Monday, February 25, 2013

Solo Week 9

Hello from hot, humid & rainy, Indonesia! 

Since today is the 25th, that means I am quarter done with my Mission! It has been about six months since I entered the MTC, and to be honest, it has gone by pretty slow. But actually, as I think back, it seems like yesterday when I entered the training center. Since I moved to Solo fairly early in my Mission, things have been going by fast here. Everyone always says that the first city is the longest, and I was only in Semarang for a month and a half! I am getting more and more familiar with Solo, which really helps the work here. I am much more involved in my companionship than I was earlier, and we are working very hard. I am having a great time, and I hope I will be able to do my best for the rest of the 18 months here! As always, here is a description of the notable events that occurred:

The only fun thing we did on preparation day last Monday was play futsol at the Church. A few members came and joined us, and we had a good time. We played in the church parking lot, because there is no charge! This was the time that I really saw my soccer skills improving. I seriously never thought I would become interested in soccer, but it is pretty fun here! Once it became dark, we got some fresh juice, and headed home. The rest of the night was spent relaxing and preparing for the next day. 

This is a car that Elder James thought was awesome--he really misses cars!
On Tuesday, shortly after all of the Missionaries in our house were ready, we headed to the hospital. Sister Manalu, a Sister Missionary, entered the hospital the night before because of some sickness. It was nothing too serious, but she had to be treated. So we went and bought a fruit basket at a stand, and gave it to her. She seemed happy to see us, and she was recovering quickly. Because we went to the fruit stand, I bought a fruit I had never tried before. It is called Manggis, and it is super good and sweet! The other Missionaries told me it is President Groberg's favorite fruit.  After the visit, my companion and I split off, and went to our appointments. The only one that was at home was Brother Agus. He was happy and bright as usual, and we had fun visiting with him. 

Wednesday started out well, and I had a really productive personal study time. I have been reading in the Bible chronologically, because I have a goal to read all the standard works during my Mission. Right now I am in Leviticus, and I have loved reading all the stories I have learned about since I was little. After the rest of our studies, the Indonesian Elders worked on the contract for our new house. It has been a little stressful figuring everything out, but we made it. We will be moving to our new house on the March 4th. It will be really cool to be the first Missionaries in that home. Later on, while on the way to an appointment, I was hit by a scooter. It was super light, and I did not even fall off my bike. But the man who hit me felt so bad, because he bent my front rim. He immediately took my bike to be repaired, and paid for it all. He was a super nice, honest man! We made sure he had our number if he ever wanted to learn. We had a few appointments, and for dinner, we went to a member's house. They were very nice to us, and the food was Sate, which is one of my favorites. For those who don't know what it is, it is basically pieces of chicken on a stick, grilled over a fire. It is then served with rice normally, and a tasty peanut sauce is poured over it. I will miss that when I come home!

As we usually do on Thursdays, we picked up trash at a local park. However, this time it was not filled with dead trees! So it was a lot easier. We worked productively, and many people saw our efforts. We do this act for many reasons, one of which is to contact others. But we have contacted every person who ever goes to that park! So we have recently been looking for a new opportunity to serve. After the service, we ate at our regular place, and it was delicious. For those of you reading this that have been to Indonesia, we have Es Buah with our meal at this place, and it is the best I have ever had here! For those who don't know what it is, it is basically a drink with many different things inside. But it is impossible to describe fully without you trying it! When we returned home, we studied and got ready for the day. We also had our weekly planning session, and it went great. We had planned to visit a few people, but they called and said they could not make it. 

As we were biking around, we saw some scooters racing in a nearby parking lot. It was super fun to see these tiny scooters tricked-out and built for racing. Later, we did have one appointment that was successful, so it was a rewarding day. 

