Our First Ramadan

A beautiful sunset Saturday night from the east side of Medan…

Of course it’s not really our first Ramadan. Ramadan has been celebrated for over a thousand years. We heard more about it in the US over the past few years but even so it remained a very distant affair. Important to adherents of the third largest religion in the US (assuming you don’t count secular humanism, I trust!), but with Muslims representing just about 1% of the US population as a whole Ramadan didn’t create many ripples in larger culture. I don’t remember seeing Ramadan-related advertising or store displays.

But here in Indonesia where Muslims constitute roughly 80% of the population, Ramadan is a big deal. There is so much for us to learn. For instance, to prepare for massive crowds in public places and grocery stores, in preparation for large family meals and celebrations at the beginning and end of the month-long event. Medan is a big and dense city but it is noticeably busier this weekend as Ramadan begins. Here it began today, Sunday, despite it starting Saturday in other places. It depends on whether the crescent moon can be sighted visually and this results in differing responses in different places.

The grocery store sprouted huge tables full of pre-packaged fruit baskets, a popular gift during Ramadan when gift-giving is an integral part of celebrations. Our apartment building sprouted green Ramadan symbols hanging from the ceiling of the lobby. Food stands sprout up each day to sell sweet snacks to Muslims starting in the afternoon. They take them home and save them until the evening and enjoy them as the first taste after a day without food.

Our Grab driver this morning commented this was the first day of fasting. From this I keenly deduced that we were being driven to church by a Muslim – probably not for the first time but the first time such a discussion was possible as he spoke good English. It gave me a chance to query him about the appropriate way to wish Muslims well during Ramadan, and he concurred that Selamat Ramadan would certainly get the point across acceptably.

It was also a palpable reminder that loving our neighbor often means setting aside our own preferences in order to interact with others in a way that ultimately, hopefully reflects the love of Christ for them. Here and now, that means not carrying our water bottles visibly as we walk around, since Muslims don’t drink anything (or eat) between sunrise and sunset. Restaurants that remain open during the day put shades in their windows or otherwise attempt to ensure Muslims passing by won’t be unduly tempted by the sight of their non-Muslim neighbors enjoying lunch or coffee during the day. In a place as hot and humid as Medan an all-day fast from food and drink is no small feat of physical as well as spiritual discipline! I can imagine the celebrative atmosphere that must reign at the end of the day in Muslim homes as the sky turns dark and people gather together to break their fast.

Please pray with us for our neighbors here in Medan, the vast majority of whom are celebrating Ramadan this month. This year it overlaps with our celebration of Christ’s victory over death on Easter Sunday, as well as the Jewish celebration of Passover. The three major monotheistic religions all celebrating high festivals at the same time. It provides our family with good opportunities to talk together about how to pray and love our neighbors as we respect their practices and seek appropriate ways to share the Good News of Jesus. Such discussions are even more obviously important now as we are decidedly a minority in our new home. This becomes even more real (and exciting!) as we anticipate moving into our home sometime in the coming weeks and starting the process of meeting our neighbors who will (we pray!) be respectful and kind as we struggle to communicate with them in bahasa Indonesia. To God be the glory in all these things, now and always!

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