Ready for the Unexpected

diakonia, faith, mission

Be ready for the unexpected. That’s a lesson I’ve learned here. Not that I’ve never had something unexpected happen in my life, but in this life in Indonesia, I’m often called upon to do something I didn’t previously plan on. And here, it can mean living and doing something without much detail or knowing what’s coming next. Flexibility is a must-have attitude. I suppose since I was never one to need all the details ahead of time, it’s easier for me to adjust and go with the flow around here.

So last weekend I had one of those moments of needing to be flexible. As usual on a Saturday morning, I was relaxed, sipping my tea after my breakfast meal of rice and fried egg. I learned from the director of my school, that I had been invited to an event in Samosir (an island in the middle of Lake Toba), hosted by the District President of the Samosir district of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP). The director of the school wasn’t able to attend, but I was still welcome to go. Although I had woke up that morning thinking I’d wash my clothes and get a haircut, this is the kind of thing that one is better to say yes to.

Two of my students accompanied me, excited to join me along for the journey. As we made our way by public bus and ferry, we chatted in a mix of English and Indonesian. We arrived just after the cultural event of boat races had finished, but right on time for lunch. Excellent. I was greeted by the district president and also the Ephorus (whom they call the leader of the entire 4 million member denomination). After a warm greeting we sat down for lunch, which was surprisingly relaxed for being in the presence of such Important People.

After lunch was a special tree-planting of the church leaders (the exact purpose of this being lost in translation). Another surprise of the day: they asked me to plant a tree, too. A nice little avocado tree. In a plot that had been reserved for some other church leader, I knelt down and planted my avocado tree just before the rain started.

What might have been a relaxing, and perhaps boring day, turned out to be full of the unexpected—traveling across the beautiful landscape along Lake Toba (rather than spending a few hours hand-washing clothes), meeting with church leaders, planting a tree on behalf of the church, having fun with my students. The day didn’t go as planned, but there was blessing in it.

Sometimes when encountering the unexpected, it isn’t so lovely an experience. But it is important to face that, too. Open your heart and mind and live in the moment, and surprising things just may happen.

The Ephorus of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) planting a tree.

The Ephorus of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) planting a tree.

Planting an avocado tree

Planting an avocado tree

Lake Toba, Samosir, and Batak culture

Batak culture

I am catching up on posting, so this story is from a week and a half ago, just after Easter. For now I’ll write details, and later I can write more reflection about my experiences.

Relaxing at Lake Toba

On Easter Sunday, after lunch, I traveled around Lake Toba with some of my sisters from the school. From Balige we drove to Parapat and took a ferry across the lake to Samosir island in the middle of the Lake. After a restful night at a beautiful spot by the lake, we drove on a windy road up the mountains.

Traditional Batak houses

On Monday, the 9th of April, after some sightseeing, we were invited to lunch at the home of one of the students. The Ibu (mother) had prepared a meal of chicken, boiled eggs, dried fish, and soup, together with rice that I’m told had just been harvested. All together, we ate in a circle on large mats on the floor. I was asked to pray in English before the meal, but because I do not speak the Batak language, most of the time I listened but did not understand. The food was prepared in sauces, and all tasted very good, but it made my lips and mouth burn. I have heard it said that in Indonesia, they are not satisfied if the food does not have hot chilis in it.

Sitting after the meal

As is custom in Batak culture, I was treated well as a guest. They are welcoming, and always offer and make sure I have enough. After lunch we drank coffee. I formally thanked Bapak and Ibu (father and mother) for the meal and their generous hospitality and prayed for God to bless them. I told them I was looking forward to teaching their daughter. The family invited me again to be a guest in their home and they gave me an ulos. An ulos is a special woven blanket used by the Batak people in parties, ceremonies, or even as decoration. There are many different kinds of ulos, and variations depend upon the the different tribes within the Batak people. This ulos is of Toba Batak.

It was a great honor for me to be welcomed so warmly. They opened their home to me, and although we do not speak the same language, we are family in Christ. I am so grateful for this experience and for their gift of the ulos.