The Long Ride Home
Friday night Melody and I went into town for blood tests, burgers, and new pants. On our way out of the department store, the waiting taxi drivers spotted us and we agreed to let one of them drive us home. We immediately recognized the driver who stood up to claim us as a man who had driven us before. I remembered how his face had come alive when he discovered that we had studied the Bible in University. He had some pamphlets from a certain “Watchtower Society” of Brooklyn, New York that he would love to discuss with us. Kicking myself for having already betrayed limited understanding of Indonesian, I was still able to evade his requests for a good time to come to our home for “diskusi” and “dia-log.”
We were in his cab (which was missing interior door panels, smelling of misdirected exhaust and lacking in enough room for both my knees and the dashboard) and on our way home before we knew it. Before long the conversation turned to matters religious. We discussed his church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or as it is unfortunately rendered in Indonesian: Seksi Jehovah (say it out loud). I had to try to stifle my smirk as Melody laughed in the back seat every time he would say it. He had been meeting with my boss, Mr. Vijay, an Indian Seventh day Adventist, for “diskusi” about “Alkitab,” that is, the Bible.
Soon he was offering me the same privilege. I declined, as I would not truly be able to understand the nuances of his discussion with my rudimentary Indonesian. Not to worry. He said he had a church brother who has studied at the Watchtower Seminary itself in New York and has since returned to spread the “kabar baik,” news good, bilingually. As the conversation continued he became more animated, kept his eyes on me instead of the road, spoke faster, drove more slowly, and began to yell across apparently great chasm of about arms-length between us.
My annoyance and frustration matched his mounting intensity. I told him, in Indonesian of course, that I had already discussed at length with Jehovah’s witnesses in the States, native speakers of English, and I agreed on the matters where he held similar beliefs but I could not agree on the matters where we differed. I did not see how it would be different here. He assured me (even more loudly) that they had more to tell me. I was getting angry. Not because of miscommunication, we were communicating fine, but he was not willing to take no for an answer and was yelling at me, shouting into my face with a smile. I turned to him and said, “Why do Jehovah’s witnesses always want to go into peoples homes and have discussions? Why must you come into the home?” This question thrilled him. It game him a chance to explain to me the great commission of Jesus Christ to spread the kabar baik out to… to… “all nations.” I finished his sentence. “But I already know all about that. I have Jesus, in my heart. I know him, already. Why do you want to come into my home?” “Diskussi…dialog.” Right.
I tried to remain civil. But he had just tried to explain the great commission to me. Did it really seem that I was that unaware of it? I can understand how groups like the Seksi Jehovah can promulgate their non-traditional and even non-Christian beliefs (i.e. a non-divine Christ, or their pseudo-open canon of scripture) but what I can’t understand is how they manage to maintain, cross-culturally, the homogenous consistency of their pushy, abrasive, cloying techniques for evangelism.
Had I the Indonesian to express myself properly in this, my first truly theological discussion in a language other than English, I would have told him that I understand and believe in the great commission. People do need to hear the good news. They just need to hear it from people they can trust - people who don’t take advantage of captive audiences and manipulatively steer conversations. They need to hear it from people who love them and long to gather them under the same wings within which they also seek shelter from pain, disease injustice and the great hollow emptiness of sin.
The next day I got an email from my not-so-little little brother, Andrew. He and his friend, Chris had had an encounter the day before with two Mormon missionaries who had happened upon them, alone at Chris’s house in rural Arkansas. They were a little intimidated by these two young men who seemed interested in them but also had a strange falseness to the way they tugged in certain directions on the conversation, tossing out loaded questions like spinner-bait, waiting to recite long prefabricated responses from memory. I reminded them that those “Mormon missionaries” are kids, just like they are, who are doing what their families and churches think is right. “If they make you uncomfortable or get too pushy, you don’t have to take it. But the important thing is to treat them like people,” even if they don’t return the favor.