When I moved from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Philadelphia, PA, I was worried that I would become out of touch with my Indonesian culture. However, I was delighted by the richness of the Indonesian community in Philadelphia. I had no issues finding Indonesian pantry ingredients, Indonesian restaurants, and even an Indonesian congregation.
I always knew that I wanted to be a part of a community, and I was looking for a church that I could grow and thrive in. Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) was the first congregation that I attended after arriving in Philadelphia, and I have been there for almost a decade. Through this church, I was introduced to the idea of being a Mennonite and to Anabaptist values. I was baptized in the church’s basement in 2016.
PPC is one of the many Indonesian congregations in Mosaic Conference. Outside of PPC, there are two other Indonesian congregations in South Philadelphia, as well as others in New York and California. It was only after I started working for Mosaic Conference that I realized that there are Mennonites in Indonesia, and I’m elated that the Mennonite World Conference Assembly in 2022 will be in Semarang, Indonesia.
Although I was transformed and changed after my decision of following Christ, I never felt like I needed to shed my Indonesian culture or completely reinvent my identity. I feel welcome to carry my history, background, and culture along with me on my journey with Christ. And now, I would like to share some things that I treasure from the Indonesian culture that I still carry with me every day.
“Bhinekka Tunggal Ika”
“Bhinekka Tunggal Ika” is Indonesia’s motto. It meant “unity in diversity” in the Kawi language.
My husband and I are both from Indonesia, but I can speak a totally different language that he wouldn’t understand. While Bahasa Indonesia is the national language of Indonesia, there are over 300 native languages in Indonesia. There are many people in the country that can speak a second, or even third, language. I learned Bahasa Jawa (Javanese), when I was growing up.
More than language, we can see the multifaceted parts of Indonesia reflected through cuisines, customs, traditions, or even “batik” from different regions and ethnic groups. And these differences are seen as beautiful and are what unites us. I was reminded of the passage from Romans that spoke similarly about this:
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Rom. 12:4-5, ESV)
Indonesia has a very communal culture, from the way we make decisions to the way we do things. In Bahasa Indonesia, “gotong royong,” is frequently used. The word “gotong” means “to carry” and “royong” means “together/with many people.”
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, ESV)
“Gotong royong” teaches me that we need to help each other to survive and is a great way to show Christ’s love to others.
As a little girl, my mom taught me to never arrive empty handed. In Indonesia culture, whenever we visit someone, we always bring something, “oleh-oleh,” (small gifts) or “buah tangan,” (the fruit of the hand).
It can be a kitchen magnet or a food item. “Oleh-oleh/buah tangan” shows that you remembered someone and wanted to share a bit of your experience with them.
Just like the fruit of the Spirit, we can instill love, joy, peace, and kindness in others through the “fruit” of our hands.
These practices have been a part of the Indonesian culture for a long time, and I am grateful for this opportunity to share some pieces from back home. It was no coincidence that this world is woven together by so many different cultures and languages, and I am looking forward to how God will continue to transform and unite us through our differences.
The full version of this article appeared in MC USA’s blog and is used here by permission.