Sunday, March 22, 2015

Being a Part of the Neighborhood

"Well... no one in the neighborhood really likes them." 

My neighbor and friend, Mrs. Lilis, was responding to my questions about some mutual friends of ours. I continue to try to understand the dynamics here of what makes someone appreciated and what is really disliked. Ibu Lilis is a Christian, and one of the only ones in our area. I was asking her how she was treated by our Muslim neighbors and she assured me that although they don't want her to raise dogs (Muslims aren't supposed to touch dogs), she otherwise has great relationships here. 

"But what about the couple on the corner, the older couple that plays grandparents to my kids? They have a dog. What do the neighbors think? "

Ibu Lilis said, "Well, yes, they have a dog. But they aren't liked. Because of the dog, which the neighbors don't like and has occasionally wandered off into the neighborhood unwatched, but more because they don't build relationships in the neighborhood." 

"What do you mean? They have been friendly to me, and they are friendly to you too, right?" 

"Well yes, but then when my father died, they didn't come to the funeral. *shakes head in shock*... to my own father's funeral!"

(insert me internally counting my blessings that someone mentioned to me the death and the funeral that was held just hours in time for me to race home and attend, since don't understand the garbled community announcements that come from the  mosque loudspeakers. Funeral crowd pictured on the right)
"Yeah, Ibu, I haven't seen her at the monthly ladies meetings and I wondered what people thought of that."

"She doesn't come to the ladies meetings, he doesn't go to the men's meetings, they didn't come to my father's funeral, and they haven't come to the neighborhood weddings. So, no one likes them because they don't build relationships. People ask me sometimes, "Is that what Christians are like?""

"Is it because they are from Bandung and have just been here a couple of years? Is it different in Bandung?"

"There's another couple from Bandung just a few houses down. They have built great relationships, but this couple seems like they want to live here but not build friendships. In fact, the landowner doesn't want to continue leasing to them so he raised the rent exorbitantly this year, but they agreed to pay it and everyone is disappointed."
*insert me chuckling at the totally Javanese indirect communication and the total avoidance of uncomfortable direct conflict*

"He is a Chinese Indonesian, right? I have heard that the Javanese are often frustrated with the Chinese community because they are said to keep themselves separate and don't involve themselves well in the Javanese community."

"Well yes, the Chinese are often perceived badly by the Javanese. But there's the other couple down the road that are Chinese Christians, the ones with a Downs Syndrome boy. They are kind and loved here because they are involved." 


I don't know how things will be in Papua, but it constantly amazes me, the absolute importance of friendly involvement in your community here. It's SO important for me to smile as I walk or drive through my neighborhood. It is an absolute necessity to visit the bereaved and attend weddings, even of the neighbors you barely know. It seems to me that how one takes part in the local community is what forms your reputation. 

I absolutely love this, but it is hard when that value for community comes in conflict with our Western value for a timely schedule and privacy. For instance, as I was writing this Isaac was gone at church and I was home with wiggly Elly and asthmatic Judah. Toys were scattered all over the floor and Judah was still in his underwear when a neighbor came by to talk to Isaac. There's never any calling or scheduling ahead of time, it's just drop by, no matter how inconvenient.

The same thing happened earlier this week twice with a guy that Isaac's gotten to be friends with in the neighborhood. Twice last week he dropped by and I made them hot sweet tea while they chatted on the porch for hours. But this week he dropped by in the morning while Isaac was finishing his homework just before class, and again while he was in class the next day. What then?   

When we were invited to be in our neighbor's wedding, the kids were just recovering from being sick (and you know, running to a squatty potty in the middle of the ceremony with a kid with diarrhea didn't sound fun), I was exhausted and overwhelmed  and in the most culture shock/stress I have experienced since being here. I wanted to say, "I am so sorry, the kids are still sick, we can't make it."  And last week when we were invited over for dinner by Mr. Wiwid Elly hadn't napped and literally cried for 15 minutes straight when they arrived to pick us up. I told Isaac, "I can't go like this, I can't hold a crying baby and try to interact at someone else's house!"

