30 June 2010

One Year Older (and Wiser, Too).


SisLily adopted some Edisonian optimism this last week and yesterday declared "I haven't failed. I've found 10,000 people that weren't ready to accept the gospel."

To which I would like to add, here on the eve of our One Year Mark As A Missionary: hear, hear. Because lately everything seems to be falling through or apart or to pieces but do you know what? I'm in Indonesia. As the Swan Princess' Derrick would say (and Lily and I love to quote): What else is there?

Meanwhile, seriously, everything is on the fritz, if not officially kaput. I don't know if my wardrobe only came with a year's warranty or if it's part of the missionary magic, but I'm losing things left and right these days. Last week it was my red shoes; yesterday my silver shoes tore (beaten, bloody, but unbowed—-I think I can get them to last til December), and my rain shoes have a hole worn right through the sole. Then my brown skirt decided to catch on an angkot door and rip across the knee, so that went in the pile along with my white shirt, blue shirt, and pink tee that couldn't quite make it to July. At this point I'm thinking nothing else could possibly die on me but oh, wait, why not my alarm clock? Because that little guy's had its fair share of work this last year, too, and decided to rebel like a wounded cow in a mountain ravine at three in the morning. And I couldn't stop it. Until I restarted the entire thing from the button on the back and then the screen went blank.

But that was easy enough to fix (I don't know why there are carts along the road that switch watch batteries, but there are and, like I said: Indonesia) and this morning I woke to its normal heart rate and jumped up for some badminton and a whole happy P-day ahead of me. Huzzah, indeed.

Things you can't fix:

Inactives not coming back to church because they married Muslims who are now radical and won't allow for any sort of Christianity.

Appointments falling through right at the doorstep because you arrive at the pre-appointed time to a house dark and door locked. "To Blitar," the neighbors say. "Back next week."

Investigators that accept the BoM as scripture, divinely inspired, Word of God, but then refuse to make the jump from the book is true to the Church is true.

Calendar days. Is it just me, or is June NEVER going to end?


That's the thing about ten new investigators. They come and go pretty quickly; but you can't deny that adrenaline when you first call the APs to report those kind of numbers. So there has been the good and the bad and then just mostly the mediocre, but I think also that's just like Life anyway so upward and onward, I say. Tally-ho.

I wish I had deeper things to say, here at the beginnings of July. But mostly, lately, I've just been thinking of the Things I Did This Time Last Year and marveling at all the Things That Have Happened Since Then. And that's a whole lot of thinking to sort through and make into something solid (much less, sane). What I will say is that this last year, while not being the Best, has certainly been the Most Important, and I feel a great gratitude for the things I have seen, heard, loved and known. I have always known this Church is true, that God lives, that His Gospel is happiness, that families are forever, that Christ is the Light, the Truth, the Way—-but this last year has solidified these testimonies for me, built upon their foundation, fortified their futures. So while on a day-to-day basis it's still hard for me to say that Mission is any sort of miracle, I feel safe in the surety that I'll look back on it my whole life long as such.

We're headed out to Sukon for some soccer with the branch; love you all extremely much and incredibly more,


23 June 2010

Catatan (Notes).

So I'm not allowed to eat sambal anymore. Or at least for a while. And actually not anything close to pedas or remotely spicy or just even anything with real taste at all. Because that chili sauce is messing with my internal organs, apparently, and that is decidedly Not Good. Not serious; but not good, either. The doctor put me on a strictly soft-things-bland-things diet for the rest of this week just to see how it goes, which is kind of killing me in itself. But it's better than the crazy-twisty-knife-stabbing stomach pains so hey. Lose-Win and the balance is biasa aja.

Though I did have a rather disturbing thought while sitting in the hospital yesterday afternoon: I know all the Indonesian words for bodily insides because of our everyday restaurant orders. Up to this point, I never really thought twice about the crunchy-fried chicken usus we like to snack on off the skewer, but when being referred to as my very own intestines I felt a little bit like throwing up all over again.