The Zone Leaders were at our house on Friday, which was nice. They followed other companionships, but I still had the chance to talk to them. They are in a very small city called Magelang, and only about twelve members are active! They said it is cool because it is like a small family here in Indonesia. This was also the day where the Assistants to the President were going to call, and tell us about the upcoming big move. I was not too worried about moving, since I have only been here for a month and a half. (Although that is what I said in Semarang!) But they called later in the night. After eating lunch, we went straight to the Church and conducted our District Meeting with the Zone Leaders. I gave the lesson, and I was a little nervous, but I think I did fine. There was a bigger group there because of the Zone Leaders. After the meeting, I was able to work with the Mission couple and scheduled Agus to come to church in a few weeks. He is paralyzed, so it will be nice to get him to come. We also went with a member to a non-active member, and the lesson was nice. The man liked us a lot, and invited us back again. No one came to English class, which was sad, but we went to Pak John's later. We also found out about the moves, and Elders Masangcay, Mendrofa, and Suwarsid are moving from Solo. They are great Missionaries, and I will miss them!

Saturday was a fun day. The first big event that happened was a service opportunity we had at a school. Representatives from the school met us at our house, and drove us there because it was very far away. They treated us like kings, with food and the highest respect. Once we got to the school, we spilt up into two classes, and taught conversation. I taught about some cool things about America, such as four seasons, the states, and the flag. 

I was also asked to interview the students in groups of two, and start basic conversation. They did very well, and I had a good time teaching. 

Afterwards, I felt like a celebrity because they all wanted my autograph and a bunch of pictures. I have never given that many signatures in my life! We all said goodbye, took some more pictures, and went back, by car, to our home. 

My companion and I then went right to the Bishop's house, where he had a party planned for the youth. It was Valentine’s Day themed, and Brother and Sister Greenway (The senior couple) taught them how to dance. It was super fun to watch, because they taught them the Virginia Reel, and a few other old western dances. 

I will never forget watching a bunch of Indonesian youth square dancing to country music. The food was great there, and we had fun.

Sunday was quite successful for us, because we had two investigators come to church. This is really rare, so it was a nice surprise. I really think they had a good experience, and I hope they will want to come back again! Thank you for everyone who has been praying to help us. It sure did work! There was also a baptism at the other church in Solo, so we attended. Elder Masangcay was the one baptizing, which was nice, because he would move to Surabaya the next day. The other cool thing about Sunday was that we ate with some members for dinner. Many who came were returned Missionaries, so we all shared experiences and fun stories. 

Thank you all for all the support you give me! I am not in contact with many of you, but I can feel your prayers and I know they have helped me here. I am having an incredible experience, and I hope I will continue to have a great time. I will talk to all of you next Monday! 

-Elder James

Monday, February 18, 2013

Solo Week 8

Hello from Rainy Solo!

Solo has been great lately, but we have been getting a ton of rain. A few times, it has flooded in some areas, and we have had to bike in up to six inches of water! I have a hardcore two-piece poncho, which helps a lot, but we still get drenched at times. This week has gone by ridiculously fast, and I am trying to keep up with the time as it is flying by. I have been really progressing in the language, but I still am far from fluent. If I am talking about church, I could go on forever. But once someone approaches me talking about business or soccer, I am lost. The people here in Solo are great, and even though it can be hard to find new investigators, I am happy to be serving here. Here is a short description of some interesting things that happened.

Tuesday was a pretty regular day after I emailed. We had English class as always, but since it rained a little bit, no one came. I wish it would not rain on Tuesday and Friday nights so people would actually show up to class! It can be very boring sitting at the church waiting for students. But one good thing is that the church has AC. Later on, we ate at Pak John's, which always makes my day better. His grilled chicken is amazing! That will be one of my best memories of Solo; sitting down with all the Missionaries, eating chicken, laughing, and having a great time!

On Wednesday, we were able to eat lunch after study time at my favorite place. It is right across the street from the church, and the food is ridiculously cheap. I can get so much food for under a dollar, and it tastes great. Solo is famous for cheap food, so I always eat lots. But I somehow continue to lose weight, just not as fast as I did in Semarang. Our first appointment was with a less active member, and so we were encouraging him to come to church. The entire time, he had a little dog, which was barking like crazy! It became hard to teach, but we finished what we needed to say. Hopefully that dog will not bark so much next time! We also visited an investigator who has been looking into the church since 2005. We do our best to help him progress, but he will not act. He has said the church is true, and he reads the scriptures, but he will not stop smoking, and he does not come to church. This can be very disappointing for Missionaries anywhere. But what has been really cool is that we never give up on him, just like our Savior, Jesus Christ never gives up on us. He continues to help us, even if we are not progressing. He never gives up on us, no matter how far away we are from him. It is such a blessing! The last appointment was at a part-member family, and the lesson went very well. Our goal is to get the entire family to come to church. I hope they do!

