East meets West

This is a “Fields” newsletter that I sent to friends in October of 2003, after I’d been living in Jakarta, Indonesia for around 6 months.

Fields # 4 headline

DSC03592God bless you and greetings again. This time, instead of giving you “the big picture”, I want to zoom down to just one of the many events that make up what it means to live this life. More than anything, it has to do with just being God’s partner, flowing with the rhythm and timing as He leads, makes a way and does the work.

“Great”, you might say, “but what in the world does that mean?” As in any human endeavor, there are golden opportunities and occasions where you have to respond, sometimes quickly, before the chance is gone. Over the years, it’s been something to see these possibilities not just as coincidences but as “God’s set ups”. There was one recently and we even were able to get a few photos of it.

The street kids’ school project here in Jakarta is still one of my major concerns. At the beginning of September, I went there with my friend Thomas to bring their monthly gift which some of you have sent, and to just “see how they do.”

The director looks over the cards to see if they would be useful for the school.

One of the things we offer people is a set of 40 colorful flash cards in English for children. Some are explicitly Christian and would not be acceptable there. But others strike at themes that are found in both the Christian and Muslim faith, drawings illustrating “All things were made by God”, “Be kind”, “God loves a cheerful giver” and others. We felt that, because of the warm and positive nature of these cards, plus that they could be used for learning English as well as reading Indonesian, possibly the teachers and administrators at the school would want to receive a set.

As you can imagine, finding common ground between Islam and Christianity can be a challenge. But it is there and perhaps more than some realize. After our customary introduction and snack which they served, we brought out our cards as we explained our idea that perhaps they would find them beneficial to their work.

After counseling with the English teacher, they feel the cards would be a help.

The founder of the school and his team looked them over carefully. There were around 20 which we felt they would like. They could see that they were very basic and embraced themes that were as dear to them as they were to us. It turned out that, after they counseled together, they did feel the picture cards would be something they could use.

The founder of the school excused himself and we were left in the room with one of his teachers and one or two of the students and helpers. I’m sorry I don’t exactly have the photos to show the transition of how all this changed into what happened next. But there was a real interest in the simply, colorful pictures which had text in English and Indonesian.

It’s wonderful the faith and power God gives for times like this.

I struck up a conversation with a few of the ones there, as best we could, considering that neither of us spoke the other’s language. So I pointed at a picture of the sun and said the word. And they said “mati hari” (literally “the eye of the day”), the word for the sun in Indonesian. Or I would say “prayer” and they would nod and agree and say their word.  The teacher from the school who was still there was the English teacher. He doesn’t really speak much English but he was able to help a little in bridging the gaps.

Our joy is seeing their joy, the happiness of those we share God’s love and truth with.

As it went along, I was noticing that there seemed to be more and more kids coming in. Pretty soon the room was full of 30 elementary school kids who were really listening, watching, participating and wanting to know what it was all about. We talked about love (“kasih”), faith (“iman”), peace (“damal”), friends (“sahabat”), God (“Allah”), and cleanliness (“kebersihan”), all themes from the drawings.

Gestures and facial expressions can get the thought across when words fail.

What could have been a pretty rowdy atmosphere instead had almost a hush over it. The kids’ natural respect for instruction of this type was mixed with their curiosity and surprise to hear someone of another faith communicating to them on values they perhaps thought were only their own.

My friend Thomas came back and he saw an opportunity to catch a special moment on film. At times like this, it’s not always easy to remember to get out the camera and to try to capture the moment. You can ruin the atmosphere by getting everyone distracted. So you try to take a few shots while being as unobtrusive as possible.

The flash card that drew the most discussion was “Angels watch over me”, something they seemed to know a lot about. They told me about Gabriel. I agreed and asked if they knew about Michael, which they did. They were surprised and pleased. We looked, talked, discussed and agreed. Talk about East meets West! But I was having fun and doing my best to make it fun and exciting for them, pantomiming things when necessary to make the idea understood and just really being thrilled by what seemed like a spontaneous open door to reach out to all these young people who had dropped by to see what this stranger from the other side of the world was talking about.

Sweet kids hearing old things from a new angle and a different light.

I hope somehow the special-ness of the occasion is portrayed here. For me at least it felt like a minor miracle that such a coming together could be engineered by God’s Spirit between me and people of such a different age, background, and religious upbringing. Truly He is the one who can break down the walls, bridge the gaps and put people on common ground when there is a mutual respect and faith for Him and His ways. If I was a musician I would have played them a song. But in this case the Lord used what we had: a gift for teaching and the joy of sharing Him with others to make an interesting and special occasion for young people who probably don’t have many opportunities like that.

I do appreciate your support and your continued prayers. The spiritual battles here are much stronger than when I was still living in Texas. My health has been good and I bounced back from a very strong flu earlier this month in less time than was expected. It’s always such a blessing when I hear from you, to know how you are doing and to know that these newsletters are somehow a help to you. I miss you but I’m glad we can keep in touch this way.

Sincerely, Mark


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