24 November 2010

By This We Worship and are Freed.


It is one of mortality's greatest injustices, and it is epitomized in a pop song (which is injustice enough itself): don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got ‘til it's gone? How many times in my lifetime have I learned that lesson? New Zealand, Wales, Siena. My lifelong love affair with Home? And yet here I am, feeling like I'm only really learning to love this great big mess of an archipelago at the eleventh hour. Am I savoring this bowl of fried noodles and boiled sawi sufficiently? Did I smile brightly enough at that crooked old becak driver in his wrinkled SBY shirt? Have I taken enough time to take in a landscape of green on green, of palms on mountains and water buffalo on city streets? I'm afraid the answer is no, but that is not from lack of trying. It is from the simple fact that it is never enough, it cannot be enough. Not when every angkot, every rainstorm, every small child, seems to pump the very blood I bleed and need to my heart.

This hurts.

But we will stop talking about it, because I am in denial anyway. I no longer look at calendars, and I pretend I just don't understand enough Indonesian when hearing dates and times over informational loudspeakers. Time waits for no man? I am no man.

My Black Day never came; quite the contrary. We arrived in Surabaya and consequently spent some of the most Spirit-filled and meaningful moments of my mission thus engaged. I had a lot of opportunities to rely on the Lord and thereby grow, opportunities that I will count among the most refining of my mission. One of them was being called on to translate for Sister Pratt in the District Conference sessions and individual leadership training. Now. Translating for an afternoon of entrepreneurial workshops amongst my dearly beloved members of the Malang branch is something I can do. Gladly. Translating for the wife of a General Authority from the pulpit at a District Conference? Entirely other. I felt very inadequate, knowing that Sister Pratt had so thoughtfully and prayerfully prepared what she had to say—-what the Lord had to say—-to our members in Jawa Timur, and felt too heavily the weight of being the one who would then, in turn, be mouthpiece to that message. I was nervous. Which is an understatement. But I remembered how often I had called upon the Lord for his strength and solidity in such times as these, and I remembered the line from Lead Kindly Light (so long thy pow'r hath blessed me, sure it still, will lead me on), and just after the doors closed but before the opening prayer I nudged Nab and we slipped outside for a small prayer. Nothing too spectacular, just a sincere please.

I translated for Sister Pratt. No, that's not right. I opened my mouth to translate for Sister Pratt, and the Spirit gave me the words to do so. For fifteen minutes in that first session and thirty the next day, I spoke Indonesian like I'd been born and raised in Central Java*. It was still very simple—-I never used any words I didn't already know—-but I could feel the difference in my syntax, in the way a relatively grammar-less language suddenly formed itself into formal sentences on my tongue, in the way I was given to know not just what words to use, but exactly the right word to use. Which was never the direct word translation from the English, but always something slightly different in Indonesian that carried the same power. But perhaps the craziest thing of all was that I understood this, all of this, within the very exact moment I was experiencing it—-all the while simultaneously listening to Sister Pratt and speaking into my microphone. My mind is not big enough for that. Not humanly. And so I knelt that night in gratitude for not only a prayer answered, but an experience of eternal proportions.

District Conference, in all other respects, was incredible. Great speakers (President Groberg has the most beautiful way of teaching directly out of scripture), great songs (we sang my all-time Indo favorite, Kita Maju Ke Kemuliaan, right before I had to translate. That extra strength was no coincidence), great Spirit. Ibu P was there along with her son , J_ (Pak J can't travel long distances because of the side-effects of his stroke), who then both attended the special meeting for new members on Sunday afternoon. Their testimonies were strengthened and they told us so—-later Pak J told us that J_ was still talking about all that he had learned and felt in just that one weekend. He is going to be baptized, too, and is already planning on serving a mission.

