Smiles at Hephata

“Hello! Hello!” The smiling man with the missing teeth called cheerily to us every morning – and every time we walked past his sitting place. His warm call and happy grin were guaranteed to make us smile back. But that was normal at Hephata – we were always met with smiling faces and cheerful greetings in this place of joy.

Hephata Disability Centre is located in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, in a rural community about 20 minutes drive from the nearest town, Laguboti. Hephata is a ministry of the HKBP Lutheran Church in Indonesia, and is also partner in ministry of our Manawatu Lutheran Parish (Palmerston North and Feilding) in New Zealand. This partnership is about two years old and, in July this year, we sent our first team to stay on-site at Hephata, to share skills and make relationships with our brothers and sisters in the centre.

About 70 people with disabilities (24 of whom are blind or visually impaired) live at Hephata, as well as 27 staff living on or near the campus. Two wonderful young pastors and their wives are the leaders of the Centre, and their vision is it will grow to become a self-sufficient farming/ training centre where disabled clients reach their full potential. Presently, Hephata is funded by donations, financial support from the HKBP church, and its own subsistence farming.

In the first year of our partnership, Manawatu parish sent money to install a well and pump at Hephata. Local staff managed this project magnificently, using money wisely to bring clean running water into all houses on the campus for the first time. The project brought much joy for the Hephata folk – but we want our partnership to be more than just money-provision; we want to be in genuine relationship.

The Manawatu parish team included Steve LaGrow, our leader, a Professor in Rehabilitation Studies at Massey University, who led training workshops at Hephata in mobility and cane skills for blind clients and their trainers. Rick Satherley, a farmer; and Butch Jurgens, a stock agent, showed the small but keen Hephata farming team how to clear scrub, raise fences (including a solar-powered electric fence!), and manage beef stock.

Greenhouse manager Brian Mackenzie worked in the gardens and with the farming team, constructing fences and gates. Pauline Simonsen taught at a nearby Bible Women’s school, and also led some visioning and team-building for Hephata staff and leaders.

We were a varied group! But during months of preparation and, especially, the ten-day visit, we knitted together closely, enjoying the experiences and caring for each other as we encountered new cultural practises, interesting housing and food, and some sickness. It was great to share stories after we returned from work sites.

Steve regaled us with tales of cane races with a visually-impaired young boy, as onlookers cheered. Rick and Butch were increasingly satisfied by watching the skinny, thirsty cattle fill out with the good water and feed they’d taught the farming team to provide. Brian, our official photographer, has left his protégé with the skills to build a fine “Taranaki” gate for future fences!

Indonesia has the fourth-largest population in the world (230 million, primarily Muslim), spread across thousands of islands. In Sumatra we found minimal infrastructure, and the living conditions were very basic. There is virtually no government support for disabled people and, as a result, the Church picks up a lot of the social services.

Hephata stood out to us as a safe haven where disabled people received love, respect and good care, and were taught hygiene and communal responsibility. We were profoundly impressed with the vision and energy of Pr. Alaris and Pr. Osten, and humbled by how staff made a good home and environment from scant resources.

We left with a deep respect and affection for those we met at Hephata, and a strong commitment to see the partnership between our two communities grow and deepen – hopefully to the blessing of many, and to God’s will and glory.

This story was also published in the November 2010 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

If you, your congregation or your school, would like to know how you can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email For more information, go to

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