Sunday in Sumatra

Salam dari Indonesia!  As many of you already know, the five of us arrived safely on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, on Saturday, the 6th.  Aside from a quick post to let you know we arrived, I’ve had very little else to share.  That is because simply getting here was a travel experience that would have impressed Homer.  It took nearly 24 hours of travel just to get Jakarta, on the neighboring island of Java.  From there, it took another ten hours to get to our destination city.  We’ve seen some interesting sights, met lots of nice people, and had many memorable  adventures, none of which has anything to do with why you sent us, until today.

Today (Sunday), we met with the leader of the mission group who invited us here in the first place, and while Christianity is a legal religion here, church members who try to proselytize do face harassment.  Being Sunday, we attended church with our mission partner and his family.  I could go on about the modest, but lively church of friendly and devoted Christians.  I could tell you about the mother church of 5000 back in Jakarta.  I could even expand on what is meant by Christian persecution here in Indonesia, but you could Google any of those topics and get in-depth information.  The real question is why WE, the Phoenix team, are here at all, and what makes our  trip unique and worthy of the expense.  Those are great questions and they are exactly what we hope to discover and define over the course of the next few days.

Tomorrow, (Monday) we move into the real purpose of our visit.  We will begin visiting local schools, both religious (Islamic) and State-run (mostly Islamic) to discuss using westerners as English teachers.  Now you may say, “Why do the teachers need to be westerners?”  The answer is actually rather unique and one I would never have guessed.  Walking around town we, our team enjoys a celebrity-like status.  We are constantly asked for pictures, engaged in conversation, and are warmly greeted with, “Hi, Mister.”  Mind you, this treatment isn’t just from street vendors.  It’s from traffic cops, people driving by on scooters, and little kids playing soccer.  One would think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were walking beside us.  If I’d not experienced the phenomenon first had, I would not have believed it.  Looking around, it occurred to us that there are no other westerners here…none.  I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve never been to a place where I was so unique. 

The Indonesian fascination with westerners creates the opportunity.  Our celebrity status can be used to get in front of children, hold their attention to teach them English, and give them a personal connection to Christians who are not actively trying to  convert them.  Everyone here just naturally assumes all westerners are Christian.  English is a valued skill here because it opens doors for people, having Christian Americans doing the teaching creates a positive relationship to America, a positive impression of Christians, AND gives the kids a way to improve their own life. 

We can win their hearts and minds. 

This is just one area of interest for the local church, but it is one of great interest, and obviously one with a slow and long-term approach.  In addition to visiting schools, we plan to visit a local village, though I’m as yet uncertain what our goals will be there.

So the easy part is done, and it’s time to get dirty.  I will let you know what we discover.  Keep us in your prayers.

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