(Here’s a poem I wrote today. It’s not entirely descriptive of our bathroom, but comes pretty close!)


A Million Scary Things in my Bathroom

Spiders behind my towel
Leeches on the floor
Lizards in the rafters
Termites in the door

Ant nest on the wall
Water that is brown
Critters on the rooftop
Mosquitoes all around

A million scary things
In my bathroom all day long
It’s okay, don’t worry
It’s only different, not wrong

Lack of water pressure
Cold water from the tap
Lack of toilet paper
Moldy towels on the rack

Soap is hard to find
Dirty diapers in a pot
Toilet on the floor
Hanging smelly mop

New things to adjust to
In a foreign land
Time will help you through it
Patience is in demand

Cobwebs in the corners
Towels hung by nails
dust on the bathtub
creepy crawly snails

Mirror hung from rafters
Two year old shampoo
Dishes on the floor
Temperature one-o-two

A millions scary things
Yes it’s true, trust me
How does one survive like that?
Attitude is key

While I know it’s pretty crazy
To accommodate so much
You get used to it eventually
Later you do adjust

At first it’s pretty shocking
You’re confused, and scared and mad
But to live without the excess
Well, it’s really not so bad

You start to see the value
In your gifts from God above
Most important is your family
And friends and faith and love


Ramadan, or ‘fasting month’, is in full swing here in Indonesia and all over the world for Cousins. I can tell it’s fasting month- there are curtains drawn over all the windows of Starbucks where I’m sitting so people outside aren’t tempted by the food and drinks inside. Restaurants all over Indonesia are covered up like this during Ramadan.

Kim and I always try to participate in fasting month in one way or another. We pray, we fast, we talk with our neighbors about fasting, etc. It’s a unique time to talk about God and connect with Him deeper. We also try to make a point to involve our partners back home too by sending out daily and weekly prayer requests and updates. Kim’s been good at designing prayer guides and calendars over the last few years for those that want to participate on a regular basis.

I’ve noticed in a lot of our correspondence (and I think a lot of Believers do this) it’s sometimes easy to criticize or condemn Cousins during this time. This month demonstrates the extent that Cousins will go to follow the rules, but have they lost the heart behind it? How heartfelt can it be to pray the same prayer five times a day every day? As a Believer it’s hard for me to see the value in such repetition.

We need help loving and worshiping God. We oftentimes don’t know how to love and worship God even though our hearts want to.

I was thinking lately though that I might be a little wrong in my understanding of these practices. I’m starting to think that there might be more to these rituals than meets the eye. We’re quick to dismiss Cousins as having lost the meaning behind their words and prayers due to mindless repetition. But if you think about it, Believers do this too- to a certain extent. Believers also have repetition and patterns in the way we worship and connect with God. Some examples: the “Lord’s Prayer”. This is a memorized prayer typically recited on a weekly basis. It remind us of who God is and the kinds of things we should ask for (your kingdom come, your will be done, give us this day. . . ). Also, think about worship music. Aren’t all the songs we sing a form of repetitive devotion? Obviously we don’t walk into church on Sunday morning and make up brand new songs every week. Are we worshiping any less from the heart because we sing the same song two weeks in a row? No, songs have new energy and meaning every time we sing them even though the words don’t change.

Which is what leads me to say that most religious practices and traditions aren’t necessarily bad things in and of themselves. It helps guide our worship. It gives us structure. And really, we need help loving and worshiping God. It doesn’t come to us naturally. We oftentimes don’t know how to love and worship God even though our hearts want to. That’s why we have many of the traditions we do. They give shape and structure to our worship so that our hearts can connect with God more quickly and easily.

Now apply this principle to fasting month. If structure and patterns aren’t inherently bad and can even help us, why do Cousins need extra prayer during this time? The problem is not that they fast and pray. The problem is not that they devote so much time (a whole month) to pursuing God. The problem is that they think they will get to God by these means.

