As I’m working furiously to complete all of my assignments for our two Missions classes (yes, we took classes, and yes we have homework), I went to the very beginning of my tumblr posts and started reading them as a basis for my homework for Dr. Teel’s class. Now being back at home after my year out, I’m going to re-post something that I put up while at home but before I left. It means a lot to me at this moment, and helps give me closure on some personal issues and questions that I had about my time going out:
“The Work of Community Building Toward the Kingdom of God Continues”
It helps now and then to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom of God—the ultimate community—is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayers fully express our faith. No confession brings perfection. No single act of healing brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about—we plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders. We are prophets of a future not our own.
- Archbishop Oscar Romero
I’m at home right now trying to accomplish a big mission with the assistance my mom—cleaning the house. The other night we worked on clearing out my room; I have huge piles of things to give away…some will go in a box to Makarios! Tonight we cleaned out and organized the refrigerator. And now as I’m typing, we’re going through the stacks of … things on the kitchen counter and table. Some things caught up in the stacks of this-and-that on the kitchen counter happened to be goodbye letters from my students.
Some of them I hadn’t yet opened, so I just went through all of them…and, oh my. My heart ached. I miss them. I miss them so much.
I want to hug them, talk to them, laugh with them, have a water fight again with them…
There were several points in time this past school year when I thought for sure I wasn’t going to miss them and they weren’t going to miss me.
This past week (my first week back in the States), everybody kept on asking me how I was—mostly whether I was sad or not. I honestly answered that I wasn’t too sad about my students, and that I was glad to be home. Circumstances made it difficult for me to spend time with them outside of class, so it wasn’t like I had a great deal of quality time with them.
Well, be that as it were…here I am sitting in at kitchen table at home wanting nothing more than to hop on a plane…and see my kids.
I am so touched by the students at this school. Sometimes, they really drive me crazy, but this morning I had a moment of inspiration because of them.
Our mission trip team wanted to help the children in Cilegon (our mission trip site) by bringing clothing, shoes, toys, and books for them. So we decided to ask our students to donate their stuff and we’ll take it with us on the trip. To make it fun and a little more interesting, we decided to hold a school-wide competition to see which homeroom and which student can bring the most items. A party will be arranged for the top homeroom and a prize will be given to the top student.
Before my classes started, I went around to the different classrooms to announce the competition next week and to post the paper to record their donations on the doors. I went to Grade 1 first, and Ems told me that right after I left, the students raised their hand and her if they could give money to the mission trip. She said, “Of course you can! You can drop it in the donation box right outside!” Then a couple of the students said, “Ms. Em, can we give it now? I have money right here!” After given permission, they ran outside and dropped their money in our donation box.
When I went to Grade 3, I was met with enthusiasm as well. Within a few sentences of my announcement, a couple of kids right away started talking about buying new things to donate, but I quickly told them that they didn’t have to buy anything new; they just had to bring their old things or the things that don’t fit them anymore. But one student quickly shut me down and said with a smile, “No, no, no! I want to buy a new one!” followed by another student proclaiming, “I’m going to buy a new shoes for them!!”
In the middle of my announcements, the students frowned and asked me, “Ms. Ashlee, how come we cannot go too??” With a melted heart, I smiled a huge smile and said, “I’m so glad you all want to help. Thank you so much for your good hearts. But only SMP (junior high) students are going because they are going to teach.” I was met with rounds of protest. One student said, “Miss, we already know how to teach! I already teach last year in Grade 2!” and another student said, “Yes, we can teach TK (kindergarten)!!” I couldn’t help but let out a burst of delighted laughter at how much these 8- and 9-year-olds really wanted to join our trip and help.
I let the kids ask me a couple of questions before I went to the next classroom and one of the girls asked, “Miss, can we give them pets?” I looked at her, unsure if language barrier was playing against our favor and tried to figure out if she meant a stuffed animal.
“A live animal, Fifi?”
“Yes, like a rabbit or something! :)”
Later, Efan cupped his small hands and raised them asking, “Miss, can I give them a hamster?”
Hehehehe. If only you could hear their voices and see their faces when they said that. :) So cuteeeeeeee.
A couple of weeks ago, Grade 2 sold simple things to help their classmate raise money and replace the teacher’s Mp3 speaker that he broke. With the extra money that they had, Ms. Erna asked them if they wanted to buy something and have a party, but they said, “Ms. Erna, can we give the money to the donation box instead?” *happy sigh* Sometimes these kids really make me want to give up and leave…but sometimes, I am reminded of how precious they truly are. They really need love and guidance, whether that comes in the form of strictness and discipline…or tender compassion and patience.
