Food and Drink

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!

Kenting, Typhoon Meari, and Family Vacation

Drinking Coke Zero. Staring out the second floor window. Watching the trees sway to the strong breeze brought about by this typhoon. I just had my three cups of black coffee for this morning courtesy of Chuck and the staff of the Oasis Retreat Center. The good breakfast was a good way to sooth my disappointment. My whole family were looking forward to this vacation here in the southern parts of Taiwan. Thanks to Typhoon Meari we are stuck here for the rest of the day.

We are staying here in Heng Chun and visiting different places in the nearby Kenting area. Despite the presence of Meari, we were able to squeeze in a visit to the White Sand Beach and a trip to the Sheding Forest Park. We came last Thursday and spent the whole afternoon at the beach. Carmen and Jacob had a blast. The beach security were there and because of the high waves, they forbid people from playing in the water. We were allowed to stay on the beach and waddle on the seashore. That was enough for my two children. They were in heaven! Jacob even had the time to meet new friends--he played with four college-aged young people. I think, judging from the photos I took, they all had a good time.

Yesterday, we went to the Sheding Forest Park and took a four-kilometer hike around one of the mountain trails. We saw crabs, the mangrove forest variety and the famous land crabs (the ones that needed human help when they come down from the forest to spawn in the ocean). These land crabs are the ones that get run over by motorist during their annual trip to the ocean. They usually come down in droves and about ten percent of them die, if not aided by volunteers and nature-loving Taiwanese.

The family highlight was going through the Big Gorge, a split on one of the rock formation in the park. It doubles as a fun trail. It cuts through the rock mountain side running for about 40-50 meters long (maybe), and 2-3 feet wide, just enough to allow one person to walk through it. On rainy days, it really gets slippery. We were so glad the rain came after our hiking. My 9-year old daughter and 6-year old son absolutely love this part of the vacation. I took a video of the whole descent and ascent through the gorge. Sarah, my wife, did not like some parts of the adventure. Overall though, it was a blast!

I read today's news and it says, "Six dead in Vietnam and 11 fishermen missing in the Philippines." I should be thankful that I am safe here. All that Typhoon Meari did to me was ruin my family's vacation. But for some people in Asia, this typhoon has brought loss of lives and tragic devastation. I am praying for God's mercy for the people who have been affected by this typhoon.

Speaking of Asian people, we just meet Karen, a Filipino migrant worker employed here in Kenting at a restaurant we visited last Thursday. We also meet two other Vietnamese ladies from this same restaurant. I forgot their names. One of them spoke English. (Although, we understand their Chinese very well.) It was a good place to be, good food prepared in Vietnamese and Southeast Asian fashion. Not too spicy, just enough to make you smack your lips for the dainty after taste. Service was excellent. The food came in fast. If you are in Kenting some time, visit this restaurant located right across the street off McDonald's. And please say hello to Karen, the Filipino lady from Iloilo, as well as to the two Vietnamese ladies. And if you do not speak Chinese, do not worry, they have an English menu. besides, you can speak to the English-speaking Vietnamese lady (let us just call her Mary) and give her the opportunity to practice her English. She told me she studied English in a university in Vietnam. She worked at a bank before she migrated to Taiwan as a "foreign spouse" married into a Taiwanese family. I think Taiwan is fortunate to have people like Mary. Their contributions to Taiwan life and society can never be quantified in terms money or some other governmental statistics or figures. But everyone who eats at this Kenting restaurant knows why Kenting is a good place to visit.

Yesterday, we went back there, ate lunch, and talked to Karen and Mary. It was a busy day for them, for all the Kenting establishments, because it was a weekend, a Friday, when most people from Taiwan come and visit Kenting. We gave them a Christian literature written in Vietnamese. (I did not have a Tagalog or Ilonggo Christian reading material with me.) After we left, I thought: "Was that the best I could do? Shouldn't I stay for an hour with them and explain the contents of that Christian literature? Should I stay for a day or two and sit with them and explain the story of Jesus and God's salvation for all peoples of the world?"

I am staring at the dark clouds rolling into Kenting outside my second-floor window here in the Oasis Christian Retreat Center. I keep wondering how much opportunity do these Asian migrant workers have to hear the Christian gospel. Maybe, the question should be: How much are the Taiwanese Christians doing to witness to these Asian migrant workers among them? I do not know the answer to this question. I am just a foreign missionary here. But one thing I do is I make the most of the times I meet an Asian worker here in Taiwan and share the story of Jesus, the Giver of life and peace. I know giving a piece of Christian literature is not enough, but my prayer is that God will send another Christian to Karen, Mary, and other similar Asian workers, so they will have the opportunity to hear Jesus say, "I love you my child. Come and follow me. Receive my peace and joy." Will you join me and say this prayer with me?