I was reminded of this conflict (between our works and God’s work) while reading Galatians this morning. Galatians is a great book to read if you want to know the difference between religious duty (works) and the freedoms we have through faith in Christ. Seemed like a pretty relevant book to read during fasting month! Galatians chapter 3 explains that God declared Abraham justified because he had faith in God. He believed God’s promises. God declared righteousness through faith and then Moses and the law came. In other words, faith came before works. Galatians 3:19 says:

“What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.”

And Galatians 3:23-25 says, “Before this faith (in Jesus) came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

So the law was established because of transgressions (sin) and “to lead us to Christ!” It points us to Him while giving us a framework for godly living. The crucial point here is “now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision (or mandate) of the law” vs. 25. We’re no longer under the jurisdiction of the law. According to these passages faith is the only thing that’s required!

Here in Indonesia, and all over the world, Cousins are told that their prayers and good deeds this month will take away their sin and make them right before God. They’re trying to tip the divine scale in their favor and become justified by their works. But in doing this their deeds becomes an end in itself and faith (in Christ) is completely ignored. Prayer, fasting, etc. is no longer just a framework to guide praise and devotion. It becomes what they’re counting on for salvation, and according to the scriptures this is a serious error!

This is why Cousins need our prayers this month. Let’s pray that as they’re praying they would meet the One who could truly set their hearts free.

Indonesia is definitely a different place. Here are some of the highlights that I’ve noticed and jotted down.

You know you live in indonesia when. .  .

  • You come prepared to the bathroom with Kleenex in your pocket. Toilet paper is rare.
  • There aren’t any recycle bins. The closest thing to a recycling bin is a garbage can beside our house. We put non burnable trash out there and poor people periodically rummage through it. I call it our “magic garbage” because I put stuff in and it magically disappears!
  • You’re selective with your relationships. There’s just too many people who want to be your friend and talk to you.
  • You move to the front of every stoplight with your motorbike, often weaving in between cars to get there.
  • There’s no such thing as a ‘line’ at the stoplight. Motorcycles bunch up where the shade is. It’s just too hot to wait in the sun.
  • Saying “hi” to a child causes them to hyperventilate.
  • You can’t ever enjoy the outdoors- it’s way too hot. The sun is something to take shelter from, not enjoy.
  • There are no speed limits. The potholes control the speed of traffic well enough.
  • Clothes aren’t your size and your wardrobe never changes.
  • You can eat almost anything and never gain weight.
  • Everybody knows you, but you don’t have the slightest idea who they are!
  • You choose a restaurant because of the  air conditioning, not because of the food.
  • People either yell “hello mister!” or just stare blankly when they see you on the street. If you try to respond to them in English they also stare.
  • All your condiments and snacks are double zip-lock bagged to keep the ants out.
  • You sweep your house everyday but still can’t keep up with the dirt and dust.
  • Common creatures in your house include ants, spiders, cicaks (a small lizard), mosquitoes, an occasional centipede, and occasional farm animals like goats and chickens that wander in from outside.
  • You have the most beautiful sunsets in the world.
  • You can buy a fresh coconut off the tree- with ice, sugar and a smile- for about 80 cents.


Kim and I participated in an event in our neighborhood called an Aqiqah or ‘haircutting ceremony’. When a baby reaches a certain age, somewhere between 40 days and four months, a party is held to celebrate the new life. It varies when this celebration is held, but usually after the baby is healthy and deemed survivable.

Our neighbor’s baby turned three months and so she held an Aqiqah two doors from our house. Kim was invited to help with the cooking a few days beforehand. The women in our area are stay-at-home moms so they relish the opportunity to get out and cook with other women. It breaks up the monotony I suppose. A space was set up in the backyard. Even though it’s hard work cooking over a fire in the hot sun, the women got all dressed up for the occasion. It was quite a site to see. I took several pictures of the women in action from our house.

The ceremony began around 8 am with a drum group called ‘bedikir’. You can hear the ‘dhong dhong’ of the drums from a ways away. This is considered ‘traditional entertainment.’ Even though there are modern forms of entertainment, like DJ’s and loud music, on the outskirts of town they still appreciate the traditional forms. Roughly around 9:30 am (time is not a fixed thing in Indonesia) it was time to get started. Enough people had showed up, the seats were mostly full, and a member of the household stood up to welcome everyone. He greeted the honored guests, gave a rundown of events, and then said a prayer in Arabic.  Arabic is a formal ‘religious’ language not typically understood by most people. They memorize and recite prayers in Arabic, but that’s about it. The drum group also sings/chants in Arabic.

