The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bandung Theological Seminary

While in Peru this summer with The Mission Society, Dr. Ravi David invited me to help him teach Leadership at Bandung Theological Seminary, in Bandung, Indonesia.  Dr. Ravi, and his wife Mercy are colleagues of ours in The Mission Society.   

[Steve, Suzanne, Mercy, Ravi in Atlanta]

[in Peru]

After a few days in the busy and rather gritty city of Jakarta, its time to take the train to Bandung.  Known as “The Paris of Java” Bandung turns out to be much cooler than steamy Jakarta, and has a reputation for shopping, dining, and fashion.  It did not disappoint as I experienced much amazing food, and visited more malls in these twelve days, than I had in the last ten years in Austin.

The teaching plan was organized around the letter “C” and so the themes were the 
Context of the Leader
Call of the Leader
Character of the Leader
Competence of the Leader
Challenges of Leadership

[Dr. Ravi, teaching]

Using the leadership of Moses and Nehemiah, Dr. Ravi would lecture on the theory and spiritual components of the Leader while I would focus on the practical application in the local church.  Our students were of various ages and experience levels in the BA and M.Div program, mostly third or fourth years.  I was warned that the students would not engage the lecturer, because in the Asian context, there is a measure of respect and distance.   That respect and distance lasted all of one day, and by Tuesday they were ready to engage to material, and challenge me in how the practical application would work in the Indonesia Context. 

[Pastor Steve, teaching]

Dr. Ravi said that in leadership, “We are just a small part of what God is doing, and it is the context that makes it interesting as we locate ourselves in the plan of God.”  Perhaps the most striking part of his opening lecture (and what I wish could be tattooed on the inside eyelids of pastors everywhere) is that “Leadership is not the goal itself, but what it accomplishes.”  [Rant ON] That seems to me to be the greatest failure of leaders in the church today.  That they see their leadership as the goal of leading;  that if they act and are seen as leaders, regardless of what their leadership accomplishes, they are leading well, even if all evidence points to the contrary.  The goal of leadership is what it accomplishes, and if it accomplishes little, its just management of what is instead of what could be.   [Rant OFF]

Dr. Ravi distinguished between being called to leadership and being sent, saying that in being called, God hears, remembers, and then calls (as in the story of Moses) but in being sent, God sees, rescues, and then sends (as in the story of Nehemiah).   And then begins the practical application of these concepts, which is about Vision, Mission, and Goals.
The Vision of the Church can be the 7 to 10 year plan based on the context, passion, and capabilities of that particular local Church.
Its Mission can be the 3 – 5 year plan that supports the Vision.
The Goals are the 1 – 2 year plans that support the Mission (and lead towards the Vision).  

I have found that when the vision of a church is clear (and can be clearly articulated by most of its membership) it pretty much runs itself; leading is pointing toward the vision and asking the “now, how are we going to get there?”  But when the vision is fuzzy, or not well defined, complicated or difficult for membership to explain, then its pastoral leadership tends toward sheep dogging, and lots of nipping at the heels so the sheep don’t scatter.  [OK - Rant really OFF].  

Over the week I spend several lectures talking about ways to clarify the Vision and Mission of the Church, and the students engage by challenging how to apply that to the Indonesian context.  So together we work to separate the leadership concept from its application, and together learn how it might be made real in their churches.   

[Our Students]

STTB or Bandung Theological Seminary offers high school, Bachelors, Master’s and Ph.D. levels of education.  

[signboard at entrance]

[high school and library building]

[Faculty housing (front), and under construction: classrooms, administration, and student housing (rear)]

Our lectures were given in English and then translated into Bahasa.   I used powerpoints that were also in English and Bahasa (via Google Translate), which lead to some interesting moments of mis-translation.  About half the students were functionally fluent in English, which allowed us interesting discussions during the break times.

When we were not in class or preparing for it, Ravi and I were introduced to the beauty and interesting foods of the area by Dwi & Quiet (pronounced quit).  Ms. Dwi teaches New and Old Testament at the seminary and Quiet is a Masters of Theology student.  Both were delightful tour guides and companions, and I’ll write about those experiences in my next postings.

