The last blog from Indonesia

Heath from the future (present, but not when I was writing this) here to say that I will be finishing up the Sumba blogs, so this won’t be my last total blog. For those interested, they should be up later this week. To the post!

As of this moment, it’s 12:03 PM on June 29, and I’m not OK. I’m kind of freaking out. I got back two hours ago from a trip to Jakarta, and will leave in another 6 to go on another one with our pastor’s family and Ashlynn’s host family. After we get back from that trip, I can count on my hands how many days I have left in Indonesia.

I find myself, in times like this, gripped by a peculiar kind of tense panic. A panic that seems to question itself: I have a hard time understanding that the end is real. I came to Indonesia, I’ve spent a year in Indonesia, living and learning and changing and growing and forming relationships and now… what?

I’ve started writing this blog, the blog that will be my final one from Indonesia, several times, and I have ended up throwing away all these half finished renditions, mostly because I didn’t want to think or talk about it. But now the ugly truth looms, a line in the sand has been drawn, and I know all too well when it will arrive. It’s time to talk about my feeeelings. (for those who were looking for anything funny here, sorry. To be fair, I’m not normally very funny, so you’re looking in the wrong place… try Travis’s blog!)

One of the largest frustrations that I’ve experienced this year is that now, almost 10 months into my time here in Indonesia, I am finally feeling comfortable. Language has begun to flow (at least a little), I’ve made close friends, and I know how I relate to the people around me. So of course, now is when I begin packing. Right as the pieces formed together, it seems like it will all be taken away. I’m frustrated. It’s the sort of frustration that makes kids cry. A dumb, unreasonable, bitter frustration. A frustration that accompanies a perceived injustice, a violation of the universal fair (yes, I know, life’s not fair, but that’s the frustrating bit here). This frustration seems like one that’s important to talk about, but still defies articulation. I don’t know what to do with it, but I think that it’s important.

I suppose I also think it’s joyful.

Joy. What a misplaced, neglected emotion at times like this. It’s sometimes hard to see, but it’s there. Every time I’m reminded that in less than 14 days I will be gone, I am also reminded of why I feel so frustrated: I have done exactly what I hoped to do in this time. I have made connections that I cherish. I have grown in my faith and personally in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and I have fallen deeply in love with a place that I didn’t know anything about a year ago.

So that’s what I choose to think about. I choose to remember that the injustice inherent in leaving a place, community, and lots of people you’ve come to love is something that, while notable, pales in comparison with the idea of having come to love them. Call me a romantic, but it’s better than the alternative. I remember that though I am sad, this sadness comes as the truest blessing I can imagine, a sadness which I have been gifted, repeatedly, by so many people and especially by God, though immense grace and countless opportunities.

I stare down the end of my time. It’s a fact, now, no longer deniable, not something I can think about later. It’s here. I’m frustrated. I’m sad. I mourn the change and the difficulty which I will face in the next few weeks. I mourn the fact that, while sustaining friendships is possible after a year like this one, and I’ll probably be back, it’s going to be different. But as I mourn, I also remember to be joyful and grateful. I am frustrated because I have had an amazing year. I am sad because I have loved.

I mourn what I will loose, but I rejoice in what I have gained.

Sumba, round 2

Before I begin the second episode of my experiences in Sumba I would like to talk about a difficulty I’ve had while writing these blogs: how to write about a poor area without marginalizing. I could talk about the situation, the poverty, the need that I perceived (need of better health care, need of economic development, etc). This would, after a sense, make a fairly accurate picture, at least economically. But if I only talk about that, have I marginalized the people, their traditions, their independence, their abilities.

However, if I concentrate on only the people, their culture, their abilities, I risk marginalizing the efforts of some people who have poured themselves and their resources into those more “situational” aspects of Sumba. By concentrating on traditional beliefs I would also marginalize the new congregations of christians there.

So now what? Well, I’m not sure. I’m just going to reflect in as much depth as possible; and give, to what extent I know, a full picture of what I experienced there.

Here we go again: Sumba. This one’s going to start to cover my experiences there. I would first like everyone to remember that I am a towering mountain of ignorance (especially about Sumba), and I SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED AN EXPERT. Anything I talk about here is as I perceived it, and I have subconscious bias that changes even that. So seriously, just be aware.

