Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Final Reflection on Indonesia

"So how was Indonesia?"

I can't tell you how many times I have been asked that since my return to West Michigan. Its a simple question, really. And yet not so simple.

My standard answer has become, "Hard but good."

What do I mean? Well, I mean that this was not a tropical vacation. It was an invitation to join the people of God on the other side of the world for a few weeks. It was an invitation to teach and to learn. It was an invitation to expand my world in many ways and to expand myself.

But expanding can be hard. Stretching, as good as it might be, is difficult and often painful.

Why was this particular task painful? 

On a very superficial level, I missed some of the things that make my life here very easy. Things like brushing my teeth under a faucet of clean running water; going for a walk in my neighborhood whenever I choose to without an escort; not worrying about two-inch cockroaches invading my living space.

It was also hard being alone. The people of Reformed Evangelical Seminary of Indonesia were absolutely wonderful. But I had to travel there alone, and when I wasn't teaching, I was often alone. My husband and family were literally a half a world away. I was homesick.

What was good?

I learned that I have the most wonderful family in Indonesia - the family of God. The faculty, staff, and students of RESI bent over backwards to welcome me. They taught me what hospitality, welcoming the stranger, looks like. 

I learned a little about what is often called 'culture shock.' Being in a place where nearly everything is completely different from what I am used to was both disconcerting and tiring. I had a small taste of what our international students must be dealing with when they come to the U.S. to study. 

I learned that life is hard for so many people in the world. The day I left Jakarta more than 10,000 people of that city were displaced by the worst floods they have had in 30 years. The people at RESI spent a good part of the day packaging meals and supplies for folks who had literally lost everything, which was not much to begin with. I was often struck by the fact that much of the world lacks the sorts of things that I take for granted every single day.  

I learned that in a country where Christians are a tiny minority and life is frequently difficult, they don't worry much about the intellectual problem of evil. It seems that this "problem" is more a problem for the privileged west than folks that really have good reason to complain. And they don't take their faith for granted. The faith of the Indonesian people I met is vibrant and passionate. 

God worked in my life during my weeks in Jakarta. He reminded me of my dependence on him. He fostered a new level of gratitude in me. And he helped me experience just a little bit more tangibly the breadth and diversity of his kingdom. I am so glad I'm a part of the family of God, the body of Christ.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Fullness of Creation

"How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all." Psalm 104:24

I have always enjoyed the natural world. The diversity of animals, plants, and even things like bugs fascinates me (although I prefer bugs from a distance). The multitude of creatures, some downright funny in appearance and actions, are an endless source of delight and wonder.

And I have had plenty to wonder at here in Indonesia. There are so many new creatures to marvel over, some of which I have only read about before, but never seen.

There are the tropical fruits. Fruits with names like snake-fruit, and three different kinds of rambutan.

And then there are the plants. The lotus flower, an image frequently associated with the far east, is an incredible water-lily like plant with leaves that are at least 2 feet in diameter. It looks like you could walk across the water on these plants.

The Kapok tree, which can grow upwards of 65 feet tall.

Orchids and bamboo and all manner of tropical plants.

And then there are the creepy-crawly things, some of which I would like better outside of my apartment; beautiful butterflies, little geckos, and snails almost as big as my shoe!

All of these things and more have added to the experience of being in this unique and beautiful country. 

What a wonderful, imaginative, astonishing God we serve! Praise the Lord, says the writer of Psalm 104 after contemplating the creation.

 And this is exactly the response the natural world should evoke, says Paul. The wonder of creation should cause us to contemplate the creator. And while I regularly do this at home, Indonesia has offered me brand new opportunities to revel in God's wisdom. Praise the LORD indeed!

Friday, January 11, 2013


I am finally settling in here; getting into a routine that is as close to normal as I am likely to have during my stay. But I am homesick.

No, I'm not sitting around crying or feeling sorry for myself. Its just that I miss the familiar things that mark my life. Things like my family, my house, and my coffee pot. But its more than that. I miss the cold, crisp January mornings of Michigan and the clear night sky, filled with stars. I miss the cardinals sitting on the rail of my deck, their bright red feathers a brilliant contrast to the clean white snow.