In all of those cases, we went, and in the end the kids did surprisingly well, and we are thankful for the way we can see relationships form and strengthen every time we do reach out. We've made so many mistakes too, though, over our time here. It can be super draining too, and we love our time at home as a family. It's important to have that renewing quiet time together, but at least for us that's where we can easily rest, and fail to reach out. I never want our love for our privacy and our own schedule to mean that we make our own comfortable refuge and can't manage to venture out into the uncomfortable world around us. Particularly for me, as mom, who for a while won't have a scheduled job outside of the home to push me outward. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What is left for Westerners to do?

Early on in our time here, just a couple of months, we had a visit from a man that was in charge of us at one of our churches in the US. We'd never met before so we loaded on our motorcycles in the rain and met him at his hotel for dinner. I hadn't realized it beforehand, but he is also a professor whose expertise is Christian work around the world. Happy to be talking with an intellectual and intimidated to be talking to someone who could so effectively evaluate our own work, we asked for his perspective.

"I don't believe there's really anything left for Westerners to do around the world except train. The rest of the work should be done by the local Christians."

The same thing was echoed this week from another man who has worked in this country for 40+ years. "You came here from the West. There is a local church here. Why aren't they doing the work? Please in whatever you do, focus on training and motivating the local church."

I believe this too. There are exceptions. There are specialty jobs that no one locally can do yet. We can all benefit from each other, all around the world. Is there a place for an African, European, or Asian in serving the church in the US? Absolutely. The same should be true for outsiders here. People from outside of a culture can provide unique perspectives and can be really helpful.

However, we from the US are coming from a culture that likes to think that we are the best and we need to rescue everyone around the world all the time. We do that with charity and missions and politics. It ends up a bit messy because we are not, as it turns out, the answer to all of the problems and neither does everyone want our help. Let us not be a self-perpetuating industry that circumvents the responsibility and ability of the local church to do the work here.

But it IS true that education and training is empowering. Education and training are perhaps the greatest thing that we can bring to developing societies, to developing churches. There is much to discuss about how we train, considering that we come with Western methods and materials to cultures that work quite differently.

Especially in cultures that are relational but really always, because the church is about discipleship, training and empowering work best in the context of relationships. In my conversations with local believers here I have been asking them to identify their points of need and how Westerners can be valuable. So often the answer comes with - grow to know and love the students you work with so deeply that you can see behind the curtain, under the surface, so that they can be raw and show you their fears and doubts. Disciple, journey, mentor, and love them to be strong leaders who will carefully shepherd the church here.

Ahh - how my heart sings at these discussions. Training is Isaac's heartbeat. Discipleship is mine. It's really cool to see the Indonesian church express their longing for the very things God pointed us here to do.

Local church at work in this photo! Compassion International works through local churches here in Indonesia, and all of the leaders and tutors that we met with were really cool Indonesian Christians who loved on kids and organized a fantastic program. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Life and Counseling by Diane Langberg

I have been doing a bit of research this week that led me to a lot of counseling work, writing, and teaching by Diane Langberg. I so highly respect her writing and her influence in the field of Christian counseling, particularly with survivors of abuse. Knowing that she is so good at her work makes her works about parenting, marriage, and vocation really powerful to me.

These quotes just jumped out at me and I just needed to copy it down for others and to look back at myself.

"There is governing principle that is foundational to all that follows (as a counselor). Our real work in life is not our marriage; it is not counseling; it is not parenting or anything else that competes for our time and attention. Our real work as believers is maintaining our relationship to Jesus Christ above all else. All other areas of our lives are to be under the dominance of this passion."

"I remember an inner struggle I experienced during the years when my two sons were quite small. our sons were born shortly after I finished my doctorate and got my license. I had been in private practice for a short while, and it was clear that the practice was about to take off. However, I distinctly sensed God directing me to devote myself to mothering my young children. (I realize that he does not lead every young mother to do this.) I loved my work, so setting it aside to be a mom was not an easy thing to do. Also, if God had gifted me for counseling work, why would he ask me to lay down that which he had given? Nevertheless I obeyed. I kept the practice open to a minimal degree and sent most of my referrals elsewhere while I played with LEGOs and Matchbox cars.

