sunset photo with boats

Story by: Rebecca Sauder ’20 for AP Composition class in 2019 and was recently featured in Bridges alumni magazine. In this personal essay she reflects on her time in Indonesia with Mennonite Children’s Choir of Lancaster (MCCL).

As we stepped off the stuffy, crowded bus, a fresh breeze blew my hair away from my face. I stood for a few seconds gazing at the beautiful scene around me. There were palm trees stretching up past the roof of the church that swayed gracefully in the breeze. Everywhere around me were motorbikes parked in a gravel parking lot and close by, and a white tent was set up with a display of more food than we could ever eat. White rice, stuffed shrimp, fried squid, shrimp crackers, fried vegetables, and spicy green beans lined the tables. As I watched, dozens of people spilled out the church doors to greet us. Being a very small town in a fairly unvisited country, it was a big deal to have thirty-five Americans coming to visit. 

Soon we were all asked to come and eat, so after a short prayer, said by the pastor of the church, we dug in. The food was incredible. Every bite brought new flavors and the smell made our mouths water. Eventually, after at least two or three plates of food, everyone was ushered inside the air conditioned auditorium where we began to get host family assignments. As we sat in the pews, I glanced around, noticing the happy smiles on every person’s face. In the summer of 2017, I had the incredible opportunity to take an overseas trip to Java, Indonesia with the Mennonite Children’s Choir of Lancaster on our summer tour. About halfway through the trip, we arrived by bus at a large Mennonite church in the small town of  Banyutowo, Indonesia. 

A few moments after entering the church, my director called my name for me to meet my host family. I walked up to the front of the church where I met a couple and their two children, Marselia who was 17 and Kristan who was 10. This was going to be my host family for the next few days. We walked outside to find the pastor unloading our luggage from the bus. I looked around and found my horrendous polka dotted suitcase which my host dad heaved onto the back of his motorbike and Kristan climbed on the front. I climbed on their other motorbike behind Marselia and we were off. I laughed as I rode, feeling completely free as the wind rushed through my hair. I gripped Marselia tighter and she laughed as we flew past the beach. The small neighborhood that we turned into was lined with fishing nets hanging out to dry and small houses along the dirt road. Marselia pulled over in front of a lime green house with a purple roof. I walked inside to where my luggage was waiting in a small room with little space around the double bed. Momentarily, Marselia walked into the room and waved her hand for me to follow her. We walked out into the living room where a green couch sat with a small coffee table in front of it. 

“You can sit if you like,” she said in broken English. I sat down and was surprised when Marselia left and returned with a huge bowl of fruit. “Would you like?” she asked and I nodded, motioning for her to sit down and join me. As we sat there in near silence, I realized that these people didn’t have much, but were using what they did have to help others and host me. Marselia gave up her bedroom for me to stay in and they borrowed a second motorbike from their neighbor for transportation. They even took a day off from work to come and meet me. Their generosity amazed me and I felt so grateful for their hospitality.

The next morning, I was awakened at 4:30 by Kristan’s shouting, “Sunrise, sunrise!” I got up and walked outside to the porch where the whole family was waiting, along with two of their cousins and their aunt, to walk down to the beach for the sunrise. We began walking down the dirt road, and I suddenly felt a tug on my skirt. One of my host families’ young cousins held out her hands for me to carry her. I picked her up and she began playing with my long light brown hair. I smiled and she giggled shyly. We continued to walk down the slightly sandy road, until we reached a wooden dock. Marselia pointed at a group of duck-shaped paddle boats to our left and asked if I wanted to come, so I walked over with her and we climbed into a boat. We pushed off from the dock and sat in the middle of the water as we saw the sun begin to rise.

A moments later, the sun peeked out from the sea and shot lines of pink and orange across the sky that were reflected beautifully in the graceful ocean. The darkness seemed to disappear suddenly and the sky became various shades of bright and beautiful colors. I sighed, and Marselia smiled happily, knowing this was not a common sight for me.

That night, after a long day of rehearsals and concerts, and after my host family had picked me up from their church again, I arrived home to a meal on the porch of shrimp, crab, and lobster, along with rice and fried vegetables. We sat down to eat, and as I ate, I realized suddenly that this was my last night with this family. For the next few hours, we played made up games, ate food and snacks together, showed each other pictures, and just sat in each other’s presence. And suddenly, it was time for me to go to bed. I awoke the next morning bright and early, sadly realizing that I had to pack my bags to continue our trip.

The morning passed in a blur of clothes, breakfast, towels, and bedding. And too soon, it was time to go. Again, my host father loaded our luggage onto his motorbike and I climbed on behind Marselia. We rode back in silence, both sad about needing to separate, and as soon as we arrived, Marselia broke into tears. My eyes blurred as we were forced to say our goodbyes. After less than three days, these people who had welcomed me into their home, already held a bit of my heart and felt like a second family to me.

Every time you meet a new person, a connection is made. Whether that connection comes through sports, music, food, or similar hobbies, it is important to find ways to communicate without just the basic language we speak. Meeting Marselia and all the people in Indonesia taught me that there are thousands of other ways to connect with people, even when you don’t speak the same language. With this in mind, I now see the world in a different light. It has pushed me to make friends that I never thought I’d make and to think in ways I hadn’t thought before. But most importantly, it has taught me to find something lovely in each and every person I meet.