Its not that Indonesia isn't beautiful. It is! This is my apartment with beautiful trees and lush green grass. And the walkway to the classrooms.

It is beautiful and tropical, warm and lush.
 And then there are the products of Indonesia, as colorful and diverse as the country itself.

And the food - a delight to the eye and the palate!

But it is not home.

An Indonesian friend here said when he was studying in the states, he missed the Muslim calls to prayer that frame the days here. (This is the most Muslim country in the world, I am told.) He is a Christian, and yet that regular sound was a sound of home for him.

Many of the students at the seminary where I teach are from other countries. We sometimes talk about culture shock and cultural adjustments. I think I have a better idea of what that entails for them. It is, at least in part, a sort of homesickness for all things familiar.

But I think one of the good things about an experience like this, is that it is a constant reminder that our longings for home are reflections of a much deeper longing - a longing for God, the one in whose presence we are always home. Our hearts are restless, says Augustine, until they rest in thee. This world, the world as we know it, is only our temporary home. We await our true home - the restored heavens and earth where the dwelling place of God is with humans. Only there will we be truly home.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Indonesia is a country of contrasts. Jakarta is a very large, modern city with everything you would expect: fine hotels and restaurants, malls, and even western places like Starbucks, McDonalds, and KFC.

But I learned yesterday from my friends here that there are also areas of the country that are undeveloped, even primitive. I was told that on some islands, the people still do not wear clothing and are basically, as far as I could tell, hunter-gatherers.

The contrasts do not end there, however. Within Jakarta there are also stark contrasts. Right next to the modern, expensive buildings in the picture above, are slums. These are not like American slums. Even the worst slums in America have housing. The people in the slums of Jakarta appear to piece together their homes from whatever they can find including scrap metal, cardboard, plywood, and anything else that might provide shelter. I was not able to get a good picture from the car, but this may give you some idea:

The modern appearance seems like any American city. Until I see scenes like this and worse. And then I read the paper. Human rights issues, especially those involving women and children are so much more problematic here in part, because it seems that many do not even recognize them as problems. I read about crimes like rape that frequently go unpunished are are widely under-reported in a society that still blames the victim and her family.

Depravity seems to hit me right between the eyes here. Humanistic optimism seems to be a luxury of the west, if it is even realistic there. 

Pluralism wants us to think that all religions are essentially offer the same thing in different ways: a route to God. But here, in this developing country, that seems even more like a lie than it does at home. The values taught by Christianity, although often poorly practiced, stand in stark contrast to those of other world religions. And hope for the future cannot lie with human ingenuity or even compassion. The problems are too big and humans are too selfish and corrupt. 

The only real hope is that which is offered in Christ whose saving work began the renewal of all things and promises a future restoration where there will be no more poverty, rape, disease, pain, and death. 

Control Issues

I am a creature of habit. Any member of my family will tell you that.

My morning routine is exactly that: routine. My bedtime routine is also always the same. It bugs me when things are not the same. I even like to sit in the same spot in church every week and tend to get a bit cranky if we are late and I have to sit somewhere else
Nonetheless, I also think of myself as rather adventuresome. Something my family will also confirm. I like trying new things, going to new places, tasting new foods, etc. So although I was nervous about heading off to Indonesia, as my previous blog posts testify, I was also excited about this adventure.

Until Friday.

Friday was the day I left everything and everybody I know to travel to this distant place in Southeast Asia, a bit north of Australia, and a bit south of Viet Nam.

The flight to Chicago was uneventful. After all, how much difficulty could there be on a one hour flight to a familiar airport? But once I got to Chicago the reality of what I was doing started to sink in. (Have I also mentioned that I tend to be impulsive, not always thinking through my more adventurous ideas?)Rather than walking from one gate to another, I had to leave the main terminal via train and go to the international terminal, a completely separate building as it turns out. I realized I was leaving the world I knew and was comfortable with for a place I knew little about. To say I felt uncomfortable would be an understatement.