As we flew into Sumba, I was struck by two elements of the landscape, elements that I hadn’t seen for almost a year: first, grassland. After seeing only a tropical biome for the previous 8 months, grass was difficult to comprehend. The few more densely grown in areas were relegated to depressions or valleys in the land, and everywhere else, the prairie reigned.  Second, population density. Wikipedia says Java’s population density is 2,893 people per mile, and Sumba’s is 159. This was quite obvious from above: a few cities and sparsely scattered villages were all that broke up the landscape. I was excited.

When we (“we” here being representative of our group of 5 people, Pastor Adi, another pastor who works at the bible college and we three wandering bule (endearing term for white person)) landed and stepped out of the plane, we were greeted by warm wind (something that doesn’t happen on Java) and a very small, slightly run down airport. We carried out what we’d brought along (a backpack and a box of bibles each), and left the airport to go and meet up with the pastors and leaders of the local church. They seemed excited to meet us, but also a bit withdrawn. Speculating about something I may have misinterpreted probably isn’t the right approach to this sort of thing, but I wouldn’t blame them: relating to the leader of a denomination and three very conspicuous foreigners doesn’t exactly sound easy. It could have also been a result of the culture in Sumba, which as a whole seemed a bit more withdrawn than Java. Might write more about that later.

On the drive to our hotel I found myself lost in thought several times reflecting on differences. This meant that I didn’t catch some of the conversation, but here’s some of what I thought about.

First, traffic. Sumba’s roadways are absolutely empty when compared with roads in Ungaran (or Java in general, really). This alone says a lot about how different Sumba is from Java, at least in an economic sense. Less people have cars, and trucks transporting goods are simply unnecessary without large industry or lots of people.

Second,  food vendors. Food vendors are extremely common in cities on Java, selling all kinds of snacks and foods. From people with cooking setups that fit on the back of motorcycles to rows of shops all selling potatoes (yes, all of them. There are probably 20. I still don’t understand this), to full blown restaurants, food is never that far away.

Places to buy food are something I never really noticed at home (in Ungaran), but once they were gone, the contrast was stark. I kept expecting to see more as we neared the city, but even inside the city they were rare.

Finally, houses. In Java, houses are very different from place to place. I hate to use the term “shack” to describe someone’s home, but it sometimes seems like the most applicable term, especially in poor areas. On the other hand, it’s not rare to see flagrant opulence on display in the form of gigantic, beautiful houses with very large gates (gates are important here). This contrast is something I’ve thought a lot about this year, as well as wealth gaps in general. But that’s a different blog, I suppose.

Anyways, in Sumba, most of the houses were pretty similar. They weren’t particularly nice, it’s obvious that Sumba is a place populated by people who work very hard for what they have, but the houses weren’t exactly shacks, either. Almost all were permanent (having concrete walls, or at least very sturdy wood construction), in a traditional style from sumba, where the houses are elevated on poles perhaps 3 feet above the ground (for the wooden ones, concrete ones were at ground level). I was told this is mostly to keep animals out, but don’t quote me on that. Anyways, what I’m getting at is the fact that Sumba was interesting to me because of how little economic diversity I saw: pretty much everyone had similar houses, and wealth wasn’t being flashed around obviously.

These first three really only went to prove to me what I had already been told: Sumba is a completely different place than anything I’d experienced before.  Fewer people, less outside influence, and less economic development have combined to create a place that is quite different than Java. This basic assumption– “everything here is going to be smaller and/ or more traditional (dare i say “old fashioned”?) than in Java” was something I developed after only perhaps 20 minutes in the car.

To a certain extent, that was true. However, there was one kind building that I saw numerous times, that was sometimes much larger and more ornate than the ones in Java: Churches. This was an interesting development for me: weren’t we there to help with ministry in new churches? The kind that don’t have buildings yet?

The churches I was seeing turned out to be from GKS (Christian Church of Sumba, translated), a denomination that started quite a while ago. I honestly don’t know much about that denomination, but I was interested, and a bit put off by such large churches (and the policies that would result in their construction, in a place that still struggles with poverty), but I suppose I shouldn’t pass judgement until I fully understand the situation.

