We were in Surabaya for a couple of days before we were able to get to our core purpose for being there. Make no mistake, we had quite a ride of experiences a long the way – stories for a lifetime; ones that I have to unravel just a little more before telling them.
We ended up funding and participating in five outreaches: A Christmas party for the transgendered population of Surabaya, which seems like a very large group when you gather them all in one place; a population of severely poor mothers and children coping with HIV; a massive group of disabled children; there was also an all faith’s welcome Christmas celebration and; a celebration of friendship and reconciliation between the Christian and Muslim communities in Surabaya. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a part of the last two events but understand that they were amazing. I was a part of a Christian/Muslim reconciliation ceremony a couple of years ago. It was truly one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I’ve documented it here: Beautiful Reconciliation.
On Tuesday afternoon, we made our way to the house that Pondok Kasih is calling a transitional home for the cemetery sex workers. Really, it is just the tiny place that our friend Lexi, who works with this precious population, lives with his wife and son. Transitional home or not, his house is a place of service to these women and their children. The kids were crammed into a less than 100 square foot area downstairs while their moms attended an entrepreneurship class upstairs.
As I climbed the steep and narrow staircase to tiny room on the second level, I peaked above the floor and saw Lala, the leader of this group of women that work the cemetery. She is both easy and hard to miss. Standing at well under five feet tall with a crippled leg, she has a personality that fills the room. She had her back to me as I surfaced just above the floor. Not knowing who we would see when we arrived, I was genuinely surprised and delighted that she was there. I called out her name, “Lala!” She sprung up and gave me a hug. I introduced her to our group. There were easily 30 women crammed into the room – all of their faces familiar. We had spent the morning assembling packages for each of them and their children. We were anticipating the celebration that evening.
The celebration didn’t disappoint. While our original vision had moved on from an actual gala in the cemetery, I had still envisioned a banquet style gathering with the women being served dinner around tables, the sheer number of invitees demanded something different. The invitation was expanded beyond the cemetery to include a low-rent brothel district near-by. There were almost 300 in attendance. All of them came with invitations in hand.
While the specific moments of this event and those before and after include stories for a lifetime, I’m surprised by what I was most moved by. I already love this population, so my expectation was that it would be overwhelmingly special to be with them in this context; certainly, it was. But more than anything, I was really moved and amazed by the group that went with us. They just dug in for all it was worth and squeezed the life out of every single moment. Sisters, Valerie Bellamy and Catherine Vanlandingham dove in with the children in every setting and never came up for air. Tim and Monica Stamets were the greeting crew for every outreach. Tom Opitz led, encouraged, prayed, and guided us all through extended evenings of ministry that were, guaranteed, like nothing any of the group had ever experienced. Jarae Opitz was with us too. I saw her face a sense of sincere privilege as we were asked to receive any in the crowd who wanted to be prayed for. It truly was a privilege – for all of us.
I was sad to depart from this group. I headed back to the States as they moved on to North Sulawesi to visit Ruth’s House and join our survivors for outreach activity to a couple of local orphanages. It is my understanding that the girls, the staff, and the team fell in love with each other at once – that it was a party waiting to happen. I so wish I could have been there.