Thursday was obviously Valentine’s Day, and boy was it different than the usual celebrations in the United States! We did get a lot of food, though, so it was a good day. It started with our early morning service at the park, but when we got there, it was destroyed because of all the storms we have been having. There was one really bad one in that area. Almost every single tree was fallen, or broken. I wish I brought my camera, but other Missionaries did take a few pictures and I will try and get a copy. So basically, all we did was move the fallen trees with a bunch of local Indonesians. It was actually very difficult. This made the meal afterwards that much better! When we got home, the Mission couples dropped off some candy and notes to us for Valentines Day, which was very nice of them. Later in the night, we went to the Bishop's house to teach Danielle, and afterwards, they had a huge Valentine’s feast! They had KFC, fries, ice cream, and a bunch of other great food. It was a fun little party. Near the end, the bishop was teasing that he was tired, so he and his wife posed for the camera and pretended they were sleeping. They are so much fun!

District Meeting was on Friday, as usual, and it was nice to have all the Missionaries together. We all discussed our efforts in our respective areas, and told of the success we have been having. A few of the Missionaries have planned baptisms for the end of this month, which is really exciting for everyone in Solo. The other really cool thing that happened this day was an unplanned visit with a member. We were biking to another appointment, and it started to rain heavily. While we were biking, we saw a member on the side of the road. His house was right there, and he invited us in. He was super westernized! He had a huge American flag in his front room, and would not stop talking about America! It made me really miss the States. He also had something like nine cars, which he was working on to restore to original condition. I wish I had taken some pictures of a few of them. One in particular was an old Jeep Wrangler, which was tricked out. It had police lights all over it, FBI stickers, and a big bronze Statue of Liberty on the hood. It was awesome! We gave a short message to them, and went on our way. The members are awesome!

 On Saturday, I was on companionship exchanges with Elder Hernandez from Los Angeles. We had a great day together, and the two scheduled appointments we had went very well. One in particular man is usually not interested in the gospel, and does not want to learn. But when Elder Hernandez and I went, he was entirely receptive to the message, and we had a great lesson. Not that my companion and I did not do a good job before, but it was nice to have the investigator meet another Missionary. Also, while we were riding our bikes, we ran into a blockade in the road. Apparently, it was Solo's birthday, and they had a huge parade! It was so lucky that we arrived just in time to see it. There were many people dressed in traditional outfits, and it was cool to see Javanese culture. We also ate at the nearby mall, and I found a sushi place! It was super cheap-only two dollars for one roll of sushi. Not as good as when my mom makes it, but still good.

Sunday was a pretty normal, long day. During Priesthood, I was asked to translate for Elder Knorrp, a Senior Missionary. I did my best, but it was very difficult. It was my first time translating, and I never thought it would be that hard! I did okay, but it is so hard to hear in Indonesian, and then speak in English. Especially when the teacher talks so fast, and you have to keep up. By far the longest priesthood class I have ever been in! There were a few meetings after church, and so we were there for a while. Once we finally arrived at home, we studied and ate. I made another great meal of canned fish, which tasted a lot better than it sounds. We only had one appointment made, but they were not home. It rained super hard that night!

Well, there is my little description of the recent experiences here in Solo, Indonesia this past week. I hope all of you reading this enjoy these emails. I sure am having a great time here, and my testimony of this Church is growing rapidly. I had a testimony before I left on my Mission, but it has been getting much stronger. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. There is no way that he was able to write the Book of Mormon by his own hand. It is too complicated and inspired to be of man. This holy record is where my testimony lies. If this Church did not have it, it would have ended a long time ago. I know the Book of Mormon is true, and I encourage everyone reading this, no matter who you are, to read and study from it's pages. I promise it will bless you so much in this hectic life. There is no other way towards true happiness than through the Lord Jesus Christ. I love you all, and wish you the best.

