Exploring the True Meaning of Christmas as Taught by the People of Cilacap

As a college student, December was always a hectic time. After Thanksgiving, it seemed that everything came to a head- papers, projects, and finals all loomed in the weeks before Christmas. I always shopped early and over the course of a few weeks to combat the pressure of that time of year. After completing my graduate program, I never felt that Christmas was so hectic and commercial that I didn’t have time to celebrate the real reason for Christmas- the birth of Jesus Christ. Sure, I was annoyed when Christmas stuff appeared in the stores in October, but really the start of the Christmas season for me has always been Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, you prepare for Christmas!

Here in Cilacap, there are no problems with the “commercial” part of Christmas. No rushing around buying gifts. No Santas in the mall and commercials on TV with all the best Christmas toys. We don’t even have a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here to sing Christmas songs with, which saddens me. However, just getting to know more people here has taught me more about the true meaning of Christmas than anything I could have learned in church.
Landon loves a woman here that we met on the side of the road. Her name is Mrs. Titi and she speaks English! She is an English teacher and lives in a tiny, cement floor house off a side road, in a metal gate, and down a dirt path in Cilacap- fairly close to our hotel. The houses are placed on tiny lots and I finally figured out why everyone has scooters here- unless you have a huge house, there is nowhere to park your car and you have to walk a long way to get to your house! Anyway, when we go to Mrs. Titi’s house, we meet many people who live around her. Right next door to Mrs. Titi’s house is her sister-in-law’s house. Whenever we go over to her house, we end up in her sister-in-law’s sitting room. I’m not sure if this is a common room for both of the families, or if we really are just invading their living space. It is obvious that this tiny sitting room is the nicest room in either house. It has tile floors, and some chairs and a table for sitting. There are a few photographs on the walls, and an old children’s desk full of books. Of course, Landon found the toy stash right away- a fleet of bulldozers and other construction trucks. He loves playing with them on their table, and her sister-in-law very kindly lets us invade her house unannounced. Her children come play with Landon and they all have a wonderful time. I guess it is foreign to me that these people could be so happy and live their lives so fully with so little. And not only that- but welcome a complete stranger into their home- someone that does not even speak the same language!
One day, Mrs. Titi took us to find a swing for Landon to play on. She led us to one of her old client’s houses- she knew there was a swing outside their house. We went in the gate, and immediately Landon was drawn not to the swing, but to the ride on car toy on a neighbor’s front patio. This house was substantial- it had good paint on the walls, tile floor, nice looking furniture, and even a TV! The woman of the house had two little boys- one about Landon’s age, and a whole lot of toy cars and trucks. Landon was in heaven playing with new toys and riding on the riding toy. As I watched him play and tried to communicate with the other mother and women that were there, I asked myself if I would be this open and inviting to someone who just randomly wandered up to my doorstep with a rambunctious toddler?
 Soon, she brought out a package of Oreo cookies, and her son and Landon ate the entire package in just a few minutes. Then she brought out chocolate milk boxes for Landon and her son. Now this lady was feeding Landon! It was humbling to say the least. Later I asked if Landon could use the bathroom. He is potty training so if we go past an hour or so without a potty, I get a little nervous. They graciously led us to the bathroom. Even in this nice house with electricity and TV, the toilet was a squat toilet hole in the ground, with a scoop of water to help the waste go down the pipe. The “bathroom” was next door- and consisted of a big bucket filled with water and a scoop. Again I was humbled. How blessed we are to have flush toilets and a shower! How amazing that this family is sharing their food and their toys and their bathrooms with us!
 During all of this, one of the boys who hangs out with Mrs. Titi was eyeing Mrs. Titi’s breakfast. Mrs. Titi had shared quite a bit of it with Landon- it was cooked corn with milk and cheese. Austin thinks it sounds disgusting, I don’t want to try it, but little iron guts Landon loves the stuff. Anyway, there were just a few kernels left in the bottom of the bowl, along with a puddle of milk and cheese. This boy is very skinny- I’m not sure what his situation is like at home, but he is always hanging out with Mrs. Titi and her niece and nephew when I am at their house. Anyway, this boy sees that Mrs. Titi is done and comes right over to the bowl, eating each kernel, scooping out the milk and cheese, and then scraping and tipping the bowl back while holding out his tongue to get the last drop of milk from the bowl. It broke my heart to see him so eager for even the last drop of milk from the bowl when Landon throws half of his fried rice on the floor every day. Even that day, he had been given so much food from people while we were walking around I thought he must be full to bursting! As we left the house, I gave this hungry little boy the snack that I had prepared for Landon- a granola bar. He said “Thank You!” and dug into it right away.
