Nightfall over Jakarta

Dispatch Indonesia 2013:

It was the oddest thing. The captain came over the intercom system and said, “It is 6:00pm, you may now break the fast.” Nothing more was said, but a low murmur rippled through the commercial aircraft’s cabin. A young man across the aisle opened his meal and began to eat. I pondered this for a moment. The plane descended, and I was nudged out of my thoughts. I glanced left over the two vacant seats next to me and peered out the window of the jet. Night had fallen over Jakarta. I could see the pretty lights of the city stretching out for miles, stopping abruptly at ocean’s edge. As we approached the runway, the thought occurred to me that something was off. Then, I saw them. Small explosions were bursting just above the architecture all over the city. One here, one there. Then another, and another. Images of Gettysburg flashed through my mind. I had the sense that police and emergency vehicles were moving through the city. At once, it hit me. Fireworks.

I had been teaching Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) to around eighty aboriginal pastors for two days in a remote jungle region, high in the lush mountains of the island of Papua (pah-pooh’-uh). My teaching partner, Ronny Serworwora (I know, don’t try.), our interpreter, Benwell Wampy, and I finished our work yesterday and then drove down out of the mountains for 2 1/2 hours to a small hotel in the airport town of Wamena where we would spend a short night. This morning, we departed the hotel, groggy and hungry, at 4:50am. We had an early check-in for a private flight to Jayapura (like, “May I pour a cup of tea?”), where I alone would go on to connect to Jakarta on a commercial flight, leaving my compadres in Jayapura for some other business there. The private flight out of Wamena was a six-passenger, single prop transport with an outfit called Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Pretty Indiana Jonesy for this Indiana boy. They carry weary ministry travelers to the more remote regions of Indonesia, and probably other parts of the world. Our pilot was a 30ish young man from northwest Houston named Daniel. He was wearing an Astros cap. One private flight, two commercial flights, and 6 1/2 hours of airtime later, I touched down just after sunset in Jakarta at 6:33pm local time.

As the plane rolled along the runway, the rains came, no doubt dampening the festive spirit, but not the resolve of the revelers. As I type this now from my 15th floor hotel room in Jakarta, I can hear the faint puffs of exploding fireworks all around. I can see the bursting light show below through the foggy window of my room. As an experienced hunter, I can also single out the distinct rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire. It is going to be a long night. It sounds like the Fourth of July. It is an Independence Day of sorts. It is the final day of Ramadan. Muslims worldwide have been fasting for a month to gain approval from their Allah. The fast ended at dusk. Darkness blankets this city; the darkness of Islam. There are 200 million Muslims here, the largest Islamic nation in the world. Just the thought of it is overwhelming. And, with all the discomforts of traveling here, it would be easy to say “Let the Muslims have it.”

Showers and toilets are optional in this land. Sometimes you just have to get along with the local customs, and do the best you can. A shower could be a broom closet sized room with a bucket of tepid water, a coffee can sized scoop, and a drain in the floor, as well as anything else the family needs to store there. Bring your own soap and towel. A toilet can be the same drain in the floor, the same bucket, same scoop. Bring your own paper. Whether showering or toileting, disrobing is recommended. Food is another interesting matter. Cooking here, especially in the jungle, means making sure the thing being cooked is dead. Really dead. It must be that burning the poor animal beyond edibility releases its spirit or something. Ketchup means chili sauce. Tomato sauce means ketchup. Soy sauce means too hot for this gringo. Breakfast is a supper-style meal, with fried rice, noodles, stews, or soups, and yes, desserts.

The tribal people beyond the big city, the aborigines (check the map and see that Indonesia is the nearest country to Australia, from whence these magnificent people hail), are a curious lot. They populate the countryside and like to stare. They invade your personal space, stare at your face, look you over, and stare some more, always with eyebrows high in a playful and inquisitive grin. They will stand and stare for 10 or 15 minutes without shame and without moving or glancing way. Your mere presence draws a crowd. Ignoring them is useless. Nonchalance only makes them more curious. You can never tell if they are wondering whether the big white man can fit into their boiling pot, and how long it would take to field dress him, and how many aborigines would be needed to carry him, or whether they are hoping he has some cigarettes or loose change to give out, or whether they just haven’t seen one this big and handsome before (I recognize that my good looks can be intimidating to the average jungleman). I think it must be the latter, because the women giggle and cover their mouths when they see me.

This guy greeted me at the jungle airport in Wamena. He came straight up to me, in all his near-naked fabulosity (only a string held an orange, cone-shaped phylactery over his

Papua Aborigine

personal business). He smiled confidently, squeezing my right forearm and bicep, and alternately bowing his arms out from his body at the waist, making fists to show he recognized my manly bruteness. We exchanged knowing looks. He was impressed. He couldn’t have been 85 lbs, but he was as lean as a white tail buck in the springtime. I wouldn’t have messed with him. Loved his hat. No telling what his tribal religious beliefs were, but it is almost certain that he was not a Christian. The darkness in this jungle region isn’t Islam, it’s witchcraft. In the small village I was teaching in, the locals wanted to kill a woman in the area who was believed to be a practicing witch doctor whose curse had brought about the death of a local man. This remote valley was closed for a thousand years and rediscovered as a lost civilization by Dutch missionaries. The progress of Christianity here has been maddeningly slow. Syncretism (the blending of old pagan practices and beliefs with Christianity), like an encroaching weed, keeps overtaking the small, beautiful, spiritual garden the Dutch planted here more than a century ago.

Whether Muslims in the cities or witch doctors in the jungle, the people of Indonesia need Christ as much as your neighbor, co-worker, or family member. World Hope Bible Institute is bringing the light of the Word of God into this darkness in a different way. We are not here to evangelize these people. We come behind the evangelists and church planters. Without sound teaching, the church will languish and fall into error and sin. Our job is to shore up the churches here with a professionally written, 16-course, scholarly program of study so they may regain their doctrinal health and grow into spiritual maturity. We do this by training their pastors. It isn’t leadership training, it’s in-your-face biblical theology. Ultimately, it is the mature local believers who will be the ones to expand the kingdom and win this nation for Christ. The church has a foothold here, but just a foothold. When you support this ministry by prayer, giving, or traveling to serve and teach, you are personally taking ground from the enemy. Come help us hold the line and advance.

Praying fervently and regularly, giving out of limited financial resources, and sacrificially traveling to these locations is inconvenient, hard work, and, frankly, a pain in the neck. But, if I may take a page from Sir Winston Churchill’s book, “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Night has fallen over Indonesia. Help us keep the light on.

“Let us not grow weary in doing good. For at the appointed time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

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12 comments on “Nightfall over Jakarta

  1. Thanks for going and thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. Your writing is so good! Miss you!

  3. Having Noel Vincent on the team at World Hope is one of my pure joys… Amazed that God allows me to serve with such a servant.

  4. That’s giving them the pole instead of the fish right there. . . who woulda thunk it?

  5. Well visited. I keep thinking of Paul in all his journeys spreading the Good News and helping grow the early church. I will pray for the blessings of your ministry there to grow.

  6. Carry on, soldier!

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