On an entirely selfish level, I also loved Surabaya because I had one last huzzah with the missionaries there. Elder C was just moved there from Tangerang, so I got to say goodbye to my favorite Australian. Elder C and Elder S are now a companionship in Surabaya Timur, so we got to suss out the last-minute details of our Canadian Road Trip, complete with horse-riding a la Legolas** Elder K was there with his monster of a Canon camera so we swapped SD cards and talked photog for a while, and I said hello and goodbye to greenie Elder M who is half-German, a psychology major, and dual citizen—-all of which information he will volunteer without being asked to. We took countless photos with the young women and played hand-clap games with the primary. We ate fried duck in the parking lot and ordered iced juice through the fence. Then, after the rain and just as the sun set, we all got back onto the bus, our little Malang district and me, and headed home. With Elder Mari-*** in tow. I sat quietly alone along the back row of the bus benches and watched the world while thinking about life. Occasionally J_ would pop his head up over the seat he was sitting in next to Meek just to check if I were still there. Sister L kept me happy with cashew choki-choki while Ibu P fell asleep with her head on Sister Nab's shoulder. It all felt very whole, and also holy. These people, these places, this love.

Monday night J and P had their baptismal interviews, and Nabs and I sat with one or the other at the church while Meek interviewed and Mari picked out hymns on the piano. Pak J's was first, and forty-five minutes long. When he finally returned, Ibu P poked at his arm, laughing. "What took you so long?" she laughed. J smiled faintly, distant. He sat down in the chair next to me, a primary sized chair for a full-size man. "This is my new life," he explained. "I do not want to forget a single moment of it." They are so ready to be baptized, but the miracle is that this wasn't always so. I have been witness to a mighty change of heart. I have seen Christ working among men. This is another thing my mind is too mortal to manage, another thing that sometimes I can only very rarely catch rare glimpses of on the eternal line of things. I doubt I will ever be able to fully explore or explain this life I have lived in Indonesia. I hope you will be able to feel even the smallest sense of that while you are here to see it yourselves.

We are being blessed. I am being changed. The Gospel is true and we are a part of it. Happy, happy thanksgiving.


Sister E.

*Really. I had members come up and ask me that afterward. I could only kind of shake my head, slightly dazed, saying thank you but so obviously unable to take any credit for any of it.

**Dudley's from up-north (and yes, I have to consciously restrain myself from calling him Dudley Do-Right. But really? His name is Dudley AND he's from Canada?), has horses, and owns the official LOTR Legolas bow and arrow set.

***He's back, he's back! The Golden Era of the Malang District has been restored!

17 November 2010

Good Day Bad Day, Red Day Black Day.

Hello, People.

I'm just going to be honest and tell you right here right now that, with only two more weeks of these one-hour emails to go, I've become lazy to lackadaisical proportions and just typing this is hard. Well, not really. Maybe lackadaisical is too lethargic—really I just wanted an excuse to use a good English word—but essentially the message is the same. Why should I write out a story from a thousand miles away when I could just tell it to you all together in a taxi? I know, this is not a very charitable train of thought. I will try to be a sharefish.

The Good Day was Saturday, when Pak J and Ibu P prayed and decided they'll be baptized the 28th of this month. When we sat in their living room laughing and crying and learning together about the strength of new-fire testimonies and the power in sharing them. When Sister Na and I walked home down the mountain, singing hymns.

Another Good Day was Yesterday, when a storm hit and we went out anyway. To appointments that fell through but who cares? Because we are soaking wet and there are goats on the streets and this is Indonesia. To the mountain again, to Pak J's and Ibu P's, where we laughed and cried and learned together all over again. It's a pattern and I like it.

The Bad Day was Sister L's, on Sunday, because she gave her whole heart and it still didn't work out. So we sat on the kitchen floor at the chapel after choir practice and she cried so I taught her yoga and she learned to laugh again. But apparently I expended all the happiness I'd stored away for a rainy day, because then the Bad Day was Monday. When suddenly everyone and everything absolutely everywhere was doing their utmost to annoy me to no end, and I was struggling. Because no charity is not good. But good friends are really great, and hearing the Bro S/Sis M Love Story for the umpteenth time was a sure-fire-no-fail picker-upper.

The Red Day is today, Idul Adha, when the goats are led to the altar and the streets run red. The muezzins were singing from their minarets all night long. Our angkot had to take twisty-turny detours last night to avoid the torch-led processions to sacrifice, which thrilled me to no end. Considered being Muslim for a minute, as long as they would let me be the one to play the drums.

The Black Day is no day, because it does not exist except to make the Seuss couplet and because, like I mentioned, lazy. But I guess it could be foreshadowing for tomorrow, when we drive to Surabaya, which if you remember is not my favorite. But meeting with all the missionaries plus District Conference will more than make up for the city itself, I'm sure.

