As Marshall walked into the impoverished districts lining the tracks of the central Jakarta rail line, people came and gathered around him. They emerged from open-air structures built of corrugated siding and broken plywood located just a few feet from the tracks. One-by-one, people emerged and came over to meet this man.
At some point a battered guitar appeared. It was jockeyed back and forth between young men who played bits and snatches of western tunes. I motioned for Marshall to play and eagerly a young man named Ucok handed him the instrument. The last echoes of a passing train faded into the distance. Marshall tuned the guitar and then began with the first cords of “Aile”.
“Aile, Aile” (“listen, listen to the voice that speaks”). A group of little girls already running through the mix of people, stopped and came up close to Marshall. I watched their faces. The little girls opened their eyes and ears as Marshall played. They watched his face intently, as if listening with their eyes as every word of this song emerged. They clearly wanted to be near this song and this man.
As Marshall repeated the chorus, a momentary calm set in. People ended their discussions and leaned in closer. “Aile” is so radically peaceful in comparison to life in these destitute neighborhoods. Played out in the world, “Aile” requires things to become quiet for it to ever be heard.
Marshall ended the song and passed the guitar back over to the young man who had first given it to him. The distant screech of an approaching train reached our ears and marked the end of this special moment. It was a moment where the sacred touched down. Though it didn’t last for long, it happened. Conversations began, laughter erupted and minds became busy. And finally the train arrived with a thundering roar, drowning out everything as it passed just a feet away. The trains do not stop in places like this.
I followed the young men and the guitar around a corner and into a burned out shelter that leaned against a high wall. They joked and jested and passed around the guitar, each playing a chord or two and then shyly passing it off to someone else. I went over to the wall and stood on my tiptoes to look over. There I saw a languid river, slowly carrying trash and detritus from the city into the sea. Naked children stood in the black muck that lined the river shore. They seemed to be playing. Or were they discovering shellfish or discarded items carried down from wealthier neighborhoods upstream?
I looked back behind me to see that one of the young men had taken up the challenge of playing a song for me and my film camera. Ucok Brandalz asked me if I knew the song “I Miss You.” I had never heard of it. He began playing tentatively until others began to sing with him. It was a moving song which, beneath those words “I miss you,” communicated longing, unmet needs and the dead-ends which these young people wake up to face every day.
When the song was over, Marshall came over to talk to me. We walked back to the edge of the rail tracks and I set up my camera. Marshall then delivered a prayer and blessing for the people of this district.
“May the power of God’s blessing be with these people – the poorest of the poor – and all people who suffer like them in many countries and many lands. Here in Jakarta, their poverty is deep. But their poverty is our poverty – the poverty of all of humanity. For their contribution may not be given as it should be. And this will lead to a great shortage of gifts and giving in the world. May the rich take care of the poor and may the poor take care of each other and may the people of the world take care of one another. This is the great need of our world and this is why we have all come. May the presence of God be with you. Nasi Novare Coram.”
Just as he stopped, a new train roared into view. The wave of sound crashed down upon us. Windows filled with the curious faces of laborers streaked past Marshall – only a split second to wonder: “who is this man standing by the tracks?”
A split second will not be enough to receive the blessing of the Message and the Messenger. A moment of song, a moment of the sacred will not enough for the Message and the Messenger to deliver their life-giving and life-changing gift for the individual, residing here in this district of Jakarta. May there be many more moments and times when the Messenger’s presence can be experienced and his voice heard. This is necessary for the gift of New Message from God to reach humanity now.