Anyways, that was my drive, and a bit of an idea about the setting for these blogs. It’s a very interesting place, and honestly, it felt a little like the midwest. I’m not sure why I think so; perhaps the plains, perhaps the horses, perhaps the wind, perhaps the way people interacted, I’m really not sure. But I will say I felt a strange affinity towards Sumba, one that reminded me of home.

I’m going to finish writing these blogs on a plane ride, sorry they have been so long in the making!

Sumba, Round 1

I mentioned Sumba in a different blog, but in this one I would like to go into a little more depth about Sumba, what I did while there, and my impressions of the place. There’s a lot to say: like almost every situation, especially when dealing with culture and change, the situation in Sumba is a complicated one. So I’ve decided to write a few blogs (perhaps 3?) on it, which will hopefully, when looked at together, give a fairly clear (and representative) picture.

First off, about Sumba. For geographical reference, it’s east south-east of Java, past Bali. About two hours from Central Java, if you happen to be travelling by Lion Air (an airline that runs mostly small two propeller planes, not nearly as scary as I expected).

Sumba is a very interesting place, mostly because it has been very isolated from the majority of outside influence for a very long time. I don’t feel educated enough to give specific numbers here, but the Dutch had very little to say about Sumba during colonial times (there’s not a lot of natural wealth, so the island was largely ignored), and the early 20th century was the first time there was much outside influence. Even then, it was an isolated place, and as a result, has been late to get some of the government programs. Even some of the more obvious government programs, like ID cards.

In (about! again, I’m not sure here!) 2007 the Indonesian government decided to roll out ID cards in Sumba. This might seem like it should be a very self explanatory and easy affair, but there is one element to the ID cards here that is very different in contrast to IDs in the ‘States: religious standing. Every ID card carries a classification of religion out of the 6 “officially recognized” religions (Islam, Protestantism,Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism). When the cards were rolled out, many people in Sumba didn’t consider themselves to be any one of the above. Traditional beliefs were still the norm in most areas, (for the sociologically inclined, it’s generally considered a variety of animism) so when ID cards were introduced, many people were basically left with a choice between the accepted religions (one brief clarifier here, legally it’s OK to leave that section blank, but the first time I actually heard about that rule was when I was doing some more research online before writing this, so I don’t think it’s very well known).

Now the next bit of the history is a bit fuzzy to me, but basically what I’ve put together from a few conversations with people much more knowledgable than myself is this: an incredible number of people in Sumba (much more than could be statistically expected) began showing interest in christianity.

Ok, there’s a thousand different ways I can go from here (or like, 4, if you don’t like hyperbole), but it’s going to get long, so like I said, I’m going to break this into a few posts. See you next time!

Busy, busy, busy

RIght, I’ve been busy.

 

REALLY busy.

 

The kind of busy I sort of forgot was possible after almost a year of a set routine.

 

Let’s start from the top: in the past three weeks I’ve visited two new churches (one of which was on a different island), taken (and sorted/edited some of) almost 1000 pictures, helped to host a youth event, begun a visa renewal process, and spent some time with John Lapp (Mennonite Mission Network’s Asia Director).

 

While none of these events on their own should have been overly stressful, the combined effect was sufficient to prevent me from blogging for a while (it doesn’t help that if I’m on my computer right now I feel like I should be editing pictures). So I’ll try to give a brief run down and reflection on each event, and possibly reflect on a few ideas I’ve been thinking about.

 

I’m working on a longer blog about the church visits, so I’ll be brief about them. The first one was to Sumba, a three-day trip. We went along with Pastor Adi (the head of JKI, the denomination we’re affiliated with locally), as part of a trip to check in on a congregation there, and also baptize some new members.

 

While Java can vary drastically in just a few kilometers (I’m talking to you, conifer areas. You can’t pretend to be Colorado AND have tropical fauna. Pick one.),  Sumba felt closer to the midwest than it did to a place a couple of hours away from the jungle. Flying in, I expected to look down and see what I’ve seen for the past 8 months now: dense green broken up only by houses or roads. Instead, I saw what I can only describe as some variation of Wyoming. Not that I’m complaining, the familiar setting gave the whole experience an interesting feeling, but more about that in the other blog.