What happened next was a little bit of a blur. Everyone started eating at the same time and the mother and father started walking around as people cut snips of hair off their baby’s head. It was a little hard to know where to be.

The haircutting takes place by carrying the newborn baby in a circle while respected elders and people from the family cut a little strand of hair from the baby’s head and put it in a coconut husk. They also take some leaves from a bowl and touch the baby’s head while speaking a blessing. Later the father and mother receive advice and prayers from an elder. From what I could understand the prayer consisted of asking that the child would grow strong and healthy, be protected from evil spirits and the devil, and be a faithful and strong member of the community. They also put the baby in a swing and rocked her seven times. We asked people what the significance of ‘seven’ was (why seven times) and so far all we’ve gotten is that they’re supposed to do it seven times, and to do any more or less would break tradition. Obviously we need to investigate this more.

Food is arranged on a couple tables buffet style. They always serve the same four or five dishes- cooked beef (called rendang), a salad (called gado gado), a vegetable soup, a spicy chip dish, and fish. All of this gets mixed over the top of rice and is really quite tasty.

With food, prayers, and the hair cutting out of the way people started to leave. Indonesian parties are usually pretty short, anywhere from 45 minutes to 2-3 hours at most. Since we were neighbors we stayed a little longer, which was okay because it allowed me to get more pictures and ask questions. Neighborhood events are a very common part of our life in Indonesia. They make the community come together. And now that Ramadan is near we can expect a lot more ‘rendang’ and drums in our schedule!

I learned a new term recently- “risk homeostasis”, or risk compensation. It’s the basic idea that the more risk we perceive in our life, the more cautious we are, and the the less risk we perceive the more lazy we are. This seems like a pretty simple idea but it effects our behavior in interesting ways. Every person has a risk equilibrium, or a threshold of how much risk we will tolerate in our life. If we perceive danger, our risk threshold rises and we act more carefully. If we don’t perceive danger, the opposite is true and we act more careless. It’s all about what we perceive.

I read about this in a book recently and it gave the example of a study that was done with new anti-lock brake systems in a car. The theory was that anti-lock brakes would make drivers safer, naturally. However they found that the test drivers without the brake system had fewer crashes than those with the brakes. The reason was that those with the anti-lock brakes overcompensated, drove too close to other vehicles, drove faster, and therefore had more accidents. The drivers without the anti-brakes drove safer.

This phenomenon works in reverse too. In the 1960’s Sweden changed from driving on the left-side of the road to the right-side. You would think that this would case all kinds of car accidents from drivers not used to driving on that side of the road. However, surprisingly, the number of car accidents dropped by 17% before gradually returning to their previous level. Drivers compensated for the change and drove more safely.

This idea kind of got my thinking about Indonesia. When I first came to Asia I noticed right away that everyone drove on the left side of the road. Furthermore, traffic seemed so chaotic and random. I couldn’t get my head around it. Most of the vehicles are motorbikes and they have no regard for lanes, road lines, or divisions. They swerve, cut and fill any space on the road, oftentimes moving into the other lane to get by. But now I see that there’s some sense to the chaos. Traffic flow is like water, finding the path of least resistance. And because it’s crazy and un-ordered you have to keep alert constantly. I’ve had a few minor car accidents in the States, but not one since I’ve been in Indonesia and I think it’s because of this idea. When we perceive danger we’re more careful. Maybe that’s another reason why we’re always so exhausted here. Our brains are always on alert!

We’ve been back in Indonesia and our home in Sumatra for a couple months now and so far this term has felt different from the first two. It’s been nice being back and having a little traction under our feet, a little wind in our sail. We’ve had traction before at various points over the last few years. This isn’t the first time we’re feeling this. Usually after a workshop, or a retreat, or a getaway we normally feel pretty motivated and come back with a renewed sense of focus and energy. We always appreciate those times. Unfortunately, though, after a month or two the energy runs out and we need some motivation again. This has been a pretty steady pattern for us.

