Fifteen years in Debora

In 2004, Rosemary Winderlich resigned from several positions and completed a TESOL course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). For the next 15 years she was a ViMO (Volunteer in Mission Overseas), with the Angkola Church, a very small, very isolated Batak church in Indonesia, then to Debora Home, also in Indonesia.

Panti Asuhan Debora (PAD) “home of helping” is funded by the Lutheran Women of Australia (LWA). Residents at Debora are orphans or have one parent, or are very poor. Debora provides a Christian home while the students undertake their secondary education in nearby Sipirok.


Each year, I agonised, ‘is this God’s plan for me’? Only later could I see (usually) how he had used me.

At Debora, English is taught through activities and all activities teach English.

Teaching English to the children is a minefield, for example, ‘weigh’, ‘hay’, ‘faint’, ‘grey’ – all have the same sound but very different spelling! My challenge was to help the children relax and to try. I taught according to their needs, with fun, singing and drama.

The advanced classes would translate songs. This exercise could demonstrate how words often need to be rearranged. It was awesome to see enthusiastic14 year olds, translating from Batak to Indonesian to English. The phonetic code, in good dictionaries, is a secret code. These lessons equip the children to discover pronunciation by themselves; they don’t want these lessons to end! Debora children are known for their good English which is such an important asset in their education.

In Indonesia, gardens are swept clean, so we do experimental gardening with mulching.  Many people live far from a hospital, so we teach First Aid, with much drama!

Donations from Zones and friends have paid for good dictionaries and sewing classes, contributing to valuable skills.

Last year I was asked if I reached my goals from my visits.

First Goal to meet graduates

I meet them while travelling and making special trips – a 30-hour bus trip, several 12-hour trips to Pekan Baru, a ferry from Singapore to Battam Island. Some travel costs have been paid by donations.

In 2019 my daughter booked a flat in Jakarta. Three motherless girls, soon to be married, stayed with me. We discussed marriage. Next, to Pekan Baru, to find a girl out of contact. Martinus, now blind, found her for me! I introduced her to people who could support her.

After leaving PAD, I met two graduates in Siantar, and two in Medan. I stayed in a Malaysian city with two graduates. One came seven hours by train to meet me. Goal achieved!

Second Goal – to interest others in Debora

At a retreat in 2018, I said I would not go again, as my own children worry. Two sisters from the west coast offered to come to mind me and they joined me in Pekan Baru.

In 2007, Ed and Beth Neumann and Kara and Matt Heinrich came, and a group from Horsham and Martin Schumacher visited briefly.

In 2014, the Hulme family from Para Vista visited. In 2017, Tracy Smith and Belinda Petersen, and last year, Jo Veerhuis and Chrissie Stott accompanied me.

Most visits are for about two weeks. All volunteer visitors listened, loved, showed respect, and are remembered with love.

Third Goal – to listen to the children

The children are taught Christian doctrine but have many personal questions. Attending church events takes time. House parents and our hosts deserve attention, and my energy is lessening, so sadly this goal was not achieved well last year.

Fourth Goal – I often have small donations to spend

In 2015, there were only two bush knives left for gardening. With the House Father, the big children and the church’s Agricultural Department, we discussed the best use of the money. I checked with the donors, Springhead church, and we bought the tools. The children wrote “thank you” letters and I reported to the donors – complicated, but important to demonstrate accountability.

Fifth Goal – ongoing contact with graduates

My students from the HKBP Seminary in 2009 asked me join Facebook, and it has proved to be valuable. The children share happy things but when I get a one-word message, “Opung” (grandma), I know they have worries, and I ask questions.

In 2015, one young man was distressed. His wife left their baby in her village so she could work. He needed someone to listen.

Last year, one of my girls had a difficult birth. This year one had a marriage problem. I try to support them through crises like this.

I have spent almost three years in total in Debora and some of those times have been intense. We do not stop worrying about our children when they leave home or even when they become grandparents!  It is my privilege to listen, rejoice and cry with them.

LWA’s support has done much to equip these children to stand strong as Christians in a Muslim world.

LWA, you have greatly increased these children’s opportunities. They love you.

Goodbye again

Children, don’t worry when I cry.
God has been so good to me.
Because of you I am full of joy, so if I cry
it’s joy overflowing.

When we are far apart
I will be sad but also glad
that God led me to you
so if I cry, don’t worry
It’s just my happy, thankful heart overflowing.

If you would like to consider the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in mission, serving in practical ways, teaching English, teaching in the seminaries and institutions of our partner churches, or in local churches, you are invited to phone Nevin on (08) 8267 7300 or email For more information, go to

Read more stories about volunteering at