Tuesday, September 18, 2018

ASSEMBLY POINT

Lauren had fallen asleep, but I was still awake, lying in the bed reading. I could feel her turn over and rustle around, trying to find a comfortable position. I kept reading, but I was surprised that she was still rolling around in the bed. I looked over to see if she was awake. I was quite surprised by what I saw. She had not woken up. She had not moved. And yet, the bed was still shaking. If she wasn’t shaking it, what was? As the situation began to sink in, I realized there was an even more pertinent mystery to solve: what was shaking the entire hotel room? 

We were on the island of Bali for a meeting with our organization, and we stayed afterwards for a few days of vacation. About two weeks before we arrived in Bali, a couple of powerful earthquakes struck Lombok, the next island over, causing significant damage. We knew it was possible that there would be more in the area. And late on the first night of our vacation, that possibility turned into reality. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck near Lombok and was felt in Bali.



The shaking was strong enough to wake Lauren. We peeked into the hallway and saw guests pouring out of their rooms. We entered the groggy flow of people and made our way outside. Once outside, we stood near the big green “Assembly Point” sign. These signs mark places to come together during emergencies. The Assembly Point signs all over the place are eerie reminders that no matter how much fun you’re having on this famously beautiful island, you are still sitting on the Ring of Fire, and earthquakes can happen any time. After a few minutes, the hotel staff told us it was fine to go back inside. During the rest of our vacation in Bali, there were a few more aftershocks, but we never again had to visit the big green Assembly Point sign.

As I reflect on my time in Bali, I keep remembering this Assembly Point sign. In fact, for me Bali was like a metaphorical assembly point. It was also an assembly of colleagues from across Asia gathered for the CBF Asia meeting. We told stories, encouraged each other, laughed, shared our struggles. And we had a business meeting or two. Can’t ever get out of those, I suppose. But all of it, from the sharing time with teammates to the business meetings, helped me see how I fit into the big picture of the global work we are participating in together.

One night during the meeting, a local took us on a tour of his village and then did a cooking class with us. Calling it a cooking class is a bit misleading. Rather, our guide would hand some of us a plate of herbs and tell us to chop. He told another group to stir and another group to slice. He would call for two people to mix in the kitchen, two more to squeeze some leafy greens, two more to fry tempeh (he also would call for one person at a time to take pictures of what was going on because if he’s learned anything about Americans, it’s that they love pictures of their food). Each of us contributed one or two things, and none of us saw the whole picture. We could only guess what would end up on our plates at the end, and we didn’t always know exactly which items we had contributed to. But the end result—the “assembly point” of all those ingredients and all that work—was alarmingly good.


Another night, we learned to play the gamelan. The gamelan is a traditional percussion ensemble used for ceremonies and festivals. I was assigned to a small instrument like a xylophone with only ten bars. I was told to play the same two notes over and over. They were clangy and repetitive. Then after each of us had practiced our individual parts, we put all the instruments together. When those discordant notes came together, they made music. At this assembly point, things which did not seem beautiful, came together to create haunting, complex, shimmering music. Again, the big picture was made clear at the assembly point.


My daily life is mostly consumed with the small picture. I learn Khmer vocabulary, write a sermon, fill the car up with gas, write a quarterly report that I send into the ether, have coffee with a partner, or any of the other tasks that make up my ministry here. Just like squeezing spinach or banging on two notes of the gamelan, they don’t seem like much. How could the chef use all these small efforts to make a banquet? How could the gamelan conductor use all these discordant notes to make music? How could God use all these small tasks to make a ministry? And yet—defying all laws of logic and physics—meals, music and ministry arise out of these efforts. I pray that you too would be richly rewarded by the assembly points of your efforts to serve God, even if they are a long time coming. I also pray thatlike us, you would be blessed by assemblies of people—teams, communities, family—who would encourage you on your journey.

Learning to trust that my small efforts contribute to God's big picture was the main lesson of my time in Bali. But there was one final lesson to be gleaned from my visit to the big green assembly point sign. I learned that Cambodia does not sit on any fault lines. I learned that, no matter how many difficulties come from living in Cambodia, at least I don't have to worry about earthquakes. I enjoyed my visit to Bali, but it felt great to be back on solid ground in my home sweet home.