Sing Unto the Lord

In October I was given the great privilege of attending the Gereja Kristen Protestan Simalungun (GPKS) Festival of Choirs as their guest speaker.

This is a two-day festival. Delmi, my minder and interpreter, and I arrived on the Saturday morning well before proceedings began. I was amazed at the colour of their outfits; some were obviously uniforms. Uniforms is a weird word to use in the context because they were more like evening dress, but they certainly identified the members of vocal groups who were to perform later in the day. When the formal program began I loved the enthusiasm of their singing. In Pentecostal type churches they raise their hands. This doesn’t come naturally to me and my arms ache quickly and there doesn’t seem to be a natural place to put them down. These ladies moved and clapped, and I felt much more comfortable joining with them despite the fact I couldn’t understand the words. We left before the real business of the day, the vocal groups, got under way.

Sunday began with worship. Because the order of service was basically the same as I am familiar with, I was able to pick the creed. When we have large gatherings we still manage to celebrate communion. I missed that, but when we left I saw the hall was packed so it probably wasn’t very manageable. After worship there were the formal welcomes. Then my speech. I followed the mayor (he was the head of a bigger area than our mayors are) and he was a very good speaker. The ladies laughed loudly as he cracked jokes and he had them eating out of his hand.

The speech was the least successful part of my visit. Delmi had warned me this might happen as the women are so focused on their singing. It’s a really big event and the ladies couldn’t wait to get started. A member of the staff of GKPS writes the songs especially for this festival which is really a competition. This was the final stage of the women’s competition; there had previously been heats and two finalists from each of the nine districts of GKPS in each of vocal group and choir sections performed – vocal groups on Saturday, choirs on Sunday. The choirs sang without any accompaniment and were of a very high standard. Each group presented the piece quite differently, so it took me a while to realise that they were all singing the same song.

When we left I realised just how big an event it was. The venue was packed. Outside were many others, predominantly men and there were lots of stalls. What a festive environment!

There are 13 different Lutheran synods in Indonesia. GKPS is a synod based in the Simalungun province which is in northern Sumatra. It has nine districts – seven in the Simalungun province, one on an island and one in Jakarta.

As well as attending the choir festival I was shown various aspects of GKPS’s ministry. We were to visit the women’s crisis centre on the day after I arrived, but a group of about 20 women – pastors, evangelists and a few others including men, were concluding a week long get together where they were discussing the operation of the crisis centre, so we went to the Friday morning of that discussion. I was asked to speak. I wondered what to say, but they asked many questions and were keenly interested in the aboriginal situation. They asked what our church in Australia was doing about violence against women. I was embarrassed to say very little. I had quite a talk with their leader at the end. These people are very active in providing protection and assistance for women who experience domestic violence. They are doing many practical things from mediation within the family to helping women become independent. I was surprised that they were grateful for my visit as they don’t get many visitors from other parts of the world. There were some lively vibrant women in that group. What fun they had taking group photos at the end of the session.

We visited the deaf children who were busy making things to sell at the women’s festival. The children were friendly and welcoming. They learn trades like hairdressing and make things to contribute to the ministry that supports them. We also visited Delmi’s tutoring business where I talked to the children who were learning English. It took me a while to get the hang of how much they knew (or didn’t know). And we went to the orphanage. After we walked around having a look, the staff gathered the children and encouraged them to sing. Initially they were shy, but when an older boy got his guitar, and another got out the rhythm box they really sang and moved whole-heartedly. I was hoping to inspire the aboriginal children with the videos I took.

On Monday I met with church leaders. A number of them were quite apologetic about the speech and they were keenly interested in the LCA, especially in the aboriginal ministry. I was interested to hear that they began to ordain women in 1986. Now nearly 50% of the pastors are women. I was asked to pass on greetings to you and to the church leaders in Australia. They offered to help us with youth and aboriginal ministry.

On the last day we went to a women’s Bible study. They sang acapella and read the text together. A pastor talked about the text. Then I was invited to speak. Delmi suggested this was the time for what I had prepared for the choir festival, so I spoke, trying to remember what was in the presentation. I didn’t remember it all, but it was long enough given the context. The ladies listened attentively.

I really enjoyed the food. We ate in many types of places, so I got to try lots of different foods which I enjoyed almost without exception, though I ate too much. I was very well looked after, given some quiet time as well as taken to places.

I thought I was leaving on Wednesday and we planned to go to a big lake, a beautiful natural area, on Tuesday. Fortunately I realised that my flight was on Tuesday, but I was sad about missing the lake.

I was overwhelmed by the welcome and the generosity that I received.

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

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