Practicing Language With My Grab Driver Who Is Also a Charismatic Pastor

Grab is the Indonesian (Southeastern Asia, really) equivalent of Uber. It’s practically pennies to get back and forth to most anywhere in the sprawling city of Medan and a lifesaver when every day the temperature and humidity wrestle with one another for dominance.

I was invited by the waitress at the restaurant across the street from our apartment in downtown Medan to visit the restaurant/bar/karaoke/concert venue across town where her boyfriend bartends. Social invitations are pretty much non-existent, and I try to maintain an attitude of just-say-yes to whatever opportunities present themselves as we attempt to make this city and island and nation our home. So I put on a batik shirt (formal wear in these parts) and climbed into the Grab car when it arrived for the 30-minute drive across town.

Immediately the driver’s excitement at telling me my own name clued me in he was going to be interested in talking. Sure enough, he speaks good English and is excited to talk with a Westerner. But I have to admit his opening question caught me by surprise.

Tell me, Pak (mister/sir – a male title of respect and/or acknowledgment of age) are you a pastor?

This is one of the most striking things about Indonesia thus far. Religious beliefs are not something to be ashamed of and tucked away out of polite society. Religion is front and center here. Granted the most dominant expression is Muslim, whether it takes the form of head scarves or the call to prayer five times each day. But Medan is also a Christian enclave in this predominantly Muslim country and there are many Christians here. Christians who are not afraid to talk about their faith knowing the odds are good the person they’re talking to may not have heard about Christ.

It’s beautiful but I have to admit uncomfortable. I’m certainly not immune to the secular programming rampant in the US for the last 50 years. I can identify it but remaining untouched by it is nearly impossible without the risk of driving others away before we have a chance to create a connection or a relationship. Religion is not safe conversation in the US (what is safe conversation in the US any more though?).

I responded without much pause No, I am not a pastor. Which is true. I’m grateful to Lutheran approaches to this subject. I’m ordained, and therefore eligible to be a pastor. I have been a pastor. Perhaps I will be one again some day. But I’m not a pastor now. Not without a congregation and a Call. Right now, I’m struggling to learn a language and find my feet in a new hemisphere and a new city and nation.

But my driver was a pastor. Charismatic. And thrilled to be talking with a Christian if not a pastor. He had me look up his YouTube channel where he posts videos of worship services, preaching and singing. Then he sang me a song he wrote in English and Indonesian based on 2 Timothy 2:13. He had questions regarding my faith background, recognizing my faith tradition was just that – far more traditional than his. But we celebrated that though our ways of worshiping might be different we were united in Christ and could look forward not simply to the possibility of running into each other again in Medan but an eternity of celebration.

The 30 minute drive was fascinating. It was a great opportunity to practice my stumbling bahasa Indonesia skills and he was gracious and willing to correct when I erred. He had the chance to use his English. And to sing. It was a good exchange overall. We swapped WhatsApp numbers and he promised to take my family and I to various places around the island. Whether that happens or not I have no idea. I just tried to say yes when he asked for my WhatsApp, rather than close it off based on any number of factors.

Just say yes has been a constant theme for our family over the past year now. Not always easy but certainly it has led us into experiences and relationships we would never have known had we just said no, even if no seemed far more preferable! God is indeed faithful. I trust my pastor-Grab driver was able to both preach and sing about that this morning!

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