My friend told me about a recent happening here in town. There was a young middle school aged girl, about 16 years old (lots of older kids are in lower grades here because of having to travel out to town to attend school) who got into a relationship with a 23 year old so called “pastor” and ended up pregnant. Knowing her family was still back in the village and she was pretty much alone with this newly discovered secret, she told her boyfriend, who responded by saying he didn’t want that responsibility and told her to go away. Feeling discouraged she texted his family telling them she was going to kill herself since she was all-alone. A nephew of the boyfriend received her text and raced to her home to try and stop her but he was too late. He found her hanging from a tree on the side of her house. She had killed herself, along with the baby who was around 3 months along. I have been thinking about this story a lot today. It makes me so sad, especially considering the boyfriend was a “pastor”.
Sadly these kinds of things happen all the time. My friend said it’s very common for girls to hang themselves in the villages. Its easy to look at the majority of the population here and imagine that they are mostly saved, that they understand the gospel and go to Church because it is a place of fellowship and a chance to learn more about the Lord. Instead, most go to Church because it is just another part of their identity. As much as the color of their skin or the name of their tribe, they are “Christian” and being a Pastor can sometimes be just a step up the economic and social ladder. Though there are those who are saved, many are just tangled in a confusing list of dos and don’ts that they believe make them “Christians”. Don’t eat in the Church because it’s the house of God. Don’t spend money set aside for offering or you will get sick. Don’t chew beetle nut because… well, they don’t really know why not.
What is scary is that many times the reasons behind following these “rules” are that they were taught to them by the first missionaries who shared the gospel with their tribe and they have tried to follow them ever since. It is such huge responsibility for us to teach clearly from the word about the kind of relationship God wants to have with man. Not a list of dos and don’ts that put up walls between us and our Creator but a grace filled relationship where we are gently led by his Spirit to do what is right. From the moment we meet an unreached people group they will be watching every move we make and our testimony is a big giant blueprint of what they are going to mimic. Scary.
I am learning more and more that there is NO WAY my life or anyone else’s is going to make any impact on the unreached unless it is Christ doing everything. There is not one tiny bit of something special that I have to offer, even though I am tempted in my flesh to think there is! In fact there is a lot of not so special stuff that I easily mess everything up with when I do think I have something to offer! It HAS TO be Christ doing it, and He IS! People are coming to know Him all across this country and that is so cool to watch. I am guilty of looking at other failures like myself and thinking, how in the world are people coming to the Lord through failures like us? and then I remember that “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31) and then I can say PRAISE THE LORD because lets be real, we foolish, weak and lowly things could never do this on our own!
Have you ever missed your flight to America in an international airport at midnight with a baby and surrounded by people who don’t speak your first language? Well, I (Abby) have. If you can imagine, it was not a fun experience. Looking back I can sigh with relief knowing it all ended up alright and I made it to the states and back here again in one peace, but at the time it was the most stressful experience I had been in. God was so faithful during the whole ordeal to provide just the right people at just the right times to help me on my way, including an amazing woman from Japan who, instead of going home after a full day of work at Japan airlines counter, decided to drive me in her personal car to a travel agent at 4am in the morning and then to several hotels to help me find a place to sleep for a few hours. Besides giving birth, I don’t know that I have ever been so exhausted! (carrying a 17lb baby around can add to the strain!)
In the end I had to buy my whole ticket to the states all over again. I was so discouraged as this trip was a surprise visit to my family and we really weren’t planning to spend that kind of money otherwise. God provided again when I found out I could request a refund and might get reimbursed. PRAISE THE LORD I was eventually fully reimbursed the original ticket cost! My troubles didn’t stop there though, as the moment I finally landed on American soil (insert teary eyes and quivering lip), the snow storm of a lifetime was just hitting the northeast and all the flights were grounded. So close yet so far! I had literally an hour long flight left to be in home sweet Michigan and now my flight was cancelled. I honestly wasn’t surprised at this point. Maybe the sheer exhaustion had worn away my senses, but I calmly approached the counter to find out what my options were. They put me on standby for the soonest flight available which was about 3 hours away.
I prayed fervently that somehow I would get on that flight! Slowly the airport started filling with more and more people whose flights were grounded and I really started thinking I might be living out the movie “terminal” for the next few weeks. Side note: EVERY airport needs to offer FREE WIRELESS to travelers! I had NO way to contact my Mom in MI or Nathan since I had an Indonesian cell phone and there was no free wireless at O’hare! Get with the times already Chicago! A lady at starbucks pointed me to a “free 10 minute wifi” computer where I fumbled through the slow keypad (you know the kind where you type and then the words appear 5 minutes later) and finally was able to let my Mom know I would be late. I killed time by hunting for the cheapest possible drink in the airport and settled on a Lemonade from Auntie Anne’s instead of paying $5 for a bottled water. When by headache set in I regretted that decision.