Against all most popular odds from our house on Ogan, my red flats were the first to go. They died quite unexpectedly and irreparably along Jalan Mahakam, suddenly too big and clunky to keep up with the pace. Maybe with a bit more stretching they'll be able to fit SisLily's feet, but as for me they're officially kaput. Yet every end is a new beginning and today SisLily helped me decide on a decidedly awesome pair of sandals at Pasar Besar to keep me walking these last six (!) months of mission. They're deep chocolate-slate colored, with a sling back but covered toe, with an overall Arabian feel to them while staying modern and mission-appropriate. I am so very much my mother when it comes to shopping shoes. That makes me happy.

Eat, Pray, Love:
In other news: I know I am the last person on earth qualified to call out someone else as being overly quixotic, but I have a bone to pick with Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. Remember that bit about the three most common questions in Indonesia? Mau ke mana?Dari mana? (where did you come from), and Sudah menikah belum?

Except that it's false. Not the questions, not the frequency—-that's all true. But if we're taking this culturally, you've got to see the other side of things. Like, the answers, maybe? Because if those are the three questions most often posed to people here, these are the answers:

Mau ke mana?—-Ke situ.
Where are you going?—To there. (usually accompanied by vaguely waving your hand in some direction)

Dari mana?—-Dari tadi.
Where did you come from?—-From just then/a minute ago/before (tadi doesn't have a very clear definition in English)

And, as for the married question, that's not centered on familial values or particular sacredness of husband and wife; that's just Indonesians. Asking personal questions directly and without real need to know. In fact, if I were to make a list, the next question to follow the three above would be "Sudah mandi belum?"

Have you showered yet?

So, no, Elizabeth Gilbert. Just . . . no. Though SisLily and I are now thinking about making a career of destroying romantic cultural notions.

Why do all other languages distinguish between the two knows—-except for English? In Indo, it's tahu versus kenal. The first is fact. The second is a person. And doesn't that make sense to differentiate?

The Conference issue of the Liahona finally arrived so I had the chance to match up actual Apostolic counsel with what I think I heard in the Indonesian version live. SisLily and I like to read the articles out loud to each other and then discuss at length whatever sort of thoughts we had in the reading, and it is a beautiful little system that has led to some realizations, revelations, and resolutions I hope to be able to move from knowing to doing.

Love you. Millions.

16 June 2010

House Guests.

I don't think I've managed to mention this the entire time I've lived here, but in every house every where there are lizards. Just . . . always. On the walls, in the cupboards, up the stairs, under the table, over the countertops. Lizards. And I was pondering this last week as I walked in the door to watch all our little gecko friends scurry away from our arrival, and realized I should probably have said something about this by now. So here I am, saying something.

Plus, Saturday afternoon I found a little guy stuck to some particularly sticky tape over our kitchen window and spent the next hour in Pet Vet mode carefully peeling his tissue-paper-thin skin away from the glue and setting him free. I even took a picture to celebrate. One soul saved. Mission: Success.

(Does D+C 18:15 count for this case?)

love you,

09 June 2010

These Things are Not Without Shadow.


You know when dad wakes us up? For school or Saturday or some early adventure and usually that is okay because you were going to have to get up anyway and also he likes to set it to music and his own brand of lyrics and who can say no to Al Green, even if it is six in the morning? At that point you are willing to accept the alarm, stretching out of slumber to the sultry sounds of Sade, giving yourself a few seconds' more rest with your eyes closed (because really, you will get up, you will), rearranging recent dreams in your head, trying to make sense of them in those few blurry-eyed minutes you have left before real realities. Except dad doesn't give you that. Because even though you're awake, you're not technically UP yet. So he takes it to the next level. He takes your comforter.

And suddenly it is terrible. You are laughing but also serious, and cold, and pathetically weak, and there is nothing you can do about it but grab flailingly at that last corner of the blanket, a desperately doomed last attempt. I have often thought it is one of the worst things in the world.

But then today I discovered something even worse.

I am on a train, a train I had to catch at two in the morning from a silent station in Solo, sitting drugged-like on the platform after a restless few hours of awaiting departure from the mission home down the street. I am on a train that rattles through the deep dark jungles of central Java, and I have been on that train for hours now with no real hope of sleeping at all because, oh yeah, I can't sleep sitting upright in Antarctic levels of air conditioning and full-on lighting. And coming off of 48 hours of straight travel, non-stop schedule and even less sleep, it was kind of miserable.

And then they took my blanket away.