Thank you, God for these precious little ones you’ve allowed me to share life with.
Pastor Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life)
I just read something in the Purpose-Driven Life that applied to me so much, it was almost laughable:
“The most common mistake Christians make in worship today is seeking an experience rather than seeking God. They look for a feeling, and if it happens, they conclude they have worshipped. Wrong! In fact, God often removes our feelings so we won’t depend on them. Seeking a feeling, even the feeling of closeness to Christ, is not worship.
When you are a baby Christian, God gives you a lot of confirming emotions and often answers the most immature, self-centered prayers—so you’ll know he exists. But as you grow in faith, he will wean you of these dependencies.”
Just earlier this evening before reading my worship, I thought again about how wrong my mindset was before coming on this year abroad. I was a spiritual baby, seeking an emotional experience with God. I had heard so many stories from previous SMs who spent their terms in the middle of nature and felt close to God being in the middle of His creation. That’s a way I feel close to God—being surrounded by flora, fauna, clear waters, and blue skies.
I am so limited to that here in Jakarta. Every now and then I see my favorite plumeria, and yes I get to enjoy tropical fruits, but other than that, I’m so far removed from nature. Instead of being met with tall trees as I step outside every morning, my senses are bogged with tall concrete buildings, insane traffic, a lot of angry and useless horn honking, and crazy car and motorcycle drivers. I’ve only seen the ocean twice in these past 8 months. And neither were good experiences. The pollution here is worse than in Riverside…and that’s saying something. My skin has been protesting it and working against me this entire time.
All of those things are definitely not what I expected or wanted for my SM term. I was looking forward to being in the jungles of Peru and finding God there while doing dental work. You know, I was so happy when I went to go visit my family in Manado. No the quality of daily living wasn’t as good as it is here in Jakarta, but I was surrounded by nature and I was so happy. It was easy to worship God under a clear sky full of millions of stars at night.
While thinking about all those things and more today, I realized my problem that Rick Warren was talking about regarding worship—everything was about me seeking an emotional experience and what I wanted to get out of my SM year. What made it easy for me to feel God. What adventures I wanted to go on (because “adventure” is the classic SM word, right?). What memories I wanted to make.
But, I’ve gotten none of that. And though that was a hard thing to deal with this past year, that was crucial to me finding God for God, not for an experience. God brought me here to not get what I wanted or thought I needed so that He could “wean [me] of [my] dependencies” and find Him for real.
Something happened at school on Monday, but I don’t want to go into the details because just thinking of the situation makes me stressed out again. But as I was making dinner, I asked God—and I mean really asked—why He wanted me to come here. It’s been so difficult here because the school is not ready (or even fit) for student missionaries.
What was the point, God?
It wasn’t immediate, but the answer eventually came:
Ashlee, you’re not a baby anymore spiritually. You are an adult.
Because of everything that’s happened to me this year and the waves of thought processes and prayers that I’ve had, God’s answer made sense right away…but I need to do a little explaining so that you can understand why He said that.
I live with a 3-month-old baby here in Indonesia. She is so cute. :) (You can see pictures of her on my Facebook.) Baby Alyx depends on Ems and Khai for everything—for her bath, for her milk, for her change of clothes, for her comfort, etc. She is utterly and entirely dependent. And whenever she cries, she receives anything and everything that she needs. She is given comfort, milk, a new diaper…everything is provided for her.
Back at home, I think I receive a similar treatment—though not to that extreme—in several areas of my life. If something is causing discomfort, it’s very easy to make it stop. I can relieve myself of the commitment. People can rearrange things so that I don’t have to suffer for too long. Emotional support is usually readily available from the people that I’m close to love. Things are easily provided for me.
However, here in Indonesia, I am constantly experiencing discomforts, but I cannot easily remove myself from them like I can back at home. There were so many times I’ve thought, "Please don’t make me go back to that school. Please, please, please…just let me go home. Find someone else to do my job." I truly don’t enjoy teaching and I can’t wait for my term to end. But all of my thinking and wishing is in vain. I have to stick it out for 10 months. I can’t take the easy way out.
I can’t be babied. Because I’m not a baby anymore.
Not being babied is really causing me to grow up, both emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. This process of maturing has not been easy or enjoyable in any sense of the words. But the rewards that I reap are immense. I have learned so much. As I look back at the me that left on a plane for Indonesia and look ahead to the me that will leave on a plane for California, the two Ashlee’s are entirely different….because of this process of sticking it out. Of growing up. Of not being babied.
