By Name Withheld
In Indonesia, life can be short. In just two weeks we heard about at least five deaths in our neighborhood or among our neighbors’ friends and families. Each death is important to the Indonesians.
In most of the villages, if someone dies, the whole village shuts down to mourn. The day someone dies, the death is announced over the loudspeaker from the mosque in the kampung (neighborhood). The men in the community immediately begin building a wooden box for burial, and then they set up plastic chairs and a large tarp so people can come be with the family. Most of the neighbors will go to the house of the family in mourning to pay respects and give money to them.
This week we have been to the homes of two different mourning families. We sit on the dusty concrete floors surrounded by the grieving family and other neighbors, offering our condolences as well as our time, which means so much in this culture.
It seems that death, or the prospect of death, is before our friends on most days.
Two days ago I had an assignment from our language school to ask our neighbors about insurance in Indonesia. (In our first term with our ministry organization, my family is still learning language here in the place where we serve.)
I consulted my close friend and next-door neighbor. After discussing health insurance in the country, my friend began to cry. She told me she’s the youngest of five children and all four of her older siblings have already died, leaving her nieces and nephews motherless or fatherless.
Through brokenhearted tears, my friend shared her disappointment with health care in our area and how it cost her dearly. She said she wished her sister, who died young of cancer, could have had the opportunity to travel to another country to receive medical care. She said she still wonders why health care for her siblings couldn’t have been better. She said she misses them.
The longer I live here the more I see death is so much a part of everyday life, and hope is hard to come by.
Living for Today
Hopelessness affects culture in some serious and systemic ways. However, there are some precious benefits to a “living for today” mind-set. For example, Indonesian people view relationships as their most precious commodity. Sitting together and talking is highly valued. Whenever a neighbor has a problem, the whole community gathers around to help. If someone’s house is broken, everyone volunteers to help fix it. Our friends work hard at the tasks in front of them, and one never hears them complain about life devoid of many modern conveniences.
But the “living for today” mind-set becomes difficult when things are built or done without a long-range view. For instance, there is a road in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, that leads from the airport to the city. It was built a few years ago with the help of a Japanese engineer. The engineer told the people to reinforce and lay a solid foundation or the road would eventually sink into the swampy ground.
But the cost was too high, and the advice was ignored. Since then the road has been sinking more and more each year.
Another example is the way most people think about trash. A river that runs next to our school is littered with plastic bags and plastic bottles. When someone finishes a bag of chips or cookies, he simply throws the trash on the ground, and it is everywhere. Many beaches are covered with trash because the people throw it in the rivers, which flow to the ocean, which dumps it on the land. It is a tragic situation. “Poverty crushes spirit” is a line from a movie I like. I see this as we watch our friends struggle in a culture undermined by poverty.
A Shining Light
Issues like these are common in many developing countries. And, of course, this is why we are here
. . . to bring the hope of Christ to hopeless and hurting hearts. When we bring the good news, and when we live it out before our friends and neighbors, we can be a shining light that brings hope and even the desire to thrive.
We know death is ever present with these people. We know Jesus came “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Would you please join us in praying for the men, women, and children of Indonesia who do not know the good news or have a reliable anchor for their souls to which they can confidently attach their hope?
The author and her husband and their three children serve in ministry in Indonesia.