Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Guest Post

by Stacy Skillman

I asked President and Sister Williams if I could steal some blog space and write a guest post on their mission blog.  We’ve just returned from an all too brief visit with them and I’m still basking in the joy from having been able to experience a little taste of their mission life and was eager to share some of the experiences and pictures of our time together. 

Our visit to Indonesia was 22 years in the making.  It has been that long since the four of us took our first vacation together over two decades ago--not long after we first met each other after moving into the Medford First Ward.  It was on that very first trip that Keith reminisced with us about his mission in Indonesia and Mark of his time as a missionary in Japan that the four of us decided that someday we’d all travel together back to those places that were rich with memories and meaning.

Their mission call had barely sprung from its envelope when Mark and I began scheming ways to justify a visit. Under the pretense that we would be more than happy to contribute to their well being by bringing them any provisions from America--should they begin to run dangerously low.   They did and so we did.  We lugged an entire suitcase full of important things like whitening toothpaste, chewable Tums, shelled almonds, and very important letters and artwork from the grandkids. 

See the artwork on the wall?  We were serious about our delivery offer!

Luckily for us, a senior mission is the perfect blend of service, sacrifice, diligence, and leadership, along with a pleasant sprinkling of relaxed guidelines.  This means that on occasion they can have some faraway friends/family pay them a visit under the auspices of, well, anything really. Especially if said friends/family are willing to roll up their missionary sleeves and help with the work.

One cautionary note: If you ever decide to visit Indonesia, my advice would be not to start from Oregon.  I think it’s the farthest possible spot away.  This would explain why we never ran into a single American tourist.  Not one.

After an epic flight itinerary we were greeted at the Surabaya airport by a thick wall of heat, two missionaries, and a faint call to prayer crooning in the distance. Within a few hours of landing, President and Sister Williams had revived our travel-fogged minds with a swift walk around their neighborhood and an icy coke from the nearby McDonalds.  23 hours on an airplane and America is still not that far away it seems. 

Feeling re-energized we were ready to plug in to mission life.  Among the many responsibilities the Williams have taken on, they often spend time in the car with a printout of the ward/branch list in tracking down members that haven’t been seen in a long time.  Searching out the lost sheep often brings a myriad of results.  Case in point was the poor sister they recently blogged about who had passed away just hours before they managed to track her down.  This day’s endeavor however, would happily bring some tender and sweet experiences.

Working from the printout, Keith and their driver Peter were able to locate the neighborhood of the top name on the list without any problem.  The man we were looking for lived in a comparatively upscale neighborhood by Indonesian standards including a security person at the entry gate. We pulled up and Keith and Peter inquired about the man and the men at the gate told us he had moved.  But we were in luck.  They quickly informed us the man had moved just a few houses around the corner from his previous address and warmly motioned for us to drive through the gates and gave us directions to the new address. Keith and Kathy, along with Peter knocked on the door while Mark and I peered from the street.  We didn’t want to overwhelm anyone by having him or her open the door to find a shock of Bule’s (foreign white people) on their doorstep.  Foreigners aren’t seen much and we didn’t want to be a “bule” bombshell.  The door opened and they bent low to speak to someone.  It became apparent that the man was not home and a small child had answered the door.  A sweet and cautious-eyed little girl.  She told Keith and Kathy her father wasn’t home so they left her with a message and a Book of Mormon and told her they would try and come back again for another visit.  A tender mercy would soon intervene in the shape of those helpful security guards who, on our drive out, eagerly informed us the man we were looking for had just driven through on his way home from work.  We promptly turned around.  Another knock at the door and we were warmly welcomed in by the man who had been told by his daughter that we had come by.

The man was kind, quiet, and welcoming.  He gathered chairs from all parts of the house and welcomed us to sit.  We were a formidable group of five.  For the next hour some really sweet experiences took place.  Keith conversed easily with him in Indonesian while Peter quietly translated their conversation for us. Life had taken some hard turns for this man and his family over the past few years and the toil and strain had taken its toll.  He was still active spiritually, although in another church.  He had picked up some habits along the way that made it difficult for him to keep a solid grasp on his activity in the church.  You could feel that the man had a strong desire to keep spiritually connected.  Keith shared a beautiful message with him and then asked him to read a scripture from the Book of Mormon.  Something remarkable happened as he did so.  His eyes began to water and he said he suddenly remembered reading his scriptures, especially about Lehi and his family, and that he realized he deeply missed those stories.  The spirit filled the room and Keith, as if following a prompting, turned to Kathy and asked her to bear her testimony.  Unlike the many times before when she had been asked to do so using English and the help of a translator to convey her meaning, she opened her mouth and testified sweetly using Indonesian words.  Although the words were unfamiliar to our ears, Mark and I could absolutely feel the unwavering conviction of her message.  As Kathy spoke, I glanced over at Keith and found him absolutely glowing with a wide smile as he watched his wife.  He was literally glowing.  The corners of my mouth broadened in response as I observed him. It seemed as if he was basking in the moment and recognized that this place and experience that had profoundly influenced him at 19 was now a shared experience between him and Kathy.  He would never have to explain the physical experience of this place or the feelings he had for the people here to her ever again because she herself was being transformed by it.  Including this moment where the spirit loosened her tongue and an unfamiliar language just flowed from her mouth.  I was so grateful for the experience.  To sit in a home of a humble man whose desire to re-connect with a forgotten faith was reawakened, to see Kathy allow the spirit to loosen her tongue and testify of important things, and to watch Keith bask in the sweetness and transforming power of mission life.

