I tried not to be annoyed as yet another person wedged her way sideways passed me into the tight little mass (it certainly didn’t resemble a line’!) in front of the metered mail counter at the past office. “This culture would be so much nicer if everyone would learn to stand and wait in line!”, I thought as I pressed forward even closer to the people in front of me, and felt the bodies behind me do the same. No such thing as ‘personal space’ here… Indonesians are such polite people by nature, so that the aggressiveness with which they go about doing the exact opposite of the American culture of ‘waiting in line for your turn to be served’ has always amazed me. It is so against my nature to just crowd into a mass of people, but if I didn’t do it, I would never make it up to a bank teller, a postal clerk, an airline check-in desk, a store cashier, or to anyone else who would normally (in my western experience) serve the next person waiting in line. Once I had managed to work my way to where my left side was nearly touching the high, wide counter, I reached around the young man still between me and the clerk and placed my stack of letters in front of the ones that had been laid down by people who were already reaching around past me.

As I continued to wait in the little knot, my mind wandered back to the McDonalds in Bandung, the major city on Java where we studied Indonesian four years ago. In seven months of frequenting that ‘reminder of home’ we watched the western concept of waiting in line gradually be enforced. First there were little photocopied paper signs hung over each cashier that read (in Indonesian), ‘We hope you will stand in line”. These were totally ignored by the disorderly, pressing mobs. It was always Tim’s job to shoulder his way through the masses to place our order. Then there were managers and staff of the restaurant who would stand out in the crowds and politely ask people to “antri” and guide them into marked queues. Eventually, over time there came to be something resembling lines at each register. If some bolder soul tried ‘the old way’ of just worming his way directly up to the front, an observant manager, hovering behind the counter, politely pointed him to the rear of the line. The Indonesians who prided themselves as being ‘modern’ would often comment on how they were trying to help their people ‘maju” (progress, become better), and clarify, “you do it like this in America, don’t you?”. Palangka Raya is definitely way behind Bandung; we don’t have a McDonalds (or anything close!). …But… I remembered the little photocopied paper signs I had recently seen taped up at each of the tellers’ spots along the big stone counter in the bank: “We hope that you will pay attention to our new national culture of standing in line.” And there were some new poles and big braided ropes to mark off queues. Both were still being completely ignored, but wasn’t that how it started at McDonalds? There might still be hope! Next I remembered the signs by the few traffic lights in town that have always made me smile: ‘We hope that you will pay attention to our new national culture of using traffic lights”. 🙂

I rarely get ‘culture shock’ anymore. Some Indonesian friends have even said that I have adapted well to much of their culture. (I gratefully take those kinds of statements as huge compliments!)

However, there are still things here that really do bug me, that I can’t seem to get used to, like not standing in line! I did eventually get my letters stamped and mailed, by the way!

Later in the afternoon I was still thinking about weird cultural stuff, but trying to switch gears to Christmas: to the order of pretty cards which had just arrived; to a theme for a Christmas letter; to the beautiful Significance of my favorite season. The thought suddenly struck: I wonder if Christ had ‘culture shock’ when He entered into our human culture in the form of flesh like us. In His home culture, He was royalty, the only Son of the King of kings, but in His Fathers perfect plan to save us in our culture, He had to enter it by being birthed by a young, unwed mother in a smelly stable. At home He was attended by ranks of glorious angels, not by lowly shepherds, or by fishermen and tax collectors. He was worshipped and adored by all of His people’, not shunned, ridiculed, or angrily plotted against. In His culture He wielded all power; in our culture His power was deliberately checked so that He could be fully one of us. He was sinless, spotlessly pure, and had never experienced the physical conditions of hurt or sickness before He came into our world. But here He suffered the unimaginable pain of a whip, a thorny crown, and huge nails biting into his flesh, and he carried the filthy sins of our whole race. Where He was from, He had complete and perfect harmony and fellowship with His Father. In order to truly take on our culture, he eventually had to endure utter rejection and separation from His beloved Father. But, so great, so unfathomable was His love for us in our fallen, corrupted human culture, He willingly(!!) laid aside His perfect one in order to redeem us; to save and restore us.

He provided the way for us, through faith in Him, to ultimately receive open access into His glorious culture, to be adopted into His eternal family. What an incredibly amazing wonder!!!

And now I am thinking, I bet we will all abandon the dear old custom of standing in line once up in heaven. We, from every earthy culture, will all be crowded and pressed together around His Throne in one huge, sanctified and purified, worshipping and adoring throng glorifying our Lord forever, and I won’t even notice that my ‘personal space’ is being invaded. 🙂

Come Let Us Adore Him Together!


©2001 Thrive

View the original print magazine where this article was first published.