The Souls of Two Pilots

June 2020

Commentary by Wayne Forrest, President

Over the past few months I have been trying to make sense of our current pandemic and find a coherent truth in the cacophony of news reports and government policies.  How is our economy going to open ? What are we doing about China ? What are the implications for US-Indonesia commercial relations ? Its all dizzying.  And then there was heartbreaking news from Papua, one of Indonesia’s most remote and underdeveloped provinces.  Joyce Lin, a 40-year old American pilot for a missionary service died in a crash on May 14th while delivering COV-ID 19 test kits to a clinic in a remote highlands village. Full of love for the people of the communities she served, a daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, educated at MIT with two degrees in information technology, Joyce worked as an IT specialist for the U.S. Air Force and for a private cybersecurity firm until she felt the pull of missionary work. Along the way she became an experienced pilot, only recently approved for solo flights. Joyce’s story recalls that of another American flyer, Bobby Freeberg, a World War II combat pilot who bought a Dakota in the Philippines after the war, flew it to Indonesia, and joined the revolution against Dutch colonialism.  He flew supply missions behind Dutch lines and ferried President Soekarno around the archipelago until a fatal crash in Sumatra in 1947. Freeberg was only 27 and there were no Indonesian pilots until he arrived to train them. His plane was the first in Indonesia’s air force.  I am proud of these Americans; they made the ultimate sacrifice to help a young, democratic nation.  Is a missionary so different from the business man or woman who trades the comfortable culture in which they were raised to work in a foreign land ?  Indonesian or American, we hold each other’s hands.

The souls of Joyce and Bobby are forever bound in the US-Indonesia web in a way few of us can fathom but we can see the larger truth they represent: our interconnectedness and common humanity.  The pandemic may help us find our way to a world less inhibited by borders or it can cause us to retreat within them.  The choice is upon us and we must make it.

These days, every country lives in the shadow of John Maynard Keynes, the legendary British economist whose stimulus policies have now made every government a deficit spender.  All countries are moving towards a “new normal” that begins with a choice over whether we reopen based on reliable data or throw caution (and our masks) to the wind. America and Indonesia have regions and people following each of these paths.   We can share the new vaccines or retreat to a Darwinian struggle that will exacerbate rather than ameliorate the rising tensions of inequality.

I like to think AICC’s successful project, Topeng Sehat, that provided twice the amount of respirator masks and PPE gear for Indonesian hospitals than we anticipated, represents the best instincts among us.  Many of our members have launched their own efforts.  They are all in the tradition of the saintly pilots.

We just completed a call with Bank Indonesia’s visionary governor, Perry Warjiyo, who is actively empowering the digital economy and IT.  The clear implication is that borderless data can help us beat a borderless pandemic.

AICC members offer other products and services– whether its expertise to float an economy-saving bond, binding documents of a business transaction, or the distribution channels for key agricultural products– that are fundamental to the recovery.  But protectionism and an all out economic war with China over the cause of COVID-19 and Hong Kong’s status are examples of wrongheaded approaches that can only lead to a pandemic worse than the pandemic.

Let us stand for a world where our sameness outweighs our differences. Lets honor the souls of the two pilots.

(The writer’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce