Some Seeds Die

When I was growing up, my family often sang prayers before mealtime. Our repertoire included “God is good and God is great,” “Hands, hands, hands,” and “I owe the Lord a morning song.” Another family favorite was the “Johnny Appleseed” song. Perhaps your family also sang this song. Based on the historic figure John Chapman, the legend of Johnny Appleseed has made its way into Disney movies, folklore, and prayer-songs[1].

The second verse of this song has not been sitting well with me for years. We sing:

“And every seed I sow, will grow into a tree.
And someday there will be apples there,
For everyone in the world to share.
The Lord’s been good to me.”

While I appreciate the encouraging, hopeful words, in recent years I have found that they grate at my soul. Is it ok to teach our children lies or half-truths, even in the context of a children’s song? Not every seed will grow. Jesus was clear about that. But this song gives us a nicer, cleaner, easier way to teach our children that seeds grow. We do learning activities with our children, and we assume that the seeds we plant in the little pots on our porch will grow.

But often they don’t.

I have learned this over the past decade of ministering in a slum community. Quite literally, many seeds do not grow. There is a grassy field only a stone’s throw from our house. We would love to plant small trees there, or flowers, or vegetables. But the roaming sheep and goats immediately devour anything edible. We recently tried transplanting a fairly good-sized tree from a pot to this field. Within an hour the goats had devoured all the leaves and left it a bare stick. Our six-year-old son cried as he watched our plant get eaten.

Even the pots on our porch often fail to produce the plants we were expecting to grow. Whether it is the neighboring chickens that wander onto our porch to eat the new seedlings or a curious child who decides to pick at the pots, new seeds often have no chance to grow. We did a gardening activity with thirty of our elementary school students recently: planting spinach, chili peppers, and kangkong. We faithfully watered the thirty little pots. Hopeful sprouts sprang up. But now a month later, two small pots are all that remain.

Sadly, ministering in hard settings often yields similar results as our gardening efforts in the slum. Have you been in your location for years but not seen anyone come to know Jesus? Do you know the heartbreak and despair of sowing for years but not seeing any fruit? Have you poured yourself into the work and not seen what you had hoped to see? Or perhaps the pain and disappointment is related to your team? Have people you trusted and mentored not produced the fruit you were hoping for?

These past few months have felt like a season of pruning for me. Teammates have left. We had to send an intern home suddenly because of a breach of trust. And multiple students that we had poured into have stopped coming to lessons. Sometimes the heartbreak feels too much to bear.

So I have started singing a new version of the Johnny Appleseed song with my children:

“And every seed I sow will grow into a tree.
But that is not true, ‘cause some seeds die.
And then I’ll sit on the ground and cry:
‘The Lord’s still good to me. Even when the seeds die.’”

This feels more in line with Scripture. Some seeds die. Three quarters of the seeds, in fact, if Jesus’s parable of the soils is mathematical. Some seeds fall on the path and are eaten by birds. Other seeds fall on rocky soil and cannot grow. Some seeds begin to grow but are choked by the worries and riches of this world. Only a quarter of the seeds fall on good soil. (See Matthew 13 for more details.)

Wherever you are, wherever you are sowing seeds, may you be encouraged today. Not with an “everything will be ok” or “every seed will grow” lie. But may you be encouraged to lament the areas in your life and ministry that are disappointing. May you know today that God sees, God hears, and God cares.

And may we be able to join our voice with the voice of the prophet Habakkuk and proclaim:

“Though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19a)


[1] As I wrote this article and googled the song, I discovered that it was actually created by Disney in 1948, originally titled “The Lord is Good to Me.” However, the words that I grew up singing are different than the original.

Digging Through the Wall

by Rahma

Old Testament prophets were often called to do ridiculous things. Cook food using human waste as fuel. Shave their heads and let the wind blow a third of the hair away. Marry a prostitute so one’s marriage could be a living metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel. Eat a scroll. The list goes on and on. But there is one story I had never noticed until recently. Let’s add to the list of strange prophetic behavior: Ezekiel had to dig through a wall.

The Lord speaks to Ezekiel, telling him that he is living in the midst of a rebellious nation (Judah) with people who have “eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear” (Ezekiel 12:2 NRSV). Ezekiel is told to leave the city like an exile, leaving in the evening, carrying a bundle of possessions on his shoulders. But he doesn’t get to go out through the city gates. It is not as simple as finding the exit door and walking out.