 

The other church visit was to the first JKI church, about two hours away from Ungaran by car (remember that’s not actually very far, because of twisty roads and slow traffic). This church is located in a more rural area, and we actually ended up spending the night with church members there. Another very enjoyable, interesting time. Again, more about this later.

 

There’s not much to say about editing pictures. I may put some up on my blog later, we’ll see. I am hesitant to give pictures, especially if they’re pictures of places I’m not so familiar with (the situation with pictures from Sumba).

 

The youth event I helped to host is a monthly event, sort of similar to a sunday service if you remember that blog (high energy, lots of music, etc) but at this event there are also sometimes special performances and the like. It was a good time, but I’d be lying if I said that speaking in Indonesian in front of that many people wasn’t scary.

 

The visa renewal process is something I’ve never actually talked about on this blog before, mostly because it is exactly as exciting as it seems. Every month Ashlynn, Travis and I go to the immigration office in Semarang, where we speak to the a guy (The same guy every month. He’s probably pretty sick of us). The man gives us a form (the same form, every month) and we fill it out (differently, every month. Mostly just because we’ve misunderstood lots of questions at first. It’s really a wonder we’ve not been deported). We give the forms back to the guy, and come back a few days later to pay. Then we come back again, the next day, to pick up our passports. Sounds exhilarating, I know.

 

Finally, John Lapp! John is the Asia director for Mennonite Mission Network (I know I said that before, but we’re a page and a half later and you’ve all probably forgotten by now). He came to Indonesia on a tour of several different places where MMN supports workers. I believe John is still on his visits, so pray for him!

the blog that took me 4 weeks to write

I’d like to take a moment to talk about faith. I’m not really a “faith blogger”, and I honesty don’t really like to read blogs that focus on faith. I usually end up feeling like I’ve been preached at.  This isn’t going to be preachy (I hope). I’m not going to try to guilt trip you, I’m even going to touch on scripture. I just want to talk about something I’ve been doing, why it’s been challenging sometimes, and why it’s made me feel like I know myself and my faith in a much deeper way.

Taking a year of service has a multitude of faith aspects, but one of the most significant ones for me has been involvement with a new church community. More specifically, a church community who I don’t necessarily agree with on everything.

Disagreements from a faith perspective are something that seem a bit shunned. It’s as if we’ve all agreed that yes, we might not see eye to eye in every aspect our faiths, but it’s better if we don’t talk about these small differences until they’ve festered into a crisis and we need to argue about who’s right (and who is irrevocably wrong). Maybe we’ll end up splitting a denomination and nobody is going to be happy, but it’s the best way, promise.

Wait, what? That is obviously NOT the correct approach. However, it seems like it’s something that happens on an almost involuntary level, so it’s hard to combat. It’s hard to admit that we might not know exactly what we’re talking about (even though faith, by nature, is based on the unknown).

A monoculture of belief exists in many churches due to how reactive many people are to differing opinions. If a difference in theology arises, either the differing party leaves (usually angry) or is chased out. Monocultures are excellent at producing one thing, but inevitably unwelcoming to anything new or different. I have friends who became atheists due to the fact that they didn’t feel like they could safely offer a different opinion within their church, so they simply stopped going.

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking “well, that seems like a bit of an overreaction, doesn’t it?”. Perhaps you’re right. I do wish my friends would have tried a few other churches before they simply dropped the whole thing. But the logic of “you know, I don’t agree with those people, they won’t listen to what I’m saying, I’ve tried hard enough, I’m done with all this,” is the reasoning people have started to use in reference to a certain denomination that may or may not be involved in a crisis of identity right now.

One of the most beautiful things about Christianity is that there is not a certain group or school of thought that is obviously, tangibly right.

It has been challenging at times, believing and worshiping differently from my new home church. I think that the important thing, however, is to remember that the way another person worships or how they interpret scripture is not necessarily wrong, it is simply different. Once that distinction has been made, it becomes possible to learn a staggering amount through discussing faith or even just worshiping with people who believe differently.