-Elder James

Monday, February 11, 2013

Solo Week 7 - Borobudur

Hello Again from Solo!

This week has been by far the most fun so far on my Mission. I was able to do some awesome things, and the language is really coming along. The lessons that my companion and I are teaching are becoming more spiritual, and I am seeing the love of Christ in everyone we teach. My companion and I are also becoming very unified in our teaching, and I am learning so much from him. Nothing builds one's faith like teaching with the spirit. I also really like Solo, and I am learning how to get around. We will be moving before the end of this month, so it is a little stressful, but it will be cool to be the first Missionaries in a new house. I will now give an overview of the interesting things that happened this week!

On Monday, after my last email, we had a few appointments, and later on we played footsol. I am still not very good, and I think I foul more than everyone else combined, but the Indonesians are patient with me. I never really liked soccer in any type before my Mission, but it is actually a lot of fun! I think I will get a lot better at it by the time I am done with my Mission. Soccer is such a huge thing here in Indonesia, and really, the rest of the world.

A major test of my knowledge as a Missionary came on Tuesday. It was time for another companionship exchange, but this time I was with Elder Lee. During the last exchange, I was with Elder Hasibuan, and he knows Solo very well. So when I got lost, he would know where to go. But Elder Lee is newer than me in this city, so if I got lost, it was all on my head! The Mission couples here in Solo took all of us out to eat at lunchtime, at a place called 'Papa Ron's' (a spin off of Papa John's). They inspect all of our houses every month and see if they are clean or not, and since all of our houses were great, they rewarded us! After this, Elder Lee and I were on our own. Luckily, I was able to go to our appointments, but it took a little longer than usual. We visited Brother Agus again, and Elder Lee was glad he was able to see his great spirit. After that, we proselyted at the local mall for a while, but there were not that many people there. The next appointment we had was with Danielle again, and it went well. For English Class, we were really hoping that a few people would come, but it started raining right before. When this happens, no one comes! So we waited at the church, and then ate at Pak John's. It seems like I barely passed the test!

Wednesday was as regular of a day as you can get here in Indonesia. We had our regular study times in the morning, ate, and went out for the day. Two of the people we planned on visiting were not home, but we were able to teach two Investigators. One stood out to me, because when we arrived at his house, his mother was having an argument with him. It was a little heated, but when we came in, they went into different rooms. We had planned on teaching about hope, but my companion jumped right in and taught about respecting your Mother and Father. It was one of the most powerful lessons I have been a part of. The atmosphere of the room changed from a feeling of contention to an overwhelming feeling of the love that comes from families. It made me think of my own family, and all the times I could have been a lot nicer to my parents. What is more important than teaching a detailed lesson, is teaching according to the needs of the Investigator. This one obviously needed to hear a message about family, so we gave one. It helped so much. Around dinnertime, we went to the Sukanto's house and ate dinner with them. They are a very strong member family, and they had very cute kids (see picture). We communicated about our success in the area, and Brother Sukanto was able to give us some great advice.

On Thursday, for our service project, we went back to the normal park we usually clean up, so it was fun. Many kids from school often come to this park for their exercise period, so it is cool to see all of them in their uniforms. They always think it is so funny that white people are picking up trash. After we cleaned, we washed up and ate. We had a little bit of free time, so we went shopping in preparation for our trip on Monday. I bought a very cool Batik shirt, and some other things that I needed. Batik is a traditional fabric for the island of Java, and it is especially cheap and common here in Solo. We went to a place that had so many options; it was so hard to pick one! But I finally picked a nice blue shirt, and I was happy with it. Later on, we had a few appointments, including teaching Danielle at the Bishop's house. It is a fairly far bike ride, taking about thirty minutes there and thirty minutes back. But I sure have become fast on a bicycle! I think biking will be a hobby of mine when I get back.

