Sunday, December 28, 2014

The most wonderful time of the year

Glimpses of the family via internet
What a lovely time we've had. In past years, I've disassembled "Christmas" decor the day after Christmas. Here the tree's still up, the decorations are out, and we're not done yet meeting people.

Christmas Eve
We'd come to Jakarta the night before so a relaxing morning is welcome. Avery has decorated the flat with lights and a little tree. W and I walk a few blocks on rugged sidewalks and gutters to the Rempoa Outlet for a top and trousers (under $20 for both). Then we turn down the street for "House of Lamb" cuisine. Pretty good, actually!

A mostly mutton menu
On the way back, we wander through the neighborhood and almost get trapped in a dead end. The fellows watching us point out a narrow sidewalk alley where we can get back on track. A few twists and turns, a walk back toward the way we'd come, and there we are back at the flat. Hot. Sticky. Stinky. Ready for a shower and nap.

We leave for church a few hours before the 6pm service. W and I join other staff members to greet guests as they arrive. "Merry Christmas sounds odd to me after saying it hundreds of times," one gal whispers. So true. Good thing Indonesians are very gentle in shaking hands or we would have had crushed fingers.

Pastor Dave introduces the staff "family" to the congregation and expresses his appreciation. We are always touched to be included. Hearing the story of Christmas through song and sermon is reassuring and affirming.

A policeman pads his Christmas bonus by
relieving W of Rp500.000 ($45) for an
imagined offense in Jakarta
God with us. Such a mystery! Only God could come up with the idea of being born in the lowest circumstances to experience life and suffer death as a human. (We always try to avoid pain and insignificance, wouldn't we?) To think he was reconciing us to himself. It's hard to grasp but wonderful to contemplate!

Between evening services, about 50 staff members and musicians eat together in the offices upstairs. Supper choices: mie goreng (fried noodles) or nasi goreng (fried rice), boosted by several Dominos pizzas courtesy of Bramonos. W and I arrive on time to split the last piece of pizza.

The 9pm service is just as good as the first. We head home once people stop coming in (3/4 hour after service starts), riding home with Avery and reflecting on the goodness of God. Our driver does a snazzy turn through an almost-empty neighborhood to avoid congestion. Except that the other end of the street is blocked off so we have to return and fight traffic anyway. We are home by 11pm.

PD preaches the Christmas message
Christmas Day
The services are wonderful and well-attended. A few people come early and most arrive within a half hour of the set time. The musicians outdo themselves and the Word is spoken with power and grace. Our hearts are full as we listen and respond. God with us.

God with us. I am staggered to think of it.

About 15 of us have lunch together at the Grand Hyatt. It's a feast for the senses: beautiful decor, excellent food (including "real" bread rather than the fluffy stuff that's common in bakeries), and good company. We sit and chat until after 3pm, when we head back to the flat. I have a brief snooze.

A jungle stroll
Then W and I drop by Dave and Gigi's briefly, before driving back to Bandung. Hard rain and lightning accompany us most of the way home. W follows busses and trucks onto the shoulder of the road, bypassing traffic that is too slow. We're home within 3 hours and happy to drive into the yard.

Boxing Day
We're up early. By 8am we're at the Bamboo Shack, a little restaurant in Dago owned by an Australian and his Indonesian wife. The menu, a combination of Asian and Western foods, looks interesting. But we're gathering with other expats to hike in the hills. When 7 or 8 of us have gathered, a driver takes us to a parking lot at the trailhead.

One couple brings their huge golden retriever, who trots off-leash. The Indonesians along the trail almost melt with fear: they hate dogs. It's about 4 km. down the jungle trail to the lower parking lot. The trail is paved somewhat regularly, especially considering the damage by motorcycles tearing up the path. A few boulders have rolled down over the paving and the trail diverts around them. Monkeys chatter, watching watch us from the tree canopy.

W takes pictures. I meet a German student who is in Bandung for a few days visiting a fellow from her university in Berlin. She's studying in Thailand, not going home for Christmas for the first time ever. At the bottom of the walk, we pause for grilled corn-on-the-cob.

The Dutch etched tunnels for water turbines through the hillside but the hydro project was never completed. We walk through the cool passageway toward the parking lot.

New friends at the Bamboo Shack
W buys tea for the restaurant owner and ourselves as we wait for the rest of the group to come by. After a half hour we give up and have the driver take us to the Bamboo Shack. The others walk the rest of the way and meet us there.

Meanwhile, the owner grills up sausages and the staff serves tea and coleslaw, rice and potatoes, and drinks. Delicious! We chat until after 2pm when W and I head home. It starts to rain in earnest on the way back and there's no one else in the angkot. So the driver veers off his route to take us to our door. W tips him generously.

