Rev. Matthew and Kali Wood serve on behalf of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in Indonesia and are based in Medan. Rev. Wood works closely with the Indonesian Christian Lutheran Church (GKLI). He helps train pastors and lay leaders through educational workshops, translation projects, and other efforts in cooperation with the GKLI.
Small talk – some people hate it, some people embrace it. I don’t think anyone truly loves it. If you’re like me typical topics of casual conversation include the weather, sports, traffic, career, or some other non-controversial bit of local news. My wife, Kali, and I quickly learned that in Indonesia the proximity to the equator means that the weather never changes. There are no major sports leagues. Most people don’t own cars. The people—at least the people we work with and encounter regularly—don’t have careers. So our familiar conversation starters don’t work.
A conversation we tend to have with someone we meet for the first time follows a regular pattern. First, we ask about age, “How old are you?” Knowing this we can ask about marriage, “Are you married?” If not, “Why not?” Then on to children, “How many kids do you have?” If no kids yet, “Why not?” From there we ask about the ages of the children, where they go to school, if any of them are married and if there are any grandchildren. Then the conversation can take an interesting turn, because the next question is typically, “What is your religion?” It’s an uncomfortable thing for Americans to talk about, especially with a stranger, but it’s part of an everyday get-to-know-you conversation in Indonesia. Once religion becomes the topic of conversation people are curious to know which church you’re a member of and which congregation you go to.
Not many people where we live in Medan know about the Gereja Kristen Luther Indonesia (GKLI). So, we have a lot of opportunities to talk about what makes the GKLI unique. It’s their dedication to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The GKLI is committed to proclaiming the forgiveness of sins won by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this is frequently the topic of conversation as we wait in line for groceries, ride in a taxi, or have a conversation with a stranger who built up enough courage to say hello to a white guy at the mall. A big part of the work we are doing in Indonesia is training Christians here to faithfully articulate the Gospel so that when religion comes up in conversation—and it often does—they can confidently proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. It is a remarkable opportunity.
Indonesian Christians and culture also teach my family and me. Our family has recently returned to the U.S. for the birth of our fourth child. As casual conversations occur here, I am struck by how quickly I fall into my old pattern. Yet, returning to America, I instinctually avoid it. When the cashier at the car rental counter asks me what my plans are for the weekend, my instincts tell me to say something vague, “Just going to meet friends” or “Going to a work meeting.” When the lady cutting my hair asks me what I do, I know when I answer that I’m a pastor training Indonesians how to talk about their faith, it’s going to doom the rest of the haircut to awkward silence. It takes a lot of effort to break the formula and say, “I am going to Trinity Lutheran to talk about the work God is doing in Indonesia.” It takes even more effort to ask, “Where do you go to church?”
Indonesians taught me that people can talk about religion and that such conversations are not all that intimidating. God worked through this cross-cultural interaction in Indonesia to reveal a way the Gospel hope can bubble over in my everyday life. It’s still awkward sometimes, but what is that compared to the eternal joys of knowing Christ Jesus the Lord?
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
Christ Jesus defeated death and the grave by His death and resurrection, and He promises to bring the same resurrection and victory over death when He returns in glory. He preserves us and keeps us in the one true faith through the constant forgiveness of sins, which He proclaims through His holy Church. That’s our hope.
How could you reveal the hope that is in you as you respond to a simple question like, “What do you do?”
What kinds of opportunities to proclaim the Gospel come up in your casual conversations? What changes could you make to your casual conversations so that you have more opportunities to reflect the hope that is in you?
Heavenly Father, by the forgiveness of sins You have given us the eternal hope of Your Son’s victory over death and the grave. Continue to fill us with Your Holy Spirit so that we may grow ever more confident in the hope we have and let that confidence fill our everyday casual conversation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Written by Rev. Matthew Wood
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Thanks from the Gospel Outreach Committee!