The Lord speaks: “Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry the baggage through it” (Ezekiel 12:5).

Wait. What?! Why?

But like a good prophet, Ezekiel obeys the Lord.

Walls are powerful dividers. When I was in high school, my family was living in the Philippines, and President George W. Bush was coming to pay a visit to Manila. Weeks before the visit, officials were busy preparing: they were putting up walls. Corrugated metal walls went up to hide the poverty on the streets of Manila. Walls to hang pretty banners on, to present a fashionable and clean city. Behind the walls, life in slums became harder than normal, as access in-and-out of some communities became more difficult. All to create a façade for a visiting president.

When I think of walls, I remember my visit to Israel-Palestine during college. From Jerusalem, the wall looks like a normal-size wall, just high enough to not see over. There are decorative bushes and flowers planted to make it look like a pretty divider. After going through the security checkpoint and entering the West Bank, however, I was astonished to see that on the Palestinian side the ground was much lower—revealing a wall at some places 26 feet (eight meters) tall! This side of the wall has no decorative flowers or fancy bushes; instead it is adorned with artistic cries for freedom. Paintings of doors or windows revealing beauty, men throwing flowers instead of grenades, and peace doves wearing protective jackets as they are about to be shot down are some of the examples (you can view these and other powerful images with a simple google search).

When I think of walls, I picture the borders around the slum communities I have lived in. Concrete slabs mark the borders of the property. When eviction and demolition inevitably come, those on one side of the wall are safe, while the other side gets flattened. One side has legal documentation, one side does not. One side is safe, one side ceases to exist.

Walls are dividers. Whether they are the walls holding a roof on our house or the protective walls around our gated communities, walls by definition divide. Walls create “insiders” and “outsiders.” If we are comfortable with our walls, we must remember that there is always another side. Who are the people on the other side of our walls? Do we know their names? Do our walls serve a good purpose, or are they keeping us from encountering Christ? For the homeless person squatting on a street corner or the beggars who are no longer allowed to enter our gated communities because of Covid fears, what do these walls mean?

Ezekiel was told to dig through a wall. His wall was not concrete; it was probably red brick. It still must have been an uncomfortable process, perhaps involving hitting it with a hammer. There must have been dirt flying, dust in his eyes, and red earth under his fingernails by the time he was done. When he finally had a hole big enough to squeeze through, he walked out of the city—probably sweating and out-of-breath. This was just another weird thing Ezekiel the prophet had to do, likely gaining him more sideways glances and judgmental smirks. No one wants to listen to a prophet say that their city is going to be attacked and destroyed and that their king will escape through a hole in the wall.

But somehow, I feel as though Ezekiel has something for the Church of today to think about. What are our walls? Our literal walls— whether they are made of brick, cement, or plywood— do they keep people out? Are our physical church buildings such that those who do not know Jesus would never set foot in them? And more than that, what are our invisible walls? Mental barriers between “in” and “out”? Between “insiders” and “outsiders”? What barriers stand in the way of us engaging with others—with us being loving witnesses to Christ’s Kingdom? It could be religious walls that divide us, like the age-old misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians. Or it could be economic walls, creating a divide between the rich and the poor.

Are we willing to be prophetic? To follow in Ezekiel’s footsteps? To smash holes in the walls and dig through with our hands if needed? Can we hear the Lord’s voice to His Church, calling us to have ears to hear and eyes to see what is beyond our walls? Are we in a rebellious house, like Judah? And if so, are we willing to speak out—to be different than our friends and family if needed?

Are we willing to take the risk of obedience, to meet Jesus outside our walls?

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Rahma (not her real name) and her husband and two boys have lived and served in a slum in Jakarta for the past ten years. She enjoys learning piano, playing in the rain, and devouring Amy Carmichael books. You can learn more about the organization they serve with at servantsasia.org.

Radical Forgiveness

by Rahma

This week marked the sixteenth anniversary of an unforgettable family tragedy. My mom’s first cousin Jeff was driving with his five children when a pickup truck suddenly crossed the grassy median and hit them head-on at 60 miles per hour. All five of the children were killed instantly, and Jeff suffered serious injuries. I was in my senior year of high school at the time, and I remember seeing my mom cry when she got the phone call.

Carolyn, the mother of the family, had been in town running some errands, and her family had been on their way to meet her. I cannot imagine the unspeakable grief of a mother losing all five of her children in one instant.

But even while her husband was still in the hospital, Carolyn visited another hospital room: the room of the driver who had hit her family’s car. His name was Mr. Helm.