At 5, we walk around a few corners in our neighborhood to find out who tucked an invitation for a Christmas open house in our gate yesterday. Oh, it's Pak Alan (whom we've not met) and his wife Christine. We're the second family to drop in, meeting their children and indulging in some home-cooked food. We have to leave by 6pm. They and the other family are conservative believers, reminding me of the people we grew up with. Familiar and sweet memories bubble up in my head.

The beautiful couple enters
By 6:30, we are on our way to a Sundanese wedding reception with Dr W. It's my second and W's first Sundanese wedding. We again have no idea how to dress. "Not too formal, not like last time. I'm wearing trousers," says our friend. So W wears a large-scale batik-print shirt and I'm in a skirt and blouse topped by a white shawl, hand-knitted by my Auntie Edith 20 years ago. But when we look around the room, it's obvious that W needs a great-quality batik: the men wear gorgeous patterns on silk or cotton fabric. Dr W makes an appointment for us with a friend for next Wednesday: she's a clothing designer so will help us find a proper shirt. Whew.

The bride and groom wait under a golden parasol while a traditional orchestra plays and dancers parade the red carpet ahead of them. Then the couple enters, followed by clergy and both sets of parents. Their clothing is splendid: sparkling pastels, beautifully wrapped head-dresses, and shiny shoes. After the family lines up on stage, the dancers perform another set between them and their 1000+ guests. The women beat drums, twirl, and bow, then both men and women performers line up on the platform for a picture. Soon the receiving line starts.

Traditional Sundanese music and dance
A separate area of tables is sectioned off for the family, but the food is abundant for all the guests. Besides two central buffets of Sundanese foods, there are a few drink tables. (No alcohol of course.) One caterer cooks fish and chips. Other vendors offer noodle and beef hide soup, filo-pastry-topped chicken and veg soup, chicken saté, nasi goreng, and other dishes we don't recognize. There's an entire circle of tables laden with desserts, from ice cream to coconut concoctions, to jellies, to other sweets.

On stage: beautiful clothes for the receiving line
We circulate around the room. Everyone is polite but our poor choice of clothing is obvious. Dr W hasn't seen some of her university friends for 30 years. One man, widowed 3 weeks ago, has been persuaded to come and his friends surround him all evening. Dr W encourages us to speak Bahasa but most conversation flows around us in local Sundanese. The loud music makes talking almost impossible.

After 9pm, we are ready to head home. "So much food was left over," our friend observes. "Such loud music makes it difficult to eat." We pick up party favors - little batik-print wallets - as we leave. (To get them, we exchange coupons received when we signed the guest book upon entry.)

Classmates catching up
Dr W's driver is waiting in the parking lot. He easily negotiates the car through still-thick roadways, taking us up the hill, turning into the narrow lane of our neighborhood, and parking in Dr W's gated driveway. We wave our goodbyes from the porch, waiting for her to go safely into the house.

Sunday, December 28
We call the family in the morning to catch up on their Christmas. Then it's off to church downtown. Only about 80 people are in the Baptist's English service. Among them are our friends Dr H and her family and Sumathi and Augustine. The pastor reads from Peter's epistles and talks about leadership traits.

A street vendor carries New Years favors
After service we have lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant with Sumathi, Augustine, and two other friends. It's their anniversary tomorrow, and the other husband had a birthday yesterday; his wife's birthday is tomorrow. The food is neither the best nor worst we've eaten. We finish off the spicy mutton, curried chicken, and roti with rice. We use our fingers to pick up the food. "It tastes better than eating with cutlery," they tell us.

W and I walk to Istana Plaza to see if Christmas trees are on sale. At 50% off, the only one that looks good is $200. No deal. We catch an angkot back to our neighborhood and walk home. The rain holds off; we are still dry when we get back and the back hall has not flooded. (Mind you, W swept pools of water out of the hall after last night's rain. The little rugs that capture water before it can go into our kitchen were soaked so they got hung outside.)

The rest of the day is relaxing, a true Sabbath. Now it's almost 2am, time for sleep. We're expected for an early brunch at a friend's in the morning.

Read more:
*Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:1-2 ESV

*Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen. Ecclesiastes 5:1 NASB

*Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 ESV
*(After seeing the infant Jesus, old Simeon) took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:28-32 ESV

*But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. Galatians 4:4,5 NEV

*Rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. James  1:21 NEV

Moravian Prayer: Holy One, guide us in your way, lead us back when we stray from the path you set before us and renew us with your presence, we pray. Amen.

C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain
On self understanding: Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you.

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