Once on the plane, I was fine again. After all, planes are familiar, although Cathay-Pacific was WAY nicer than anything I have flown in the recent past. But then came Hong Kong.

I had a 14 hour layover there. Because of that, I booked a room at the airport hotel. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to get there. It looked so simple online.

There was no gate attendant as I am used to seeing at U.S. airports. So who to ask?

I finally asked someone in a Cathay-Pacific uniform who kindly informed me that I had to head to immigration.

I stopped to text my husband to tell him I had arrived in Hong Kong only to find out that my cell phone did not have service in Hong Kong. Now I was really alone and feeling every bit of it.

I got to immigration only to find a huge line. I just wanted to go to my room at the hotel! After clearing that hurdle, I still needed to find the “easy, enclosed walkway to the hotel.” It might have been easy and enclosed, but it was also elusive. All I saw were luggage carousels. I asked a kindly immigration officer which way to go and he pointed me in the right direction.

I was tired, anxious, and on the verge of tears by the time I found the walkway to the hotel, made it to the registration desk, and had the key to my room in my hand.

I got to my room only to find that I had no idea how to turn on the lights. Was I really this stupid? By that point, exhaustion from the 16 hour flight, stress from trying to find my way alone, and not even being able to text my husband took over. I sat down in my dark hotel room and cried.

Having taken care of that, I got up, went back to the door to my room, and opened it to get some light from the hall, hoping I could figure out how to turn on the room lights. Which I did. Turns out I had to put my card key in a little box just inside the door. Of course no one told me that. With lights and a quiet room, I placed an old-fashioned international call to my husband and started crying again when I heard his voice. Then, somewhat recovered, I made a cup of tea.

Then I realized that of course, I had not been alone.

God was with me, and even reminded me of that while I was on the elevator to my room. I heard that still, small voice say ‘you are NOT alone.’ And I think if I had remembered that sooner, or been listening more carefully, the night might have been a bit less stressful.

All this is to say that God wants me to depend on him. Yes, of course I need to use my head too. But when I totally rely on my own instincts and skills, trying to control the situation and make it go the way I want it to go, it rarely ends well and I often end up harried and upset.

It seems that God wanted to remind me right up front, on the very first day of this particular adventure, that forgetting about Who is really in control of his project would not be a good idea.
So I am back to my routine of beginning my day with God, listening to him remind me that he is with me always, even to the close of the age.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Vocation, part 2

In less than 24 hours, I will be leaving for Indonesia. I will only be there for a little over two weeks but I find myself with a tangle of mixed emotions this evening.

I am worried about the trip itself. What if something goes wrong and I get stuck in Hong Kong? What if I don’t find my friend once I get to Jakarta and am sitting at an airport in a city of 10+ million people? What if I took the wrong things along and now I am half a world from home and have no way to get what I think I need?

And then there is the teaching. What if my lectures fall flat? What if there is no relevance to what I have to say to a culture quite different than my own? What if these people paid all this money to bring me to their school and I disappoint them?

And of course there are the worries about living in Indonesia for 2+ weeks. What if I get sick? What if me and the spicy food don’t get along? What if, given I am in the tropics, I see a bug the size of a small rodent in my room and there is no one there to kill it for me? (I am not all that keen on even smallish bugs.)

I have always loved to read the stories of great Christian missionaries. I love to hear missionaries speak when they come home. Their work sounds so exciting. And while I am not a missionary and my trip does not begin to compare to their commitment, I do wonder if they ever have similar emotions.

This past Sunday our pastor preached on fear. If I truly believe that God is the one behind this opportunity to teach and interact with Christians in a very different part of the world, my fears, though real, should shrink into insignificance.

When I remember that all of this teaching, meeting, learning – whether here in the U.S. or in Indonesia – is God’s work, not mine, what is there to fear? That was at least part of the pastor’s point. Remembering Who is at the helm helps me move from fear to excitement.