At six am! With three hours still to go 'til Malang, the countryside outside my window still deep the dark greys of dawn. And I saw it coming, since I was still tortuously awake and watched with growing dread the approach of the steward and his laundry cart, but poor SisLily got POKED awake to pull away all warmth and comfort. Which brought us both to tears borne of that early-morning laughter that is a result of being both irrationally upset and slightly slap-happy. Because really? I mean, I realize quite obviously that I am not in America anymore, but (cue Phoebe) at my old school, customer service meant customer service. And sure, you can slap me upside the face right now because YES I get it, I am in Indonesia and most everyone else on this entire island wouldn't be riding an overnight train on executive class anyway but at that moment, at six am in an ice box on hour four of seven, it seemed quite the most poignant injustice of all.

Anyway. Now that I have told you one negative thing about that train ride, I'll counter it with three positives: First, being forced awake at that hour also allowed us to more fully appreciate the passing scenery, which was a wash of all tropical tableaux and misty daydreams and rather quite pleasant to observe. Second, there's something extremely satisfying about getting off said train in your "home"town and being able to dodge all the taksi/becak/ojek drivers at the station doors because you are tired and beat but at least you know exactly where you're going and how to get there, too. It's kind of a point of pride, waving down an angkot like a local. And finally, that train was a train from Solo to Malang, which means I'm just home from two days in the heart of Jawa and a particularly happy zone conference.

The missionary meetings this time consisted of two sessions and a wedding. Sister Sugiono, a missionary who was released just a month after I arrived here, planned her entire wedding around our Zone Conference just so all the missionaries could be there—-and with East and Central Java combined, it was quite the turn-out. She's from HK and married a British man she met there, and her wedding was all-out Javanese and a lot of fun. There are four branches in Solo (they're our strongest members in Indo), so the place was packed, plus Marno's from Solo, so there was a bit of family reunion. We danced and sang and laughed all night and it was lovely. The RMs there are particularly close and I enjoyed all the brotherly camaraderie—-even though it was usually at my own expense (the Rhondeau/rondo joke will never die).

It was also Presiden's 70th and last Zone Conference, so we missionaries put in some extra party time and planned a surprise for him after the last training session. We made martabak manis and took pictures and just generally hung about the church having fun. I couldn't come up with anything too specific about the actual meetings —-which were good but not remarkable—-but it was just such a boost to be back with all the Elders and Sisters again. They're a good bunch of people.

Other highlights:

Even though we were one short with Greenwell off the island, our little 52B reunion was especially happy. I loved being the four of us back together, and though Nixon has his own way showing his emotions I'm sure the feeling was mutual. It's funny the things you forget about a group's dynamic until you're all back together again, when suddenly it's all as familiar as the bus routes in Jakarta. I'd forgotten Nixon's knack for pulling off the most hideously beautiful ties or the way he shakes his head at Lily and me like a proud parent. Or how Meek has nothing of a Tennessee accent but seems instead to be himself the epitome of a southern drawl, all lazy-slow and almost effortlessly casual while still so thoughtful and direct. We had a good time of it all, sitting with our martabak manis to catch up on all this craziness and reminisce about who we were and how we were and why we were and now, who we are and how we are, and why we are . . . I've said it a million times, but the MTC really was some sort of miracle. We were (are) really lucky.

Then there was catching up with Atmi, which was a whole other brand of happiness and surprisingly sweet. I didn't realize how much I'd missed her and was grateful to have her a constant at my side these last few days.

Plus, there are few things happier than riding bikes. Except maybe riding bikes gonceng. Side-saddle in a skirt on the back of a bike through the streets of Suryakarta.

So that was Solo and Zone Conference, though I also had a really good week before all that, too. Thursday seemed particularly perfect; I don't think I did anything too out of the ordinary, I just managed to do the ordinary so right. Running that morning was a long, lovely release and then I followed it up with a good three hours of solid study and preparation that set the tone for the rest of our day. By the time I walked out the door I was feeling the usual fear set in but somewhere in between Jalan Ogan and the train tracks I just decided I didn't want to do that today. I kick-flicked that little Satan off my shoulder and said, no thank you, I'm going to be a missionary today. Because my God is a God of miracles.

