Twelve years ago, I visited Indonesia for the first time. I was a twenty-two-year-old American citizen, freshly graduated from university, filled with hopes and dreams. I visited the Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor team, staying with them in a slum community. And I sensed Jesus inviting me to join them and make my home in a slum. My life would never be the same.
In our world today 1.4 billion people live in urban slum communities, and that number is constantly growing. Are Christians in the West even aware of this global reality? And, if so, do we have the faith to believe that Jesus’s good news is not only for Christians sitting on comfortable church benches, but also for those living in slum communities around the world?
I share my story of following Jesus into the slums in my new book, Beyond Our Walls: Finding Jesus in the Slums of Jakarta. My journey in Indonesia that began twelve years ago continues to this day, now with my husband and two young children. But this book is not a success story. Its pages are filled with pain and sorrow—and also the joys and surprises that come while following our good Savior.
Pain. The pain of fires, evictions, floods, sickness, and death. The daily sorrows of seeing beautiful people living in a physical reality that is not worthy of human habitation: haphazard homes pieced together, piles of rotting trash as playgrounds for children, rats and mosquitos and diseases running rampant. What could I possibly offer in such an ocean of pain and suffering?
But as I continued on year after year, learning and laughing and crying with my neighbors, I have found beauty. There is joy, even when surrounded by unspeakable darkness and pain. There is a juxtaposition of living in service of our King—seeking His Kingdom here and now and knowing that His Kingdom is stronger than all the pain and all the sorrow—but also knowing that the Kingdom is not quite fully here yet and that there is still so much that is not right with the world.
This book does not offer solutions to solve the urban crisis of billions of people living in slums. But it does invite you to come and hear stories, come meet some of the beautiful children and parents who have become my friends over the years. Come and experience Jesus outside the walls of our comfortable church buildings, gated communities, and comfort zones.
“As I live within this garbage collecting and recycling community, I am learning about God, the pemulung, who sorts through mountains of trash day after day, searching for anything of value. Back in first-century Palestine, Jesus called out to Simon and Andrew, ‘follow me and I will make you fish for people. Two-thousand years later, I imagine Jesus coming to this place and saying, ‘Follow me, and I will make you pemulung of people!’
“Jesus tells those whom the world views as garbage, ‘You have value. Though others have cast you off, you are a treasure.’ As we follow Jesus, our pemulung, to the trash heap, he is longing for us to help him build up those who have been pushed down, plant and nourish those who have been uprooted, be merciful to those who have experienced disaster, and encourage those who are afraid.”
You can find the book here.