As time ticked by I prayed more and more that I could get on the flight. When boarding time was finally over Me and another Lady were standing there crossed fingered hoping to be called to board. The magical sound of my name came from the speaker and I was filled with a new dose of energy! We boarded and I passed out sleeping awkwardly while they de-iced the place 2 times. We finally took off and as we touched down in Detroit the flight attendant said “we got out of there just in time! They just grounded all the flights out of Chicago!” THANK YOU GOD! I think I was the only plane that left the airport that day, and that pretty much had to be God, don’t you think?
So I made it. My time was split between Michigan and Texas where Noah got to meet both sets of grandparents and his aunts and uncles and cousins. It was a grand occasion!
My flight back started out smooth and I was able to even see my brother and his girlfriend and my aunt and uncle on my layover in Los Angeles. I was pretty pleased with the apparent ease of this return journey until I arrived in Malaysia and saw that, what do you know, my flight was cancelled! They set me up for a flight an hour later than my previous one, which put me too close to departure of my flight out of Jakarta. Yup. I missed it. I might have made it had my bags arrived in a timely fashion but they lost one of my bags and I had to wait until all the bags came off the plane and then fill in a missing bag report.
I finally got over to my terminal where I got to jump right back into my language learning. The guy who was helping me with my bags said there was no other ticket available until the next day at about 5pm! I refused to accept that answer and asked him to help me find another ticket on another airline. So, in a group of three men (who appeared out of nowhere to help me), me, and a droopy eyed baby, we dragged my bags through another terminal and one of the men started hunting for a ticket for me on his phone. He ended up finding me one and buying it over his cell phone with me telling him our names and dates of birth. I know, shady huh? That’s just how it works here and I really had no choice but to trust these guys. Then came the really awkward part when I had to make sure I had enough money to pay for the ticket and literally had to count my money in front of them! They took my to a money exchange since I didn’t have quite enough, and I was able to pay them in the end. Thankfully no one ripped me off.
I was encouraged with how well my language ability came back after a month of not using it in the states since all of this was done in Indonesian and I didn’t have trouble understanding or communicating with them for the most part. Noah was SO good through all of my travels. I think God knew I would have had a breakdown had Noah not cooperated. But I am home now and can thank God for showing me that no matter what, he cares and will give me the strength I need to get through tough situations... But I don’t think I will ever try that particular one again!
Abby here, a few days from now will mark us being in this country for a whole year! It feels so strange to write that. In some ways it feels like we have been here forever and in other ways it feels like we just stepped off the plane. So much has changed – we can speak the language now (although there is still a long way to go!), we can make some sense of what is happening around us culturally, and we have a SON!
It’s funny how I go in waves of emotions while living here. Actually it’s not funny, sometimes it down right depressing… Some weeks I am so encouraged with progress in language and the relationships I have made here and the future looks bright. Other weeks will go by where even the thought of studying this language for another day just makes me want to curl up under the covers and never come out (except to eat martabak because it’s so delicious!).
During these frequent times I am realizing how fickle the human heart is. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jer 17:9.
This makes the common advice to “follow your heart” some of the worst you could give someone! How quickly my heart can change from feeling like a total moron for not understanding something someone just said in this language, or feeling guilty about spending “too much time” with Noah when I feel like I should have been able to study, to a few hours later having pride rise up in my heart because I went to visit a neighbor and could converse easily and understand all that was said. Every time this happens I am ashamed at how strong the flesh is in me. Not surprised, but ashamed all the same.
I am learning a lot about myself and have found that I am a very “follow the rules” type person. Not that I am a perfectionist (FAR from it!) but if I know things are expected of me I have major guilt issues if I don’t meet people’s expectations of me. This has been really evident since Noah was born. I know I am supposed to be getting a certain amount of hours in each week for language study and let’s be real – with a baby sometimes that just doesn’t happen! I have had to really work on my mind set here. I naturally like to be told what to do and know what my responsibilities are, so when I fail at meeting them, the guilt sets in. I guess this also means I am a people pleaser! Oh… what a long way I have to go. Good thing Jesus died for failures like me! So if you could pray for me as I work through all of this I would really appreciate it! In regard to me relationship with the Lord, I don’t think I have this guilt issue. I have always had a good understanding of His grace towards me and all my problems I just need to let HIS perspective be the only one that matters!
Culture. Such a small word for something so huge. Where do you even start when you want to compare “yours” with the one you are trying to fit into? It can be frustrating (to say the least) and hilarious at the same time. We are so into our privacy in the states. Most of us have huge personal bubbles and you just don’t dare pop someone else’s! My bubble was popped whether I liked it or not pretty much the minute I stepped off the plane! With every day of interacting, my bubble gets popped over and over again, but slowly and surely its size has shrunk a little each day. How could it not shrink when standing in a grocery line doesn’t mean a single file, 2 foot buffer zone, steadily moving procession but instead a shoulder to shoulder, basket to butt, churning mass of people pushing their way to a register? How could it not pop when driving here is more a constant game of “chicken” than a logical, “all cars going the same direction on a one way street” idea from America. You mean those yellow lines on the road actually mean something!?
Talking on the phone or texting while driving a bike is too common. I even heard of someone who got struck by lighting because he opened his phone during a storm!
