Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wisdom from a Street Vendor

During our school's Christmas break, we were blessed to host some friends from the US.  I must confess, I've always had some questions about spending large sums of money to stay connected with people across the globe.  The central question being, is there a better way to use the travel money?  Over the Christmas break we were on the receiving end of this question.  Instead of money, we received the far greater blessing of renewed relationship with our friends.  I know it cost them a great deal to visit us in Indonesia but their presence was priceless.

During their stay, we took them to Java's cultural center, Yogya.  We travelled by angkota (small mini van), bus, becak (a tricycle with a seat in the front) and train to help them better understand life in Indonesia.  In Yogya, we visited the busy street of Jalan Malioboro (jalan = street).  This particular street is filled with shops and street vendors.  It's a bit like shopping on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) except that it is busy year round.  You meet all kinds of interesting people when you walk down Jl. Malioboro.

One of the people we met was a street vendor who was wanting us to go see a "batik" exhibition.  Batik is a time consuming fabric coloring process.  Foreigners are warned against such invitations so we politely continued on our way.  We met him again later in the day.  This time he kept Jay Dee and myself company while Dana and Wendy finished some shopping in a nearby store.  Fortunately, he spoke more English than we spoke Indonesia allowing us to carry-on a good conversation.  It was a chance to learn about Indonesia through the eyes of the marginalized masses.  His clothes were well worn and hung on a small gaunt frame.  With rotted teeth he told us about the Javanese and the culture of Yogya.  Then he made this stunning comment.  "You Americans are hollow, but rich.  We [the Javanese] are poor but full."

God could not have used a better spokesperson to deliver such a message!  Here was a poor, malnourished, street vendor commenting on what many believe to be the most blessed nation on the planet and he was calling it "hollow".

After living in Indonesia 18 months, I understood what he meant.  In the US so much of our lives revolve around the amassing of stuff, the pursuit of getting stuff or making enough money to buy more stuff.  Such a world is almost unimaginable to Indonesians like this street vendor.  Food, shelter, money to send their chldren to elementary school and then high school, these are the concerns of many Indonesians.  The absence of wealth or disposable income has forced Indonesians to find value in other things namely relationships.  Indonesians are a very social, community focused people.  They find their "wealth" in friends.
It was hard to say good-bye to our friends as we left them at the airport gate.  As I reflected on their visit and our provincial encounter with the street vendor, I realized that I was starting to better understand what God desires for His people.  It is fullness.  It is community.  It is shalom.  And it is shalom I wish for you. Jeff