Thursday, September 30, 2004

One of the most frustrating things is miscommunication. For fifteen minutes today I struggled to be understood and to understand. I was talking with my section coordinator about grades. The elementary uses this strange grading system where the lowest possible score is a 50, the highest is 100, and 75 is the lowest passing score. This is not the common Indonesian way to grade, but a mixture of Filipino systems. When I went to her and asked for the break-down of what letters corresponded with which numbers she said, “We only use numbers.”

“Okay, well, could I have a chart or key of some kind to explain the numbers. For example, 95-100 is excellent, 90-95 is good, etc.”

“The parents understand.”

“Well, numbers as grades are used differently in different places. In the States, generally 74 is a C, which is considered average. Here 74 is failing. Don’t you think we should tell the parents how we use the numbers?”

“I don’t mean to be rude, but you worry too much. The parents will know what we mean. I looked in the encyclopedia and it said that grades could be given in any form we wanted, letters or numbers.” [I really wanted to press this and see what kind of encyclopedia article she had read about grades, but I let it be.]

“Right, but we have to ascribe meaning to the numbers.”

“You can tell the parents at the parent teacher conference.”

“Here is how it is done in the States: children go into a class knowing that if they make a 90 or above, they will get an A. If they make all A’s and B’s, they will be on what’s called the Honor Roll. They use numbers and letters, the letters giving meaning to the numbers.”

“That is not applicable here.”

This went on for way too long. Finally, I smiled, said okay, and went back to my cubicle. Using the system I was most familiar with, I gave a letter value to groups of numbers and that made me feel better.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

“But, America will help, right?” I stood looking at Sonya, wondering what to say. We were talking about the recent presidential elections. The man who has most likely won (all of the votes have not been counted) is a Muslim, just like the current president. There were rumors that if elected, he would enforce Muslim laws.

In my fifth grade class, we were discussing proper nouns when the election came up. Most of the students in the class are Christians, at least in name. I asked them what they would do if Susilo wanted everyone to become Muslim. “I would go to Singapore.” “I would leave.” “I would move to America.”

These comments were racing through my mind as I talked to Sonya, who hasn’t the means to leave if she wanted to. I asked her what would happen if Susilo enforced the Muslim laws. She told me that this province, which is mostly Christian, would become an independent nation. She said that America and Australia would help them because they (this province) are Christians. “America will come and kill the Muslims before the Muslims kill us. We are bigger than Iraq, and they help them.”

I wanted to say, “Iraq has oil. Most Americans don’t know where North Sulawesi is. There are many places in the world where horrible things are happening and America is doing very little to stop it. A couple of years ago when the Muslims and Christians were fighting in the Mouluccu’s there was no American intervention.”

Instead, I looked unsure and searched for an answer. That prompted, “America will help right? We are Christian, they will help us, right?”

I looked at the woman who had just told me about her son getting beat up at school. I wanted desperately to give her hope. Her life here is hard. She looks up to our great nation as a source of hope. If things get too bad here then America will step in and help. Right? How do you answer this?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Fresh Photos From Our Alternately Exciting and Mundane Home
(If you've sent a package recently, these are for you. If you've not yet,
observe how it's done.)

Click .Mac Home Page then>Critters and Things

Saturday, September 18, 2004

And the rain came. Sometimes when it rains here it’s like a mother patting her child’s head, gentle and comforting. Today the rain is cool and hard. The wind makes the trees in our ‘garden’ dance. We wander through the house, taking note of where the water is coming through the roof.

Today is the first day of our three-day weekend. Monday is another election day, thus a holiday. We have many tasks before us to complete on this long weekend, but today we sit and watch the rain.

This has been a good week, for the most part. I could do with fewer meetings and more understanding among the people in the meetings. In the fourth (but not last) meeting of the week, there were five different nationalities represented. We were all using the same language, but everyone was using it differently. Communication is sometimes a lot of work.

I was sitting in my office one day wondering if I should tell my section coordinator that she has been spelling ‘basis’ wrong (bases). We have been talking about what we should use as our basis for grading for a long time. Every time she sends a memo about it or I see it in other paper work she has prepared, I think of baseball bases. Then I think about all of the students running around bases and the teachers giving them grades for it. While all of this was going through my mind, I hear a fellow teacher start to sing softly. She is often singing, but today her song caught my attention. “Give tanks with a grateful heart...give tanks to the Holy One...” Instantly my mind starts wondering why God would want tanks and where we would get them even if he did want them and how we would get them to God.

I spend quite a bit of time amusing myself with the petty mistakes of the ESL people around me. In all these long meeting we go to, I often find myself wondering exactly how we ‘asses’ the students using the ‘bases’ for grading presented.