God had a very important lesson to teach me, a lesson that couldn’t be learned in one day, one week, or even one month. He needed to strip me of everything that kept me comfortable for a considerable amount of time so that I would be forced to run to Him (not other people, solutions, or situations) to supply my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.
I can no longer receive spoon-fed spirituality. No more depending on a good sermon or an emotional service for me to feel close to God. I have to go looking for Him myself.
Babies get spoon-fed. Adults feed themselves.
You know, I thought that my whole life leading up to July 2012 was preparing for my year as an SM. But I just realized that my SM term is preparing me for the rest of my life.
Going out as an SM is not some climactic event that requires tremendous amounts of preparation, as I thought before I left. Rather, it is the very preparation for what lies ahead.
Got it, God. This is why you brought me here. So I would be a baby no more.
I don’t know how to explain this, but sometimes God has a funny way of talking to me by bringing to my mind songs with lyrics that I need at that moment. It’s really weird though because usually the songs come from nowhere—a song I haven’t heard in ages. It hasn’t happened in a while, but it happened today.
These past few days I’ve been so emotionally weak. For the past several nights, I went to sleepy with eyes tired of being puffy from intense sobbing sessions. I prayed to God for answers and, to my frustration, didn’t receive any.
While getting ready for school early this morning, a thought from God came so clearly:
Stop seeking me for answers. Spend time with me because you want to know ME. After you do that, you’ll get the answers you need.
It was such an astonishing revelation to me; I was stunned. But I realized how true it was.
That was earlier this morning. While in the shower just now, this song came to my mind as I reflected on the day’s events:
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things
Shall be added unto you
As that song came to mind, I realized it was the Biblical proof of the Divine impression received earlier. There it was in the Bible all along (in Matthew 6:33), and I just didn’t see it that way.
Seek first the kingdom of God. Spend time with God for the sake of getting to know His heart.
Then all these things shall be added unto me. Then I will get the answers I need.
This is a email that I sent to my home church with the help of my pastor. I thought I should put it here as well.
Hi church family!
Time has flown by so fast! I can’t believe that in just two months, I’ll be on a plane headed for Los Angeles, California! I’m not fluent in Indonesian yet, but I’ve learned a lot…so those of you can speak, I expect you to be practicing with me when I come home!
A quick update: my friends and I are planning a two-day mission trip for the Grades 7 – 9 students here at the school. This is the first mission trip the school has ever put on for the students. We will be working at a school for very poor children in Cilegon—a city two hours from Jakarta. The children there are sent by their parents to go dig through large dumpsites and find valuable things either to keep or to sell and make money. A pastor in Cilegon found out about these kids and made it his goal to set up a free school for them. His youth group will be helping to build the school over the next month. But remember when I say “build a school”, I don’t mean something like the schools we know at home. I mean an area of dirt floor covered by a simple awning and a basic separator to create a wall for the squatting toilet. No air condition, no nice desks, no whiteboards…but at least it’s a place for them to learn to read, write, and do math.
During the trip, our students are going to have a taste of what it’s like being a teacher. They’re going to be giving lessons in basic English, practical health, first aid, arts and crafts, and morals. We let the students brainstorm and come up with “lesson plans” of their own. Over the next two months, we’re going to be working to prepare the materials for the classes. We hope that through this trip, our students will be appreciative of what they have, will learn to appreciate education, and will enjoy their experience working together to serve God.
I’m very excited about this trip because our school is planning to “adopt” that school in Cilegon and to have a long-term relationship with them. Hopefully in the following years, our students can continue to go out there, help with the school, and see it develop. We also have plans for the students there to come to our school for a several-day academic summer camp and see what an operating school looks like and how it runs.
As a fundraiser for this mission trip, we are holding a student talent show next Sunday (April 8) to showcase their God-given abilities. We are selling tickets, food, drinks, setting up a photo booth, decorating the chapel, and much more.
If you could keep our talent show and our mission trip in your prayers at church and even privately in your family worships, I would really appreciate it. This year, I’ve witnessed the power of people praying for me. Sometimes things that I didn’t have a chance to pray for were answered. God knew what was in my heart, heard your prayers, and answered them. It has happened several times, and each time, I was completely humbled, being fully convinced that someone was praying me through.