Making that distinction has been one of the most important parts of my time here in Indonesia, and has made this time one of the most influential periods in my faith journey (even though my ideas haven’t really changed much). Opening myself to considering foreign ideas has meant that when I encounter a new idea or perspective, several different processes are begun.

First, an introduction into the new idea. This is obviously done by the setting. In a sermon, during a prayer, etc. This is simply the very first moment I notice that something is different than what I am used to.

Second, a gut feeling. This is my personal response to the new idea. This is usually a casual “huh, hadn’t thought about that before” or, sometimes “well THAT’S NEW AND DIFFERENT AND SCARY AND I DON’T UNDERSTAND OR LIKE THIS.” This is the time when it’s so important to stay calm, and remember that just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. This gut feeling is actually quite helpful if I’m having a hard time developing an opinion on a subject. I can start by trying to gain perspective on why I feel the way I do, as opposed to a more top-down, intellectual approach.

Third, examination of my own beliefs. This is when I look at what I have always believed (or assumed) about whatever subject I’m thinking about. Sometimes this examination is a removed, why-do-I-believe-this sort of look, and other times it is just as a resource for comparison.

Fourth, a conclusion. Here is where I combine the first three bits, try to gain understanding, and then evaluate my stance on the subject. This is by far the longest part, and usually happens over the course of a couple days.

This process has caused me to have to articulate parts of my faith that I have never thought about very deeply before, simply because I’d never been exposed to them. I’ve also gained perspective on my own church, ideas to bring home, and a feeling of stability in my faith that I think might only be possible through this sort of experience.

I’ve tried not to be a faith blogger until now, but you’ll have to oblige one call to action. Go visit a new church. Even if you’re comfortable where you are. Especially if you’re comfortable where you are. If you’re worried about having your comfort zone shaken, or the idea that you’ll probably disagree with some of what you experience in a different place, good. That’s the point.

Singapore trip!

After Bali, we had exactly four days in Ungaran. Not quite enough, in my opinion, but I’ll never complain about more vacation. The trip to singapore wasn’t only vacation, however, as the visa that we came with (a cultural learning visa) is only renewable for 6 months. This meant that we had to take a short trip out of country to renew, and then come back. Fortunately, business manners only took about two hours, and those two hours were on two separate days, so the rest of the time was available to be touristy.

 

I’m getting ahead of myself, however. The day before we left, Ashlynn texted me to ask what the symptoms of my sickness had been. I told here the more general symptoms (fever, achiness, dizziness, etc) and she responded with “yeah, that’s about what I have”. We didn’t realize until halfway through the trip, however, that her sickness was exactly the same as mine. Even extremely specific symptoms (such as sore calves, which I wasn’t aware could come from sickness) were the same, set in the same timetable. For example, after a few days of being sick (and consistently feeling better), waking up and feeling bad again, to the point of skipping the days activities (fourth day, for the curious). So that was interesting, but you’ll all be glad to know that we’re both feeling fine now.

 

Singapore was another packed trip, so I’m just going to give a few highlights, and hope they give at least a partial picture of the experience. Several places come to mind, including the day trip we took to Malaysia and a few areas in Singapore: little India, the bay area and Chinatown.

 

Malasia was a very interesting experience. In some ways, it’s very similar to Indonesia, but it’s enough different to draw a very interesting contrast. This contrast is hard to describe without an established context, but it’s basically an equation of “more” and “less”. Indonesia has less than Malaysia in many aspects (urbanization, monoculture palm oil farms, and european cars come to mind) but also more of many areas that I think are possibly more important (such as less disturbed natural areas, beautiful buildings, and cultural traditions). Then again, having spent one day in Malaysia (most of which was driving or in Chinatown), and only a few months in Indonesia, I am definitely not qualified to make sweeping generalities.

 

Little India and Chinatown were interesting mostly because of how distinctive they seemed. Perhaps I’ve simply not spent enough time in cities with areas similar to these, but I was blown away by the idea that in only a few blocks, a place can change in aspects ranging from ethnic diversity to aromas. Whereas little India seemed fairly relaxed and almost suburban, with small back roads where it was possible to walk and see very few people, Chinatown was packed with people and buildings, and everyone seemed to be going somewhere.