Every other week there is a chapel service for the students and by the students. This past week the fourth grade class presented. They sang various songs about hands. One of these songs was “Where is Thumpkin?” They did not leave out the “Where is Tallman?” verse, much to the amusement of the fifth and sixth grade. The song left me quite puzzled. The last verse they sang was “Where is family?”, meaning the whole hand. Now, in every verse the first finger asks the second finger, “how are you today sir?”. What kind of family is this with only five males? I quickly realized that not only had the fourth grade flipped everyone off, they were also presenting homosexual themes. Maybe the school is less conservative than I thought.

“I don’t mind dying so much and doing it all over, I just hate letting Mario down,” said Matt as he plays a game boy and eats beef jerky. This past week we received four boxes. One was from Shane and Dianne and contained books (WOOHOO!), a much needed lint roller, and various interesting cds. The other three were from Matt’s family and contained various DVD’s, a game boy and games, snacks, and Dr. Pepper. Life has normalized. We came home from work yesterday and watched the Simpson sandwich, as it appeared daily on Fox (in Malvern), King of the Hill-Simpson’s-King of the Hill (then some Batman). Then it was time for reading.

Twice a week, I get to teach a class called “Religious and Moral Education.” I was given no materials to use and less than a week’s notice to prepare. That means that most days I just tell a Bible story and then tell the first and second grade students, who understand little of what I say, to love people or something. Yesterday, I told the story of the Good Samaritan to the second grade class. Their assignment was to make a list of three things they could do to help people. One little girl answered, “Tell story to people when the people don’t know the story about Jesus.” I’ll leave you with her bit of wisdom.

For those of you who are dear to our hearts (even more dear after we get mail from you) here is our address:
M. Lumpkin
Manado International School
Jl. Walanda Maramis
Kolongan 95371
Manado 95016
Sulawesi Utara

Phone: 62 431 812 512

Thursday, September 09, 2004

For those of you who keep up with the news: don't worry about us. We are not even on the same island as Jakarta. Where we are is safe. If anything changes where that is not so, we will leave.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

This image is designed to lure you into reading this obscenely long post. If you're more interested in pretty pictures then I suggest you click the .Mac Photo link to the right for more of the volcano hike alluded to herein.


Melody told you of the lecture we endured last Friday night about the Sabbath. I then decided to skip church on “Sun” day as I was invited along on an expedition to hike a nearby volcano called Mohawu (it seems that invitations to go hiking always happen on Sundays) with the whole crew of Seventh Day Adventists from the Crusade team and some of their accompanying national church members. The irony was not lost on me, be sure.

It was a nice hike in the beautiful highlands where the breezes are cool and the air thinner (a little) and the mountainsides cultivated with neat rows of cabbage and carrots. I was torn because I wanted to take them to task for the hasty glossing over of history and cultural complexity they had done a few nights before (as they all deliver the same sermons which are written by someone older back in the states) but I also really liked many of them and it was such a relief to be able to talk in normal vocabulary and feel understood. I didn’t want to argue about something that is so central to their identity because I feared it was impossible to do so without hurt feelings.

On the hike down I became involved in a conversation with an American Adventist pastor who had grown up in Manado but was serving in the States. I was telling him how little I had known about Adventists before I came and how impressed I am with the indigenization of their mission work (nationals of all countries seem to be assimilated into what appears to be a truly global church structure, sort of an international Baptist Convention, for those of us familiar with that metaphor). In fact, as he pointed out, Adventist churches are waning in America and waxing all over the developing world (true of the Church in general, some argue). At some point in the conversation he smiled and said “You’d make a good Adventist too.” To which I smiled and said “Well, you’d have to make a better argument for the Sabbath than I heard the other night.” And then it was on. To his credit, for the most part, he remained civil and detached and we talked about the issue. But he kept throwing in phrases like “it’s about the truth of scripture” implying that any other view denies such truth. At one point he said “I don’t really feel I need to defend the Sabbath as the day of worship as Sunday worship is a change to God’s ordained order. It’s you who should defend the change.” “Well, that’s a clever rhetorical move but we both know that you have nearly 2000 years of church tradition of Sunday worship that you only as recently as 1850 decided was incorrect and you can’t just pretend that almost every other church, in history, and still a majority worship on Sunday.” So there we were. He didn’t like my use of the word “tradition” as such lends dangerous power to evil popes but we both know we read the scripture through lenses called tradition and culture. By this time we had caught up with his wife and a few others who heard that the Sabbath was being questioned and jumped in to his aid with cross sounding voices, tired of arguing for what is so obvious to them and so central to their identity.

