The First Question

The first question was, “What is the question?” From there everything else would flow.

Definitely my life needed to change. My blueprint had expired for a couple of years. I tried extending it – to no avail. Definitely I needed something new, something fresh. I decided to take a year off – a sabbatical year, a year of praying and thinking, figuring out life.

I applied for scholarships, got a good offer from the Chinese government, and took a leave from work. It was September 2015 when I left for Guangzhou, China. My agenda were twofold: first, to figure out life by praying and thinking; second, to study for an MBA, if only because that’s how I’d make my living for that year, by a generous scholarship granted by the Chinese government.

If I were to draw my spiritual experience in a line graph, it would be an exponential one. The first semester was particularly dry. I got to a point of dryness I never experienced before. One of the factors was the grave level of moral corruption I was exposed to like I had never before. Another was lack of local church community with whom I could connect. Apart from my own spiritual exercises, I got my support only from friends back in Jakarta with whom I’d have a Skype and WhatsApp calls once every several weeks.

Several weeks into the second semester I came into contact with some Christians who ended up becoming a source of great comfort for me as well as almost endless insights and inspirations. In my last two months in Guangzhou I was raised from the depth of the spiritual dryness into an exhilarating spiritual experience like I’ve never experienced before. Don’t get wrong: I’m certain that this latter experience wouldn’t have happened without the times of spiritual dryness. It’s partially and fundamentally because I’ve gone through those early (many!) months of dryness that this latter periode became so intensely exhilarating.

The exponentiality of the experience continued all the way to the day I left Guangzhou and flew back to Jakarta. I had never experienced such friendships, brotherhood, Christian fellowship, and a sense being loved that I experienced among these Christian brothers and sisters I met in Guangzhou. This brought me to the final stage of the exponential sabbatical experience that took place between 6 and 24 July 2016.

On the evening of Wednesday, 6 July, I attended a Bible discussion led by Bruce. We were going through a pericope of the Gospel when I decided to share my observation,

If we realize that a new government is coming and this government that now rules over us is going away, we’d live a totally different manner. Consider how the people of Hong Kong lived in the decade between the time the English government announced they’d hand over Hong Kong back to P.R.C. and the time the hand over actually took place. How did they live?

They realized that the law would change. Also maybe the currency. And the way their lives and their society was ruled. Everything would change. You can imagine, they’d be very worried with the handover.

Now this is about the same for us, but the reverse: for we know that the King who’s coming is ultimately and supremely good, He cares for us, His kingdom and His rule would bring the perfect world for us. If we have this in mind, would we not live our lives differently?

And it struck me. It’s Hebrews 4:12 at work, I suppose, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword … discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” “What about me?” I asked, “Would I not live my life differently?” I was greatly bothered with the illustration I shared that evening. It was in its shadow that I experienced many a shower of kindness and generous gestures of brotherhood and love and friendship leading to the moment of my departure from Guangzhou.

Meanwhile, that first question had hatched into another question, “How do I make the most of the rest of my life?”

All these thoughts, the questions, and my sabbatical year finally reached their culmination in Jakarta on Sunday, 24 July 2016. It was then that I came to the answer: that I should go into full-time front line ministry, a ministry that touches people’s lives and brings the Good News to them.

In that period I was studying Jonah, James, 1Peter, and 1John, back and forth. Across these book and letters, one idea stuck with me: take action. I have been a man of thoughts and ideas, but I tend to despise actions, pretty much like the ancient Greeks, I suppose. It was time for me to decide and to act. The conviction was clear and strong. I would do my part: to go.

Hence my sabbatical year concluded.


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