 

The last place I’d like to talk about is the bay area. I’m taking a certain amount of liberty with the location and names here, but basically, there’s a big bay in Singapore, and all of this stuff is pretty close to it. First are touristy things: the Merlion (the official mystical animal/ mascot of Singapore, as I understand), and Marina by the Bay, (one or three large buildings depending on how you define it), which are both quite interesting. The view from the top of the Marina is fantastic at night

 

Second is, admittedly, also a touristy thing. However, I’ve had some thoughts relating to this one, so it gets it’s own paragraph. The Garden by the Bay is basically a park, but it has some unique features. First off, the fauna is all tropical, and can be quite dense in areas. Second, there are several (maybe 10?)l very large “trees” made up of steel frames with plants growing out of them. Third, two large buildings on the campus house enclosed ecosystems and one even has an indoor waterfall. Heavy emphasis is placed on the idea of environmental conservation, and it seems as if the park is trying to be the “park of the future”. Each night, the “trees” are lit by strings of multicolored lights.

 

Sounds like an awesome park, right?

 

That’s why I was so confused when I ended up feeling like there was something wrong with the whole situation.

 

I later realized that I mostly felt conflicted because the juxtaposition of the natural and the unnatural under the blanket of “natural”. It felt as if a very large deception was being attempted. For example, for as much as the place spoke of environmental conservation, I couldn’t help thinking that the mass CO2 emissions caused by building the place would take a very long time to be balanced out by plants in the park, even without the lights, watering systems, and manpower involved in maintaining and operating the area. For as much as the flowers and plants looked good, it was obvious that each plant was cared for individually, with weeds and dead twigs removed. This made it look nice, to be fair, but a bit like a gymnast’s smile at the end of a performance: if you got too close, it looked forced. I love the idea of a park that concentrates on the environment and teaching about environmental conservation, but a tourist destination parading under the name of a cause that happens to be fashionable seems wrong.

 

That turned into a bit of a rant. I apologise, and should clarify that I really did enjoy touring the park, as a tourist destination at least.

A Bit of News

My blog recently has seemed more like an amateur philosophical discussion than a blog, so I think I owe everyone (including myself) a newsy post. Definitely a definite direction change from my typical ramblings, but I think it’s important to discuss the sources of my ramblings, as well.

Recently (or, more specifically, since our trip to Jogja) quite a lot has happened. The last month flashed by in a blur of trips and events, so I’ll just start from the beginning. I worked a normal schedule at my jobs until the 13th, when I contacted a very interesting (and rather unpleasant) sickness. More about that later.

Getting sick is an occasional occurrence when encountering lots of new bacteria, (especially because I work with kids) and I wouldn’t have worried about it, except that we had bought plane tickets to leave for Bali on the 14th. So, after laying in bed for over 30 hours, I woke up on the morning of the 14th (feeling much better than I had the day before), threw a few clothes in a bag, and went to get on a plane.

During this trip, I laid in bed some more, but did manage to get out and about with Travis and Ashlynn fairly consistently. I definitely didn’t regret it; Bali is one of the world’s most popular vacation areas for good reason. Our hostel was a five minute walk from a beautiful beach which had very few waves (a reef breaks them about 200 meters from shore) and, after a short walk from the main area, wasn’t crowded, either. Needless to say, we spent one day hanging out there, and all got fairly sunburned.

Of course the whole trip was enjoyable, but the other highlight for me was the day when we did parasailing and snorkeling. Parasailing is pretty self explanatory, we got yanked up into the air by a boat, went and did a lap, then got put down. It definitely an interesting experience, and I must say the view from the top was even better than on the ground.

Then again, the view under the water may have been best of all. We rode a boat out to the reef, put on our gear, and jumped in. Immediately we were greeted by something out of a city aquarium. Fluorescent darts shot through small mountains of coral, flashing through the slowly undulating living corals and anemones. After a few minutes of panicked half breaths (it’s not quite natural to breathe underwater, according to survival instincts), we got the hang of it, and could swim down amongst the swirling masses of life.

Any further attempt to describe this experience would either fall short or venture even further into the realm of hyperbolic adjective flinging, so I’ll simply say it was enjoyable, and that I highly recommend it.

Coming next blog (because this one is already too long and late), Singapore and Sharon’s visit!