Bumpy Roads

Rev. Isaac Varner | December 18, 2013

Participants in a CWS Therapeutic Feeding Center in Indonesia. Photo: Vy Nguyen/CWS

Participants in a CWS Therapeutic Feeding Center in Indonesia. Photo: Vy Nguyen/CWS

As originally published by Irreverin, December 10, 2013

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together…” –Isaiah 40:3-5

Travel tip: If you find yourself in Indonesia needing to travel somewhere, do not attempt to drive yourself. Hire a local; someone familiar with the roads, the traffic laws, and more importantly, the unwritten traffic code.

I was blessed to be part of a delegation that traveled to Indonesia to see the efforts of Church World Service in that country. Our denomination partners with CWS to extend Christ’s love and compassion to the entire world. While CWS does provide emergency relief to those in need, in Indonesia we witnessed some of their long-term projects and development work.

In order to get to some of these communities where life-changing work is in progress, we had to drive long distances. Many of the roads we traveled were just wide enough that two vehicles could pass each other.  Barely. Then consider these roads took us up into the mountains, with all the blind curves that entails. While a few guardrails did exist, the majority of the time when looking out my window I could see straight down the mountain. Granted, we would hit lots of trees on the way down… Oh, and it was also raining the day we went up the mountain. Fun.

Moreover, though traffic laws and regulations exist in Indonesia, they are more widely seen as suggestions. Like, those lines on the road probably indicate where you should drive, but hey, it’s not set in stone or anything. Hence, the importance of local, knowledgeable drivers. They are aware of the unwritten codes of the road, like the importance of honking your horn.

You beep to let the car in front of you know you’re passing them, whether they like it or not. You beep to let that car know you are unhappy with their speed, or paint job, or attitude. You beep as you go around corners, hopefully averting disaster if everyone stays in the lines. Or you beep in rhythem along with Christmas carols, as one driver did. These drivers know the vernacular of the road.

Our capable drivers could also read the road like Braille. The government of Indonesia has made herculean efforts to connect the country by roadways, which is a tall order considering the mountainous and remote terrain. The tropical climate leads to constant drainage problems, that in turn causes potholes or even washed out sections. Professional drivers know the warning signs of these sections, are aware of the capabilities of their vehicle, and keep in mind their cargo, especially delicate and whiny Americans. I think all of the drivers we had the pleasure of riding with excelled at this task.

One night as our delegation was debriefing the day’s events, one member commented on the importance of roads and how they served as connections between people and communities. Roads we traveled served as conduits of humanity, materials, and even mission. The work CWS does, as challenging as it already is, may not be possible without roads, paved or not, to these small and isolated communities.

During this season of Advent, as we anxiously await Emmanuel, God with us, I am reminded that we are called to action as well. We have been challenged to prepare the way of the Lord, to build a highway, to smooth out the land. What if that call means we should be connecting far flung communities so we might all share in the abundance of creation, like CWS strives to do? What if it means we should literally help fix the roads in the rundown parts of our own towns, allowing better access for services and opportunities? What if it means we should lay the foundation for peace between political parties, or hostile nations, or even estranged family members or friends? What wilderness do you find yourself in that could benefit from a highway where Jesus might walk?

Even if the task of building highways through the wilderness overwhelms us, we can at least learn the ways of the road. We can identify those areas that have been washed out, guide others through the challenging spots, and advocate for those at the end of the road, unable to give voice themselves. Maybe preparing the way of the Lord means we have to be drivers on the roads in our community and our world–which so desperately needs the Good News.

As we prepare ourselves this Advent, remember to honk your horn if you love Jesus.

Rev. Isaac Varner serves as minister for Capilla del Sol Christian Church in Tucson, AZ. Eternally optimistic, and always smiling, Isaac enjoys seeking God everywhere– in movies, nature, silence, and relationships. He’s married to Cherie Walkley, whose ministry is speech language pathology. Isaac’s other passions are creative worship, congregational vitality and transformation, social justice, postmodernism, sci-fi and fantasy, and nurturing his sweet tooth. Isaac recently returned from a trip to Indonesia with CWS.