Having a baby in this country opens so many doors for conversation and relationships but it also can put you in some very awkward positions! If you have a baby here, it’s pretty acceptable to nurse them whenever and wherever you want to. No one cares if you are sitting smashed up against them on the local taxi/van and you want to stop your baby from crying so you whip out a “snack” and it’s a common suggestion to feed your baby at anyone’s house whether he is hungry or not. The other day we were visiting some friends in a village pretty far away. This village does not see white people very often, so all the women from the village came over to see Noah. They passed him around and were pretty much ecstatic to have him there. When it was time to feed him, our host let me use a side bedroom to nurse him. I’m not really sure why I was given a side room because there was no intention of giving me any privacy. One by one, about five women came in to observe. They were so giddy about Noah and just stood there staring at me with huge smiles on their faces. But looking wasn’t enough; one crawled up on the bed and plunked down right next to me so she could get a better view. The others sat around me on the bed and took turns reaching in to squeeze Noah’s cheeks. I am pretty much over the modesty part by now, but I was just cracking up in my head imagining how this would go over in the states! It’s just so drastically different than “my” culture but I am really glad I can laugh about it and not get annoyed!
One thing I love in America is just going to a store or the mall to browse. Not intending to buy anything really, just to browse around was very relaxing for me. There I no such thing as browsing here. For one, the isles are about 4 feet wide, so it’s not necessarily a leisurely stroll when you are dodging carts, customers, and groups of employees sitting on the ground together sorting products… or… I’m actually not sure what they are usually doing. Another reason it’s hard to browse is that you are being followed at all times by at least three employees waiting to see if you need help. No thanks… I don’t need help looking at this shirt. No thanks, I can read the sign that says this is on sale. No thanks, I can carry my shampoo myself. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t relax and shop when there are three smiling employees trailing my every move.
Although some things are hard to get used to, so many things are just awesome about the people here. Almost everyone is willing and happy to help you with anything you need, and they will drop what they are doing to assist you. Whether you are out in the heat and a stranger invites you in out of the sun to cool off and have a drink, or your car breaks down in the blazing sun and a friend drives over immediately to help once he hears about it, you can always count on someone to care!
I was encouraged and re-motivated the other day as I watched a video of a newly completed Bible translation being handed over to a tribal group who had never had the Word of God in their own language until now. It’s so easy for me (Abby) to forget why we are here and neglect to keep my eyes set on the end goal – a people group to know and accept Jesus Christ, but the video brought me back to that reality. We have become comfortable and accustomed to the people and ways here in Java, and we have come to love it as well. That is such an encouraging thing to be able to say after struggling through all the new and different parts of life these last 8 months, but at the same time it’s sad since we know we won’t be here permanently. The relationships we’ve made and the little city we like so much will be left behind as we head to a new region and desire to live among an unreached people group. Sometimes it seems like the only consistent thing in a missionaries life is change!
The holiday season around these parts is finally over and it ended with quite a few interesting events. The month of July was Ramadan (where Muslims fast during daylight hours and refrain from anything impure) and it ended with a celebration called “Idul Fitri”. This is a time when people travel home to visit their families, friends and neighbors as well as ask forgiveness for any wrongs that they may have committed, intentionally or not. There is lots of eating and celebrating, along with fireworks and parades! We visited some friends and neighbors for Idul Fitri and everyone enjoyed seeing Noah and serving us food.
August 17th was the Indonesian National Independence Day! That was a full weekend for sure. There were small parades in the villages and several neighborhood wide ceremonies to celebrate the holiday. One of the most fun parts of the festivities was a game called “Panjat Pinang”. In this game a huge bamboo pole is mounted in the ground and lots of gifts are hung from the top of the pole. Then axel grease is smeared all over the pole to make it slippery. Men are divided into teams of 4 or 5 and each team gets a chance to climb the pole to reach the prizes! Sounds fun, right? Nathan thought so, and joined in on the game and was the “base” of the tower of climbing men as they scrambled up the slippery pole to grab the prizes above. It was very entertaining to watch but Nathan sure felt the pain in his muscles for a few days afterword!
Below are some pictures of a cultural "Kuda Lumping" horse dance.
The whole month of August has been a busy one as we had to make a trip to Jakarta to get Noah’s passport process started at the American embassy. We travelled by train since Noah is still too little to fly, and had a nice time in the city while we got our business done. Abby’s Aunt Charlotte who is a missionary in Papua, Indonesia happened to be in the city for some medical work and we were lucky enough to be able to spend almost a week with her! This was special since she is the first of our families to meet Noah. While in the city we got to learn more about the different regions in Asia Pacific at a park called “Taman Mini”. This park had cultural villages set up replicating all the different regions in Asia Pacific! We also got to learn about the history of this Country at the Monas Tower monument in the center of Jakarta.
Next week we will have another opportunity to learn more about the regions in Asia Pacific and where we want to go after we are finished with language study here. Please pray that the Lord would make it clear where He desires we serve. We are also planning some trips to visit different regions in the coming months to see the needs up close and hopefully decide on which Island we want to serve long term.