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August 20, 2018

My Past Connections

I am eating “Arsik.” Arsik is a fresh water fish cooked in a spicy sauce which is a special delicacy for residents in Medan. It is a bony type of fish and usually eaten with rice. Indonesians, especially those living here in the city of Medan, love to show off their native flavors, including Arsik, to foreigners visiting their country. Shirish and I are here in Medan for a few days of meetings with our new found friends. He flew in from Mumbai, India, and I came straight from Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We were invited by a group of Christians who identify themselves as Free Methodists, and they wanted to ask us some questions about the possibility of partnering with the other Free Methodists around the world. So, before we headed out to several meetings, we visited the home of one of the pastors and had a great Medan meal with his extended family. I had to be extra careful eating Arsik because the fish bones were extra hard and could get lodged uncomfortably in my throat. In the end, we had a great time of eating, singing, sharing stories, and praying with Pastor’s (Artinus)  family. 

Saying thank you in the local language is a little challenging; “Terimakasih!” Whenever I try to say it to them, they all smile and cheer me on for speaking their Bahasa tongue. Shirish and I try our best to connect with them. We are only here for a couple of days, so we go straight to the main issue of what it means to partner with all the Free Methodists from around the globe. I remind their leaders that partnership means connection in three aspects. One, we all need to be connected to our God, as He is revealed in His written word, the Bible. Two, we all need to be connected to each other, growing in a healthy relationship with every Free Methodist from many different cultures and races. Three, we all need to be connected in our common vision to spread the Christian gospel to every person in the world. They all agree with me regarding these three aspects of connection. I begin to think that eating the Arsik fish was harder than explaining to these Indonesian pastors the implications of our connectional heritage as a Free Methodist Church member. I think I spoke too soon, because . . .

On the second day, these Indonesian pastors start asking the harder questions of being connected to the global family of the Free Methodist Church. “We have our own Statements of Faith. Who will decide if these Statements are good enough? Will the other Free Methodists, our international brothers and sisters, be interested in coming to Indonesia to help us? What do we need to do first before the Free Methodist International will show interest to Indonesia FMC?” I feel a lump in my throat. I think the Arsik fish bones are finally making their presence known, stabbing the inside of my esophagus. 

I remind these Indonesian leaders that the final decision of this partnership will be with the Council of Bishops of the World Conference of the Free Methodist Church. My role is to make the initial contact, gather some facts, and explore the layout of the land, so to speak. Fishing! That is my purpose here in Medan. I am here to fish for information and set sail for the open seas. Okay, okay. I think the metaphors are getting out of hand. Blame it on this “Arsik bone” in my throat.

On the third day, I preach in one of the services we visited. I share from John chapter 6, and in one of my illustrations, I talk about the Filipino fish “Bangus.” One of their leaders from Medan, in the early 1970s, came to the Philippines for his theological education. His name is Johnny (John) Hutabarat. He became a family friend and visited our fish farm very often. I have memories of my older brothers together with Johnny eating Bangus fish grilled in an open fire pit. I never thought I would have this beautiful opportunity to visit his homeland, his hometown, and be with his co-workers in the harvest field of the Lord here in Medan, Indonesia. Later, I learned that Johnny passed away about five years ago. I am sure, the next time I see him, I will have plenty of time talking with him about Arsik and Bangus. I never imagined that my past will catch up with me here in a foreign country.

“Horas!” This means “welcome!” or “hallelujah!” in the Batak language. (It could also mean ‘thank you’ or ‘long live!’) Most of the Christians in Medan and Northern Sumatra come from the Batak Tribe. Our new Indonesian friends are Batak people. 

When Jesus saw his disciples by the lake, he said: “Horas! Do you have any fish?” (I think this could have been the translation of John 21:5.) We all know the story. The disciples caught so many fish that they could not haul the catch into the boat. 

Arsik or Bangus? Not all Free Methodists in Asia are Arsik-eating people. Whatever kind of fish they eat, or whatever culture they come from, the mandate of Jesus is still the same: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Horas!