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 (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 

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.