If any of you have read anything on my tumblr blog, you know that this student missionary term has not been particularly easy for me. It has not been the year I expected or hoped for. But I’m learning slowly that going out as an SM was not to have adventures or even make great memories—it was to respond to God’s call with obedience and humility. If I had to be honest, I would say that this year has been filled with more unhappiness and stress than it has happiness, but God has been breaking me down, molding me, and reshaping me through those experiences. Sometimes, when God loves his kids, he lets them go through experiences that don’t necessarily feel good, but will ultimately make them more into the person he wants them to be. In the midst of my hard times, I want to be able to remember that. It’s extremely hard to remember that most of the time, but who said good things come easy?
I just thought of a sermon I heard several months ago at one of the few English-speaking churches here in Jakarta. The pastor’s sermon was about blessings. He asked us to think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was such a blessing for Mary to be chosen by God to be the mother of the Savior of the world—to be so close to him in a way that no one else in the whole world could be, or ever would be able to be. Wow…to be the mother of the Messiah. But…Mary did have a burden. She had to go through a pregnancy at a young age with everyone thinking she did a big no-no before the wedding day. Oh the stares she must have felt, the humiliation she must have suffered. Can you imagine?
So the pastor brought this point to our attention: oftentimes, a burden comes before a blessing. If we want to embrace the blessing, we have to be willing to accept the burden. And here’s the kicker: Maybe instead of praying for blessings, we need to pray for burdens. Burdens are the things that change our character. If you avoid the burden, you avoid the blessing. And he said, when you have a burden, remember that a blessing is not so far away.
I remember sitting in that church being so thankful that I attended that day. I took notes from the sermon on my phone, and now as I’m sitting in my bedroom writing this letter, I’m so glad that I took those notes. Writing this update to all of you reminded me of that sermon and forced me to check those notes again.
Dear church family member, maybe as you’re reading this, you have a burden on your heart too. Well you know what? Let’s go through our burdens together. Let’s not run away from them, but allow them to shape our character. And let’s not so quickly forget that amidst everything going on, there’s a blessing waiting for us right around the corner.
I can’t wait for us to be reunited again!
maybe they need to speak a couple of thousand more.
I know that the pictures I put up on Facebook look nice. We go out to eat at restaurants, we have nice malls here (nearly each mall that we’ve been to here is better than the ones at home…..crazy), and we’re smiling….but pictures don’t tell everything.
I can’t take pictures of the problems and stresses we face here. I can’t capture in a photograph the pressures that are put on us. I can’t express through megapixels how unhappy we are here at times.
Maybe I’m not allowed to say this…but every new teacher at our school this year has wanted to leave at some point. These are real professionals who have made teaching an actual career…and they have wanted to leave this school. How much more Mads and I, who aren’t trained teachers, who still aren’t used to the Indonesian education system, who have a language barrier with our students and are still expected to deliver results?
You know, I’m jealous of the SMs currently around the world or in the past who loved their experience. I’m not necessarily one of those people, and I hate admitting that.
I have grown so much this year, God has shaped me and molded me through difficult times. But I’m ready to go home. I want to go home now.
In two months from now, I’ll be on a plane back home. Every time I call my grandma, she tells me she’s counting down the days. I think I am too now.
My trip to Kakas (my grandpa’s village) a couple of weeks ago was one of the happiest times I’ve had this whole year. I had to use bucket showers, toilets without proper plumbing…but I was so happy. There was no traffic. No pollution. Green everywhere. We were in the middle of nature. The sky was full of stars at night. I would have been so happy if I did my mission term there, helping out the churches, teaching there. I would have been so happy.
Even if I had the same exact problems that I have here at a school over there, I would still be happier there. Because at least there I can spend time with the kids. They all live in one village. At least the beauty of the nature there can take away my stress.
Over here in Jakarta, we are stuck in a concrete jungle full of pollution. Yes, we have more of the comforts of home here, but that isn’t enough compensation to help keep me sane amidst the problems we face here.
*Sigh* At least this isn’t permanent. At least Madeline and I have each other. At least God is good. And is here with us every single moment of every single day.
I’ve been wanting to write again. So many things have happened, so many thoughts to share, but…I just haven’t written, partly because I’m really busy with other things, and partly because when I do have free time, writing is not on the top of my list of things to do. I really regret not writing more.
But, well, let’s try now.