And so began a rather miraculous day. Our lessons were compact and strong and brave, meeting with new investigators and former investigators and less-actives and non-actives and everyone else in between. Teaching English that night at the church I felt especially chatty to the point of being downright cheeky, which my junior high kids* thought was hilarious and so my otherwise rather dry lesson (I make them study grammar occasionally) went off rather well, to the point that they didn't want it to end and the Elders actually had to pull them out of the classroom to lock up the church. At the Purwitanto's afterwards I played dominoes on the floor with Bayu and Retno and Dimas and Pak Pur and I lost absolutely every time but couldn't have been happier. I felt so good coming home that night. So happy and strong and able. And I know that's because I chose to seek and have the Spirit with me that day. I decided to have faith in Yesus Kristus and walk forward in that faith like nothing else mattered—-and so, in turn, everything took on new significance. I love the Lord. He truly is new life, and I felt invincible.

Until Friday. When I woke up feeling so biasa aja. Why? How? Am I really that weak? It hadn't been anything more hard than to decide my direction just the day before, but then suddenly it felt like the weight of all the world just to do it all over again.

But then I thought about Alma 37, the last few verses of which have recently become my rather most favorite scripture of all. I remembered my fathers in the wilderness, their Liahona that worked according to their faith that would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. And I remembered how sometimes they forgot to exercise that faith and so marvelous works ceased and they could not progress but tarried in the wilderness, afflicted and ahungered—when how easily that spindle could have been set spinning again if they would only look and live.

I love how Alma teaches this principle. It is something I have so often pondered here on the mission, thanks to letters from friends** and family and so many early mornings of personal revelation (both in relation to myriad Biblical accounts of wilderness and wandering but also originally out of a love for the Jaredite's voyage across the deep).Because as those things were temporal, of course they are spiritual, too. This world, by very fact of being The World, is a wilderness, and in that very definition it makes sense that we would wander. But the fact is that there is also a Promised Land, and we have our Liahona, and in our faith and feasting on the Words of Christ, we have a way prepared for us. And really, shouldn't that be easy? What on earth should ever be able to stop us?

For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.

And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.

O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way, for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live, even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.

On Sunday, during Fast and Testimony, I stood at the pulpit to testify of these things and though I feel I myself am far from full faith I do feel the truth of that testimony pushing me forward and allowing me to experience new understanding that, in turn, pulls my faith out one more step across this lone and dreary world. I am weak, and I am mortal, but that's rather the point after all, isn't it? All this wandering is how we're made strong, how, eventually, we are made immortal—and what's more, eternal. I know that this is all possible in Christ, that we are made holy through his Atonement and our own willingness to apply it in our own lives. The scriptures above alone have proved this to me in this last week; just yesterday I felt particularly comforted in the context of Grandpa Ron and our family when reading that the words of Christ . . . carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. I am hoping to be able to hold true to this scriptural strength, to prove faithful in all of knowing and doing and being, and am also so very grateful to have a family like ours to be here along the way.

So, maybe in my sign-off for this week's salutations I will again lean on Alma's words to express my own emotions for now, my family, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live. I know it's the Way. I know it's the Life. I know it's the light that's made us the family we are and forever will be.

Love you across this wilderness and all that great deep,


*total tangent: there are these two little Muslim sisters in my class that always wear matching jilbab and it just kills me in such the happiest way. Heart them.

**Terima kasih khusus untuk [special thank you] Kara Carlston, Bentley Snow, and Scott Jackson. They've been good people to have along on this journey through the wilderness.

02 June 2010



Monday night Mas Kuncoro greeted us at the door with his copy of the Kitab Mormon in hand. And handed it back to us. "Here," he said, no trace of his usual smile, " I don't want this anymore. I don't believe it." My heart skipped a beat and back again and also maybe my soul stopped but thank heavens Mas Kun couldn't keep a straight face for long and before I could finish whatever sputtered sentence I had attempted to begin, he had bust up laughing.

And, okay, I admit it. It was a pretty good joke. Turns out he'd just finished Ether 6 and found that there wasn't an Ether 7, so he was looking for a swap, not full surrender. Printing errors like that happen a lot here (everything Church-related is required by law to be printed in Indonesia, which takes the usually unparalleled level of LDS quality down a notch. Or maybe more like a leap. Wait, make that a mayday-worthy nosedive. Oh, Indonesiaku.) so that was something we could easily solve with the extra KMs we keep in our proselyting bags, so Wahlah. Emergency avoided and our lesson on Baptism and Ordination continued on without a hitch, even ending on time and exactly at 45 minutes. Which could be a continuation of last week's Miracle theme.