The fact that Kathy was able to share her testimony for the first time completely in this language wasn’t by chance alone.  It was a combination of long hours of study and prayer, a willingness to practice and speak with people, and lots of work.  We know that our confidence will wax strong if we have put time and effort into the studying that will enable us to respond to spiritual promptings when they come.  And that’s exactly what I’ve watched Kathy do, study, prepare, and practice.

This dry erase board leans against her headboard:

Following our visit with the man and his daughter we set off for our next missionary adventure; English Class.  Each Saturday evening the missionaries put on free English classes at the church for the community.  I was surprised to see the room fill with people of all different ages—from 7 to 70—all eagerly desirous to polish their English skills.  It’s no surprise that Kathy does a great job engaging the class on the weeks she’s there to teach; it was a really fun group to be apart of.  She allowed me to teach a short lesson to the class and tell them about snow.  Imagine explaining snow to Indonesians.  Tough assignment.  Later she split us into small groups and divided the missionaries and Mark, Keith, and I to help with pronunciation.  I got to teach with Sister Chapman, an awesome sister missionary from Australia.  The poor group we were assigned to had to listen to us banter back and forth on correct pronunciations of each word.  She vying for “ALOE—MIN—EE—UM” and me insisting it was “UH—LOO—MA—NUM”. 

The following day would find us attending church.  Keith was one of the speakers so it was a real thrill to hear him speak the language of his mission from long ago.  Throughout all of our travels together over the years I have never seen him attempt to speak a foreign language, be it Spanish, French, or Italian.  He prefers to leave translation books and home and instead speak in slow, loud English accompanied by sweeping hand gestures.  This departure from his language avoidance issues was awesome to see.  Keith is still Keith no matter what language he speaks.  I didn’t need a translator to know when he was being serious or silly.  His grasp of the language has come right back.

Kathy sitting with Kimbley at church.  We brought a mini Etch-A-Sketch and it seemed to be the perfect quiet toy.

After sacrament, as part of their missionary efforts to help train leadership, Kathy organized opening exercises and taught sharing time in Primary. The importance of senior missionaries really revealed itself during this time.  In the States we take it for granted that we all know how to conduct a meeting or organize something as simple as a sharing time.  Even the fact that most of us can pop over to the library for pictures and materials, things that aren’t quite as accessible here.  Keith and Kathy work hard to help guide and train members here to do things that those of us with vast church experience find natural and commonplace.  Often leadership skills don’t always come naturally to people who are serving in church positions for the first time.  It’s a realm that’s largely a new experience for them.

Kathy had prepared a Sharing Time lesson and Song time for the primary this particular Sunday to give the primary leaders an idea of how they could follow the general guidelines.  She also prepared two primary talks the week before and assigned them to a couple of children.  They don’t often give talks because they haven’t really seen it done.  This was a really great way to help train the leaders.  Primary really went well and it was fun to help her with Sharing Time.  Afterwards, the primary leaders were really enthusiastic about the things they learned and were eager to adapt the ideas into their Primary.

A week later we would find ourselves attending a branch in Bali.  During a Sunday School lesson a sister referred to herself and the members in Indonesia as pioneers.  As I listened to her comment, and reflected on my experiences the week before in Primary, this sister really broadened my definition of the word “Pioneer” and painted church history with a broader more visionary stroke.

There seems to be a great need for senior missionaries to go out and strengthen and demonstrate basic leadership skills to the pioneers of other nations and tongues that are so eager to participate in the gospel.  Often times people living in areas where life’s necessities require significant time to obtain and work for, have far less time to read, especially things like handbooks and manuals.  The training senior missionaries do can help to fill this gap.

Keith helping to locate the Bali Branch meeting place in a local hotel conference room.

Here's Mark helping set up for the Sacrament.  Notice the Branch President using a green suitcase.  He keeps all the branch supplies in it, including the Sacrament trays and tablecloth since they branch has no permanent home.

We got to pop in to a branch in Jogjakarta and see the Relief Society Sisters celebrating the Relief Society's birthday.  A gaggle of RS Women seem to be the same all over the world, fun, warm, and kind...and always one silly one in the bunch. (keep your eye on the sister in the white blouse at the piano, she's got some spunk!)

The four of us prepared to leave Surabaya to travel to a handful of places around the country and visit a few celebrated landmarks—places Keith never had a chance to visit as a young missionary with much stricter rules.  Mark and I were a little worried that we’d distract Keith and Kathy from the important work they’ve come here to do as they elected to come with us for a few days of travel.  

