Advent at the Equator

**Apologies for the lengthy silence on this blog. Life never stops, and there are many stories to tell, but my attention to writing was drained by many tasks and a specific stressful situation regarding the completion of renewing my work visa.**

“I pray that God, who gives hope, will bless you with complete happiness and peace because of your faith. And may the power of the Holy Spirit fill you with hope.” Romans 15:13

Downpour during the rainy season in Sumatra.
Downpour during the rainy season in Sumatra.

As much as I’m looking forward to spending my holidays in North America, I’m kinda loving this tropical climate at the equator. The daily warm sun, the ever growing plants and trees, abundance of fruit all year round, and even the torrential rains which are now more often than in June. Here is no bleak midwinter—it is now the rainy season—and although we can still light candles in the night, the amount of daylight is nearly the same as it was 6 months ago.

The beginning of this month I was stressed with the thought of not being able to get back to my homeland. I was waiting for several months for just one piece of paper from the Labor Department to finally complete the process to renew my work visa. It was agony, and I grew weary of waiting. The immigration office said the policy was to hold my passport, so during a span of four months, I was without it. Without a passport, of course, I wouldn’t be able to board my flight.

I angrily rejected that my waiting had anything to do with the gentle and hopeful preparation for the coming of Christ. I felt my waiting was an injustice, that I was stuck in between nightmarish bureaucracy and a corrupt government. I didn’t get in the ‘spirit’ of the season, and I’m still trying to return to a place of spiritual centering.

I’m still waiting for that document, but at least now I have the ability to spend some time at home. It has been 20 months since I left the US and haven’t been out of SE Asia during that time. In my absence there and presence in Indonesia, life has happened for my family and friends, too. Babies were born; my grandfather passed away; there were marriages and divorces; other friends moved locations, or got new jobs. So much life, here and there.

Here, in Balige, the small Christmas tree next to my office is some pine branches stuck into the stalk of a banana tree. If you stand at a distance, you probably couldn’t tell the creativity to create the holiday look. An advent wreath hangs from the awning above the common area outside my office. I write now with my door open; birds are chattering, roosters crow, and the sun is out. This is Advent in Sumatra.

Caroling at 4am in Balige to start the Advent season.
Caroling at 4am in Balige to start the Advent season.

We, too, prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ but the individualism and consumerism that pervades American culture isn’t present in Indonesia. We don’t need a break from shopping malls or advertisements, or holiday rush. Not every home will give and receive presents—but that isn’t the focus of Advent and Christmas for the Christians here. Actually, it is worship in the church that is the focus. Preparations for role-plays are being made, decorations are up, special hymns are sung.

On Sunday December 1st, the first week of Advent, I once again joined my students for pre-dawn caroling around town with candles. It was a beautiful way to welcome the season, and I am grateful for the opportunity to join them again this year. We walked while singing, and placed wreaths and several homes.

But there are more signs down here at the equator. The growing season never stops and the rain comes more often. A few weeks ago, I found myself, for the first time,  staring directly at a full double rainbow. It gave me pause.

Perhaps it’s a challenge to meditate on this Advent, for you in the northern climates. It’s not a typical symbol of Advent for the church, but in my time of anger and restless waiting, it gave me hope and brought me some joy in that bleak midwinter in my heart. And that is Advent.

Recent full double rainbow.
Recent full double rainbow.

We wait. We watch. We hope. And it makes me want to sing:

 
        Come, thou long expected Jesus, 
	born to set thy people free; 
	from our fears and sins release us, 
	let us find our rest in thee.  
	Israel's strength and consolation, 
	hope of all the earth thou art; 
	dear desire of every nation, 
	joy of every longing heart.

Blessed Advent and happy holidays to all who are celebrating this month.

Update with images

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Advent

I am in the waiting time. And as it is the season of Advent, I am also waiting for the birth of Christ, God with us. As I anticipate serving in Indonesia (in 2 months!), and meeting the beautiful community there, I also hold dear my community in Seattle. This photo is from my home, my community of Church of the Apostles. During every worship, we have a time called “open space” when we are free to move about, pray, sit—whatever. There are always places for us to reflect.

Blessed 3rd week of Advent.