[Quiet, Ravi, Dwi, Steve]


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Welcome to Indonesia

I am in Indonesia to help teach a class on Leadership with Dr. Ravi David, a friend from The Mission Society who has invited me.  I've arrived a few days early; let the adventure begin!  

  • is the world’s fourth most populous country.
  • has some 17-18000 of islands that together make up an area three times the size of Texas.
  • is the world's most populous Muslim country.
  • has an intensity like none other I’ve ever experienced. 

First of all Indonesia is 86% Muslim, and so when prayer is announced from every Mosque five times daily, it permeates everything.  It is also near the end of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food, water, sex, and smoking during the daylight hours, and traffic, which seems to be in a perpetually state of gridlock,  becomes more locked at 3pm when businesses lets out early so observers can rush home sit in traffic for hours  before preparing to break their Ramadan fast.

My first day in country, I am invited to attend Friday prayers in the Istiqlal Mosque which turns out to be the world’s fourth largest (by population).  I'm in a Bajaj (more about that later) and while stuck in traffic, am handed a sealed cup of water, 2 dates, and a cracker in a plastic bag. They are from the Mosque my driver motions, so I may break fast, and he invites me to prayers tomorrow.  During Ramadan, the Mosque is even more full I’m told, with some 5000 men worshiping, plus all the boys, and women, who don’t figure into the count. 

[Istiqlal Mosque]

The base infrastructure is equitant to Ghana (my comparison for developing countries), but there is an upper end of consumer development that has no equal in Ghana; so it is a land of contrasts.

I’m not sure how it happens, but pretty much anywhere I travel people help me, and by help, I mean attach themselves to me to guide me in the city I’m currently lost in.  It makes my family nervous, that in a few minutes of being lost, someone steps forward to be our guide.  Today is no different, but this guy is an actual registered guide (he showed me his credentials and everything).   Khairul is his name and he is a devote and rather quirky Muslim and so our conversations, when they are not about Jakarta are about Islam, Christians, and personal details of life in the USA.    

[Khairul Kamal, my guide outside the Mosque]

Khairul helps me with some of the travel chores that are just a pain to do when you don’t know the city, and then we get to seeing the sites.  Normally, there is a long wait, but this being Ramadan, the lines are almost nonexistent, almost I say. While standing in line, Khairul makes conversation with the other tourists, and in their language switching between German, Dutch, English and of course Bahasa, the local language.  “Your friend, he is a language box,” one tourist says after talking with him and answering questions.  Then the wait is over.  Later in Indonesia there will be payback for this “fast pass,” but for right now I’m seeing a lot, and seeing it efficiently.  

[Catholic Church]

[prayer station in rear of the Church]

We see the National Monument, the beautiful Catholic Church, and some other sites before we hear the call to midday prayers.  I’ve been in other Mosques[1] but never during prayers, especially Friday Prayers, during the holy month of Ramadan. 

Outside the Mosque there are women and boys selling black plastic bags—just like in Ghana—that are to hold shoes.  I’ve got a backpack, and he has his own bag, so we wash our feet, hands, face and then go upstairs, barefoot.  There is something very humbling about being one of 5000 barefoot; if feels like holy ground, and that we standing, as the saying goes, on equal footing.   

[dome, from inside]

[room, LHS]

[first floor, center]

Men are on the first floor, women, boys (and apparently infidels) are upstairs and around the edges of the main floor.  We arrive while the Imam is speaking.  We’ve heard about the upcoming election for Mayor and the ruckus that the leading candidate (who is a less conservative Muslim), has made by naming a vice-mayor who is Christian.  Apparently the Imams are speaking against this, and to vote for the existing mayor, even though he is well known to be corrupt, but since he is conservative, he is their guy.  Hmmmm.  We don’t know, but when he stops speaking, the room snaps to attention and everyone prays.  And faces Mecca.