Little boy from the first house
Before coming here, I don’t know if I would have noticed this little boy and his struggle for the last drop of milk. I think I am changing, becoming more observant, more ready to help and serve others that need it. There are so many more people here who could use a hand or a lift out of poverty, it is frustrating to know that I can’t really do much for them. But I can notice little things and help in my own small way.
Another outing occurred with Mrs. Titi. This time, we went to another playground, buried deep inside the maze of houses and tiny alleyways behind Mrs. Titi’s house. Landon loved playing on the playground and met another little two-year-old friend. These Indonesian two-year-olds are all several inches shorter than Landon, but it is still fun to play together. This mom got out some of the little boy’s toys and invited Landon to play in their house. This house was not as substantial as the house of the other day. It was tiled, but the walls were unfinished concrete and there was not a ceiling. You could see the roof and the space between the room and the wall was just open. The walls were plain white, and painted up to where perhaps the ceiling would be in a normal home. There were two parents and three children living in this house that had three interior rooms- a living room, bedroom, and storage room. The girls slept in the living room on a mattress on the floor. I’m assuming the little boy slept in the room with his parents. They had a whole basket of toys that they were sharing with Landon. There was another ride on toy, and a plane that the mom put batteries in that moved and made noises. She went on with her day- folding laundry and smiling as her boy played with Landon.
 Again, it was getting on toward the time when Landon would need to go to the potty. Just a few minutes earlier the little boy in the house had wet his pants, so I was afraid Landon was going to do the same. So we went back to the bathroom. This time, it was an exterior room with just a makeshift roof and cement walls. The ground was cement and the squat toilet was even more rudimentary. That was also where she washed laundry by hand and dried it on lines.The kitchen was also out there- a portable gas stove and a sink.
Like any toddler, Landon has a hard time with transitions right now. I have tried all different techniques, but he still hates leaving a new place with new toys! When we were leaving this house, he was crying and flailing about and they offered him a green motorcycle- one that he had been playing with quite a bit while we were in the house. How could we, who could buy 100 of these motorcycles and still have plenty left over, take a toy from this house, from this family? I tried to give it back several times, but Landon would just start screaming again when I took it away. I thanked the family profusely and left feeling in awe of these people.
They aren’t Christian. But they take care of each other better than most Christians do. They give and give. I think with the tiny houses and close living quarters there is a greater sense of community among people than in the U.S. Neighbors watch out for each other and children play supervised by the whole community. Even the lady that sits on the side of the sidewalk near our hotel has new clothes several times a week. I was giving her food, but then I noticed that others were also giving her food and it seemed she had plenty. I thought about what I could do for her. It was humbling to notice what all of these people with much less than I were doing for her. I noticed that when she first came to live on the corner, she had some extremely holey socks. She had stopped wearing them quite awhile ago. So I went down to the store and bought her some socks. I had no idea what size or what kind she would like, but I bought a few pairs and gave.
Linda Burton
First observe then serve. Sis. Burton, the Relief Society General President, gave a talk expressly on this topic. The text of the talk can be found here. It is one thing to just show up with cookies to random people’s door, it is quite another to first see what would best bless the lives the people you are trying to serve, and then go do it! I’ve been working on this here, and trying to follow any promptings I feel while out and about in Cilacap.
How do I feel leaving Cilacap just in time for the sparkling beauty of Christmas in the United States? Humbled. The people of Cilacap that I have met have taught me much about how to be selfless and Christlike. They have taught me to open my home to strangers, to show love to those who seem to need it, to give until it hurts a little, and then give a little more. To care more for others than for myself. To regard everyone as a son or daughter of God. To be happy regardless of my current circumstances. To be thankful for adequate food, clothing, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, showers, and good healthcare.  For our educational backgrounds and jobs. 
Most of all, I am thankful for my Savior Jesus Christ, and my faith in Him. Without a lens of deep religious conviction with which to view my surroundings, I don’t know if I could have the attitude that I have about this place and be happy and grateful here. I am grateful for the Christmas season, which seems to bring out the best in people in the United States. Now, we need to have that same attitude year-round- like the selfless, giving people of Cilacap that open their homes, their cupboards and their hearts to my little family.  

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