Deciding to Go to Indonesia

8 11 2008

Our decision to leave America for Indonesia was made with prayer and consideration.  Of course our children were a big factor in that decision, but ultimately we did what we perceived God calling us to.

The response from others was varied.  Those who knew us well were generally supportve although also sorry to see us go.  Sometimes the responses were bewildering if well-intentionied.  I recall one older woman asking us, after she heard we would be going to Indonesia, “Will you be taking your children with you?”

“No,” I thought, “they are about six and four.  They will be just fine on their own.”  But out loud I smiled and said, “Oh yes, we will take them.”

The  general consensus among family, I think, was that the children were going to suffer.  They would be deprived of all that is familiar and be thrust into a strange world.  We tried to dispel those ideas as best we could, but with our limited knowledge of the country were unable to really quell their fears.  And besides, for the most part they were right.  It was just that Timberley and I were not convinced that “all that is familiar”–when talking about American youth culture–was such a bad thing to be deprived of.

Of course there were larger issues than just the children’s education and social well-being.  The world at the time was in the midst of being overturned by Islamic terrorism.  This was after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but before the US invaded Iraq.  The people of the United Staes were angry, frustrated, zealous, but at the same time confused because of a real lack of knowledge about this mysterious enemy.

One evening as we were packing some things at our house to prepare to leave, my father expressed his own misgivings.  “Todd, I understand about wanting to move overseas, but I don’t understand why you have to go someplace where they hate Americans.”

My father is not a bigot, but of anyone I know, he has good reason to harbor resentment towards Asians.  When he was just ten years old he received the news that his father had been killed by a Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.  My grandfather, along with over a thousand others on board the battleship Arizona, died that morning on December 7, 1941.  My father has never talked much about that time.  He doesn’t talk much about his response at hearing the news.  I guess now that I have seen my own eleven-year-old son deal with the loss of his sister, I can better understand why my father does not talk much about it.

The surprise for me came when my father went to Japan.  He was nearing the end of a long career working for American Airlines.  The company had recently opened up a route to Tokyo and they needed a ground mechanic to work in Tokyo to coordinate with the Japanese workers there.  My father volunteered and for more than six months he lived in Tokyo with my mother taking several trips over to see him.  Later on, as he reflected on different assignments he had taken, he told me that his time in Japan was among his favorites.  I remember asking him if being with the Japanese was difficult in light of the history with his father.  He seemed honestly surprised by the question.  I don’t think he had ever considered it.  He really loved Japan and the Japanese people.

When my father asked me why we had to go someplace where they hate Americans I answered that we had to go where we felt God leading us.  But I knew that with my father things were far from settled.

About six months later we were in Indonesia doing language study in the town of Salatiga in Central Java.  We had some neighbors next door who had been very helpful to us.  They had a son named Adi who was a student at the local university.  One morning the two of us went out jogging.  It made me feel good to run with Adi because, although I rarely exercise, I could still run faster than him.  I think the fact that he smokes far too much than is healthy for him does not help.

But on this particular morning as we were walking and jogging along our street Adi asked me, “Mr. Todd, why do Americans hate us so much?”

I laughed at his question, which confused Adi and caused a bit of a cultural embarrassment for him, but then I said, “Adi, before I left for Indoneisa my father asked me why I had to come to a place where they hate Americans.”

Adi looked crestfallen and confused.  “But we don’t hate you, Mr. Todd.  We like you.”

“And we like you, too.  It’s just that most Americans dont’ know very much about Indonesia, just like many Indonesians never get to meet an American.  Each one thinks the other hates him, but really we just don’t know each other.”

But as we were packing up our house, going to meetings and orientation, and getting over a dozen inoculations to fight illnesses I had never head of, our families were worried about us going.  It did not help things that we had tickets to fly on March 23, 2003.  On March 22 the US invaded Iraq and drew even more hatred from the Islamic world, including Indonesia.

The news of the invasion of Iraq on the day of our departure brought phone calls from worried family members across the country.  We tried to be as reassuring as we could be wth our limited knowledge.  We finally made a phone call to our contact in Jakarta who was going to be receiving us there.  He assured us that things were fine and to come on.

“There is rioting in the main part of the city,” he said, “but as of this time the main roads leading from the airport are still clear.  As long as we can get you out of the airport then you will be fine.”

Those were not the most reassuring words at the time.  Later after we arrived in Jakarta we had lunch with the man’s wife.  She said, “I told him not to let you come.  It’s not a good time right now.  He just looked at me and said, ‘There’s never a good time to come to Indonesia.'”


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