Searching for Home
If life were a question, mine would definitely be this – what, or where, is home? Since we are narrowing things down, let’s try to fit this into a multiple-choice question. The easiest option would probably be to limit home within the places I’ve lived in. If we were to limit the option for answers to cities I lived in, here is what they would look like:
- Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia for fifteen years.
- Three years of high school in Exeter, New Hampshire.
- Three months at a semester-abroad program in San Fernando, Spain.
- Two and a half years at college in NYC, New York.
If we were simply going for the longest time spent in one city, Jakarta would be the obvious choice. I still go back to Jakarta every chance I get, as the rest of my family still lives there. But how can I account for always having felt different from almost everybody I know, of not knowing where I belong even in my own hometown? Thankfully, I quickly realized that the world is much bigger than my Jakarta. So, I left home at the age of 15 halfway around the world to a town, ironically enough, with a population that was approximately a thousand times smaller. The small town of Exeter, New Hampshire was filled with some of the best and brightest minds in the whole world. I came in with the expectation that this place would be overflowing with all the knowledge that the world had to offer. Instead, two years into my time at Phillips Exeter Academy, I was empty. Being constantly surrounded by the best and brightest made me feel average, especially when I did not know where I belonged within the school’s larger student body, being the only Indonesian student on campus at the time. Although I was thankful for the opportunity to make friends from diverse backgrounds, I was desperate for somebody to understand where I came from.
At the root of it, I wanted to belong.
By the beginning of my final year at Exeter, I realized I needed a break from the isolating New England winters. I decided to go on a study abroad program during my senior winter term to San Fernando, Spain. And funnily enough, the very same place where I had least expected to obtain any sense of belonging was where I finally started getting closer to answering my life’s question.
On my first Sunday morning in San Fernando, I stepped out of my host family’s house to find Tere, my host brother’s girlfriend, waiting in the car. We had just met the night before, when Tere came over for dinner. My host mother had informed her that I was Protestant – not Catholic, like the rest of Spain – because as it turns out Tere was Christian as well. Once we had a moment alone, Tere immediately blurted out, “So, are you really a Christian?” I realized now she had been waiting to say that all of dinner. “Sí, sí,” I exclaimed excitedly. Unfortunately, my two sí’s did not seem to satisfy Tere. She looked at me, nodding, as if waiting to hear my testimony or something. I was definitely not going to do that tonight, especially not in Spanish. Racking up my brain for Spanish words, I finally came up with an answer, “Soy amigo de Jesus!” (I am a friend of Jesus!).
Looking back, I realize that perhaps wasn’t the most helpful answer either, considering there were a lot of Spanish guys named Jesus. I laughed, at my awkward attempt at an answer, because I did not really see another way out of this awkward situation other than laughing it off. Thankfully, Tere joined in and laughed along. She then explained why she was uncomfortable talking about faith while my host parents were present. Like the rest of Spain, they were more culturally Catholic, while she genuinely has a relationship, a friendship, with Jesus Christ, just like me. At this point in my life, my relationship with Jesus simply extended to praying before I ate and went to bed, despite having grown up in a Christian family all my life – it wasn’t much of one, to be honest. But I was simply glad Tere understood me and left it at that.
As she drove, she explained that her church was very small. I wondered what the Christians of San Fernando would make of me. During the previous two weeks where I had been going to school, I’ve felt teenagers stare at me from afar, probably because I was the only Asian of the seven students from my high school in the study abroad program. I don’t think they even understood that I was not American. I didn’t know why it mattered so much to me for people to recognize I was an Indonesian student, studying in the States, currently abroad in Spain. As if linking all these different places could somehow create a thread I could hang onto – look at me, so desperate for any sense of belonging that was somehow within my grasp.
Tere and I arrived at the church five minutes before the service started. We quickly scurried to our seats as the music began playing and the rest of the congregation stood up to begin worship. I have been going to church my whole life – I know the drill – so I stood up and started to sing as well. But of course, all the songs were in Spanish. This one was titled, “Lo Grande Que Eres Dios” which I would later find out translates to “The Greatness of Our God.” I was thankful that my reading in Spanish was almost flawless, as the literal pronunciation of the language is like that of Indonesian’s. As I sang aloud the lyrics that I could barely understand, I was relieved because I did not sound very different from those singing next to me. I grew more confident and sang louder with each verse.
When we finally got to the chorus, I was belting it out. In the span of a few minutes, this song had somehow become my jam. The chorus went, “Nada contendrá/ Ni abarcará/ Tu amor/ Lo grande que eres Dios/ Nunca llegaré/ A comprender/ Tu amor/ Lo grande que eres Dios.” I am not providing a translation, as I only recognized three words at first glance out of this whole chorus – amor, grande, and Dios. But I sang loudly and proudly anyway, as if I had been singing this song for ages, as if I had known this song in a different life, spoken this language as a different person. I felt like was on the top of the world, being able to sing this song in my third language so well on my first attempt, and I did not even take a moment to wonder why. That, my friends, is a classic example of the human ego, one that is so prideful that it allows us to believe the lie that we can do this all on our own, when we are obviously cannot. Just look at the significance of the three words (amor, grande, and Dios) He chose to reveal to me at that moment – the grandness of His love – and there I was, thinking of my subpar Spanish.
But strangely enough, my subpar Spanish allowed me to fully understand the bridge. It goes like this, “No hay nada/Que pudiera separarnos/No hay nada/Que pudiera separarnos/De tu amor.” There is nothing that can separate us, nothing that can separate us from your love. And with that understanding, I felt my eyes start to water. Even though these words were technically sung from my perspective, something inside of me knew, understood, recognized that it was God that was telling me that absolutely nothing could separate me from His love.
I didn’t hear an audible voice. I didn’t see words form. But somehow, I can write that this is what He said to me – “Look around, Brea. Look around at this tiny church, a church I have found for you. Nothing is a coincidence – from taking Spanish class at Exeter, taking a study abroad program in the seemingly random town of San Fernando in Cadiz, Spain, getting placed with the Rocamundes of San Fernando, meeting Tere, the girlfriend of Paquito of the Rocamundes of San Fernando, going to Tere’s tiny church – and all this for you to encounter me, to experience my love. I will never leave you, I will never forsake you, do not feel lonely ever again, because here with me, you are home.”
And with this, I began crying. The first word I think of which comes close to describing how I felt is terharu, which is Indonesian for ‘touched’ in English. But touched is not enough to accurately capture how I felt – the way I was terharu was to be absolutely overwhelmed with emotions I had not experienced before, emotions that could only express themselves in tears, but tears which were not of sadness. They were of joy, at the discovery of a God who loved me so, of a God I could belong to. And for the first time, I was not empty anymore – I was overflowing. I closed my eyes, raised my hands to heavens above, and sang my heart aloud.
I did not immediately begin a relationship, or a friendship if you prefer, with Jesus Christ after that Sunday. This would later take place during my time at New York City, but that is a story for another time. This is simply the story of how I learned to worship. King David says, “I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” 1 And surely, those words could not have been truer at that moment. I did not understand why I was raising my hands, why I was closing my eyes, but what I did understand that I was praising in a language that I realize was mine after all: worship. I won’t even understand the true significance of worship till much later in my journey. But that day, I recognized a truth that was enough to carry me through – when I worship, I am home. I know where I belong, or more accurately, to whom I belong – the One up above.
- Psalm 51:16-17 ↩