Notice they've still got their tags on.  I included this photo as proof I went. I always get back from vacations with no photographic evidence I've been anywhere.  Thank goodness for the selfie...
And the footie...

But our worries about distracting President and Sister Williams were unfounded.  This wasn’t the case at all.  In almost every place we visited, we were able to meet with members, attend branches or wards, and visit with the young missionaries called to serve there.  Along the way Keith found time to give a Book of Mormon and a first discussion to one of our boat drivers.  I think he can now officially claim to be the first missionary on a remote island with only three-dozen inhabitants.  After our explorations of the remarkable sights around Indonesia, Kathy remarked that she came back with a greater insight and understanding of the people she was serving.  It became apparent to me that this is a place where “the traditions of their fathers” holds a firm grasp on the customs and behaviors of the people, every bit as much as in the time of the Nephites and Lamanites, and seeing their history and culture helped Kathy to better understand their paradigm.

After returning to Surabaya from our little sightseeing jaunt, we attended a Zone Leadership Meeting with all the Elders and Sisters from the area.  It was tremendous to see these young missionaries eagerly engaged in mission life.  During one of the lessons taught, one on loving your companion, I caught this Indonesian Elder putting his arm around his companion.  It was awesome to see their attitudes about mission life.  These young Elders and Sisters are an impressive lot.

Be prepared, if you visit, they will put you to work...

By this time I was getting a bit hubris about my ability to sing the Indonesian hymns.  They were fairly easy to follow along.  But I got schooled when they chose the rapid fire “We Are All Enlisted”.  So much for my Indonesian Idol plans.

Not sure what hymn this is but I took a pic for you.  Looks easy doesn’t it?  Not too bad until you sing one that says “vigorously”.

The day before we left Mark got to go on splits with the missionaries.  He and Keith divided up and took off on bikes with separate elders.  The understatement of the year would be to say that bike riding in Indonesia is an extreme sport.  I think even the X-Games would ban it because of safety issues.  As mark readied to head out on his bike with Elder Davies, the young missionary looked at him and said, “I don’t have an extra helmet for you, I hope that’s okay.” 

Meanwhile I went with Kathy for a few visits.  She took me into the gongs to visit Sofi and little Kimbley who she’s blogged so much about.  This was a fun trip because Kathy was delivering an electric keyboard to Kimbley and give her a piano lesson.  Kimbley is super smart and seemed excited and focused about her piano.  Peter helped to translate when Kathy needed.  Mark’s splits with the Elders and mine with Kathy was the perfect way to end our trip.

Mark and I were grateful for the time we were able to spend with the Williams.  It was even better than the flood of memories Keith has shared with us over our long years of friendship.  He and Kathy are doing many wonderful and inspired things in Indonesia and in turn many wonderful and inspiring people are transforming them.  It was a great thing to be apart of.

Hati-Hati—A Postnote.

There’s a profusion of signs all over Indonesia that read, “HATI-HATI”  You’ll find them by potholed streets, uneven and missing sidewalks, low hanging pipes, purported construction zones, and even posted forbodingly in areas teeming with man-eating Komodo Dragons.  While the sign is meant to warn or caution, to me it is seemed a contradiction.  At no time during my visit did I ever see anyone Hati-Hati anything.  Nothing ever seemed dangerous or daunting to these amazing people.  I saw legions of mopeds drive over crumbling sidewalks, down narrow lanes with open sewers, and dart and weave past cars slowly pulling out in front of them.  I saw the volcanic Mt. Merapi sit among clustered villages with it’s broad shoulders hunched like a giant ogre with an unpredictable temper.  Hundreds of families living precariously at the foot of it while it was menacingly overdue for an eruption.  Despite all the chaos and imminent predicaments, no one ever seemed alarmed.  A car could abruptly pull out in front of a careening moped and no offense was ever taken, they simply just altered their course and continued in a forward direction.  No one ever seemed upset or uptight.  Even the villagers who knew their neighborhood mountain would most certainly devour and choke their village twice each decade, simple chose to carve out a living despite their harrowing proximity to the belching mountain and would simply rebuild if and when the time came.  This grand collective of island people have an easy way about them. Despite the cautionary signs that scatter their landscape there isn’t an ounce of hati-hati  in their hearts.  They are warm and friendly, largely forgiving, and avoid giving any offence. They thrive despite hardships.  No matter what confronts them they don’t get overwhelmed by any of it, they simply adapt and move forward.  A good life lesson. 

While visiting Mt. Merapi I took this photo because I thought it exemplified the Indonesian people.

Perhaps the “Hati-Hati” is meant for us Bule’s.  After spending time there I think the signs are there to warn those who have come to explore this island country.  Like a forewarning that the people here—especially the children, will burrow into your heart with their kindness and sweet vulnerability, and you’ll miss them when you leave.

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