Carolyn took my Great-Uncle Jason (the grandfather of the children who died) to visit Mr. Helm. Together they told him that they forgave him and were praying for him. They did not press charges. They did not seek revenge. They chose to forgive. When cousin Jeff recovered, he, too, offered forgiveness to Mr. Helm.

My mom flew across the country from Virginia to Washington State to attend the funeral of my second cousins. Five crosses now mark the graves of Carmen, 12; Jana, 10; Carinna, 8; Jerryl, 4; and Craig, 2. For years, the picture of their five beautiful faces hung on my mother’s refrigerator. The picture served as a reminder to my family of incredible suffering and radical forgiveness.

This week also marks the three-week anniversary of an ongoing hostage crisis in Haiti. Seventeen mission workers are being held captive, including five children. The ages of those children are 8 months, 3 years, 6 years, 13 years, and 15 years.

Great-Uncle Jason, the grandfather of the five children who died in that car crash so many years ago, is now waiting and praying for news of another grandchild. His 27-year-old grandson traveled to Haiti to serve and was taken hostage the next day. But Great-Uncle Jason is again responding with unbelievable faith and forgiveness. Watching him offer forgiveness to the hostages brings tears to my eyes.

What kind of radical faith can bring people to say such things? To offer forgiveness to those who are holding hostage and threatening the lives of their loved ones? What kind of faith brings a mother to forgive the man whose truck killed all five of her children? How can my Great-Uncle Jason, who has already buried five grandchildren, hold onto hope as he awaits news of yet another grandchild?

And yet, this is the faith that we are all invited into. My family are Mennonites, but it is not only Mennonites who are called to forgive their enemies. If we call ourselves Christians, then we are part of a faith that calls us to forgive. We follow a savior who called us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us (Matthew 5). Every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we also forgive those who sin against us.”

Our savior left us countless examples of forgiveness. Perhaps the most powerful example of all came as he was hanging on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But do we forgive like this? Do we actually forgive those who sin against us? Would we choose forgiveness if we were in my Great-Uncle Jason’s shoes? Or if we were Jeff and Carolyn, the parents who lost five children in one moment? Or if we were the parents or grandparents of one of the other hostages in Haiti?

This week as I reflected on these tragedies both past and present, the Lord brought it closer to home for me. Sunday, October 31st was the ten-year anniversary of a devastating fire in the first slum community that I lived in. When the flames were finally put out, all that was left was a smoldering neighborhood and 200 families who were suddenly homeless.

Do I forgive the perpetrators of this devastating fire from ten years ago?

Forgiving is not the same thing as condoning sin or enabling abusers. However, our Lord has instructed us to forgive. Forgiveness helps free us from our anger, bitterness, and prisons of hate. But it is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that forgiveness can be possible.

Now as I live in another slum community in one of the largest cities on earth, I am grateful for my Christian Mennonite heritage which taught me to love Jesus, care about the poor, and seek to love my enemies. I know I cannot do this perfectly, but that is why we need grace. Each and every day we must cling to the grace offered by our Lord Jesus and know we are forgiven.

And it is because we are forgiven that we can then offer forgiveness to others.

Lord, help us on our journeys to forgiveness. Give us Your heart to forgive those who have wronged us. Help us to be agents of love and reconciliation to those around us, that the world may see and stand in awe of You.

 

*This article has been modified to remove references to the sending agency of the workers held hostage in Haiti. On November 9, 2021, the author, along with A Life Overseas, learned of a history of sexual abuse coverup in that agency. We grieve when any person is abused and are deeply sorry for any pain caused by the references in the initial article.

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Rahma (not her real name) and her husband and two boys have lived and served in a slum in Jakarta for the past ten years. She enjoys learning piano, playing in the rain, and devouring Amy Carmichael books. You can learn more about the organization they serve with at servantsasia.org.

Strangers and Aliens: Covid in the Slums

by Rahma

We had been waiting for months for news about when we might be able to receive a Covid vaccine. The elderly, health workers, government offices, and teachers were the first groups to be vaccinated. My husband and I are teachers, but the free school that we run in our slum community is not a “real” school, so we could not qualify to receive vaccines. 

For eleven months, we opened House of Hope during the pandemic– praying that the benefits to the community were greater than the risks presented by meeting in person. Sickness in slums is a constant affair; there are always children and adults sick with diarrhea, coughs, colds, fevers, sore throats. Normally when someone is sick with some or all of those symptoms, possible diagnoses include: the common flu, dengue fever, typhoid, or TB. Now we added “Covid-19” to the possible list.  