During those precious years I learned something of what it means to set aside a good thing - something rightfully mine - for the sake of others. God had indeed called me to do some exceptional things, but he had also called me to exceptional in the ordinary - to be holy in the small places, loving with the little people, unrecognized, and unapplauded."

Fascinating that she calls this a central lesson to her counseling work - learning to set aside and simply sit with the simple, the difficult, the struggling. See a fantastic article by her on counselors here.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Beauty and Struggle of Building Friendships in Another Culture

My friend just posted a photo from last night. Each Wednesday these girls and a couple of others slip away after dinner with our families and meet a local restaurant or coffee shop. Sometimes we open our Bibles, sometimes we pray, this time we played Scrabble, often we just end up talking. That's what we long for, just talking. Ladies with whom we can share this unique stage of life with.

The photo reflects, for me, some of the best and toughest things about life here.

See, maybe five months ago, we had been here several months already and I had intentionally avoided getting involved in activities with other Westerners outside of language school. We picked an Indonesian church, my kiddo goes to an Indonesian school, and we were trying to spend our time in our neighborhood, involved in Indonesian events. See, I spent years as a child in a town like where a number of nonprofit international organizations stationed their bases around an international school, which led to a strong expatriate community. Which is really cool, except that meant that a lot of people could come and in the end spend hardly any time in the Indonesian community.

For me, this is really important. I want to be involved in the Indonesian community. It's why I'm here. I don't want to be isolated in a Western bubble, no matter how fun that bubble is.

But after a few months I talked to a friend at language school and we gathered some ladies to meet once a week, after the Indonesian community heads inside after dark and at the time our kiddos head to bed. I didn't want to take time away from our involvement in our local community, but I also recognized that chatting for five minutes on breaks from language school classes wasn't enough to build deeper relationships with the ladies there. And I know we are struggling - with cross cultural adjustment, being far from families, learning to be moms of little kiddos, figuring out marriage in this context, being Christians in a non-Christian culture, and being Westerners in Asia. I recognized that living a life of love here means loving... ALL of the cultures around me, including the Western one.

It has been so beautiful. Just a couple of hours a week for a few months, but there is this intimacy that is built quickly when you are sharing a super unique experience far from your families and community. It's the same it was in my childhood. We are different people and personalities with different backgrounds but when thrown together with a common faith and no other options from your own culture, there can be such warmth and love developed so quickly. Pretty cool.

But then also... discouraging. Because I've spent 8 months intentionally building relationships in my neighborhood, and I feel like in most cases I'm at that very beginning stage of friendship with the people around me. The contrast with the fast and nearly unintentional intimacy with these ladies from language school makes me sad in some ways, because oh how I long for that intimacy within the Indonesian culture. I wish that when we leave here I would be leaving dear Indonesian friends who had known my heart and I known theirs.

Time. It takes time. I struggled with this in Dallas too, when after two years of meeting regularly with folks from my church I still felt like we were all trying but I didn't feel close, you know? I didn't know or understand Texas or football or the Dallas mommy world, and my life was foreign.

But with time and commitment, it happened. Shared experiences and struggles drew us together even when the lack of other commonalities never changed. I settled into the culture, they grew used to my differences. It will be there same here. Once we settle in Papua after language school it will take time and probably quite a bit of loneliness to get to the point where shared experiences usher us into the community despite us being foreigners. As we come and experience death and births and marriages and struggles and growth - we will be a part of the body more and more. That is what I long for. That's the power of staying. That's the power of long-term.

There's also just the uniqueness of the type of relationship that I value. I feel at home and connected when there is this heart-level of conversation that might just be a very American thing, or a very Western thing? I don't know. For older women here with families, that type of friendship is rare. I am more likely to develop those friendships with the younger generation and... yahoo! ... we will be working on a college campus! But you know, it isn't just that type of relationship that is valuable. I want to learn to love well and not expect a certain type of culturally-determined intimacy. We do have friendships here with people that we really value and will miss. I think we will only understand it all in retrospect.