Learning and growing together in Nias

In July to August, three LCA International Mission volunteers travelled to the isolated island of Nias, Indonesia. Under the guidance of LCA International Mission and in cooperation with KN-LWF, we participated in a month long volunteer program of teaching English.  This experience contributed to the growing relationships between various Lutheran-oriented Christian churches within Indonesia.

We were the first volunteers to be sent to support the Orahua Niha Keriso Protestan (ONKP) Church or the Communion of Nias Protestant Christian Church (ONKP).  The purpose of the program was to enhance the capacity of the local pastors and vicars by providing introductory English lessons. Overall, the poor economic conditions in Nias and the limited resources of the ONKP Church, mean opportunities to learn English are extremely limited.

Nias at 5,121 km2 is slightly larger than Kangaroo Island (4,405 km2) but has a population of around 788,000. There are only two towns, the largest being Gunungsitoli with 126,000 inhabitants.  Infrastructure, including roads, is limited and poor. The population of Nias consists of the original inhabitants of Nias, Malays, Bataks, Minangs and Chinese people. It is a predominantly Protestant Christian island but is perhaps best known for Stone Jumping, due to its origins based on Megalithic culture. Stone Jumping is an adulthood ritual for males, whereby young men run and leap over stone towers of approximately two metres. This ritual represents the leaping over of enemy walls in the past.

Our accommodation on Nias was within 100 metres of the sea. We were prayerfully mindful that in 2004 and 2005 this was the scene of earthquake and tsunami devastation (which was still evident elsewhere in the area) when 122 people and 800 people respectively were reported dead, along with 2,000 casualties. Evidence of the devastation was still present on Nias, elsewhere in the area. Fortunately, a two storey stone building was nearby!

We had expected about 30 participants (pastors, vicars and office staff) for daily lessons but final numbers hovered between 15 and 20 people. Pastoral duties and long commuting distances by motorbike from outlying congregations impacted on who could actually attend. The Bishop and General Secretary of ONKP attended sessions when they were able. Classes were held in a large, spacious meeting hall in the ONKP centre.

We decided to combine the students into just one class. This worked well in terms of group social interaction, providing a variety of learning tasks and efficient use of resources. The overall level of English language ability was very low but Ray was able to provide direct learning support by translating instructions and points of grammar (from Nick and Viv) into Indonesian.

Much of the teaching, and learning, focussed on the fundamentals of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Basic vocabulary included learning the days of the week/months, telling time and discussing daily routines. Grammar lessons included tenses, prepositions and articles, and pronunciation lessons covered stress, intonation and practising basic conversations. Participants particularly enjoyed learning English through singing. We had a guitar available and included songs from the All Together book as well as the song, “Give Thanks” and the Australian national anthem.  Bible verses and selected liturgical sections were used also (e.g. John 3:16, John 6:37, Romans 3:28, et alia) emphasising salvation by faith, not works (sole fide) and the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer.

We had an opportunity to attend an ONKP church service at Tetesua village/area where the language of the worship service was Indonesian, rather than Nias language (which is the case in all other ONKP churches). This meant that a periodic translation by one of the volunteers was possible. The service included a youth band and was accompanied by various small choirs, short testimonies and a “fiery” sermon. We were welcomed and at one point were invited to speak to the congregation about who we are and the purpose of the program at the ONKP Centre. We were also able to share a short spiritual message in Indonesian. In the last week of the course, the Tetesua ONKP Church graciously organised a farewell evening meal with the Church Council and the Bishop also held a small lunch gathering at his home within the ONKP Centre complex.

The experience of serving as English teachers among the ONKP Christians was rewarding and spiritually uplifting, in the sense of being able to serve fellow Christians. It was also a pleasure to share the teaching and experience in Nias with Vivien and Nick Binks, who were well-prepared, and shared the handling of all tasks and challenges in an engaging manner with the ONKP English course participants.  We hope that the intention to continue the program of English teaching at ONKP by a fellow ONKP school teacher will come to fruition, and that more LCA International Mission volunteers will be inspired to continue this work into the future.

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 nevin.nitschke@lca.org.au. For more information, go to http://www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/volunteer/

Read more stories about volunteering at http://www.lcamission.org.au/category/join-gods-mission/volunteers/