Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It also marks the beginning of our life in Indonesia.
9/11 is one of those consequential days that most people who are old enough will remember exactly where they were when it happened.
It was actually September 12 in Indonesia when we first heard the news. I remember the brightness of the sunshine as we walked our son to his preschool class at the local international school in Bandung, West Java.
The principal’s wife approached us and said, “Did you hear what happened in America?” We had no idea, so she invited us into her home and together we watched in disbelief as CNN played over and over images of the airplanes flying into the twin towers in New York City.
Walking back home, life was carrying on as normal for people around us. It almost felt like maybe it hadn’t happened, like that feeling when you walk out of a movie theater after watching a scary movie and are stunned by the brightness of the day.
We longed to be back in the U.S., if for nothing else to grieve with our fellow countrymen.
We wondered what the fallout from these attacks could mean for us. Six days earlier, we arrived in the country to begin language study. We were still getting over jet lag, just beginning to learn how to greet our neighbors. Our world had already been sufficiently rocked, but this was another seismic change.
Soon rumors began to go around the community that radicals in Java were planning to do “sweepings” and that Americans should be alert. I felt fearful, and we questioned the wisdom of our staying in country during such a volatile time.
A few nights later we met with other expat families to discuss the situation. One of the men, J, had lived in Indonesia for a long time, and was respected in the community.
“I keep thinking about the people on those planes, and how terrified they must have felt,” he said, giving voice to feelings we shared. “I keep imagining myself as a passenger and I think, what would I do? How would I get through it?”
A moment of silence, then he said, “And I’ve come to the conclusion that God would have been with me, and that would have been enough.”
God would be with me. I thought of his words many times over the weeks and months to come.
The events of 9/11, even though they happened on the other side of the globe, was the beginning of a journey of learning to trust God more and more. It was also the start of learning how to live well as guests in another country, and not just any country, but the world’s largest Muslim country.
And as America grappled with who our enemy was in a post-9/11 world, I knew who it was not: the Muslims living around me. No, these people became dear to us, invited us into their homes, sent their kids into our yard to play with our kids and celebrated life events with us.
Even if the Muslims we knew disagreed with America’s politics and with our Christian faith, they didn’t allow it to interfere with our friendship. It was a lesson to me that disagreement doesn’t have to mean the end of relationship or a lack of respect.
Twenty years later, I still feel sad and angry that the attacks happened and so many lives were lost. But I am so grateful that even though we started our overseas life during a tumultuous time, we had the opportunity to stay there for many years and grow to love the place and its people. And I hope to continue to show our Indonesian friends the respect our faith and country demand just as they showed us that respect.