[first floor, Imam (focus) compare to previous picture to see size of room...he is in that pic too]

[While the Imam is speaking, women]

[Praying, women]

[Praying men standing]

[Praying men kneeling]

[Praying women, standing]

[Praying women, kneeling]

[Praying women, bowing]

[first floor men, close-up]

After prayers, we go looking for some gold earrings Suzanne has requested.  We continue our conversation about Islam, and I figure out he is trying to convert me.  What a great change to use all that fancy new knowledge and expertise in Cross Cultural Ministry.  Suzanne has given me an encoded drawing on a yellow sticky note that only women understand.  If had it to a man, and he just grabs something near and shows me, but hand it to a woman, and she says “Ahhh, clasp” and calls over other woman, and they chat about the specifications and show me what they have.   I ask him what he thinks about Jesus, and he tells me about MuhammadI ask what Muhammad might have thought about Jesus, and he tells me about the QuranWe get close to Suzanne’s design on several occasions, but it becomes clear to me that they are selling by weight, not workmanship, and so after 18 shops we give up and go to a Muslim book store, which is just like a Christian book store, with lots of books and artwork, but instead of pictures of Jesus and animals, there is beautiful calligraphy of the Quran, but no pictures of humans or animals of any kind.  Just calligraphy.  In fact he shows me the whole Quran printed by hand to form a beautiful script within the calligraphy.  Of course there is also an iQuran, and other electronic Muslim gadgets.  I buy an English translation of the Quran for $5 and promise to read it.   

I’ve had to take water and rest breaks all day, but my guide pushes even though he is fasting.  It makes him strong, he says.  I think it makes him annoying because I’m eating and drinking water, and still he has run me into the ground. 

Its about 4:30pm, the sun will set in another 90 minutes, and I really don’t like being out after dark in a strange city, so I beg him to take his leave, but he hires a Bajaj and we enter the traffic to head back to the guest house.  A Bajaj is a crazy three wheeled contraption that darts in and out of traffic irrespective of traffic flow, danger, pedestrians, other vehicles, and road conditions.  The joke is that only God and the Bajaj driver know which way he will turn, and personally, I’m not so sure about God.   

 [my Bajaj from yesterday, and he was smiling right before and after this picture]

Back at the guest house I meet some Brits, who are escaping the Olympics, and an Aussie on a post-doc and we sit around telling stories of travel, eating strange foods and playing Texas Hold-em.  I lose bad, and as a Texan, I feel disgraced.

[1] , the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem, the Mohammed Ali Mosque, in Coptic Cairo, the Umayyad Mosque (or Great) Mosque in Damascus,

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Visiting Sensō-ji Temple

While Grace is in class at International Christian University, I have the morning to explore the Asakusa region of Tokyo, and so naturally I head to the large Buddhist Temple and Shinto Shrines nearby. 

The Sensō-ji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest Temple dates from the 600s when two fishermen found a statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) and created a shrine so the local villagers could worship it.  Largely destroyed during the fire bombings of World War II, and rebuilt in the 1950s to 1970s,  today the Temple and Shrine it is a proud monument to the faith of this area.

I’ve been to a Hindu Temple in Atlanta earlier this year, but this was nothing like that experience.  For such a reserved and proud people, the Japanese I see here openly and emotionally express their faith.

[Main Gate to the Temple]

[Man reading to the deity]

[Offering of food, to the deity]

[bronze statue, with good luck if you touch the knee and foot]

I see three ways spiritual expression
1)      Omikuji or stick fortune
2)      Incense burning
3)      Praying to a deity.

A Good Fortune - Drawing a OMIKUJI (written fortune)
 Throughout the complex, I see Omikuji booths, or places where one can (for roughly $1) receive an immediate (if not random) answer to their prayers.  It works like this: deposit a 100 yen coin, and shake a six sided metal canister until a sticks comes out of the hole. This is the answer to your prayer.

Actually, the stick isn’t the answer, it just has a number on it (in character) that corresponds to a drawer that holds a stack of printed fortunes.

