God Made a (woman) Farmer

Indonesia, mission

I did not have the privilege of watching the Super Bowl from Indonesia. The game happened during my Monday morning working hours, so I actually delighted in the real-time online updates from my friends. This post, however, is not about the Super Bowl. It is about some thoughts resulting from a commercial.

I saw the “God Made a Farmer” commercial that aired during the game, posted on Facebook. After watching it, I immediately thought about my students and their mothers. You see, in rural Indonesia, women do a lot of the backbreaking work to farm the rice. There are no government subsidies, no agribusiness, no tractors—all the planting and harvesting is done by hand. Some of my students go home on holidays and do not rest, instead they work in the field to help the family. Some mothers here raise their children, farm the field, sell the rice at the market, and continue after their husband has died because there is no other choice.

Take a moment and thank all the women all over the world that labor to grow our food. Thank you Lutheran World Relief for this reminder.

Update with images

diakonia, Indonesia, mission

I apologize for the lack of postings recently. Some days it is difficult to put my experience into words, and other days it all seems not so interesting. Now it is December, and suddenly, time has passed. Christmas and New Year’s are only a couple of weeks away; I’ve now been here for 8 months.

This week is final exams for the semester. My load will not be as heavy, although my students are stressed and weary from much homework on top of studying for their finals, as well as the other work and responsibilities they have throughout the week—all with very little rest. I hope to share more stories in the coming days. Below are some pictures from some recent events. For more, please explore my Indonesia Collection on my Flickr page.


R A I N. It’s the rainy season here in North Sumatra, and this photo is a creative shot from a storm in Pematang Siantar back in November. This is the view outside the door from my little room where I stay when I teach at Nommensen University. The heavy downpour lasted for hours, accompanied by lightning and thunder. A small stream of water rushed past the patio from all the rain soaking the ground and pouring from the roof.



M I N I S T R Y. These are a few of my students in action, giving talks about health to people in the village of Siboruon, outside of Balige. The presentations came after the Sunday worship in the village HKBP church and were on topics about healthy eating, traditional medicines, and breast feeding, and HIV/AIDS. Find more photos from this day here.


F U N. On the same day as above, after the worship, presentation, and a nice meal of saksang, we hiked to a nearby waterfall. The path was at times steep, and very muddy. It was best to take off the flip-flops and hike barefoot. Our treat for the slippery hike was this gorgeous waterfall to play in. My students, never having experienced a hike in the North American mountains with water that flows from melted snow, thought this was cold; I was pleasantly cool, and had a blast splashing and standing under the falls. In spite of being cold, as you can see, they had fun, too.


A D V E N T. On the first Sunday in Advent (Dec. 2nd), the students walked around town singing Advent hymns by candlelight. I joined with. We began at 4am with the hospital across the street. This photo is my students lined along a corridor (in this hospital the hallways are all open air) singing with the nursing students. We then walked around town, leaving advent wreaths and candles at some select homes. We also sang in the courtyard of the local prison. Altogether, it was a beautiful morning, well worth leaving at 4am. Find more photos here.

A Day in the Life

mission, teaching

It has been more than 6 months since I arrived in Indonesia. It is hard to believe the time has passed! I have shared some of my experiences so far, but not yet detailed what a typical day is like, because, well, it seems now so ordinary. But maybe you are curious. So…

Just before 5am I hear the echo of “Allahu Akbar” coming from the local mosque. It is about this same time my students wake up. I don’t usually get out of bed until 5:30am. My routine has been to do some exercises like push ups and sit ups then go for a short jog, maybe 20 minutes. Even though the morning air is cold for my Indonesian friends, I return from a light jog and am dripping in sweat. I greet the students as they clean and take care of their morning tasks.

Breakfast is at 7am. Always rice, sometimes fried, or with a fried egg and/or noodles, and fish. And of course chilis. I eat with the director of the school, and now also with a young woman from Germany doing her internship here.

Morning worship is at 7:30am. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are in Bahasa Indonesia; Tuesday is in the Batak language; and Thursday is in English.

The students have classes from 8am to 12:15, and again in the afternoon. I teach each day Mon-Fri, but different times each day. The school here is for 3 years, and each grade attends every class together. I am in the classroom 13 hours per week, teaching the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year students.

Lunch is eaten communally with other staff. We have a table in the passage between the kitchen and common area near the courtyard.

At 6pm the church bell rings as it did at 6am. By this time, I am done with teaching and can relax or work on lesson plans (usually I relax).

Here’s a few photos of my days:

Making spaghetti

Students in class

Saturday relaxing

July Recap

Batak culture, mission, travel

Here are some long overdue photos from back in July. August was a busy month, which included many hours teaching an intensive English course, celebrating Indonesia’s independence, hiking around Balige, going to a wedding as part of a family, and more. Those stories and photos will have to wait.

