Just got back from a couple of days in Indonesia where I was helping to deck out an orphanage with some cartoon sunflower frescoes (among other things) like some sort of weird Van Gogh/Da Vinci/Whoever-Illustrates-the-Beano hybrid. Good times.
We were staying at a small orphanage called ‘Filadelphia’ on the Indonesian Island of Batam, where, next Sunday, a new kindergarten is opening (hence the decorative spree). I loved every bit of the trip – the ferry crossing to the island, meeting the kids, staying up till half one painting, getting my hands completely covered, being genuinely out-skilled by a ten-year-old at football (anyone who knows me won’t find that hard to believe…) and even been stopped for a ‘random’ security check at customs, drugs search and all (now far be it from me to suggest they choose their targets, but I was the only obviously western person in a crowd of about a hundred. Just saying…). One of the most striking things, however, was the staggering gap between Singapore and Batam.
As soon as you get off the beaten track (‘beaten’ here means having at least some semblance of a usable road), it’s like you’ve plunged into a completely different world. Singapore and Batam are separated by only 11 miles of water, but they may as well be on different planets. Singapore is clean, efficient, safe and New-York-esque, its skyline dominated by skyscrapers and its infrastructure built on cutting-edge technology. Batam, quite simply, looks like a developing country. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not showing a preference for either culture (one is heavily materialistic and one has 60% of folk living on less than $2 a day [source – yes, it’s Wikipedia.] ), it’s just that going from polished chrome to concrete and corrugated iron in a 40 minute boat ride (well, actually a -20 minute boat ride, because Indonesia is in a different time zone…) is extremely odd.
Once again, though, my subconscious western values that equate money with happiness were blown out of the water. The kids at Filadephia are loving life. I was told the story of one little girl (centre of the main photo) who they found on a rubbish dump, not even being able to speak, who is now bubbling over with happiness, clamouring to get into photos and showing me all her little toys (couldn’t speak a word of English, mind, but thankfully with kids that doesn’t matter so much. Sign language conveys ‘I want to play’ pretty well!). Community, friendship and love are worth so much more than anything we have gathering dust in our houses, but sadly I’m far too prone to jump to ‘stuff’ as the solution to my problems. Mother Teresa once said that it’s among the wealthy that you find the most terrible poverty of all – loneliness. And unsurprisingly, she knows what she’s talking about. There seems to be very little true community left in the UK (even in the churches).
Helping out the kids was great, and I really hope the next time I visit somewhere vaguely east I’ll be able to stay for longer. Just like with Lebone, the kids at Filadelphia are loved, by the folk who run it and by Jesus. Best of all, the children know it. Though I hadn’t a clue what they were saying, hearing them all do their call and response grace at mealtimes was brilliant (one kid says a sentence, and then the rest say it as well. I think it’s spontaneous too, which is cool.), and once the girl I mentioned before even brought a Bible to show me (clearly couldn’t understand a word of it, but you know, the Bible is a central part of their life which is good!). Jesus said ‘Let the little children come to me’, and the folk at Filadelphia definitely are.
Be praying for Filadelphia, the kids and the leaders, and for the new Kindergarten. It’s a very good work they’re doing, but it’s impossible without God’s help. Thankfully, though, he loves kids, so I think they’ll be just fine.