On Wednesday of our last week of classes for the year, my husband received a phone call from the government leader in his mom’s neighborhood. We had registered with this leader two weeks prior, hoping that one day we would be eligible to be vaccinated. “You can go today,” the man said. “To the police center.  You have ten minutes. There are only six vaccines left.”

Talk about last minute warning. We changed our clothes (out of slum clothes, into presentable vaccination clothes), grabbed our important documents (government ID, marriage certificate, my passport and visa), and jumped on our motorcycle. My husband sped through traffic, and we arrived at the police center perhaps twenty minutes after the phone call.

The police center was celebrating their birthday; in honor of the birthday, they were providing vaccines for the community. 

They looked at our ID cards, accepted my husband’s since he is Indonesian, but rejected me. I could not be vaccinated. I fought back disappointment and consoled myself with knowing that my husband was getting his first jab. Twenty minutes later, we were back on our motorcycle and going home.

Two days later, after numerous phone calls and confirmation from the same government leader near my in-law’s house, I set off by bike to go to the government clinic. This time equipped with a letter from the official, saying I was a resident and lived in the neighborhood. I spent two hours waiting in line with about 100 others– this time to get a swab rapid test in order to be eligible to be vaccinated the following day. After two hours of waiting, it was finally my turn and I presented the letter and my ID card.

“What is this?” the lady said.

“My permanent resident card.”

“We can’t use this number. You don’t have the right number.”  She confirmed with a higher-up and they sent me home.

I fought back angry tears once more. 

In some strange way, I felt like this experience bonded me with our neighbors.  Many of them do not have the proper documentation– not only is it a struggle to get vaccinated, but anything legal is a challenge. Registering for government elementary schools. Making marriage certificates. Or birth certificates. Or government health cards. I have a friend who had to travel 3 hours during labor to return to her home village for an emergency Cesarean.  

Scripture says we are strangers and aliens in this world.  There’s nothing like living somewhere ten years, but getting denied a vaccine to remind one of this truth. No matter how many years I live here, I will always be the “Bule” (pronounced “Boo”+ “lay”). I will always be the white-skinned one, with brown hair instead of black. I cried, not so much because I really wanted a vaccine, but because I wanted to belong. To not feel like an outsider in this land where I have given birth, taught hundreds of children, and planted myself. It just did not seem fair.

The following morning, we biked 55 kilometers round trip to the Zoo (where we were refused entry because of new Covid restrictions and because our ID cards were not from Jakarta).  I knew I was dragging a little bit, but a sudden rainstorm refreshed us and we made it home happily.  After a shower, however, I realized I was feverish. I spent the rest of the day in bed. My husband also started to feel sick. We wondered (Asian style) if it was because of getting rained on. 

The following morning, we got Covid PCR tests. We were positive, along with one of our teammates. We paid to get tested at a private clinic, as trying to get a free PCR from the government clinic is nearly impossible. Officially, our test results should be reported to our government health clinic. Officially, if one of our cases were to deteriorate, they should be responsible to send an ambulance and help us get to a hospital. But because we live in a slum, this is not possible.

If we chose to self-isolate in our sabbath house, in the middle-class neighborhood according to our ID address, the health officials would help us.  But since we would rather be at home in our slum house– where there are neighbors who can shop for us, where there is a field we can walk on and get fresh air, where our pet rabbit is, where we feel more comfortable– there is no government health center to report to. Slums are by definition illegal. We live on “dark land,” without government leadership. Slipping through the cracks of bureaucracy. No one wants to help our neighborhood. 

When we explained to our neighbor about trying to report to the government clinic, she laughed and said: “If we die, they don’t care.” 

And for us it does not really matter. Thankfully, our Covid cases seem mild. We have an oximeter and can self-monitor oxygen levels. We have money to buy vitamins, paracetamol, and nutritious food. We also have health insurance and money in the bank if we needed to check ourselves into a hospital. We have lots of middle-class friends with extra money to send us care packages of food. My kitchen is overflowing with fruit, snacks, honey, and other goodies sent to us– not only from our “rich” friends, but also from our friends in the slum.