The night before going to Jakarta, I attended the opening worship for the gathering of the deaconess community, held in Sipoholon. See below the deaconesses in their uniforms. I have often been asked here if deaconesses in America wear uniforms. No, I say. So it is interesting to me to see them all in uniform. My brief appearance was noted, but I hardly had time to meet anyone at all.

The deaconesses gathered for worship and meeting. In the few days that followed they selected a delegate who will represent the community at the general gathering of the HKBP this month (September). There a new leader for the denomination will be selected.

Deaconess community of the HKBP

Then, in Jakarta, I attended a consultation of the HKBP for their Diakonia ministry. I met some people, but only got a general idea of the conversations. It was good, however, to hear about more of the ministries of the HKBP. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to write a synopsis of the event. Below are two photos.

View of Jakarta from the fancy downtown hotel

Small group work at the Consultation for National Diakonia

After the conference in Jakarta, I went to Bali, which I have previously posted about. Worth mentioning is the time spent in Jakarta with the family of the director of the deaconess school. They are now my family, too. It is customary in Batak culture for people such as myself, to have a Batak family name. So, I have been invited to be a Sitanggang. When introducing myself in a formal manner I can say I am “Megan Ross, boru Sitanggang”.

While staying with the Sitanggang clan, I played with the young children who taught me a few words of Batak such as “modom” (sleep), “male” (hungry — I’m not sure about spelling), and “butong” (full). Below are some photos.

The family with some of the school staff

Eating Pecel lele (pronounced “pechel lay-lay”), a type of fish, in Jakarta.

Playing football in front of the house

Life, Death, and Human Achievement

Batak culture, Indonesia, mission

As NASA’s craft Curiosity made it’s landing on the surface of Mars, I was listening to the live feed while working on phrasal verb flash cards for my students. In the moment the NASA control room waited with baited breath to received the signal and photos from the craft, that it had in fact landed, I also heard the loudspeaker on the local mosque broadcast the muezzin’s chant, sending the faint sound of “Allah u Akbar…” into my office; my Muslim neighbors were praying, and as it is Ramadan, also fasting from food and drink. Some of my students were cooking lunch, others cleaning the school in preparation of the new semester.

In the US, the Sikh community in Milwaukee, WI was reeling from an inexplicable act of violence and hate against them. Six dead, shot in cold blood, desecrating their holy place of worship.

Someone I know lost their mother that day after a fall, and another person’s mother was breathing her last breaths, having walked more than 99 years on this earth.

Athletes from all corners of the world competed to be swifter, higher, stronger at the Olympic Games in London; world records were broken, as humans do indeed push the limits of their own bodies.

On that day, the 6th of August, back in 1945, the US unleashed a weapon of mass destruction on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, instantly killing many thousands and destroying a city.

From the earth to the moon, and now to Mars, we have such capacity to advance technology, to accurately place a craft on a distant planet. We also know how to create total destruction. We dare to run faster and jump higher than any human before. Meanwhile, billions of people live out their daily lives, working, playing, and eventually dying.

In Balige, that evening (6 August 2012), I went with some of my students to see the body of someone who had died; she was 85. In Batak culture, when an old person dies, they do not mourn in black as in western culture. Here, they have a party and they wear their ulos (traditional blanket). As is customary at death, the body is laid in the home and family and community come to visit. And so, beneath large tents, people gathered to sit. A band played traditional Batak music, while other people visited the body.

My students came to pay respects because the woman who was a friend to the deaconess students. We sang hymns, for which the band provided the music; we prayed; and then we greeted each of the family members with the customary handshake, placing the right hand to the heart after shaking.

Life and death—such beauty and mystery…

Below is the photo from the visit to the dead woman’s family:
Visitation of the Dead

A common calling

culture, diakonia, Indonesia, mission

June was a busy month, and July promises to be another busy month. Although most of the students have left the deaconess school for their practical work, there is still plenty of work to do. Presently, I am working on a schedule and syllabus for an intensive English course for the incoming students due to begin in August, as well as the teaching I’ll do throughout the semester.

And then there is my responsibility at the HKBP Nommensen University in Pematangsiantar. The final week of June I had another busy week of teaching and observing (and being a radio star on an English radio program). For the students there, that was the last week of the Semester. I will return to Siantar on Friday in advance of a rather large seminar on the 7th of July. Somehow, this small deaconess found herself as a speaker in a plenary session of a seminar titled, “English Language Acquisition Paradigm and Integrated Character-Based Learning”. The topic assigned to me is “Models of Teaching.” A post will follow about the event.

I have not forgotten about other stories to share. My time has been short and only recently have I fixed my laptop (well, not fixed. It needed a completely new hard drive, but a clever university student helped me). So, I expect it to be easier to post my reflections.

