Missionary Doctors’ Visit

A Letter from Don Ho and Sook Nim Choi serving in Indonesia

March 31, 2016

Write to Don Choi
Write to Sook Nim Choi

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Dear friends and family,

Greetings in the name of our risen Lord!

From Sook (The Becak Story):
One of the main things that I appreciate about Yogyakarta (or “Jogja” for short) is their culture. The city has a pleasant, harmonious blend of ancient and modern. Jogja residents are proud of their culture—and of the fact that they are preserving it. They are raised according to the traditional lifestyle with some modern amenities.

I love the mornings in Jogja. The streets are filled with a flood of motorcycles, with few automobiles and even fewer pedestrians. Fashion ranges from batik to miniskirts. There is one more method of transportation: the becak, a bicycle with a front seat for up to two adult passengers. Becaks slow down traffic, but residents accept them with pride because this is their method of transportation.

Jogja’s becak passengers have a great view and even have short “chats” with motorcyclists or pedestrians at stoplights. Also becak passengers can always rely on their driver to provide them with essential information, like where to eat the best “Nasi Goreng” or the weather forecast.

The first time I rode a becak, I felt awkward. I felt too exposed to the other passenger a mere two inches away! At the same time it was fun and I felt close to nature and my surroundings. It made me feel relaxed and close to other people after some shy but friendly smiles.

I have learned that the uniqueness of Jogja becak is the role played by the driver.  They extend a humble hospitality to passengers and take good care of their riders.  They seem to genuinely enjoy the freedom of riding their becaks. After living a year and half in Jogya, I feel that becaks perfectly express the local polite spirit, and I am grateful that people are preserving their culture.

And as a teacher of Product Design, I have convinced a few colleagues to collaborate on a new becak design that provides more comfort and safety.  The goal is to encourage more people to preserve local culture and ride becaks more.

The Dean of Product Design from Hanseo University of South Korea came for a short visit and is willing to help us make a prototype of the new becak model we have developed. Once we have a prototype, we can find ways to manufacture in volume for greater market distribution.

Of course, we face many uncertainties. But it seems like everyone wants to give the new design a try. Because everyone wants to taste “pikiran manis” (“sweet dream” in Indonesian) and, when it becomes reality it will not only be sweet but also nutritious: It is possible to preserve local culture and, at the same time, make a new product for Jogja.  

From Don:
Yesterday morning they smiled and clapped their hands and, for a fleeting moment, I forgot all the bad news that had been poisoning my world.

They were second- and fourth-year medical students from the Duta Wacana Christian University (DWCU) who had come to hear a seminar on “Medical doctors: professionals and missionaries,” given by two missionary doctors from Yonsei University, South Korea. The students had looked very young but very serious when I turned in my front seat in the auditorium to check how the event was being received. The two Korean visitors gave witness to what it meant to each of them to have endured the demanding training required to become a physician and then find their true calling, not in amassing fame and riches but in responding to the needs of the poor and underserved in Mongolia, Uzbekistan, and Kenya.  Between them they totaled more than 20 years of service. Both had come to understand that to be a good doctor—as professional as they could be—was inseparable from being a good Christian. And there was joy in this.

Four months ago I had accompanied the Dean and Vice-Dean of the School of Medicine, together with the President of the University, on a trip to South Korea. The purpose of the trip was to establish contact with Korean medical schools with the aim of finding international partners to pursue common academic, research and service interests. One of the places we visited was Yonsei University and its medical partner, Severance Hospital.

This visit had been facilitated by Rev. Choon Lim, Presbyterian World Mission’s Regional Liaison for East Asia. I learned that Severance Hospital traces its origin back to Dr. Horace N. Allen, a missionary doctor sent by U.S. Presbyterians, who in 1885 had established the first Western hospital in what was then the Kingdom. Rev. Lim arranged for our visit with the Dean of Yonsei School of Medicine, and there we had been introduced to the two missionary doctors. They explained that, from early on, to train and equip local medical professionals had been a strategic priority of the hospital. They suggested that they would be glad to visit us in Yogyakarta. And the rest is history.

Duta Wacana’s medical school is the youngest of its six faculties, started in 2009. The first class graduated in 2015. The school has a service agreement with Bethesda Hospital (established by the Dutch in 1899). Currently we have about 300 medical students. About 60 percent are female. Although the majority come from Christian families, other religions are also represented. Our students are bright, diligent and ambitious. I like to think that they have a spark in their eyes—and when I engage them I discover that they are serious about the spiritual aspect of their university training. Many volunteer in the community, others have dreams of going to work in the many underserved islands and villages in Indonesia.

As they smiled and clapped their hands at the end of the seminar, their eyes were sparkling. I knew then that our visitors’ stories had found receptive hearts. We had connected. In a real sense the passion and drive of the early Presbyterian missionaries who had accepted local youth as medical students was now continuing through a dynamic arch that jumped over and connected places, cultures and languages as diverse as those in Korea and Indonesia.

Before yesterday I had been bombarded by bad news from Lahore, Pakistan, Brussels, Belgium, and many other places. My world seemed grim. The fact that we had just ended Lent by celebrating Easter had not helped. I had been even more depressed because of the dissonance of the Easter message with what was actually happening around me. But yesterday those sparkling eyes brought me back to my source. How grateful I am!

Our wishes and prayer requests:

  1. For Sook to continue collaborating on the becak project
  2. For Don to expand international collaboration opportunities with U.S. institutions
  3. For continued patience and diligence with language and culture acquisition
  4. For colleagues and students as the university pushes for excellence

We are deeply grateful for your prayers and for your financial support for our ministry.  You are our partners in everything that God is doing here!  As Presbyterian World Mission continues to face challenges, please continue your financial support for our ministry in this new year.  God is good!

Peace and grace,
Sook and Don Choi

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 239


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