And was a much better record than all the hours previous to that appointment, seeing as it took us TWO HOURS to get out to Mas Kun's, opposed to the usual 20 minutes. Why, you ask? Thank you. I've been dying to tell you.

Because while you're all wrapped up in South Africa's world cup, Malang's got a trophy of her own: the all-Indonesia league's official champion. Maybe you've heard of it? Okay, I know. Indonesia's pretty hopeless when it comes to any international contest—-but they make up for that in national spirit, especially when it gets down to the city level. I mean, I thought the Arema craze was bad enough within the first week I arrived, but that was nothing to the uproar we've got these past few days. They are the Champions and goodnessgracious, they're making the most of it. Arema's been the sure champion since last Wednesday (they already had top points in the league so the tournament's final game on Sunday afternoon was just a formality) and so for exactly a week now the entire city's been bumper-to-bumper motorbikes, angkot, cars, and convoys basically just driving about in circles for celebration. Everyone is in blue and white, carrying flags or scarves or banners or life-sized stuffed animal tigers and everywhere you go they are singing Singo Edan or pumping their fists to Aremania or honking their horns ‘til they're hoarse to the beat of all soccer stadiums' triumph: baa-ba-da-baa-da-da!

The revelry has no time restraints, no age restrictions, no liability limits. Newborns ride squish-saddle on their parents' motorcycles, little ears kept warm in Arema hats over their Arema scarves over their Arema t-shirts. Teenagers takeover angkot and ride from the roofs, trailing Indonesia's red-and-white behind them and Arema's blue in front. Little old Javanese men still in their sarung and pece join the parades, hanging out of car windows, standing to wave from truck beds, marching along the curb to answer the traffic's rallying cry. I would send you a picture, but I only just took them along our walk to the warnet and haven't had time to resize them—-and that really wouldn't do it justice, anyway. This is something you have to experience, and annoying as it is (we can't go anywhere today, because the team just came back to Malang with the trophy and all angkot have shut down their usual service to join in the welcoming party), I am glad I am here to experience it. As crazy as this last transfer was, I sure did get to Malang at the right time. Dolphin show, Malang Tempo Doeloe, Arema's rise to the top. Yeah. It's been a good two months.

Tangent: Malang's brand of slang is to rearrange everything or say it all backwards. I don't like it. I can't really do it. And I also don't think it's all that creative and slightly pointless, but for example: Malang becomes Ngalam and Singo Edan, the lion mascot for the Arema soccer team, is Ongis Nade. Just, you know, in case you were wondering.

Besides Mas Kuncoro, the work is slow but that's nothing new. Our contacts seem all enthusiastic until we call back and then suddenly they don't remember who we are or why they ever talked to us in the first place, which is mostly frustrating but also sometimes funny. Last week we dropped by a contact's house and were so obviously lied to that Marno and I have been trying to recreate the moment for days and still haven't been able to do it justice. Basically we could see the girl in the front room but she sent her friend out to fake stupid and in the course of that one conversation she said that she a) didn't know anyone by the name of Ibu Zamarsin, b) Ibu Zamarsin was her mother-in-law, and c) she was just a guest at the house and didn't know anything. We're thinking of telling SisLily to go back with Sister Bajodo and let them have a go at it.

On Friday we had our fortunes told by a Chinese lady in our branch. She told me I'd be married by this time next year so I'm not setting much store by it (and you shouldn't either! My word. Yeah right.), but in Elder Martoyo's life she confirmed that he had already met his future wife, that she was from his home branch in Tanggerang, and that her name began with "S." Since then Martoyo has been all sorts of breakdowns. One day it's Siska. But then what if it's Sofia? Or there's always Sari!! Such a dilemma.

Speaking of Martoyo, he made nasi goreng for us this morning and brought it over to Jalan Ogan for lunch. Great guy.

Okay, last thought before I go: Yesterday at Bhakti Luhur I taught the nuns "I Am A Child of God" and we basically sang it maybe a hundred times or more for the space of an entire hour. They loved it.

Oh, the Church is happiness. It is joy, it is true. Keep the faith! I love you.

Sister E.