Before I deposited my 100 coin, and shaking the canister, I had found someone else’s fortune in a stick that was not returned to the canister.  I looked up its drawer and was surprised to find the fortune was a great curse.  I later learn there are many permutations from great blessings…half blessings…future blessings…half curse all the way to great curse.  No wonder this fortune was not accepted, I’d run from it too.
[Omikuji booth]

[Omikuji instructions]

[Omikuji canister]

I spend a few minutes putting together a prayer for the Omikuji.  Its for a former Christian who has who has been seeking God through a Buddhist expression of faith.  I pray for her, asking that God become real to her, become a meaningful part of her life, and bring her the peace that I hope she seeks in this life.  I figure if one is going to receive an answer to their prayer in the form of good (or bad) fortune, one must be clear and pray for something significant.
[the stick fortune]

[the drawer of fortunes]

[the fortune]
It says: “Everything you worry about and trouble some affairs are almost over.   (I like this answer, and it fits my prayer well). If you do your best, you will be successful in this society and become well known (Maybe this applies to me, in helping her find God? I’m not sure how this applies).

The wealth and treasures will be in your hands as you wish.  (ok – not relevant at all) You may need a good senior who helps you to become a splendid man.  (Japanese isn’t gender specific, so maybe she needs a mentor in the faith?)

The fortune continues with a sort of catch-all of answers, some seeking questions.
*Your hopes and desire come true.
*Being free from sickness. 
*Find the things you lost.
*The person you are waiting for will show up soon. 
*There are no problem of building a new house and removal.
*Making a trip will be good.
*There are no worry about marriage and employment.

I know this isn’t consistent with my understanding of how prayer works, and yet I find is some degree of comfort in way it is answered on this sheet;  and wouldn’t it be great if everything did work out just as it said.

Incense as Symbol
Another form of spiritual expression I see is the burning of incense.  Walking into the Temple grounds that is all one smells.  Beside each of the shrines there are small sand filled incense burners.  A large one stands in front of the Temple, and that is where you can purchase the incense bundles, and light them.

What you notice first is the symbol on the bundle.  It’s a swastika

 [lighting bundle]

[close-up bundle lighting]

[incense burning]

 [incense bundle burning]

I’ve seen swastikas before, like in some Native American artwork in North Dakota, and Asian Indian artwork, but at this temple they are everywhere:  On the huge lanterns, on the roof supports, on the bundles of burning incense.  It disturbs me.
[swastika on the roof]

 [swastika on entrance lanterns]

[swastika on inside lantern]

People stand in the incense as it burns, putting their hands in it, pulling it to them, rubbing it in their cloths and head.  It is as if the smoke is good fortune, and by being bathed in it’s smell they will be lucky.

[washing area instructions]

Beside the incense burning of the Temple is a ceremonial washing area, and there is even a signage explaining how to bathe.   The progression seems to be to wash first, purchase an incense bundle and light it, and then be bathed in its smoke.

In the Temple

At the entrance to the Temple and inside there are grated boxes about a meter high.  I watch individuals, couples and families stand in front of the box, throw some coins in it, put their hands together, bow, and then clap twice.  Some clap with much vigor, others embarrassingly so, but the ritual is the same each time: toss coins, bow, clap twice. 
[couple bowing]

Inside the Temple, one sees monks working and there are notices posted everywhere (in many languages) forbidding the taking of picture, and yet everyone is doing it, as the expression goes, like a bunch of “Japanese tourists.” I wonder if here in Japan their expression is like a bunch of “American tourists.” In the temple one hears the clang of coins, two claps, and the murmur of people.  It is quiet, but too much business is going on to feel sacred to me. 

[family bowing]

Outside the temple there are different deities around, some that survived the war, some that are dressed up.  I enter a much smaller shrine, where the ban on photography is enforced and I watch a monk folding brochures with careful precision, measuring each fold after it is made.  In the next room over, another monk is stamping pieces of paper with a red circular character.  He carefully organizes the stamped papers so they have time to dry in offset piles.  It looks like an incredibly mundane job; yet this monk takes pride in his work and does it with precision, filling the stamp with ink by stamping it three times, and then stamping the paper, over and over and over.  I am reminded of Paul’s word to the Colossians “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

 In this Shinto Shrine, I learn that I am born in the year of the wild boar, and see the deity (alone with deities for other years) in this temple devoted to that year.  I have the opportunity to purchase a trinket of the wild boar for good fortune, but I pass, after all the fortune stick has told me “your hope and desire come true.”

[fortune folded and tied and left in the Temple]