March 2016 – Sowing Clover
In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter, war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.
Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,
In the dark of the moon we recently experienced a total eclipse of the sun in Indonesia. The puny, little, darkened moon blotted out the sun. That day many Muslims gathered to say extra “solar eclipse prayers.” Hindus carried out rituals to ensure that the sun would come back and Christians gathered to pray. Farsijana and I made a homemade box camera to watch the sun be gradually swallowed by the moon. Farsijana felt joy and excitement at the rare event and wanted to share it with others. After over a year’s absence from Facebook, she finally logged on again, much to the delight of her many followers. In a nation where most people live in a sacred cosmos, many people saw the eclipse as an omen. In Indonesia individuals are embedded in their communities, communities are embedded in nature, nature is embedded in a greater reality of spirits. Natural events have social meaning and all of it rests in the hands of God. Even if scientists can predict and explain the eclipse, that doesn’t tell us what it means. An eclipse is part of a story and may be a sign of major changes happening on the earth.
There is no flying snow or dead of winter in Indonesia. We have only two seasons: wet-hot and dry- hot. All year round the temperature hovers between 78 and 82 degrees F. This year the wet season has not been so wet and the temperatures are hotter than usual. “El Niño” brought rain to California and drought to Indonesia. The farmers felt desperate. When the first rains fell, they planted cassava, corn, peanuts and rice. But many of the crops died, as the expected rains failed to fall. Yet the villagers still give thanks to God, who provides enough to eat and communities that are safe. Wars may be spreading in Syria; families may be dying in Brussels; the world may be in danger from the rise of hatred, fear and fascism, but the people in Gunung Kidul (Southern Mountains), Java, walk the rocky hillsides sowing clover and searching for grass to feed their goats.
We are also sowing clover. We cannot solve the world’s problems, but we can share hope: the love of God that we experience at Easter. Farsijana is an expert at finding four-leaf clovers. I can search for hours and never see a single one. She just glances down and picks one up. She’s also great at sowing hope. In our city, there is a lot of wealth: fancy cars, huge shopping malls, 5-star hotels and gourmet restaurants. But just an hour’s drive away the people trudge the rocky hillsides under the burning sun to earn $4 a day from hard labor. We have First World problems, like the struggle to find funding for our projects. But nearby are those that struggle to survive, scrambling to find enough to eat and money to keep their children in school.
Local farmers are used to selling the products of their toil for rock-bottom prices to merchants, who then process them, package them and sell them for a substantial profit in the city. Farsijana has been helping women villagers see how they can process and package the food they grow so that, with a
little work, it can be sold for much more than the raw materials. Mother Suginem was so excited when she learned she could process the peanuts she grew to make them more valuable. She exclaimed happily: “I’ll make these peanut cakes again. They are easy to cook. I can also make peanut butter. Finally we have new knowledge from Mother Farsijana.”
Mother Suginem is a member of our co-op in the House of Authentic Sense. She and her village friends named their group “the eleven,” because they include 11 members who work together. To make processed foods, they each gathered a pound of peanuts from their own harvest. Everyone contributes a dollar in cash to buy other ingredients and packaging materials. Sometimes they make up to 400 percent profit selling snacks and food that is ready to eat, over what they would receive by just selling the raw materials. They will not become rich, but they can now earn enough to feed their families. Twinkling eyes and huge smiles lit up the faces of the women as Farsijana explained how they can apply to the government for health certification to sell their products more widely.
On the rocky hillsides of Gunung Kidul there are now spectacular flashes of many colors among the jagged rocks. The orchids are blooming, which Farsijana helped the women plant. The monkeys leave the flowers alone, since we’ve provided a source of water for them. Loving our Muslim neighbors, finding ways to live naturally in the world, sharing the amazing love of God, breaking down barriers between Muslims and Christians, and helping strengthen the subsistence economy of villagers will not end war, terrorism, global warming, poverty or prejudice. It is just sowing clover on a rocky hillside. But it is a whole lot more joyful than living in fear. As W. H. Auden said, “We must love each other or die.”
Our work in Indonesia is made possible by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We are so thankful for friends and churches who support us financially, emotionally and in prayer. Please consider joining this group by praying for us, writing to us or sending a donation. We will be in the U.S.A. during June, July and August 2016. We would love to visit you. Please let us know if you would welcome a visit.