My daughter’s wispy blond hair disappears behind the shelf of barrettes and necklaces. Her Aunt Sukma—my Indonesian friend visiting from a neighboring island—does well at spoiling the kids. She’s already bought my son a candy bar and now seems intent on finding something for my 1-year-old daughter.
I am busy with Evan, taking him on an airplane ride that costs just 10 cents in the store’s arcade. He zooms his hand and I see him mouth the words “high up in the sky.” As the ride drones to a stop, he runs to the train, begging for a turn.
A store clerk reaches for my baby girl, handing off his phone to Aunt Sukma to capture a photo of him with the white baby. Renea pulls at his hat and he smiles at her and she grins her new scrunched-face smile back at him.
I watch the kids, living this life on a small island in Indonesia—a life that is still foreign to me after six years, but is all they know. I wonder if my son is as annoyed as I am at the too-loud volume of the arcade games clanging around us. But he smiles and waves from the train ride, oblivious to my headache. I wonder if my daughter would miss all the attention and love she gets here if she were to become just one of millions of Americans. Certainly, she may reach a point where the cheek-pinches and camera clicks are too much, though she’ll surely get her fair share of free candy in return.
They don’t know it yet, but I’m asking a lot, aren’t I? Brad and I are the ones with the crazy idea to move to the other side of the world, fly people around in a remote jungle, learn a language spoken by almost no one in America but by millions in Indonesia, deprive ourselves of Chipotle, while serving our God. My kids didn’t ask for this.
They will miss out on snowy Christmases and wide Wal-Mart aisles full of the latest toys. No birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese or summer breaks riding roller coasters or star pitcher position in a baseball game. No bus rides to school or weekend trips to the zoo. No blizzards at Dairy Queen or snow days from school. And as they grow older, they will miss bits and pieces of American culture, leaving them out of inside lingo and jokes. The very fact that they will have grown up in a country that many Americans can’t find on a map will make them outsiders in a place their passport tells them they should belong.
But then again… What 3-year-old in the States routinely gets to fly along with his pilot father into remote Borneo villages? What little boy lives in a house full of geckoes that crawl free on the walls? What kids get to spend Christmas Eve at the beach, drinking juice from a coconut, eating fried bananas dipped in chocolate? Who else gets to watch their dad ride home on a motorcycle after spending the day in an airplane, and join him on a boat ride to a nearby island for a weekend snorkeling getaway looking for manta rays?
And for my little girl? She will grow up in a culture that has time for her, where she will be adored, where people want to be her friend. She (and my son for that matter) will learn how to make pizza from scratch, can go swimming at the local pool all year round and will know two languages without having to study verb conjugations or ever open a book by the time she is 5.
In the middle of all this fun, I hope they learn that sacrifice, while painful, makes life rich. I hope they will know how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, how being an outsider brings more perspective than pain. I want them to see needs and struggles from their own palm-tree-filled backyard so that their hearts will be soft toward those who hurt. I pray they will experience God working in lives so their spirits believe for themselves that this amazing God spends His love on them. I desire that they understand that while life isn’t always safe, souls can grow brave.
Later, Evan shows me how he got to hold onto the plane’s yoke during last week’s trip to a village. While his daddy held safely onto the controls, Evan got to join him in this adventure, feeling for himself the fun of serving as they soared together high up in the sky.