A letter from Bernie Adeney-Risakotta in the U.S. from Indonesia
Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,
In Indonesia our weather swings between 78 and 82 degrees F. all year round. Boring. It’s tough to put up with, but somebody has to do it… J With 17,000 islands, Indonesia has no lack of idyllic tropical beaches and the soil is so rich that fruit trees grow like weeds: a tropical paradise. Nevertheless, we are taking huge delight in Boston’s extra cold and snowy winter. This morning in mid-March it snowed again, with more expected later this week. The streets are icy and I fell on my backside. I love it.
In Java recently a volcano erupted and rained down a couple of inches of volcanic ash all over our city. It looked a lot like snow. But ash is actually a lot worse than snow. Tropical houses are built with lots of ventilation, so the ash gets into everything. It is so fine that it stays in the air and you have to breathe through masks. Instead of “snow days” Yogyakarta took a week of “ash days.” Nobody went to school or their normal jobs, but everyone went out to clean up the city. Muslims and Christian neighbors worked together for the common good. After a few days it rained hard. God sent a blessing to help clean up the city.
Our traveling for “Interpretation Assignment” was brought to a sudden end by our spectacular car accident last November. Farsijana fractured two vertebrae and took up a new life as “Mama Turtle” in her full body shell. I came out unscathed. To get a little exercise, Farsijana devised a “turtle dance” in our living room. The accident came toward the end of our travels, so we cancelled our few remaining trips and holed up in our cozy apartment in snowy Boston. The second part of our Interpretation Assignment was already planned for research and writing in Boston.
Farsijana has been healing well. In fact, her spine looked so divine that the doctor said she could take her turtle shell off after only two months instead of three. Now she is back to a full range of motion, but gingerly. She still has back pain and needs to lie down every once in a while for a rest. Her physiotherapist says it will be a long process of healing, but she is doing very well.
Farsijana keeps in touch by blog, Facebook and email with a remarkably diverse range of people from all over Indonesia. During the 40 days of Lent, leading up to the death of Christ, she decided to fast for 12 hours per day, from morning till night. Her fasting is an expression of concern for those suffering violence in Papua, and for the victims of volcanic eruptions in Sumatra. Muslim activists like “Rizal” were fascinated. Her fasting has many similarities with the Ramadan fast. Rizal and others wrote Farsijana to ask why she fasted and how it fits into her Christian faith. This led to a multipronged discussion over the Internet about fasting and faith. About 4,000 people followed the discussion and many contributed from different religious backgrounds and parts of Indonesia.
In addition to daily Internet communications, Farsijana has been picking up new artistic skills. Last year she held an exhibit in Yogyakarta of blogs, poems, paintings and sculptures, expressing her concern about the abuse of law in Indonesia. Now she is taking courses in drawing, painting and sculpture, learning new techniques and skills to express her feelings with greater power. She can rest when she needs to, but sometimes works into the night. Nonverbal modes of expression give voice to the unspeakable.
I love the peace of working in my lovely office at the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University. Of all my tasks in life, writing is the hardest. But when I produce something good, I feel the greatest joy. The pain of labor contributes to the joy of birth. I alternate between hope that my book is important, despair that it may never see the light of day, and joy when I finish some small section to my satisfaction.
The book is about how Indonesians imagine reality. For most people in the West, faith is something we choose. Faith is beset by doubts and surrounded by non-religious alternatives. For most Indonesians, religion is not an option but rather a fundamental part of their deepest identity. The Great Oneness of God is the foundation of their Constitution. Their world is “enchanted,” full of spirits, powers and meaning. Indonesians are also a modern people who are struggling to hold on to their own identities in the face of rapid social, economic, religious and political change. They tack between competing ways of being in the world.
My book explores how different imaginations about reality shape different kinds of modernity. The Church continues to grow in Indonesia at the same time that the broader society is becoming more strictly Islamic and pious. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. The choices Indonesians make about how to deal with religious diversity in light of their own deep faith could have a major impact on the future of relations between Muslims and Christians all over the world.
The work we are doing is part of the mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We depend on many people, including some beyond the boundaries of the Church, who see the value of our work and support us with letters, prayers and financial contributions. You are partners with us in working for reconciliation, justice and peace. We will return to our work in Indonesia at the end of July. Please let us know if you would like to be part of our support network.
Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta
firstname.lastname@example.org (or use the links below)
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 227
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