There’s something about a long journey that is profoundly transforming. It may be simply the distance from home that makes a difference, or the difference in culture, or simply the distance from everything that is familiar, but my recent 10,000 mile, “there and back again” journey has me thinking about what God has been working in me over these last three weeks.
I’m still not quite sure what the deeper work will be – I feel like I’m still sorting some of that out, and as a process kind of guy, I think that will take me some time. But on the surface I’ll simply say that my time away from home reminded me that it’s a massive world, and we serve a massive God who wants to encounter every human being on the planet. Somehow in my own limited thinking I’ve shrunk God down to a manageable size, and this trip reminded me that I don’t want to do that any longer.
I’ll post some more reflective thoughts later, but for now, let me get the surface stuff out of the way to give you the basic overview of the three week trip.
I left on Tuesday, September 30th at about noon on a train bound for New York City. It was cool and rainy, but I wore shorts and a t-shirt knowing that in about 36 hours I would be hitting the steamy shores of Bali and 80 degree temperatures. It was a bittersweet farewell. I love New England in the fall, which is one of the ways that I knew God had to be in this whole trip to Bali in October. I’m not sure I’ve ever appreciated the simple beauty of my surroundings as much as I did when I knew I would be leaving them for three weeks.
This is a Singapore Airlines Airbus a380. It seats around 525 people in its three classes of seating. Here it’s parked at the gate at JFK Airport in New York, waiting to take me and 524 of my closest friends from New York to Frankfurt, and then another 524 friends from Frankfurt to Singapore. All told I spent 19 hours in this plane from New York to Singapore. Despite not sleeping for much of it, the actual experience on the plane was pretty impressive – one of the best airlines I’ve ever flown on. So this plane essentially flew me to the other side of the world, which is a pretty impressive feat when you stop to think about it.
The main reason for my trip was to fill in for three Sundays preaching at my mentor and friend, Don Butera’s church in Bali. They have two gatherings every Sunday. The first is in Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of the country, though most of the individual islands have their own particular dialect. The second service is all in English. It’s a strange feeling to stand to worship when every song is in a language you don’t understand, but while we were singing I couldn’t help but think that the beautiful thing was that we were all worshipping Jesus, even if I couldn’t understand a word they were singing. For the second service I decided to break the ice with the crowd just a little bit by taking a selfie to prove that I actually did go to church while I was in Indonesia. This was my church family for three weeks, and they adopted me as one of their own from the start, which made the transition so easy for me. I can only hope that somehow the three weeks of messages left a bit of a mark in their hearts.
Yes, I managed to find another community to be a part of while I was in Bali as well – my CrossFit community. I was able to get to the box for a Monday morning squat session with a bunch of people from different parts of the world – probably something unique to CrossFit in Bali, an island where people come from around the world to vacation and even to live. It was a little intimidating to walk into a new box for the first time, but everyone I met was really welcoming and made me feel right at home here as well. With that said – the athletes at this box are pretty impressive and made me feel somewhat like a newbie CrossFitter again, even after two years!
A Bali sunset. Enough said.
This fruit is called Durian, and at the first Life Group (small group environment) I attended it was brought to me and presented as almost a rite of initiation into Indonesian culture. Apparently it is known as the king of fruits, though I was fond of saying that it smelled like my socks after CrossFit and had a weird texture almost like eating warm pudding. But I ate it, and I think earned some credibility in the process. Also, loved being part of this (and other) life group. People grow deeper in relationship to God in circles than we do in rows, and I found that was just as true in Indonesia as it is here in the States. Sharing life over a meal makes discipleship more engaging, and more meaningful.
One of the great places I visited while there was called Flux – a place where young, creative people are getting an opportunity to have their talents developed so that they can pursue their dreams. These are some of the images from a mural on the wall inside their space. I saw kids working in dance, culinary arts, visual arts, storytelling and music all in this one location. Once again, I was reminded here that the same capacity to dream lives in young people no matter where they reside. It was awesome to be a part of what Dharma and his team are doing for the youth of Bali (and beyond) through the ministry of Flux.
In my second full week we visited the neighboring island of Lombok where we did some work with the kids in one of the villages up in the mountains and spent some time with one of the families there. In our four hour drive from the airport to the mountains we saw probably 100 mosques and not a single church. The village we visited is essentially closed to the gospel because it is such a strong Muslim community. With all that said, this was probably my favorite part of the entire trip. I loved spending time with both the adults and kids from the village, and have thought often of how God is going to work there over time. On a purely “sightseeing” note, I also took a hike out to one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life – a waterfall called Tiu Kelep. The beauty and majesty of the falls almost literally took my breath away the first time I saw it. Of all the places I visited on this trip, this is the one I would absolutely love to return to in the future.
I’ve never been a huge fan of birthday parties, but it was a little odd to celebrate my 39th birthday away from family and friends. These guys, my new friends and extended family, however, helped me celebrate with some good food and a dessert known as Terang Bulan. The dessert was perfect and the party was just what I would have liked at home – a few friends gathered together laughing and sharing life with one another. This was definitely one day that I really, really missed being home, however.
Ironically I went 10,000 miles away and didn’t have a ton of time for just doing the tourist thing. On my last Friday in Bali we went snorkeling and then took a drive to what is known as the “Secret Beach” – a beach that’s out of the way enough to keep it semi-quiet, but that rewards you with some spectacular blue water and gorgeous views. Despite battling a fierce sunburn from the snorkeling, I really enjoyed swimming here and relaxing to the familiar sound of the surf pounding the shore.
My last official “work” was preaching at a local church called Hagios in the city of Denpasar. Pastor Salmon started this church 25 years ago and he is as passionate today about reaching his city for Jesus as anyone. We talked as best as we could with his English and my (very limited) Bahasa, but I didn’t need to understand all the words to feel the urgency in his voice as he talked about reaching the next generation in his community. It was both a privilege and an honor to speak for his church and the beautiful painting they presented to me after the message will hang in my office as a reminder of my time in Bali, and a reminder to pray for its people.
I had planned to take a nice picture of the Kingston Station sign at the end of the trip to bookend my journey, but it was raining and cold when I arrived so instead I ran to the car to see my wife who was waiting for me with hot coffee and her beautiful smile. It’s hard to capture 21 days in a blog post, and I’m sure I haven’t done it full justice, but it was an amazing journey filled with beautiful places and even more beautiful people. I know I will forget people (and probably misspell some names) but so many people from International Christian Community made my time in Bali so meaningful that I feel I would be wrong not to say thank you to some of them.
So to Arnold, Yuli, Josue, Sisi, Victa, Daniel and Rachel, Rino and Jenn, Dharma, Billy, Syennie, Kezia, Yoda, Joe, Putra, Ariel, Alfa, Irwan, Agung and Tina, Chris and Carol, Jeff and Ruth, Ron and Jeanine, and so many others that I’m forgetting – thank you for making this three weeks one of the greatest experiences of my life. Special thanks to Pastor Don and Carol for inviting me to come be a part of ICC for this time, for trusting me to preach to your people, for opening your home for me to stay and for making it nearly impossible to say “no” to this opportunity of a lifetime! I will always be an honorary member of ICC, and hope to see you again some day! And if you’re ever traveling to the US, please let me know, because I would love to introduce you to my family, my friends, and my New Life church family here!