But as I hear my neighbors cough, I wonder what they will do if they need to be hospitalized.  I wonder how much money is wasted when they go to a doctor and are given amoxicillin and told they just have “strep throat.”  I know that the official numbers of Covid cases in Indonesia are sky-rocketing, and I know that the real number is likely 20x higher than what is reported.  I feel the injustices of lacking proper ID cards. I feel the struggle of my friends wanting to access free government health care. I sense the denial and optimism of our street, hoping that everyone else just has a “normal cough.”

Lord, protect the most vulnerable.  Have mercy on all those who are sick.  Heal our bodies. Heal our souls.  Come, Lord Jesus.

For the past ten years, living in a slum, I have found solace in the words of Psalm 146.  I read these verses again today and they seem so applicable. My hope is not in princes (or government officials)– my hope is in the Lord. The Lord watches over the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, and the bowed down.  And the Lord watches over the foreigner, too (hey, that’s me!). Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.

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Rahma and her husband and two boys have lived and served in a slum in Jakarta for the past ten years. She enjoys learning piano, playing in the rain, and devouring Amy Carmichael books. You can learn more about the organization they serve with at servantsasia.org.

Washing the Feet of Jesus

by Rahma

It was a normal afternoon. We were just finishing up the school day (at the free kindergarten we run in the slum community we live in).  All the students had gone home, and another teacher and I were sweeping the playground area. The other teachers were cleaning up inside.

Suddenly, I heard the other teacher yell angrily: “Hey! Don’t come in here!” She lifted up her broom threateningly. 

It was Agung. He took a step into the entrance to the playground area. Agung is the man in our community who suffers from some sort of undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. My husband and I have known Agung for as along as we have lived in this slum community. He used to live with his grandma in a little shack by the canal that runs through the neighborhood. When his grandma died a few years ago, someone else took possession of their house and Agung left to wander the streets. Sometimes he disappears for months at a time; other times we see him walking past our street almost every day. He refuses to talk to almost everyone; but occasionally he will answer someone he trusts. I would guess he is only a few years older than me, perhaps 36 or 37 years old.

We are not scared of Agung. We are not scared because we know his name. We have sat with him in his (previous) house. We have watched him play dominoes and know that he used to have a radio that he liked to listen to. But the three other teachers present did not know much about Agung. They only know him as the “crazy person” who wanders around, sometimes peeking in people’s houses. They know him as the person who always wears the same dirty pants and shirt and does not have a home.  I could see fear in their eyes and body language as they retreated into the school— all of course in the same moment that my friend shouted “Hey! Don’t come in here!”

I quickly tried to assure them it was ok. “Don’t be scared. It’s just Agung.” I said. “He is not dangerous.”

I walked towards Agung and asked what the matter was. (Normally he only appears at our door if he is sick). He pointed to his foot. Underneath all the black dirt, I could tell that his foot was very swollen. I asked what had happened, but he would not speak an answer.

My husband came soon after that, and he too tried to ask Agung what had happened. No answer. Right at the entrance to the school is the large water tank and spigot for kids to wash their hands before entering the playground. My husband knelt down and washed Agung’s swollen foot. It just happened to be a few days after Easter, and I could not help getting teary-eyed as I watched my husband follow our Lord’s example.  

The foot did not have any visual wounds on it. “Did your foot get run over by a car?” We asked. No answer. We felt helpless to really do anything to make a difference for Agung. We gave him some ibuprofen for the pain, a glass of water, and some ointment to rub on his foot. My husband gave him a shirt from his dresser. Then Agung was on his way again, limping away to wherever his feet would carry him.

Living in Jakarta for the past ten years, I have seen many mentally ill homeless people wandering the streets. Often their hair is long and messy, their clothes a brownish-gray color like the streets they live on. I feel so powerless to help them — and so aware that each person struggling with mental illness has a family somewhere, a story, and a name. This touches me particularly because my own brother struggles with very severe bipolar disorder.  My brother has navigated multiple hospitalizations, ups and downs, and countless medications and doctors and therapist appointments over the past ten years.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, I have struggled with the realization that these people I see could be my brother. And actually, they are my brothers and sisters— precious people to be loved and cared for.

It has now been over a month since the incident with Agung, but it keeps playing over and over again in my mind. The fear my friends had in the face of interacting with the unknown, “crazy person.” The simple yet counter-cultural act of my husband stooping to wash his feet. This to me was a living picture of the gospel—of what our Lord has done for us. And we are to follow our Lord in serving those the world is fearful of, views as “unclean,” unwanted, dangerous even. Knowing their names.  Speaking in Love. Offering hope.