But something unique is going on. We’re feeling pretty motivated and it’s not because of a workshop. Something has changed in us. One of the biggest changes is that we feel free- free to pursue ideas that we think will be useful or beneficial. It’s opened up a whole new world of possibilities. For example, one idea that we’ve had is to make a website for the people group we’re attached to (the Anugerah). We’ve noticed how much we’ve gotten plugged into this community and the close relationships with have with the people as a whole. We’ve done some research and have learned a great deal about this group. We thought it might be good to organize some of this info in a format that they and other people could use. And since we have this relationship with the people we can fairly easily involve them in the project by asking questions, getting feedback, etc. It would be primarily for them, but could also be a resource for Westerners who want a window into the group. There will be an English version as well as a local language version.

This idea for a ‘cultural website’ was hinted at by one of our supervisors, but we’ve really taken the idea and are running with it. While our organization has had some involvement in the project, we’re really the ones who are pushing it through. We’ve always had supervisors and others to keep us accountable to things. But I’m finding that the real motivation to do this isn’t coming from our superiors, it’s coming from us. I’m not exactly sure why that is. Maybe it’s because I like working with computers and learning new things. Computers have always been a hobby of mine. Maybe it’s because “data collection” fits well with what our team and colleagues are doing by going out weekly to the villages. Our goals are a little different, but we can help each other in the process. There’s overlap.

But more than a hobby or overlap, the biggest thing I like about this is that it’s TANGIBLE. What I mean is that I can put in a day of work, go out to a village, do an interview, translate an article, etc. and immediately put it on the web and SEE it. There’s something to show for our efforts and it doesn’t take months or years to happen. Progress can happen in one day! While there is a substantial learning curve to the web stuff, the knowledge is immediately practical. This is something I’ve not really felt in four years. This is what I mean by traction.

I can summarize the difference with this term in another way. Before, our life and work really felt like we were constantly setting up dominoes. We were laying a foundation, modeling good habits, getting training, attending workshops so that when the right moment came along we’d be ready. It was all good training, but fundamentally it was preparation for what we wanted to see happen in the future. It was what we were hoping to see. It’s fun to set up dominoes but only if you can knock ’em all over once they’re set up! Our issue was that the first domino wasn’t falling. It hasn’t been wasted time. We haven’t merely been waiting. We’ve put in a lot of hard work in learning two languages, forming close relationships with the people around us, attending local events, encouraging our team, pushing ourselves out the door, and trying to be intentional with our time. We’ve been productive in some sense. But if your goal is more than just foundational stuff, which it always has been, a new approach has been needed.

Our new approach is more like Legos- putting it together one block at a time. We want to take a good look at the pieces in front of us and see what we can build. It’s frustrating forever waiting for conditions to be just right. But if there are concrete things we can do now while we’re waiting, even if they’re small, that’s what we want to do. Previously there have just been too many steps in the process and I’m tired of setting up dominoes. Hopefully by having a more ‘Lego-like’ mentality we can eliminate some of the steps and just start building with what we have.

So I was at the mall today with Eli. We were walking around giving Kim a much needed break. I thought if I took the baby and walked around she could have a little alone time. She’s with Eli pretty much 24/7 so giving her time to check Facebook, surf the web, and just relax at a coffee shop was the agenda for today.

I walked around and made my way over to the arcade. I thought Eli might like to look at the lights, watch some of the other kids playing games and take in all the new sights and sounds. It was kind of loud in there so I made my way toward the back. There I found a kid playing their version of Dance Dance Revolution. It wasn’t exactly called ‘Dance Dance Revolution’, but it was the same basic idea. I stopped and watched this kid for a while. He was obviously an expert. He was using both foot pads, not just one. In other words, he had ten spots on the floor that he was interacting with- up, down, left, right, middle, and then the same of the other side. It was really fun to watch him play, although ‘play’ was not quite the right word. He was gettin’ his groove on! He was dancing, hopping, and skipping all over the floor pads. He wasn’t really even looking at the screen, just kind of in a world all his own. His arms were swinging around, and he even got down on his hands and knees. When the round was over I was expecting a few mistakes. After all, it didn’t even look like he was trying. But he got 100% perfect, an A+. How many hours does it take to win Dance Dance Revolution with a perfect score without even looking at the screen? I was amazed.

