Early December. Malls in big cities began to echoing the Christmas Carols. “Red and green” accessories were scattered as far as the eye can see; even the stores offer big discounts for almost the whole products. Christmas celebrations were carried out on large-scale, synonymous with the long holiday.
Some churches also celebrate Christmas, ranging from the simplest to the most “magnificent”. On Christmas Eve, the church is usually full. The number of churches exploded over the previous weeks. Parking is also full. Buildings, restaurants, up to artists rented out for Christmas. Christmas trees, Santa Claus, the gifts and all kinds of other materials completed the stories of happiness with loved ones.
I am a Christian who likes Christmas. It always gives me spirit and memory of the birth of Jesus Christ. Gather with loved ones while exchanging gifts is also a great pleasure. But the celebration also brought my memory on those who celebrate Christmas in the midst of poverty and hardship.
I always wanted to drop my tears while remember my experience at Gagemba, a small village in Intan Jaya District located at the central mountainous region of Papua, mid years ago. At that time, I went with the Flying Doctors doctorSHARE to perform medical services.
It took half a day to fly from Jakarta to Sugapa, the capital of Intan Jaya district. Using motorcycle, we took more than two hours from Sugapa to Gagemba through a bumpy and muddy road. My hand was bleeding because I had to hold the body with one hand while the other one had to keep holding the camera to take documentation. The rocks scattered along the road.
Gagemba Village is surrounded by mountains. The village quite isolated and of course it did not have health facilities. To get primary health services, they must travel with difficult terrain through various valleys and hills. A human life was cheap, even worthless.
A place we can live just an old church. Altar, tables, chairs and walls consist of simple timber. Animals such as dogs and pigs can enter the church whenever they want. No musical instruments. Please forget the fancy sound system with expensive brands that we usually see in the urban churches.
Then, I was stunned while a pastor said that we are the first medical team in their history. Holding back his tears, the pastor gave thanks to Lord and quoting a verse from Psalm 121: 1-3 (NIV): “I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber.”
I immediately looked around. Yes, Gagemba Village was surrounded by mountains. I cannot imagine how many generations kept praying and praying to God, hoping help will come out of nowhere. The old church became eyewitnesses of the millions of prayers and hymn sung from the deepest heart.
End of November, in the same year (2015), the team returned to Intan Jaya to provide medical services. Ugimba district chosen to be the location. My friend, dr. Karnel Singh, describing their journey as a “nightmare”. They have to risk their life to climb extreme terrain for 13 hours and 15 minutes without rest. The Flying Doctors coordinator, dr. Riny Sari Bachtiar, MARS said: “No helicopter? No problem. If God want us to use our feet to serve the community, we are ready!”
In the midst of a very remarkable exhaustion in conquering steep cliffs, rivers, tree roots and large rocks, the team did not give up because they always remember their purpose: to serve Ugimba people that never visited by a doctor in their history. Although the team acknowledged that they may not fully meet the needs of health services, their presence have become a Christmas gift.
In fact, Ugimba is the last district to the Carstensz, one of the seven highest mountain peaks in the world. This is not about social activities traveling once a year to welcome Christmas. Professional climbers called the hiking trail in this location as the third hardest track in the world. The doctors are not climbers. They risked their lives to serve Papuan people that have been marginalized for centuries.
On the other hand, churches at big cities enjoy great music and dramas, sometimes at magnificent building. Again, there is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of the Savior but it would be sad if Christmas only became an annual celebration to satisfy desires to be served by a variety of events, not to serve others who need our attention.
Santa Claus, gifts, food and discount has absolutely even dramas nothing to do with the birth of the Savior. Jesus was born into this world to save people, to lift up the oppressed from their black hole, valued them as a human. He himself gives an example to love God and love the neighbor as himself. He was not born to establish a ritual religion. He comes to shares His love for everybody.
It is time for the church to stop thinking about “me, myself and I” and start to have an impact beyond the four walls of the church. This is the meaning of being salt and light. If not, the Church is like a social gathering group which busy about their own affairs, in the name of God.
Christmas time is a momentum for us to be a gift for others, especially for those who are marginalized. In the simplest way, we can do a lot of things to make ourselves a Christmas. They need to feel the presence of the Savior through the touch of our hands.
My experience at Gagemba Village makes my Christmas overshadowed by the faces and voices of those who cry for help behind the mountains. This experience encouraged me to have determination to always be a Christmas gift for others, wherever I go. I hope this spirit continues to live, along my age.
I believe God wants to express His love to those who are marginalized, through us. Finally, I pray that we will be a blessing for others wherever and whenever we are, a passion that goes beyond the church walls and Christmas rituals in December. The next step is to make it happen.
* * *
This writing is the original version of edited version published by The Jakarta Post:
“Away from Christmas and the church’s walls” (Tuesday, 22 Dec 2015)
Photo Illustration: Christmas in Aceh by bharatanews.com