A New Era

Mention the word ‘Indonesia’ and many people would not associate it with the word ‘Christian’.

However, it is estimated that there are over 21 million Christians in Indonesia (and growing), making up over 10% of the population. This includes nearly 4 million people belonging to twelve different Lutheran church groups in Indonesia, mostly located in Northern Sumatra.

Over the past 30 years the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA), has developed significant partnerships with six of these church groups. The partnerships have included a variety of aspects such as visitations to both countries, provision of lecturers in seminaries, scholarships, financial and practical support for orphanages, books for seminary libraries, school partnerships, relief in times of disaster, and volunteers serving in a range of ministry areas.

Over the past year a new and exciting phase of mission partnership between Lutheran churches in Indonesia and the LCA has begun. This new era of mission will build on the relationships already established between the churches in both countries.

In a great spirit of cooperation, a coordinating group of people have been meeting to implement the project ‘Strengthening Churches for Service in Indonesia Program’, which has been made possible by a generous gift from the Lutheran Laypeople’s League (LLL).

The long-term goal of the project is to assist the Lutheran churches in Indonesia to ‘strengthen their capacity to live out the gospel in a predominately Muslim society through effective programs of service to the wider community’.

Building on past LCA relationships with the six Lutheran partner churches in Indonesia, the project will use 70% of the funds given by the LLL to enhance and strengthen institutional capacity, particularly of the diaconial departments (including the welfare, humanitarian, development and education sectors) in these churches, specifically in Sumatra. The other 30% of the funding will be used in specific and selected projects which have been identified by the Indonesian churches as areas of need. The LCA’s offer of assistance in these projects will also involve a capacity-building component to help ensure longer-term sustainability.

The program also seeks to support the Indonesian churches in their efforts to improve the governance, financial administration and general management practices of their departments, with the intent of providing strategic direction and greater transparency in all areas. Underlying this partnership is the principle that the partnership is one in which the dignity of the Indonesian churches continues to be built up and maintained.

The primary focus of the program is the establishment of a Centre for Community Development Studies and a Disaster Response Management Unit at Nommensen University, Medan. (Nommensen is a Lutheran university with over 6500 students.) It is anticipated that this initiative will, through a mix of practical and theoretical course work, improve the skills of church staff involved in diaconal work.

The funding to date has helped to upgrade facilities at a 23-hectare farm owned by Nommensen University in Medan, where the centre will be based. At the same time there has been a great deal of support given to the centre management team in thinking through how it will function, what courses will be run and how best to ensure maximum participation by the Lutheran Indonesian churches.

In a recent visit to Indonesia with Linda Macqueen (editor of The Lutheran) I had the opportunity to visit the Centre for Community Development Studies at the farm at Simalingkar on the outskirts of Medan. Excerpts from my journal entry for that day give some idea of my impressions…

It was inspiring to see what had taken place at the site since the earlier reports of Gary Simpson and Ken Semmler. Five hectares of the farm are already thick with lush corn crops. Healthy cattle imported from Australia are housed in a renovated shed; soy-bean crops are growing, and dry rice farming plots give splashes of vivid green to the already green landscape. Evidence of the vision taking shape is also seen in the healthy pink pigs which are now housed in the clean and repaired stalls. The farm looks good! The tired buildings are sturdy and, although in need of maintenance, there is evidence of good construction of these buildings in a previous time. The potential for income generation and most importantly for the opportunity to offer vital training to people who will in turn offer new and improved ways to cultivate the land and improve its production, and protect the fragile environment and land structure is huge.

Wednesday, 13 June – A very special day today, shared with the people of the Gereja Kristen Protestan Simalungan (GKPS). It started early with breakfast at 6.00 am. About a 45-minute trip into the country – rough, winding road to Sibarou to lay the foundation stone for the construction of new classrooms made possible by the LLL/LCA funds. Various people from different sections of the community and GKPS, and Linda and I, got into the trench and laid a stone with cement and prayed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. After this we were invited into the church for corn on the cob, fried bananas, thick black sweet coffee and speeches. These people live and speak out their faith. I had a great sense of God’s presence. Something very special is evident in the GKPS.

After this ceremony we travelled for about an hour further into the country to Pematang Raya to lay the foundation stone for the second school building made possible from the LLL/LCA funds. SMP (Junior High School) started in 1954. Before 1980 they had 21 classrooms but now only four, into which 150 students (12-15 year olds) are crammed. Nine thousand students have graduated from the school.