I watched him for a good twenty minutes. By this time a substantial crowd had also gathered. After several rounds at a moderate pace he decided it was time to take it up a notch. I’m not sure what he did, but the next time he played he sped it up so that the arrows were flying up the screen three times as fast. No more sauntering around now! He grabbed a hold of the bars behind him and let his feet do all the tapping. His feet were a blur as he hit all the notes flying up the screen. Again, he got a perfect score. I’ve never seen anybody move their feet that fast. It was pretty incredible to watch. I think Eli was impressed too.

You just gotta give it to Asians. They beat our pants off at Dance Dance Revolution. Check out these videos I shot with my cell phone. Sorry for the bad quality, but you get the idea.

I’ve been in Indonesia for over four years now. And just when you start to think you’ve got a handle on things, just when you start to think you have everything figured out something new comes your way that throws you for a tailspin. That was the case for me the last few days, and I can definitely say I’ve learned some new things.

It all started last week when a couple water company guys came to our door. They basically explained that the water bill hasn’t been paid in 34 months (that’s over three years) and they were going to shut our water off if the bill wasn’t paid in two days. Yes. . . 34 months. Kinda makes you wonder why they hadn’t come any sooner. In the States you could get by for two maybe three months, but 34? Yes, that’s a problem. I told them that it was my land lords responsibility to pay the water bill, that we had an agreement, and I pointed them to her house kitty-corner behind our house. Once they left though I was upset. My land lord’s house and ours shares the electricity and water. From the beginning we had agreed that Kim and I would pay for the electricity if she paid the water. That was the agreement. We’ve been paying electricity the whole time, but it looked like she hadn’t held up her end of the bargain. I made a mental calculation in my head- 34 months x 10 dollars a month. . . that’s over 300 dollars. That is a REAL large amount for a water bill, especially here. I was pretty sure my land lord would never be able to pay that, but still I hoped that somehow she’d take care of it.

It’s amazing how quickly your house can fall apart when you have no water.

Well two days later our landlord still hadn’t “taken care of it” and they cut off our water. They even went so far as to remove the meter in front of our house where the water comes in. They weren’t just shutting the water off, they were removing piping! This was serious. Water is kind of important. We use it for dishes. We use it for laundry and diapers. We use it for showers and toilet. It’s amazing how quickly your house can fall apart when you have no water. We started to go into reserve mode- using only the bare minimum to get by. Fortunately we have a reservoir in our bathroom that we could draw from for a couple days, but it wouldn’t last long. To make matters worse I saw them installing a new pipe and meter at my landlords house. This meant our houses were no longer connected. My mind started trying to piece it all together. Was she installing new pipes and water at her house so she didn’t have to pay? Was she sticking us with a three year water bill? Why wasn’t she responding to my text messages? It was hard not to think the worst.

That’s how it works here when you can’t pay your bill.

I tried to keep a level head about it. Okay, Josh, don’t over-react. I’m sure there’s a reason for all this. I know our cultures and therefore our expectations are very different. Maybe there’s a cultural thing going on that I’m just not aware of. My neighbors recommended just talking it out with my land lord. So that’s what I did, and oh what a relief! I’m sure glad I did. It turns out they were planning on connecting our house to the new line all along. Apparently they just had to wait for the rain to stop so they could glue the pipes together. Why they hadn’t bothered to mention this to me was behind my understanding. But it was a relief to know that our landlord hadn’t forgotten us and that we’d have water that day. When I asked about the 300 dollar bill that was due she said not to worry about it- that there was no bill anymore because we can just get water from the new pipe now. The bill just magically disappeared! So basically if you want to get out of paying your bill just get a new account through your neighbor and route the water through her! That’s how it works here when you can’t pay your bill. O-K-A-Y. . . ! Mental note taken.