Until I am finished writing my own stories, I can share this one from the ELCA about myself and the deaconess school in Balige. The LivingLutheran.com is a resource of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is an interactive site that has articles about culture, faith, the church, and more. You can find the article about my school here: A common calling

The reason it is titled “A common calling” is that as a deaconess, I have been called here to be a servant. There are many things that are different about life in the U.S. and life in Indonesia. What is the same, what transcends the language barrier and other differences, is our desire and common calling to love God and love neighbor. Enjoy!

Now, below are some recent photos for your enjoyment
Batak party
This is a Batak party

A typical scene in a restaurant here. This one is in Siantar, where I ate some delicious mie goreng (fried noodles).

Teaching, Final Exams, and Relaxing


Below are some recent photos of the past few weeks. The semester is now over, and the students are out doing a month of practical work. I was busy teaching, sometimes 3 or 4 lessons a day during the week. On 12 June, the 3rd year class (those graduating) had their final examinations in the form of a series of oral tests. When I have the opportunity I will write more about that experience. I was able to get some rest and relaxation at a nice place on Lake Toba. Now I’m ready to work again, and will return to the Nommensen University in Siantar. I wish I was able to update more often. Enjoy the photos. Please find more here at my flickr site.

12 June 2012. Posing for a picture.

12 June 2012. Some of the students singing at morning worship on the day of the final exam for the 3rd year class.

12 June 2012. Some of the 3rd year class wait for their turn to face the panel of questions.

20 June 2012. A nice view of Lake Toba from Tuktuk, Samosir.

20 June 2012. Taking a few days rest on Samosir…from our hotel room.

More photos from HKBP Nommensen University

Indonesia, mission

Here are some more photos from the week I was teaching in Siantar. It was a busy week, but a good time. I look forward to returning next month for more:

Above, I’m introducing myself to a English conversation class. This time I was there to observe, but always have the opportunity to say who I am and where I’m from.

I was supposed to observe this class on listening comprehension. However, when the lecturer did not come, it became a time for cultural exchange as I answered there questions and shared about American culture. Then I asked them to sing a Batak song for me.

at the women's dormitory
These lovely students in the above photo, live at the women’s dormitory near campus. The housemother is also a deaconess. Not all of these students are studying English, but they were all happy to talk with me and pose for a photo.

A Week in Siantar

culture, mission

I have had a busy week. I left Balige last Sunday night for Siantar, a city about 2.5 hours away. While in Siantar (full name is Pematang Siantar, but it is commonly referred to as just “Siantar”), I taught English Conversation classes at the HKBP Nommensen University, as well as attended other classes in the English Department. Each day I was busy teaching, observing, and sharing about culture. The students were very happy to have a native speaker of English and had many great questions for me.

I will return to Siantar at the end of June for more teaching and observing. I am in Indonesia primarily to teach at the Deaconess School in Balige, where I have already been for almost 2 months, but I hope to be able to help the students and the teachers in the English Department at Nommensen University in whatever ways I can.

Below is a video. I was supposed to observe in a Listening Comprehension class, but the professor was not there. So, we had a session on cultural exchange instead. I took questions from the students about myself and about American culture. Then I asked them to sing for me. Here they are singing a Batak song.

A class on English conversation. There isn’t enough classroom space, so some lectures are in the auditorium at the same time.

And here is one photo from my teaching. Technical difficulties on the upload are preventing me from posting more than one at this time. Hopefully that will not continue to be a problem.

Other news to share: I finally have a work visa and residence permit. Last week I also completed paperwork so that I have a re-entry permit into the country again. I am very thankful for all the help from Nommensen, who has sponsored my visa.

Worship with Oppung

Batak culture, faith, Indonesia, mission

After returning from Penang, Malaysia with my visa earlier this month, I had the opportunity to visit a village with one of the students. As I mentioned previously, they go out each week to serve in the communities—they visit the sick, visit the prison, minister to sellers at the market, and more. This visit, I accompanied Arlisna as she went to a village to lead a worship for elderly women.

First we walked up the road calling to each home where one of the Oppung (grandparent) resides. When it was time for the worship, we gathered on the floor in one of the homes, sitting on top of mats laid out on the floor. This is common here in Indonesia. I greeted the Oppung-Oppung in the Batak language (“Horas”). The words and prhases of Bahasa Indonesia I have learned were of no use, as these elderly women only know Batak. For some of them, I was the first American they had met and who sat in their midst. I was welcomed and greeted with smiles and laughter; Arlisna, being our translator between English and Batak.

About a dozen women were there. Most did not have hymnals, but could sing along from memory. There were hymns, Scripture, and a brief devotion. Through the time, I sat silently, yet with reverence and attention to the Spirit’s presence among us. An offering was taken, to be given to the local church.

After the worship, we ate bread and drank tea. I prayed a prayer of blessing and thanks for them in English, my words, again being translated. I was invited back to worship with them again. If I have the opportunity, I would like to return and pray with them. It was a blessed time.