by Anita del Rosario
“Salamat datang.” These were the first Indonesian words we heard as we set our feet on Indonesian soil in January, 1970. “Happy welcome” came the ready translation of our missionary colleagues.
"Salamat datang." These were the first Indonesian words we heard as we set our feet on Indonesian soil in January, 1970. "Happy welcome" came the ready translation of our missionary colleagues. Indeed we were happy, deliriously happy. This was the fulfillment of our dreams, after 15 long years of waiting and praying. We were young and adventurous. Armed with our diploma from a four-year-Bible college, we set out to turn Palembang city upside down for Christ.
Little did we realize that when confronted with the real issues of missionary work, we had more zeal than knowledge. This feeling of inadequacy and regret became even more acute after I enrolled at the Alliance Graduate School at Zamboanga City, the Philippines. Our classes in religious encounter, anthropology and animism caused me to reflect back on our first term of missionary work. At times these reflections were healthy, at other times a feeling of regret and shame overwhelmed me. Against the background of missionary implications arising from our studies, our mistakes have become even more glaring.
But there is little use in crying over spilled milk. Henry Kissinger once said, "Problems are a challenge and not an alibi for failures." Thus I no longer consider these past problems and mistakes to be roadblocks, but rather stepping stones for a greater missionary career for the Lord.
If I were to be a missionary again:
1. I would try to be more culturally sensitive to the value orientation of the people. A self-centered view of culture characterized our first term of service in Indonesia. This has been called "ethnocentrism" by anthropologists. It represents the point of view that our own culture, our own way of doing things, is the best. It is the opposite pole from relativism. I was very dogmatic about what I knew and believed.
For example, I took songs with me from the Philippines that were, of course, very westernized and I insisted the Indonesian choir sing these songs according to my tempo and dynamics. As you might guess, the songs did not appeal to the Indonesians. This made me very angry, so that I resolved not to get involved with their music, at least for a period of time. As I look back on this experience I recall my first practice with the interdenominational choir. At first, I had more than 100 voices and then it dwindled to only 50 for the final presentation. When I had applied the same rules of singing in the Philippines, I got applause, but when I applied those rules to Indonesians I got the opposite effect. It was as if I had tried to thrust Filipino music into the mouths of the Indonesians.
To cite another example, on very rare occasions our Filipino missionaries were invited to solemnize weddings. The first invitation my husband and I received turned out to be a display of ethnocentrism. The Filipino dress for the bride is white and her attendants can choose from a variety of colors, with the exception of black. Upon learning that the bride’s family would be wearing black, we gave them an ultimatum. We told them they could not wear black, or they could invite someone else to officiate at the wedding.
Later we learned that among Indonesians black was a sign of prosperity and good luck, as opposed to the Filipino meaning of mourning. It was not long before we learned that although Indonesian culture is very much similar to that of the Philippines in many respects, they still have a unique and distinct culture and personality entirely their own.
2. I would seek to build genuine love and friendship among the nationals. I was born in Mindanao province in the Southern Philippine Islands, among our Muslim neighbors. To the people in the Northern Philippines, the South is "Moroland, " a place of fierce and violent people. The fact that I grew up among them did not necessarily mean that I accepted them as friends. I simply took their presence for granted. In fact, I used to believe that they were destined for hell. Aided with the oft-repeated saying that "a good Muslim is a dead Muslim," this belief rooted deeper into my subconscious mind and this was my preconceived idea when I went to Indonesia. Hence, I did not strive to know them or to accept them for who they were; nor did I seek to understand their values in life.
One veteran missionary among the Muslims said that love is the most powerful witness for Jesus among the Muslims and that to seek for a genuine friendship is to love them. This love should be taught not only in fact, but in actions. Another missionary said, "Love for a Muslim must go beyond words. They need the visible actualization of that love. That is why effective missionary work among the Muslim people includes hospitals, clinics, schools and other social concerns as tools to teach them." There is an African proverb that says, "What love cannot do is not worth doing, and the person we love, his house is never far away."
Why do we need to love the Muslims? One reason is that they exist. We cannot ignore their presence. Their mosques are becoming more numerous throughout our country. But if there is any place where Muslims need to be loved, it is in Indonesia, where 98 percent of the people follow the faith of the prophet Mohammed. Although they are not as fanatical as the Muslims in the Philippines, they are nevertheless Muslims. To live among them one must learn to love them.
To build true friendship between Christians and Muslims one must break down the walls that separate us. I could start tearing down the walls by visiting them in their homes. I would take keen interest in their community development and take time to sit down and talk with them. There must be a point in the encounter where there is a release of inhibitions and an open exchange of intimate feelings.
This is possible when I do not have a condemming spirit towards them. Furthermore, I should not have the spirit of prejudice, because prejudice will color my judgment. From the beginning it is better for me to be open, trusting and loving. I may be fooled occasionally, but this kind of attitude will reap greater and more wonderful results, than merely striving to protect myself. Love has greater dividends. To love Muslims is to create an atmosphere of welcome in my home and never to make my home a missionary ghetto.
3. I would not deny myself the opportunity to receive training in crosscultural communication. When my husband and I were asked to leave Mount Apo Alliance Bible School to come to Alliance Graduate School for further training, we were opposed to the idea. We enjoyed our work so much that we did not want to be disturbed. In fact, we told the missions communitee that we were ready to be reassigned as missionaries But to have more training, especially in anthropology and related subjects, was out of our picture. Little did I realize the blessings God had in store for us at AGS. After arriving we slowly but surely realized that our training in Bible college had been heavily weighed in the area of theology and Bible. But we had little or no anthropology, resulting in a serious imbalance. Actually we had no basis for missionary cross-cultural reflection. That has been changed now and we both feel better prepared for missionary service.
"What is your future plan?" some have asked me. Without hesitation I have answered, I still want to be a cross-cultural missionary. My studies have equipped me for that and I am better prepared to go out this time than before. However, I cannot claim that all the missiological training (practical and theological) is the magic formula to win Muslims for Christ in Indonesia. I could be the best equipped person but still be a failure. The success of missionary work shall always depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I consider my training and knowledge to be only effective tools to be used for the ministry.
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