I still remember it like it was yesterday -- watching Home Alone 2 for the first time, getting blown away by the breathtaking view of the twinkling lights and the Christmas trees at Rockefeller Center. The snow, the beautiful buildings and houses (with basements! we do not have those back home!), the toys, and oh The Plaza Hotel! "Where is this place? I'd like to live there one day," I said to my little self. Countless of VHS 'Donut Man' videos (my mom got them for me on her international trips with dad) later, I became more and more aware of this place, this country, that's so far away from home yet seemed so amazing. A country called the U.S.of A.
Growing up in a Christ-loving home, I was fascinated by a country that's got "In God We Trust" written all over its money and whose presidents say "God bless America" at the end of their speeches. Those words seemed to resonate with my faith more than the religious phrases that the leaders of my home country usually say, which are mostly in Arabic. "It must be so nice to live in a country where most people believe in what you believe in," I thought.
Fast-forward to June 2014. After living in Indonesia for almost my whole life, I finally said goodbye to my motherland for America. For growth. For a fresh start (because I desperately needed one). For a better life.
Now I'm technically F.O.B (fresh off the boat), but I've lived abroad before so I'm no stranger to the 'liberality' of the western countries. However, it is important to keep in mind that during those years when I studied overseas, I was single! I wasn't trying to raise a family, therefore what I considered to be 'safe' and tolerable was different.
Today, though my family and I are living in one of the states famously known as a part of the Bible Belt, the things I've seen on American media this past year have been very disturbing. It's not the fact that a lot of people are gay, bi, or trans or whatever that bothers me (even though seeing them being so highly celebrated here is still pretty weird, because back home, it's far from common). It's their business. And honestly, we are taught to love everyone. And I've been good friends with some of them back then. But it's the fact that it's 'safer' for a person to say "I'm gay" than to say "I'm a Christian" here nowadays that bothers and actually scares me sometimes.
Whatever happened to that country that I thought was the 'safe haven' for people of faith as a little kid?
On youtube comments, twitter, instagram comments, facebook status, magazine articles and even on TV, you can see people crying out for equality while labeling us people with religion (especially Christians) as haters of progress. The media do not say it out loud, but it seems like they are trying to stir people's opinion towards that direction as well. Wait, we can't say Merry Christmas because it might offend an atheist, but you can hang a rainbow flag at the office and not being considered as 'forcing' your belief to others? How is that equal? Just sayin.
Well of course there are a lot of annoying Christians out there, I understand. But there are also a lot of us who are living the faith for real. And dismissing us from society because of all of the hypocrites you've met is like hating the gym because all of the out-of-shape people you see in there (got this quote from a meme I saw on instagram last year, pretty accurate right?).
Anyway, when it comes to quality of life, I'm not going to lie, my family and I are enjoying a way better one here. To be able to go to a decent library and to enjoy tons of activities for free, to stroll around a clean public park for free, to have facilities that accommodate us as parents like childcare at churches and gyms (in Indonesia, it's like everything encourages us to have maids and nannies, and that's not how I want to run my household) -- topped by a way better traffic (my hometown has the worst traffic in the world), 4 seasons (back home, it's summer all year), real good churches (when you have a family, you'd consider having a healthy community for your family to grow as a top priority, and am grateful that there are still plenty of churches that are real here despite the craziness we see on the media), and the fact that Mr. Man can have a work-life balance (he used to leave home at 7 a.m. and come back at 8 or 9 p.m., now he leaves at 8 a.m. and comes home at 4.30 or 5 p.m.!) -- I can say that we've reached our goal of getting a better life. And we truly believe that it's all a part of God's blessing.
I don't know what's coming, maybe people can wake up one day and claim that they are actually dogs trapped inside of a human body, and they'd like to legally marry actual dogs, then the celebrities might endorse that idea on social media and then the government might end up approving it - who knows? The possibilities are endless in this country.
But I know there's still hope. And I can still see myself raising a family here, standing for the God we believe in.
As for Indonesia, oh I will forever love it. In fact, I appreciate my home country more than ever now. Because at least, over there, we respect people with religious beliefs. I can wish my moslem friends a Happy Eid Mubarak and they can wish me a Merry Christmas - and no one will get offended (at least in my circle, I don't know about others). What's cool is that faith is legally recognized as a part of our identity there (we even have our religion written on our ID card), and I think the founding fathers of our nation really understood the importance of having a set of moral values and a belief based on something holier and greater than our crooked human self. And I am proud of my home country for that.
I just hope that these 'mean' Americans I see on the media can see that too one day. Or at least tolerate the idea and stop generalizing and even persecuting those of us with religious beliefs. And every time the leader of the nation says "God bless America", may it be a prayer that will still be answered.