Love you so much. See you so soon. Wishing you Good Days.

Sister E.

10 November 2010

Going Solo.


I am alive, in every technical sense of the term. Though four hours of sleep within the last 32 are not much good for anyone and maybe especially not for missionaries. Still wouldn't trade an economy train at midnight for any other adventure. Inescapable all-nighters can be some of the best.

The biggest, brightest, bestest news from this last week is that Pak J and Ibu P are going to be baptized. We have yet to pin down a date, as their oldest daughter is having a hard time with "those Mormons" and her parents want her to better understand the situation before they take the plunge, but at the very most they promised me they will be baptized before I leave because I am "their missionary." I am somebody's missionary! It has been a long learning process but they have been moved and changed and their testimonies have become a part of mine that the Church is true.

Sunday afternoon we left for Solo, arrived around midnight, and spent the next two days in Leadership Training from nine to eight, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. It was killer, with a helpful dose of spiritual strength and missionary motivation, with the only truly low point being at about three o'clock on the second day when Sister Lie and I gave in to evaluating and appraising the Elders' ties from keren-keren (super stylee, you win) to paling jelek (no no no please take it away!) instead of listening to Elder Hartanto teach us about Revelation Through Church Attendance. But that was just a second's slip-up, I swear, and by the next rounds of role play we were better. Slightly slap happy, but better. It was long, but good, with the end joy being the satisfaction of having survived and also catching a glimpse of Elder Greenwell through the west window. (He moved to Solo last week but what with our schedule that's all I saw of him.) Plus, we managed to cover everything in 22 hours over 2 days and so our third day morning session was canceled, allowing for some P-Day play. Which we more than took advantage of.

Because Sister Lie is from Solo, and she has connections. People-with-car connections. People-with-car-and-cabin connections. And seeing as the Elders hadn't thought to extend a soccer invitation to the Sisters, ya sudah. We took off Wednesday morning without them and spent the day in Kemuning, a tiny little tea-plantation town up-up-up and away in the Solo hills.

To say it was happy would be an understatement. To describe it as magical might be accurate, but too cliché. Essentially I was not a little bit entirely enthralled by every bit of it; the sudden rushing release as we passed from city borders into wild countryside, the creeping fog as we swung up and around each switchback to the mountain's top, the clever aesthetic of the one-great-room cabin with an open loft and a view out to the world we'd left behind. We ate our tahu kupat from the loft, clouds gathering and dispersing, fog thinning and thickening, air cool and then cold. With the first few rays of hopeful sun we took to the steep slopes walking in search of waterfalls, past family patches of cabbage and carrots and wide-eyed children jabbering in Javanese and toothless grandmothers nodding, smiling as we walked. Once past the last row of houses it was deep into where the wild things are, and at one point I turned a corner before anyone else had caught up with me to find myself facing sheer canyon sides on either side of me, cliff face mottled in verdant mosses reaching up into leggy palms and the tracings of a classic rain forest canopy above me. It was quiet, perfectly quiet but for the nature sounds there needed to be—-sounds like distant water and insect songs and the swift hush of a bird taking flight. Butterflies danced in circled flurry about me, butterflies in lurid blacks and turquoise wing-tails, and if I didn't know any better I'd have thought the scene was simply some orchestration of Disney design. But this was God. All good things, all God. I felt small. Because what am I to all this?

And then, in the same second, everything. Tall strong invincible unreachable because what is this to all me? And not just me, of course, but all us? You and me. Children of God. Our literal Father in Heaven, a Father who knows and loves each and every one of us individually, above and beyond the flowers, the trees, and the butterflies He created for us. It is something I have always known. But yesterday, in that short space between turning that corner and then the others turning to join me, I knew it better than my knowing before. And I realized that I think that's maybe what I've always loved about the world, all creation. That it makes you feel small in so much grandeur only to remind you that the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

We found the waterfall. We hiked up behind it and through it and over it and an hour later we hiked away from it, back to the cabin, back to the great room, on to the floor and under the covers as the rain fell all around us. Sleep, for a second, because if there is one thing I have learned from Indonesians it is that rain necessitates napping. And then waking up, waking up to maghrib from the mountain mosques, calling us to prayer calling us to happiness calling us to home. We drove down the mountain in the sleepy silence of sunsets and fast friends and fresh air. We drove home to Solo and then five hours later we train-ed home to Malang. Where I am now. So very, very tired. But alive. Still alive. And isn't that some sort of wonderful?

