

So it was a good week. Better than the last, which did not begin well nor end well but at least is over. And maybe this is not the place to admit this right now, but EFY songs are kind of okay. Because sometimes He lets it rain, He lets the fierce winds blow/sometimes it takes a storm to lead a heart where it can grow . . .

I will now attempt to answer the emails I received this week. Attempt being the key word here, as I am not certain the Grandpa Ron news has fully been made real to me in this moment. (Steve's dad was just diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.) Not Grandpa Ron, right? Not my Grandpa Ron. He's invincible, right? He's a magician, for goodness' sake. Can't he just stuff this black handkerchief back down into his clenched fist and make it all go away?

And yet, at the same time . . . a quiet calm. A steadfast faith. A perfect brightness of hope. I felt, as I read the news from home, that fervent testimony I shared only yesterday at Mas Kuncoro's, when I bore witness of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I talked about the peace that passeth human understanding, the indescribable light that membership in this Church affords us with such a Companion. I tried to communicate the strength I'd received just that morning while reading the scriptures, the revelation I receive in prayer. Though I did not share from Moses, I remembered verse 61 of chapter 6:

Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter, the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.

I will not pretend to be able to say it any better than the actual Word, but I will add this: I believe in God, I believe that He is. And in His great goodness He has given us this, the plan of salvation unto all men. In it and through the Holy Ghost we are comforted, we are made calm by the peaceable things of immortal glory, assured in this mortality by the truth of all things.

Everything will be okay. Things work out. They always do.

I love you. ‘Til Monday. Well, I love you for forever, but will talk to you again on Monday (Mother's Day phone call.)Which you probably already understood to be my meaning, but I thought I'd clarify. Okay. Love you. Always. Selalu dan selamalamanya.

kia kaha.

Sister E.