Where to start? Mmm, let’s start with my trip to Manado this past weekend. But I need to give you a background story first. So consider this part one of my Manado trip post. Last month, Madeline and I were supposed to go to Singapore to accompany another teacher friend to renew her visa. I was so excited to finally get out of Jakarta and spend a couple of days in a city I’ve been wanting to visit so badly. A lot of my mom’s friends are from Singapore. I love the food, the cleanliness that I’ve heard about (Jakarta is so polluted, I hate it. My whole time here I’ve been having skin problems especially when it rains—in Jakrta, rain is something like acid rain), and I loved that it was Chinese New Year weekend! I was so excited for the photo opportunities. We all packed our bags, headed to the airport, checked-in, said goodbye to the friends that dropped us off, and went upstairs to proceed to our gate. Unfortunately, after we passed through the second security point and headed to the immigration counter, the officer looked at our passport and stopped us…Madeline and I couldn’t go through. Our visas only allowed for one entrance into the country and one exit out of it. Even though Singapore was so nearby, it was another country and we weren’t allowed to leave. So our teacher friend had to go by herself, and we were kind of disappointed. Our friends picked us up again, and we tried to enjoy the night despite the turn of events. It ended up being a good night. :)
Well that week, we had Monday off for Chinese New Year (wish we had that back in the States!). And since we weren’t in Singapore, I contacted my cousin to see if we could meet up with him. (The cool part of being in Indonesia as an SM is that I have relatives here!) He was available, so the three of us got together for lunch near his place and then went looking for cloth to make Batik skirts. Later that night, my cousin told me about his brother’s daughter’s baby dedication that upcoming weekend in Bandung (a town three hours away from Jakarta) and asked me if I wanted to go. I was so ecstatic! I knew my cousin lived in Bandung and that he and his wife (whom I’ve never met) had a baby four months ago, but I haven’t found the time to be able to see them, or arrange transportation…problems like that. But this was perfect timing because I had an available schedule and transportation was provided. Plus, since it was a big event, a lot of my other relatives, whom I’ve never met before, were also going to be there, so I was going to be able to meet a lot of people in one weekend. It was perfect!
I’ll write more about Bandung later, but in short, it was a wonderful weekend. My grandma has a big family…13 children in all, so my Sitompul clan is far and wide. Some of my grandma’s siblings have died, some are in America, but there are only three left in Indonesia. I was so happy to meet the three that weekend in Bandung. Talking with my cousins, opungs, aunties, and uncles, really reminded me of the importance of family and opened my eyes to how much it is truly valued in the Indonesian culture. One of my opungs lives in Padang, a city in an adjacent island Sumatra, and invited me to visit her and her family when I have time. Cool thing? I found time: March 28 – 31 I’m gonna be there. J
My cousins in Manado, a city in the adjacent island of Sulawesi, have been asking me when I’m going to see them ever since I arrived in Jakarta. It’s hard to make my relatives here in Indonesia understand that I’m not here on vacation like I was five years ago. I’m here to serve as a Student Missionary. I have responsibilities which take up a lot of my time on the weekdays and sometimes on the weekends as well. I don’t have a lot of free time to just up and go see them whenever they want or whenever I want. So I told them I wasn’t sure when I could see them, but I’d try my best. But honestly, I wasn’t really motivated to go through the hard work of trying to plan a trip to Manado.
However, after my trip to Bandung with my family, I started to understand the power of family ties. Meeting and spending time with relatives, even if you don’t know them well, is a huge part of my culture, my roots. So I looked at the school calendar again to see when I was free, and I made plans to visit Manado, which happened to be this past weekend.
So now…why did I write out all of that nonsense? What was the purpose?
The Bandung trip, the Manado trip, and the up-coming Padang trip…all of those were literally a result of a missed trip to Singapore. Truthfully, if I went to Singapore that weekend, all of these things wouldn’t have happened.
When I realized that, I was truly humbled. I’ve experienced in my life before that when God says no, it’s because He has something even bigger and better to replace it with. A couple of years ago, I really wanted to go to Andrews University. I tried so hard to convince my parents and I tried so hard to convince the school to give me more scholarship, but alas…in the end, God said no. I was really disappointed. But as I look back in retrospect, I see why God said no. He had other plans for me at La Sierra, one of them being a Student Missionary. If I went to Andrews, I know that I wouldn’t have gone out as an SM because I would be too focused on trying to catch up with their graduation requirements.
We are humans. That means we have the vision of humans…we can’t see the big picture. That limitation makes it hard to trust, at times, that God has something better. But He does. And our suffering is only temporary.
Oh yeah, another thing—the weekend I was supposed to go to Singapore? It rained that entire weekend. Our teacher friend had to stay indoors nearly the entire time.
God has better things in store.