Adventures in East Timor – Part 3

It’s 3 January 2013 – the official first day of the mission trip.

We all got up bright and early, packed our bags and made our way to the All Seasons Hotel restaurant for an early breakfast, before loading up two taxis for the trip to Denpasar Airport.

Gary, our team leader, had already been in the village for a week.

When we got to the airport, we found out that our flight had been delayed, so we took the opportunity to have an impromptu team meeting, sans our leader, which kind of made it difficult to decide anything concrete about the program.


Even though our entire week had been planned out in the form of an itinerary, we were short on details and weren’t really sure whether the ideas we had proposed were actually suitable for the villagers. I was again reminded however of the maxim “blessed are the flexible”. We were just going to have to pray hard and just “wing it”.

Stef, our admin person, had nonetheless produced a very pretty colour-coded document, with each of us being designated our areas of responsibility. I have to say, I was really impressed by Stef’s maturity – for a person her age, her organisational skills and foresight were well beyond her years.


We finally got onto the plane for the 2 hour flight to Dili, the capital of East Timor. I was actually quite nervous about flying Merpati Air (a subsidiary of Garuda). Surprisingly, the in-flight meal was pretty decent, which at least distracted me from my anxiety for a while. Ling was surprisingly calm, because in the past, she had been nervous about flying. Most of the time, she was more concerned about her seat not locking into the upright position and periodically leaning into Ernie, who was sitting behind her.

As our plane approached the airport in Dili, my anxiety grew as I realised we were coming in pretty fast. When the plane made contact with the runway, there was significant braking and when it finally slowed down and turned, I realised that we had actually used up the entire length of the runway. Good thing I could only see out the side of the plane until then!

East Timor2

When we had collected our luggage, we could see Agung and Gary on the other side of customs, smiles flashing to welcome us.

After a few customary words, Agung led us into the carpark of the airport where we laid eyes for the first time on our transport vehicle for the week. It looked, um, functional. Agung and Gary exhibited superhuman strength and great balance as they loaded 8 people’s luggage onto the roof of the Land Cruiser before the human cargo got loaded into the back of the SUV.

East Timor3

Then our first stop: the shopping mall!

Because this was going to be our only time in Dili until the end of the mission trip, we had to stock up on snacks and the all-important bottled water.

We often take things like water for granted. But we were sure that not only was the water in Timor unsafe for drinking, we were concerned that we couldn’t even brush our teeth or wash our contact lenses in it, so thank God for bottled water. And thank God it was only 30 cents a bottle.

East Timor4

Whilst we shopped for supplies, Wen, Ernie and Shi-En promptly hit the food court. They were hungry and it was only 4 pm. And here is an important spiritual principle which I shared with our team – when you are hungry enough, you can bring forward something reserved for a future time into your present!

After we bought our supplies, we drove to the centre of Dili where we (or rather, the rest of us) had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It was pretty good Chinese food. Even in the remotest parts of the world, you are bound to find Chinese people. In fact, I think the shopping mall from which we had just come was Chinese-owned. Later on during the week, we would see a Chinese-owned general store right in the heart of the village!

After dinner, we made our way to Tibar Resort, where we would stay during the week.

On the way there, on the outskirts of Dili, we passed a large piece of land earmarked for Pelican Paradise – a six star resort being built by a Christian businessman. It’s great to think that even though what we were doing was very much relational and grassroots, on the other end of the spectrum, there were projects such as this which will ultimately bring socio-economic transformation to the nation on a large scale.

Pelican Paradise

We reached Tibar in the evening – a “resort” featuring 6 or 7 wooden huts built on the side of a hill, overlooking the ocean. The view was pretty spectacular and our individual huts were very comfortable. This is what we called a “soft landing” into missions. So far, so good…

View from Resort

After we all freshened up, we convened in my hut for a time of worship, prayer and ministry. This was for me a crucial part of why I was there. As I have said in previous posts, one of my life themes is Jeremiah 1:5-8, which is the calling of Jeremiah for the nations. And I believe, like John Piper says, worship is the fuel and goal of missions, so it is only appropriate that we begin a mission trip by focussing on God and worshipping. Over the duration of the trip, there would be many more times of intense worship and intercession, which not only brought focus, but also forged unity for us as a team.

And one of the things I began to learn about Agung’s secret is this: before he is a missionary, he is first a worshipper. You can tell by his posture of yieldedness as he worships.

Prayer and Worship

At the end of the day, worship always brings perspective. It puts God and His kingdom cause into a place of priority and whatever else we have to do becomes secondary. Lack of planning? Pssh…. With God, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Bring it on!

Adventures in East Timor – Part 1

I have had an amazing start to 2013, beginning with the privilege of serving with an awesome team of people from Faith Community Church on a short-term mission trip to East Timor, followed by a relaxing holiday with some friends in Bali. What I saw in East Timor was eye-opening and confronting. In my next few posts, I will chronicle some of what took place over the time our team was in East Timor.

Flight to East Timor

I have to admit that I didn’t really grasp the extent of what I was getting myself into when I expressed an interest last August to join a short-term team to East Timor. Our missionary on the ground, Agung, had come to Perth to spend some time with his sending church and we had the privilege of having Agung visit our cell group.

It was probably on impulse that our cell leader Ernie and one of our cell members Shi-En (who was on the East Timor missions committee) thought it’d be a great idea if we went on a short-term trip as a cell group. I didn’t have any objections at the time.

Shi-En is one of those people who gets things done. He often moves so quickly that you don’t really have time to process exactly what he is doing. Before it had registered in my head, I found myself committed to a mission trip in January.

I don’t think I fully realised what I was in for.

Whilst Ling and I had always aimed to go on one short-term mission a year, we fell desperately short of our lofty aspirations. Our last trip was to Sapporo, Japan in 2007. Of the three short-term missions I’ve been on, all of them have been in urban settings. It never occurred to me that East Timor could be anything less than urban (which really betrays how little I knew about the country). I would be in for a rude shock when I actually got there.

The road to East Timor was not always a smooth one.

With less than 6 weeks to go, due to unexpected developments beyond our control, there was a real possibility that the trip was going to be cancelled. Two weeks later the trip was back on again.

As a team, we had three meetings in total, most of which had to do with logistics of getting there. To say the least, I felt grossly unprepared.

I like preparation. My ministry philosophy has always been that we should prepare well. The more prepared we are, the more spontaneous we can be. It holds in worship ministry, and it holds in just about any other ministry context.

But I was reminded of what John Wimber used to say: “blessed are the flexible”. On this trip, with very little prior preparation, flexibility was key and I was glad to work with such a team of versatile and proactive leaders who could think on their feet (or sometimes off their feet!). I also realised how much more it made us depend on the Holy Spirit!

After our third team meeting, at least we had planned what equipment and gifts for the villagers we had to buy. As for the program, this would rest on our creativity, resourcefulness and the Holy Spirit’s orchestration.

So on Christmas Day, 25 December 2012, Ling and I flew off to Singapore for a short holiday before meeting the rest of the team in Bali a week later.

The adventure begins…