So in the end, no hard feelings. We have water again and I’m the wiser for it. Lesson learned. Next time make sure and ASK before you start to accuse and make assumptions, because here our assumptions are usually wrong. I still see things with American tinted glasses. Will I ever see things the way they do? Probably not, but by asking around you get another view of the situation. It never hurts to ask!

This morning was the weekly task of raking our front lawn. It’s a weekly task because it’s not leaves or grass that I’m raking, it’s trash. Our front yard is littered with rubbish on a daily basis. I’m talking about old wrappers, sucker sticks, empty bottles, cigarette packs, straws, paper, juice cartons, etc. Just imagine it, I’ve probably raked it. This morning I even found a pair of shorts.

The reason we get all the rubbish is a variety of reasons. One is simply that Indonesian have a habit of throwing trash anywhere and everywhere they want. No need for a garbage can. Out the window, out the door of a taxi, over your shoulder. It doesn’t matter really. The public domain is free for all. Garbage cans are not really provided, and even if they are they are seldom used. It’s not an engrained habit to dispose of trash properly. So it gets tossed helter skelter on the roads and gutters.

Our house also happens to be right next to a fairly popular warung (a warung is a convenient store set up in front of someone’s house). People stop at the warung, fill up their gas, buy a drink, drink it, toss it to the side and they’re on their way. Since we have the only grass around inevitably it all gets blown into our yard. It’s a proximity thing.

I try not to mind all the rubbish. Of course it would be nice to have a nice looking front yard. But I find some consolation knowing that a) I didn’t contribute a single item to the collection out front, and b) I won’t be able to change peoples’ habits or the culture at large in this regard. In other words, it’s not my fault and I can’t do anything about it. So if my yard is trashed it’s a reflection of other people, not me.

The reality though is that it probably bugs me more than it bugs them. Like I said, it’s not something they’re brought up with. I see it as a problem more than they do. So even though it’s not my fault I try to be a good citizen and rake it up. I think my neighbors appreciate it- not that I haven’t littered, but that I care enough to tidy up the yard. It shows I care, and maybe that’s all that’s important.

I’ve discovered that language learning is never as easy as JUST learning the words that make up the other language. You really have to get into the mind and understand where your listener is coming from before true communication can take place. I’ve found myself in many instances where I understand every word coming out of another person’s mouth, but have no clue as to what they are actually saying to me. In other words, I recognize the words, I’m familiar with their individual meaning, but when put together in a certain way I have no clue what he/she is trying to say. It sounds kinda like Yoda, “speak language foreign you can”. I know the words, but when put together in that order it sounds a little funny, and oftentimes that’s enough to throw me off the trail.

The other night for example I was sitting with a bunch of guys at an evening karaoke session. I’m trying to make small talk with a couple of the guys in between songs. The music is blasting, my ears are ringing, and the only chance I have to talk is after they’re finished with their vocal onslaught. So after a break in the music the guy sitting next to me leans over and asks  “Did you do that dance holiday in America?” Uhhh. . . excuse me? Dance holiday? Here’s my case in point. I understand the words this guy just said. I understand, ‘dance’ and ‘holiday’ and ‘America’, etc. But put together I’m befuddled. What could he possibly mean by ‘dance holiday’? Maybe I misheard him. I explain that we have several holidays in America, like Christmas, Easter, etc. Maybe by listing a few holidays we’ll get back on course. But no, now he’s the one who’s confused. He says, “No, no, the dance holiday. . . you know, like you see in the movie.” Ok now we’re getting somewhere. I deduce that he’s seen some movie with dancing, made the conclusion that it’s an American holiday, and wants to know if I’ve ever done that. Boy, how do I tackle this one?

Fortunately in this case the music started again and I didn’t have time to investigate what we were talking about. I just let it drop. But this just goes to show that communication is a slippery thing. It’s not about just knowing the words, although that is important. You have to somewhat know the other person’s history, where they’re coming from, and in this case the movies they’ve potentially watched. You have to step into their world and try to see it from their perspective. Only then can you anticipate what they might ask, and their questions start to make more sense. It’s a long process. You really have to spend a lot of time in the culture before you can see it their way.