Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Honor

We all sat leaning against three of the four walls in the tiny shack—five of us, and our feet were nearly touching. Renea, my 1-year-old, was getting into everything—the water they served us to drink, my purse, the face of the stray dog that kept poking his head into the opened door.

We’d brought dinner for this Indonesian pastor family that lives in a small village in the remote interior of Borneo. A week ago, they’d taken a boat, then a car, then another boat to get to our small island of Tarakan—where there is a hospital. The pastor’s mom is sick—with liver cancer, it turns out. She went home yesterday with no treatment and no hope of getting better.

The pastor’s family lives in a different village than his mother. He serves the Punan people—considered the poorest of the East Borneo tribes. Child mortality rate is 35 percent. Half of the men, and 70 percent of the women are illiterate. And in this village, some children don’t wear clothes or shoes to school because they don’t have any.

This pastor gets a small stipend from the denomination—probably equal to what I spend on diapers each month. But the rest of his salary he literally eats. Most church members give him small cups of rice or maybe some wild pig meat as their support of their pastor. They tell their 12-year-old son to pray and have faith that God will provide their next meal.

My husband, Brad, has arranged for them to get a free flight on an MAF airplane back to the closest airstrip to their village at the end of the week. They’ll still have a two-hour journey after that—by car on unpaved jungle roads, then by boat on a motorized canoe.

As the afternoon turned to night, we sat and listened to their struggles—how they have had to learn a foreign language—the local tribal dialect. They are lonely—with only each other as friends who really understand their lives. The pastor left a good job with MAF a year ago—that’s how Brad got to be good friends with him. Brad said he was one of the hardest-working strip agents until the he took this job as pastor—a job that had gone unfilled for 10 years to move to this village.

They have encouraging stories, too. A paralyzed man was healed and the villagers were amazed and came to trust in the Soul Healer. A crazy man changed completely when this pastor prayed for the evil spirit to leave him. People who didn’t know, who didn’t believe, now trust.

On the ride home, Brad and I talked, amazed, too, at this family’s faith. We shared the same nagging thought as our tired kids fussed in the back of the car. We need to bring them to our house. We need to treat them as family.

They’ve been staying in the small room of this shack for the past five days, paying an amount that is small to us, but huge to them. We waffled back and forth about how to best help them, within our limitations. It would be easy to just pay their bills and keep bringing them food. We are tired. And Brad has to fly, so he needs his sleep. We’ve never done this before—hosted an Indonesian family. They wouldn’t know how to use our toilet. I’d have to cook rice for all their meals. And I’m busy with my kids. Even as I write this, I had to pause to clean up the mess my son made when he didn’t make it to the toilet in time.

We have come a long way to get to Indonesia. We trained and worked and raised money for a total of seven years. We spent a year learning the language, and even longer for our bodies to stop getting sick every week.

But sometimes I still want to ignore the nagging thoughts to give even more. I like my space. I like the little amount of sleep I get each night. And I fear opening up my home—my sanctuary—to a family of a different culture. Can’t I do something easier?

As we continued to think and pray, I realized that I certainly have the freedom to give in other ways, or not to give at all. And usually, we do need to make sure Brad gets his rest so he can fly safely. But instead of continuing to think of this need as a burden—as something to fear, as something that costs, I began to see it as an honor, a gift, a privilege. How many people get to spend this kind of time with a front-line servant working for almost nothing with a needy, remote tribe? How many times do I get to feed someone unknown by most of the world, but famous before the Creator? How often do I get to face a fear and conquer it, simply by putting sheets on the bed? And how many times have others taken risks to help me?

So, I open my door and receive this gift.

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