I love you. It's true, all of it.

Sister E.

03 November 2010

Kabar Terkini.

Dear People,

One thing of many things about being a missionary is that on any given day you are subject to anywhere between one to two surprises, at least a dozen emotions, countless mood swings, and the occasional death blow. The Gospel is not complicated, but inviting people to live it sure is. Within these last seven days I have been disappointed, elated, upset, humbled, refined, confused, whip-lashed, amazed, and enlightened. See also happy, grateful, tired. Most nights I sit down at my desk and just stare at my journal as the clock ticks away towards curfew. Stare. Stare. Blank. Nothing. No, not nothing. Everything. Anything. Too much. Not now. But when? If not now, when again? And to make matters more pressured, I've committed myself to journaling absolutely every single day for the month of November, my last month of mission, the month I have left.

Halloween was a smashing success. Entire angkot of kids showed up and we had a real laugh bobbing for apples and mummifying the lot of them with tissue paper. Worth the day we spent at the church linking paper chains and folding accordion circles out of newspaper, and the words of affirmation I received for the cider I stewed up was thanks enough. I really enjoy making people happy, plus watching a room full of seven year olds scream to high heaven when Meek hit the lights and Sugiyarto set to banging on the outside windows was just too, too good.

Sunday morning Elder and Sister Thompson arrived in Malang for a Entrepreneurship Workshop which, due to forces unforeseen, Meek and I ended up team-translating. The workshop was all afternoon, Meek and I switching off every 15 minutes up at the front to translate Elder Thompson's talk on self-sufficiency to some degree of understandability and surrender laughing to phrases like "micro enterprising funds" or "mutually exclusive capital." I love translating. Indonesian to English I'm not so good at—-akin to translating poetry into binary code, if you'll allow me the analogy—but turn the tables to English into Indonesian and I am in my zone.

Plus then Monday morning Sister Thompson stole me away to a batik boutique I had yet to hear of/see/enter which proved to be Malang's equivalent of Aladdin's Cave of Wonders. Good thing she's more of a tornado and tore right through the place like one; on my slow boat to China I could have been in that place hours on end.

Investigator news: (and I am not making this up) all five of our appointments last Saturday fell through, every single angkot we got on was empty (meaning not even a chance at contacts), and then just to really rub it all in every single window Nababan sat down next to was stuck shut. It was laughable, and so we laughed, but really? Actually at one appointment the investigator actually was there as planned, but her house is seriously kampung in the middle of about two hundred children under the age of seven, all of whom decided to come running and screaming in and out and around her house in exactly the hour we were there to teach. President says he sometimes wonders how we're ever able to teach with the Spirit when much [around us] is in no way conducive to inviting the Spirit in the first place. (When he said that I think my entire soul sighed in deepest solace because Thank Goodness I was beginning to think something was seriously wrong with me.) Yep . . . case in point. We couldn't even get to a prayer with that kind of distraction, so we made another appointment for next week in the early morning instead—hoping that the Indonesian school system will be good for something and at least keep the kids at bay long enough for us to bear testimony.

Then it was Sunday and there was a miracle. Maybe. Something I am still trying to understand and explain, and something that feels too much to share right now. Not really an email experience, if you'll forgive me. It would've been the spiritual part of my week's missive, but as I still haven't quite come to terms with it, we will go without. Give me a month.

Today is not actually our P-Day (that's another long story, file it under "whip-lashed" above) and so I have even less time than usual and if we're to beat the rumblings of a beginning storm, I really must be on my way. And next week I'll write you from Solo. Because according to the text I just received, that's where I'll be for Leadership Training. Role Plays. Put "panicked" up there with my ADD adjectives, will you?

Final Question and closing remarks: For next week, can I ask each of you to write me about specific blessings you felt you have received as direct result of obedience to a particular gospel principle? i.e., tithing, word of wisdom, law of chastity, follow the prophets etc., etc. Don't worry too much about it; it's not for anyone but me and I'd really just like to hear what you've experienced, what you believe and why you believe it. Thank you. I love you, truly dearly deeply madly—keep the faith. Remember the Shire. Hurrah for Israel.

Sister E.