I have learned there are two ways to experience the world: as a tourist and as a missionary.
As a tourist, one is often moved by the tastes, sights, and new people one finds. As a missionary, where there is a commitment to the people of another culture, one is more than moved: one is changed.
It is true some vacations have changed how I look at the world, but never as profoundly as the places I have fully shared my life in mission. Though I have been a missionary in many countries now, I have never been as changed as I have by my mission in Indonesia. This was my first time not only to live in Asia but also my first time to live in a Muslim country—a country that continues to surprise and inspire me.
I marvel that while over 85 percent of the population is Muslim and only 12 percent is Christian, 3 of the 6 national holidays are Christian; even more, they recognize Pentecost as a national holiday, whereas we in the United States, a majority Christian nation, do not. Also, while we are obsessed about being politically correct, many cities of Indonesia are able to say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Easter”, and “Happy Pentecost” in public forums from signs to television. It is true there are still places with Christian persecution, yet at the same time there is a respect (not just tolerance) of different religions that I marvel at.
What has changed me more than this in Indonesia was my experience of prayer and the ways I prayed to God. Although it is always challenging to pray to God in another language than one’s mother tongue, it was harder in Indonesia, as the name for God in the Indonesian language is Allah. For my whole life I have only known Allah as the god of Mohammed, but for Indonesia and parts of Malaysia where Christians have set led since the 16th century, Allah is the universal word for God.
I struggled with my prayer life in the first weeks feeling that I was doing something wrong. At times, I would pray more to Jesus who was Tuhan (Lord) and avoid the confl
ict. As the weeks and months went on, I remembered the call of a missionary is to embrace the culture one is sent to and experience God in a new way. And so I began to pray to God as Allah and it started me thinking about the meaning of monotheism (belief in only one God). If there is only one God, then everyone is experiencing the same God, no mat er what name we give to God, thus I kept praying to Allah. After several months of praying to Allah, I started to feel more connected with the quarter of the world that prays to Allah daily, and as I did my God became a more universal God. I realize that many Muslim countries are furious that Indonesia allows Christians to say Allah in prayer (parts of Malaysia and Brunei have made it illegal for Christians to use the word), but because of Indonesia, I have been forever changed. My God is bigger now and just as I pray to Dios in Spanish, I now also pray to Allah.