The Congress of the APCPCC meets every four years and this year met in Jakarta, Indonesia. Once again it was a treat to be in a country where I was typically the tallest man in the room. The next such meeting will be in Australia, in 2021, where there will be more very tall registrants. There also will be other gatherings of pastoral clinicians scheduled in the interim.
I was very wary of attending the meeting at all. Given the current White House resident and his pronouncements on Muslims, I was not sure I wanted to be a visitor in a country with an 85% Muslim population. And initially I was very wary of walking the streets alone. But what I found was that the Indonesian people generally were exceedingly hospitable and cordial, and that even strangers on the street, most of them Muslim, recognized me as a Westerner and greeted me warmly.
On the plane to Jakarta I was seated next to an Indonesian woman named Liana who befriended me, generously sharing her snacks with me. As the flight was ending she offered to have her son, who was picking her up, deliver me to my hotel, an offer I could not refuse. I was already wary of this strange country with a language I knew nothing of. The drive to my hotel was at least an hour in heavy traffic. Jakarta with a population of about 20 million is the third largest city in the world.
Rather than dropping me at the hotel door, as they well could have, Liana and her son escorted me to the check-in desk. On reporting that I had arrived for the APCPCC meeting, the clerk responded that the meeting had been canceled. The desk clerk had no other details. As my mind was spinning, wondering how I would spend the next week alone in Jakarta, Liana's son had the presence of mind to peruse my stack of documents and managed to find the phone number of the president of the APCPCC. He phoned him. The conference had moved. The new hotel was more than an hour's drive to another part of this enormous city.
They might have put me in a taxi, but they drove on. To be taken care of in such a generous way by strangers was humbling and astonishing, and especially in a country I had been wary of visiting. When we finally arrived Liana and her son escorted me in. The Secretary General of the APCPCC was waiting for me at the entrance, another warm act of hospitality. I will never forget such treatment by strangers.
Another little vignette also lodges in my memory symbolizing my visit to Jakarta. I went to a park concert of Muslim music with some of my pastoral colleagues, and during the intermission a young man brought his infant daughter up to me and asked if he could make a photograph of the three of us seated together. Of course, I agreed. Then I asked one of my colleagues take a similar photo with my own camera as well. (See below.) What this meant to this young father is passing comprehension, but I was very moved. The toddler was friendly as well, cooing at me and laughing, likely picking up something unconsciously from her father. English was not spoken; the non-verbal communication was powerful. This young father seemed to be expressing some kind of trust in and affection for a strange American he had never before met. Was this a blessed counterpoint to the vicious anti-Muslim rhetoric coming out of Washington?
The local leadership of the Congress was also extraordinarily gracious. Given the fact that I showed up without registering, they had every cause to punish me. Instead they openly welcomed me and were gracious to a fault. I must especially thank John Livingstone Wuisan for his welcome. He is the secretary general of the national board of Indonesia’s Pastoral Association and chairman of the APCPCC Organizing Committee.
The attendance was something over 100, almost all Indonesians. Two registrants were from Hong Kong, one from Australia, none from the Philippines, and as far as I know, none from Malaysia. Perhaps there were a few others from outside Indonesia that I did not meet.
I must be critical of the mostly top-down communication at the meeting. The several speakers had some important information to share, but generally the communication was one way. The speakers allowed for questions from the audience, where, as usual, the most verbose questioners dominated the conversation. The communication structure was problematic overall. There was no structure for peer dialogue except informally at coffee hour and meals. I made good use of those times, with pleasure.
The most troubling part of the meeting, from my perch, was the consistent declaration of Protestant evangelism. Each day opened with an evangelical Protestant worship service, complete with sermon. This signals, at least non-verbally, that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and what have you, are unwelcome. Of course the clinical pastoral movement has traces of this kind of religious domination and exclusionism in the U.S. as well, but it is muted there. This Christian domination was overt. Americans have set the bad example in this case, and this matter needs to be addressed by all before it poisons the entire clinical pastoral movement.
I predict that the clinical pastoral movement will die on the vine if it does not find a way very soon to embrace fully all religions of every sort. Or better still, perhaps the cure is to embrace no religion at all, but to embrace only the discipline of pastoral care and pastoral psychotherapy. This would mean relegating religion to the closet where arguably it belongs. And there is nothing wrong with closets. The Muslims of Jakarta put Islam in the closet when they so warmly greeted me on the streets, in the parks, and in the restaurants of Indonesia’s capital city. I am grateful that they did so.
Raymond J. Lawrence
CPSP General Secretary