Agung’s name means “Great.” It is often a title used for God. And somehow his name seems appropriate to me. In washing Agung’s feet, my husband was indeed showing love to our great Lord. The one who promises to meet us in whatever we do to the least of these.

We still see Agung walking past almost daily. He did not put the new shirt on, but he carries it on his shoulder. It is now almost as dirty as the shirt he is wearing. We do not know what is going on in his mind or heart—but somehow we know he knows we care.

Originally published here.

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Rahma and her husband and two boys have lived and served in a slum in Jakarta for the past ten years. She enjoys learning piano, playing in the rain, and devouring Amy Carmichael books. You can learn more about the organization they serve with at servantsasia.org.

Finding Jesus in a Slum

by Rahma

Ten years ago, I moved to Indonesia with one suitcase and a heart full of hope. I planned to live in a slum, learn the language, and seek the Kingdom of Jesus. Of course, the first year had many challenges. There was so much to learn and adjust to: the language, washing clothes by hand, riding public transportation around the mega-city, eating rice three times a day.

The first year that I lived in a slum in Jakarta, the community received eviction letters. The news of eviction of course became the “hot topic” of conversation around the neighborhood. Conversations were not only about eviction — they were also about the danger of a fire. My neighbors knew from experience that letters of eviction were often followed by fires (because it is easier to evict people if their houses have already been burned down, right?).  As my neighbors had predicted, two weeks later there was a devastating fire. 200 homes were burnt down in half an hour.

For a week or two after the fire, those who had lost their homes slept under three large blue tents on top of the mountain of trash that bordered the community. The tents were provided by an NGO, along with some free meals and bags of donated clothing. Even though my home had been spared from the fire, I decided to spend a night under the tent with some of my best friends who had lost everything in the fire. We experienced the discomfort of mosquitoes, uneven ground, and the noises of lots of people. My heart joined in mourning with my neighbors who had lost all their earthly possessions. And more than just grief, I felt anger at the unfairness of it all.

One day not long after that, as I was reading the Bible, a passage from Hebrews struck me in a new way: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” (Hebrews 13:12-13 NIV)

As I read this passage, the image in my mind was of the mountain of trash, with the cross of Jesus on it. And I knew that Jesus was confirming for me that He indeed was present there.

Slum areas are often on the outskirts of cities. Slums by definition are on undocumented land, illegal squatter settlements — or “dark land” as we call it in Indonesian. No land titles or deeds, no government address, and therefore often no access to most government services.  But Jesus suffered outside the city gate. And because of that, “let us go to Him.”

I live and serve in a slum community not just to “help people.” I live here because I want to meet Jesus here. Our lives are too short to spend them chasing wealth, “success,” or other lies this world offers. If we have repented and had our lives transformed by Jesus, Jesus is now our King. We are invited to give our lives in service of our King and His Kingdom. We are invited to share this good news of God’s great love with all we meet. Our lives are no longer our own; they belong to Him who died for us.

We must remember that our citizenship is in this New Kingdom, not in nation-states. We are only foreigners for the time we are here.

We are invited to “go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” We have to be willing to bear disgrace (NIV), to bear the abuse (NRSV), to bear the reproach (ESV). Or, as The Message says: “So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus.”

The slum area that experienced the fire nine years ago ended up being evicted. On the ruins of the homes of thousands of evicted poor families, a large shopping mall and apartment complex was built for the rich. Even though the process of eviction was extremely sad and painful, the Lord graciously led us to a new slum area — where we have gotten to observe the birth of a slum. It is now nearly nine years that we have been in this community. There have continued to be many challenges these nine years, but we are so grateful. We are grateful for each day that we are allowed to live and serve here, to be witnesses for Christ in this place that according to the world has no value.

We believe that those the world does not value are actually extremely precious in His eyes: For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalms 72:12-14 NIV)

We long for more teammates to join us in this slum community. Not just because we want more friends to serve alongside with, but because we long to see more and more Christians experience meeting Jesus on the trash heap. Even though it is hard, even though this is a “disgraceful” place, even though there are many physical discomforts, following Jesus here is also full of joy. Full of God’s grace and mercy. Filled with amazing surprises from an amazing God.

Meeting Jesus here has changed our lives. It can change anyone’s life. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

(Originally published at servantsasia.org.)

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Rahma and her husband and two boys have lived and served in a slum in Jakarta for the past ten years. She enjoys learning piano, playing in the rain, and devouring Amy Carmichael books. You can learn more about the organization they serve with at servantsasia.org