And that is what it comes down to, I think, identity. Joel (Anonymous’ husband) asked about the idolatry of emphasizing one aspect of your religious system to an extreme (i.e. the Judaizers of the first century) and I think that is what some Adventists do (though most not to the same extreme). They have adopted aspects of a religious system that is a tremendously powerful source of identity and being connected to that gives them a sense of weight, gravity and adherence to the eternal order of things. It gives them identity over against the rest of a church that (at one time in the sordid denominational history of America) they saw as corrupt, confused or both. “The reformers didn’t go far enough in reclaiming the truth of scripture from the Roman Catholics,” my walking companion said. A very 1850’s sentiment reflecting the characteristic distrust of the Catholic church at that time (which I think is very much alive with some of the SDA today).

The problem is that adopting these traditions they have embraced a law that the early Christians had to struggle to individuate from. At first Judaism and Christianity were sharing synagogues and prayers but there came a time when Christians were no longer welcome and they had to develop and identity, as God’s people, apart from those who had been God’s people for so long before. It was messy and hard and people got hurt and people got mad. You can read about it in Acts 15 (and in Hays and Pate’s book Apocalypse). Gentile Christians especially those who did not worship with Jews before they became Christians (as “God-fearers”) did not keep the law, or know how to, yet they had the Spirit. You can read about it from Paul. But it seems that in search for identity in the midst of and boiling soup of American denominationalism, Seventh Day Adventists looked back to the schoolmaster of the law with a longing eye for a tradition they could hold on to, root to and trust. In doing so, they seemed to have taken on what they were freed from (and they want you too also).

(Stop reading here if you want to continue considering me a thoughtful, balanced, fair-minded individual of uncommon maturity).

Oh, and they believe that Ellen White was a prophet with visions and writings inspired by God but she wouldn’t want you to call her a prophet or elevate her writings above the “greater light” of the established (protestant) canon of scripture. But you technically don’t have to believe any of that to be a part of the church, it says so in the church constitution. But the longer you stay an Adventist, the more likely you are to come around…

Further to their credit, they invited me to pray with them, which was quite enjoyable and many of the (younger) students there seem very committed to their relationship with God and to helping others understand what that means. Also, I had several conversations in which I was sincerely asked for my difference of opinion about the historical development of Sunday worship and listened to, intently. But, to my discredit (or theirs, I’m not sure yet), on the ride home I was tired and not feeling well and generally annoyed by the Ned Flanders-esque aura of campyness that filled our long bus-ride back to Manado, as I overheard more Bible-school songs than I ever care to and statements like: “How could anyone believe in an eternal hell and a loving God? Really.” And all the things that annoy me most about American Christianity came flooding back to me.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

On Toilets, Refills, and Refilling Toilets

I despise going to the “comfort rooms” at the school where we work. I have been known to hold it for hours to avoid using the toilets here, especially if my personal roll of toilet paper is empty. Yes, I have a personal roll of toilet paper. We all do. The bathroom, excuse me, comfort room does not come stocked, thus, if you want it, you bring it. Each stall in the comfort room does come equipped with a sprayer, which you use to wash off the toilet seat (and your seat if you are so inclined) when you are finished because a wet bathroom is a clean bathroom. Sometimes I use it to wash the muddy footprints off of the seat.

Recently in our weekly teacher meeting, we were asked to instruct the students on proper toilet use, i.e. to pee into the toilet instead of on the floor. Since that discussion, I have been even more hesitant to enter the stalls there.

Where we live it is very common to not have water for hours or even days at a time. We have a large tub in our bathroom that we keep filled with water (as do all houses here). We use that water to flush our toilet when needed. I have learned that it takes three scoopers full of water to fill the toilet tank. I have also learned to be aware of where the toilet paper is before splashing water about.

We find ourselves refilling many things here. All liquid soaps come in bags. You buy the container for them once, then you buy the refill. I go to the store and pick up a bag of fabric softener, a bag of dish soap, and a bag of hand soap (all of which are very messy to try to use out of the bag).

At school we are given one board marker in ever color and bottles of ink to refill them. Since acquiring supplies from the office is such a difficult task, when I saw the bottles of ink that I needed the other night when we were in a store, I bought them. I refilled all of my markers the next morning, happy to have three colors (blue, black, and red). The blue marker was writing especially well, so I used it a lot. Usually I have students erase for me after I leave the class, so I didn’t notice that the blue ink was not erasing well.

All day I wrote in blue ink until I finally realized that it was not erasing. I had bought the permanent ink instead of the dry erase ink. I have since gone back and cleaned all of the five boards I wrote on. The worst was in 4th grade. We were studying friendly letters in there and I had written an entire letter on the board—in blue.

Today in 4th grade we talked about thank you notes. The assignment was to think of something nice that someone had done for them and to write a thank you note. I thought I would share this one with you:

“Dear Mrs. Melody Lumpkin,
Thank you very much because ma’am teaching me. And then me smart.”