Easter in Bandung

When a girl has two bags to lug around and seven hours to kill in an unfamiliar city, the easiest solution is to go to the mall where there is usually both free internet and a movie theater. Which was why I found myself in a Bandung mall at 10:00 AM on Easter Sunday.

Bandung, from what I’ve gathered, is a big city with a lot of shopping. The Dutch favored it for its cooler weather, and today many Jakartans flock to the city for holidays. Since Jakarta is stereotypically filled with malls, it makes sense that Bandung is also preoccupied with clothes and shopping.

That said, the mall I entered was not exactly what I’d expected. I pictured something like the fancy mall in Yogya—Levis and Crocs and other brand-name stores. Not the case. Instead, this mall was filled with a lot of small stores selling clothes. I also found, to my delight, a few stores selling Christianity-themed décor. A 3-D version of the Last Supper? I’d buy that. (Luckily the store was closed at ten in the morning.)

By the time I’d made it to the top floor and the movie theater, I’d flipped through an Indonesian translation of Manga Messiah, admired 3-D pictures of Mary flanked by angels, and located the food court. The mall was still fairly deserted, but when the escalator deposited me on the top floor, I was greeted by a crowd of people all entering what was labeled as the convention center.

I went to investigate the movie theater and found it closed. So much for watching The Hunger Games at 10:15 on a Sunday morning. Making my way back to the escalator, I took a closer look at the convention center. The sign outside the door listed church service times.

I stopped. If I hadn’t had to carry around my bags, I would have looked for a church instead of a mall, but since bringing a duffle bag to church is unclassy, I figured looking at the wide, manga eyes of the disciples was the closest I was going to get to church. But now church was being handed to me on a platter disguised as the top floor of a mall. Though I looked in suspicion at the other churchgoers (so many jeans!), I’d already made up my mind.

I inserted myself in line, accepting a glossy pamphlet and offering envelopes, shook hands with four people, and entered the sanctuary.

It was big. More than twenty rows of chairs down the center of the room, with a comparable number flanking them on the left and right sides, at least two LCD’s, two regular projector screens, and a sign at the front reading “Chasing & Still In God’s Presence.” All-in-all, not necessarily the first church I would have chosen to attend. That said, there’s one truly excellent thing about big congregations: the ability to be anonymous. I chose a seat closer to the back than the front.

The service opened with an extremely fast bout of Indonesian. I managed to understand the word Shalom at the beginning, Paskah1 close to the beginning, and after that I was lost. Luckily, it didn’t take long for the songs to begin.

I’ve complained about praise songs before, listed the reasons why they’re not really my thing, but I’ll say this for praise songs: they’re great in a foreign language. For one thing, they’re subtitled. My understanding of Indonesian increases exponentially when I can read and listen to it at the same time. But even more importantly, they’re repeated. Over and over and over. In English, this drives me crazy. In Indonesian, this gives me time to figure out what sentences mean.

There were a lot of songs, including one with English lyrics: “Jesus he is so good to you and me.” Sometimes people waved colored flags that reminded me of the election campaign flags lining the streets, except that these all said things like “Yesus” and “Haleluya.” There was a lot of hand raising.

I loved it. Clearly I need to stop limiting myself to English-speaking services.

After the songs were finally exhausted, we were allowed to sit down. The screens displayed a list of names—mostly family names—with numbers beside them. Coupled with the fact that offering bags were passing from hand to hand, I guessed that this was a list of how much people had given. Except that seemed completely bizarre. Advertizing giving? I supposed it was a good way to induce guilt, at least.

Following the offering, we took communion. The usher distributed wafers and little shot glasses. I was overjoyed. Grape juice! How I miss it!

We held the bread in our right hands over our heads. The minister said some things. We sang a little. My arm started to ache. Finally, we were allowed to eat it, closely followed by the grape juice.

Except that, upon swallowing, I realized that it wasn’t grape juice. This surprise kept me occupied through the next song, up until the point in the service where—for reasons that remain unclear to me—we exchanged high fives.

Yes, high fives. In church. High five, Jesus is risen!

Actually, I suspect that wasn’t the point of the high fives. When the couple in front of me turned and offered their hands, it had a habitual feel–as habitual as shaking hands with the people around you every Sunday morning. Also, beyond the mention of Easter at the beginning of the service and Happy Easter! when I shook hands on the way out, I caught no other mention of the holiday. The sermon was about David and used almost exclusively the Old Testament.

The parts of the sermon that I could understand, anyway. I confess to not understanding much—the minister talked way too fast. The Bible verses projected on the screens helped, but other than that I was largely confused, as evidenced by this excerpt from my notes:

something about climbing trees…
gairah—>strong desire
2 Sam 6:1 ? can’t make it match up in my Bible
so much yelling and all I can understand is “Allah” and “Israel”

The service ended with more singing, announcements, and a reminder to take their list of upcoming events home and leave it on your coffee table for guests to see. Then—slowly, because there were so many of us—we filed back out into the mall.

I was pleased. Pleased because I’d made it to church, pleased because I hadn’t had to talk to anyone, pleased because I hadn’t outed myself as a clueless foreigner, and pleased that it was time for lunch.

The sweetest tomato sauce that I have ever tasted. Also, hot sauce.