“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:4
One of our rituals here in Lospalos is going for lunch at Café Fitun Naroman (Star Light Café) on Saturday. It’s one of the few restaurants in town and is a ministry of the Catholic sisters who live in the convent nearby. They serve simple but delicious Timorese food: rice, vegetables, fish and chicken. They employ local women and use the restaurant as a training ground to teach livelihood skills in cooking, sewing, business management, etc.
Last week we had lunch with several of the sisters. We like this connection because it’s a good opportunity for ecumenical collaboration, understanding and friendship. In the past the sisters have even invited Monica to do some teaching to their students on “family planning,” i.e. how to avoid getting pregnant when you don’t want to! (Just like in America, the nuns always seem to be way ahead of the church hierarchy when it comes to issues of social justice.)
Over lunch, one of the sisters commented that people like going to the (Protestant) Clinic Immanuel because “at Clinic Immanuel people can talk about their health concerns in their own language.” She went on to say that these days, doctors in the local hospital are often from other parts of East Timor or Cuba and therefore do not speak local languages.
Together, the staff of Clinic Immanuel however speak all the local languages. These include Fataluku, Makassae and Makalero. In addition, they also speak Indonesian and East Timor’s national language, Tetun and two now speak English. Patients are therefore able to speak in their own language to staff that know them and often are familiar with their health and family history.
Along with those important relational skills, the staff also bring critical insight into their culture’s way of thinking about illness and health. Monica and Amena Cristovao (pictured far left), who is just back from four years studying laboratory technology in America, add to that mix the insights that come with a western medical education and its perspective on clinical diagnosis and treatment. Consultation here is therefore collaborative and holistic.
In the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (written by the same author and properly read as one continuous narrative), the work of the Spirit is about bringing health and healing to the sick (Acts 10:38) and liberation to the oppressed (Luke 4:16-20). Both the gospel and Acts witness to this work through stories that take place in the common life of the world.
Throughout the story Acts tells, regular people are drawn into “miraculous” events we often find difficult to reconcile with our modern world view (e.g. Acts 2:1-4). But if we get stuck on whether such miraculous event is “true” we’ll miss the important theological point – and compelling challenge — of this fascinating narrative.
The story Acts tells wants to alert us to the activity of a living God, who despite the brokenness of the world, acts in surprising and often unexpected ways to empower regular people to act for the common good as a witness to God’s love for the world. We see this unfolding each day as the staff of Clinic Immanuel use their gifts of language, cultural insight and medical expertise to consult patients and lead them to health, wholeness and ultimately — to hope.