What really set this past Friday apart was how hot it was outside. I have gotten fairly used to the humidity, but when it is combined with scorching heat, it is brutal! During my studies, I had to have a fan on me the entire time, or I would break into an intense sweat. At around lunchtime, we biked to the Church north of ours, and had District Meeting. Sister Greenway brought some blonde brownies, and they were so good! I sure miss those kind of American treats. Once it was finished, we looked at a few houses with Elder Greenway. We have many options, but only a few will work for us. This has been taking up a great deal of time, since we have to be out of our house by March 1st! However, it is pretty cool to have a say in the decision. We also visited with Agus again, gave a short lesson, but Elder Martoyo mostly talked about soccer with him. I have no clue when it comes to soccer teams, so I had to sit there silently. I wished they were talking about American Football instead! For English Class, we did not think anyone would show up, because no one has in the past two weeks. But two people came! It caught us completely off guard, and we mostly worked on conversation.

Nothing too interesting happened on Saturday, but we did do weekly planning because we did not have time before. Weekly planning is so important, because we plan basically everything we will do and teach in the coming week. We make specific goals for each person we are teaching, and it is a very important aspect of Missionary work.  But like I said, other than planning, nothing too special happened.

Sundays are always nice, and this one was no different. Since we do not exercise on Sunday, I woke up at 6:30 instead of 5:00. That hour and a half made all the difference in the world! Even though before I started exercising, 6:30 felt very early. During Sacrament Meeting, and all the classes, I was able to really focus on the language. When I put in a lot of effort, I can understand almost everything they say. It helped that we learned mostly church language in the MTC. But it is much more interesting at church when you understand what others are saying. This extra focus made me extra hungry, so when I returned home, I made a delicious meal of cheese mashed potatoes (from a package another American Missionary left) and fish (not sure what kind, I just bought it at the store). It sounds pretty simple, but it tasted very good! Later on, we were invited to a member's house to eat and give a short message. We went, and the family was very nice. They had great food, and we had fun visiting with them (picture of me and Elder Martoyo with that family). There was a great spirit in their home, and it was a refreshing feeling.

Monday was by far the highlight of the week. Our District, and other Missionaries from our Zone went to Borobudur, a Buddhist temple in Magelang. This is why I was not able to email yesterday. We left very early, because it is fairly far from Solo. When it is that far, we have to get permission from President Groberg, but he gave it without question. It took about three and a half hours to get there, but it was fun to travel with our group. When we arrived, we met up with the other Missionaries from different cities, and ate lunch. It was a little more expensive than usual, since we were in a tourist area. My meal was a whopping twenty thousand rupia! ($2) 

We then entered the gates, and went to the temple. It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen! We were able to all take many pictures, and climb to the top. Many tourists were there, but mostly from Indonesia. I was asked by about fifteen different people to get a picture with them. I should have charged a little bit of money! But I always said yes, so I am now a local celebrity.

{From Wikipedia: Borobudur is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple that was built during the reign of the Sailendra Dynesty. The monument consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms and is decorated with 2,672 relieve panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome, located at the center of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside a perforated stupa. It was constructed in the 9th century and abandoned following the 14th century decline of Hindu kingdoms in Java, and the Javanese conversion to Islam. Worldwide knowledge of its existence was sparked in 1814.}

Afterwards, there was literally a maze of souvenir shops. These salesmen would crowd us like there was no tomorrow trying to sell little trinkets. Because I know Indonesian, I can barter with them. So I got a full size blow dart gun for $4, a traditional knife for $1.50, and a little statue for $3. If I were to pay the price they were asking, I would have paid more than $40. Awesome!!! 

This trip was by far the best I have taken in Indonesia. Once we returned to Solo, we ate, and went straight to bed. I was exhausted, but I had an amazing experience.

This is my little description of what happened this week. I hope all of you like it! As always, I would love to hear from all of you, so any letters are greatly appreciated! I look forward to writing about many more amazing experiences and blessings that come from this incredible Mission!

-Elder James