On my fourth day of work, we had a visit from the po-po.
Actually, it was Aceh Immigration (remember, it’s pronounced ‘Ah-cheh’; I’m going to stop reminding you soon) plus a secret service police guy and some other random guy. But first, the background.
Aceh is a land of senseless bureaucracy. This is, of course, my opinion. An Acehnese or anybody else in the whole, wide world may beg to differ. Whatever. In my opinion, it’s a stupidly bureaucratic place.
The first thing to note is that apparently the average Indonesian struggles with the concept of volunteerism. Generally speaking, they don’t understand giving your time away for free, so they are naturally suspicious of those of us who do. This strikes me as an interesting attitude to have since the province was awash with aid workers (giving their time for free or for far less than it was worth, I’m sure) for quite some time after the deadly tsunami of 2004.
The second point of note is that Aceh apparently used to be an independent province that was incorporated into the country of Indonesia some time after World War II. Up until the 2004 tsunami, they were still fighting for their independence from Indonesia. So although Indonesian Immigration gives a visa-holder permission to be in the country of Indonesia (including the province of Aceh), Acehnese Imigrasi (Indonesian for ‘Immigration’) still reserves the right to check up on foreigners if they feel like it. Yup, you heard me…if they feel like it.
The third point to note is that Aceh province is run under Sharia law and apparently they are suspicious of Westerners who may influence their citizens to sin. I can’t think of anything else to add to that point.
That’s the background to the story. Enter the Immigration po-po.
On the afternoon of my third day of work, the ‘village chief’ (I’m still trying to understand exactly what his authority is and what he’s the chief of since this isn’t a village; the nearest equivalent I can figure is that he’s the head of the neighbourhood watch who thinks the neighbourhood watch is way more important than it is) and his sidekick showed up at our centre asking for a million documents to prove what this organisation is and what we’re doing here. We learned the next day that they had come to the centre with such urgency because the Imigrasi po-po had been asking them for their files on us to verify what we’re doing here. Since they were unable to get what they wanted from the village chief, Imigrasi decided to come directly to us the next morning.
There were 3 of them. They came in their blue police-looking uniforms acting all serious and official. With them was a guy in plain clothes who we later learned is a part of the ‘secret service’ police (eyes rolling so hard right now), whose task it was to see if he could find something to nitpick about. An unidentified second plain clothes guy showed up about 30 minutes later. I still have no idea who he was or why he was here.
They wanted to see our passports and visas and the secret service guy (rolling eyes) took numerous pictures of those and of us sitting around talking to the blue uniform posse’s head guy. Luckily, the centre’s local sponsor came along soon after they got here and he was able to talk to them and interpret for us.
All through their ‘interrogation’ (rolling my eyes!), I think I managed to keep my face pleasantly neutral but I was mentally rolling my eyes so hard! They asked questions about what we do here, how many children come here, what type of children come here, how many local volunteers we have and God knows what else. All through the conversation, I kept my eye on the secret service guy (eye roll!) because he had the passports. I wanted to make sure that every one of them was returned (they were). Meanwhile, he got up 2 or 3 times and, under the guise of having a smoke, he wandered over to our cook and interrogated her too – how much she’s being paid, why she volunteers here, etc. She claims that she told him nothing.
After almost an hour of this ridiculousness, they finally seemed satisfied; they shook our hands and left. I unleashed my eye roll the minute their backs were turned. And I threw in a side eye for good measure.
We decided that it would be prudent to go immediately to the village chief’s office and let him know that Imigrasi had been to see us, and get a proper understanding of what exactly they require from us. Another 30 minute translated conversation ensued there. The chief tried to make it clear that they appreciate what we’re trying to do here and don’t want to make trouble (eye…roll!) but that this is simply the process. So they need a file of about 10 different documents on the organisation that we’ll have to go to a multitude of different government offices over the next several weeks to obtain.
By the time it was all over, I was tired, frustrated and bemused.
Now you have the background to the story and the story itself. Let’s get to the moral of the story.
As I observed the day’s proceedings, it occurred to me that I could easily say, “The heck with this, they’re not paying me enough (i.e., nothing!) to make this aggravation, ignorance and ridiculousness worth it.” But…
Malachi 3:3 says, He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.
It occurred to me as my colleagues and I were debriefing after this debacle (Rolling. My. Eyes!) that God is doing a refinement work in me. He used this bureaucracy to make me examine my patience and my committment to His plan for my life; how easy, “the heck with it” came to my mind! I’m here because He wants me here. When He’s ready for me to go, it will be because He’s ready for me to go and not because of government bureaucracy or human ignorance. My job is to go where He sends me, to do what He tells me and to be patient and committed to His plan. Maybe without the eye rolling.
Isn’t it awesome how God can use such simple things to sharpen and clean us up?
Bureaucracy…my Refiner’s fire.