We were enthusiastically greeted by women in traditional custom, who placed garlands of purple orchids around our necks. Girls in traditional dresses of pink and red danced the traditional Simalungan dances in front of us. The ceremony included lots of foundation-stone laying, warmth, laughter, God’s Spirit, worship, prayers, thanks, hospitality, encouragement, speeches, Simalungan dancing (both Linda and I were invited to dance!!!), students, singing, traditional food, roasted chicken’s head on my plate, hope, and “Horas” (the traditional spoken greeting).

One school classroom cost 35 million IDR. Workers and students from the vocational school (at Siantar, which we had visited earlier in the day) will help to build the classrooms to keep the costs down. There will be additional savings through the tables and chairs provided by the vocational school students. In 2008 the capital of Simalungan will move from Pematang Siantar to Pematang Raya, with the expectation that the school will grow through the influx of people moving into the region.

Margharetha Orphanage stands out in the landscape on 6.8 hectares of land. It is a beautiful picture: large white buildings surrounded by rice paddies and fields of corn. We received an enthusiastic welcome from volunteer Leonie Purba (wife of the Secretary General of the GKPS, Rev Ramanja Purba), the 30 children (mostly from Nias, from where they came after the earthquake of 2004), some of the seven salaried staff and volunteers. Ten girls and twenty boys make up this special community. Volunteers are very welcome. Preparation of ground for the play equipment, soccer field and basketball court is underway as a result of the LLL/LCA funding.

Thursday, 14 June – We met with the faculty of the Nommensen campus at Siantar. Presently 2000 students are enrolled and it is planned to have 3000 students. There is a vision and desire to improve the quality of graduates and upgrade facilities, particularly computers, as well as connecting departments to the internet. The English department has 1000 students and f ive lecturers. They stressed a need for lecturers and volunteers from Australia, both for teaching and for conversational English classes. As in the previous visit of Adrienne Jericho to the Siantar campus, they reiterated their need for journals and material on the methodology and techniques of teaching English. Staff also expressed their need for a teacher of Mathematics – this can have the dual benefits to students of studying mathematics and learning English at the same time.

The language laboratory at the Nommensen Uni, Siantar campus is in very poor condition and under-resourced. There are 20 booths but 40 are needed, and much of the equipment is broken or outdated. In a country where many of the people are desperate to learn English, the campus is well-placed to respond to this need and in so doing has a significant influence on the lives of many young people. Young Muslims are part of this growing student body and share in the daily Christian devotions of some of the lecturers and students. One teacher told me it so exciting that, as he has devotion each day with his students, the seeds of Jesus Christ are planted in their lives.

The 300 students in the Maths, Physics and Accountancy courses have no access to the internet (only the dean has internet access) and the computers which are over seven years old show the wear and tear of over-use. The staff expressed a real keenness to partner with the LCA.

This campus is the beneficiary of funds from the LLL/LCA project money for the language laboratory.

Some of the other projects presently undertaken through LCA support and the LLL gift are in-country theological training for pastors, theological training for lay workers, support for the training of Sunday school teachers, and education and mission to the indigenous children of the Kubu people group in a remote area of Indonesia.

It is exciting also to see evidence of the long-term ministry support from the LCA and the contribution that we as LCA have made to the life of these partner churches in Indonesia through the provision of scholarships, particularly at ALC. The people who have studied in Australia at ALC stand out in the crowd and through them we continue to make a significant contribution to the life of these churches.

The Christians in Indonesia have much to teach us in this new global village that we live in. The churches in Indonesia have a great sense of being practical in their love and witness to people. They (together with our other South-East Asian partner churches) will provide us with the opportunities to serve the poor, the needy, the broken and hurting people with the love of Jesus in new ways. Their gift of hospitality is overwhelming, the way in which they live out their faith, particularly in a Muslim society, is enlightening and inspiring. What they have to offer the LCA through teaching, exchanges, practical engagement in the missions they have already established and personal interaction is what I believe will help us (the LCA) as part of the body of Christ begin to come alive again and become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

I look forward to taking others to this land where one of the twelve different Lutheran Churches alone has close to 43 times as many members as the LCA.

This story was also published in the October 2007 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

If your school would like to know how they can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission service-learning partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email erin.kerber@lca.org.au. For more information, go to www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/service-learning/

Read more stories about school partnerships and school service-learning at www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/local-partners/schools/