Methodist Churches Thrive in Indonesia Despite Uncertainties
by Rebecca Asedillo
Stories of hope and courage abound among the congregations of the autonomous Methodist Church of Indonesia, a mission partner of The United Methodist Church.
Here are some recent accounts of the power of grace and faith.
A Growing Church, An Alarming Incident
Gereja Sola Gracia, a Methodist congregation in an industrial community about an hour and a half drive from Jakarta, Indonesia, is a growing church. Some 100 persons, up from 60 to 70, now worship in its storefront-type structure. A hundred or so Sunday school children cram inside a second-floor space about 4.5 x 10 meters. Last year the church added a Sunday afternoon worship service.
The congregation is organized into five cell groups, which function like Wesleyan class meetings, and has a praise band and four music teams made up mostly of teenagers. All members, except the lay leader, work in factories, and 50 percent of them make their tithes to the church.
But last summer, Gereja Sola Gracia faced a crisis. On June 22nd a banner reading, "We do not allow Christians in our place," appeared on their street. Later, 40 men on motorcycles arrived when worship was about to start to underscore the message of the banner. Some of them carried stones in their hands. The pastor, Rev. Sabam Tobing, was away that day, so his wife, Rosmalela, and the church lay leader negotiated with the group to be permitted to hold the worship service for at least an hour. The men agreed but were quick to inform them when the hour was up.
The experience alarmed the church, but Gereja Sola Gracia continues to worship at its location, while at the same time working through legal channels and with the residents of the neighborhood to establish the right to practice their faith in peace.
Another Methodist church on the outskirts of Jakarta had an opposite experience of sorts. Recently, the GMI Gethsemane Depok (the Gethsemane Methodist Church in Depok) received a government grant of 10 million rupiah (approximately US $1,100) from the Ministry of Religion. The money went to buy a keyboard, a drum set, and a guitar for the praise and worship team.
Church attendance at Gethsemane church has increased from 70 to 100, with membership made up of street vendors, factory workers, college students, and civil servants. Seventy percent of these members tithe, according to their pastor, the Rev. Lambas Simatupang. Established 21 years ago, this congregation is fully self-supporting. Last year, through a special offering, the church started a scholarship program that is now paying the school fees for six students from 7th to 9th grades. The pastor would like to do more outreach ministry especially among the street children, whom he sees every day loitering around bus terminals because they are unable to go to school.
Relying on Grace
Yoshua Trimomukti, located in southern Sumatra, is a typical Methodist rural church in some ways and a unique church in other ways. Its members, consisting of about 37 families, are all peasants, with only eight families owning their own land. The pastor's salary is partially paid by the district. The church operates a preschool that also receives support from Methodist congregations in Jakarta.
Thirteen households participate in the undu-undu, which is a tithe of the rice harvests. This year the church has collected three million rupiah's worth (about $300) through undu-undu. One-third of the proceeds of this collection is reserved for Christmas, one-third for the church building, and another third for the pastor's family.
In order to become self-sufficient, the church hopes to purchase land where some members of the church can cultivate crops. The expected proceeds would be some one million rupiah a month, or a little over $1,200 a year. To date the church has raised $1,000 toward the land cost and is looking for another $5,000 to accomplish its goal.
Like all Methodist congregations in Indonesia, Yoshua Trimomukti relies on God's grace, as does its pastor, who is a remarkable figure.
The Rev. Celsius Purba has been blind since he was five years old. As the sixth of 10 children, he spent most of his time behind closed doors because, he recalls, his family was ashamed of him. He ran away from an orphanage in which he was placed. Yet, somehow, God had a plan for him. Celsius Purba found his way to a center for the blind. He completed primary and secondary education, graduating with excellent grades. A bishop of the Gereja Kristen Protestan di Indonesia (Protestant Christian Church in Indonesia) encouraged him to go to seminary, and he followed the advice.
Later, when he visited his family, his parents were surprised that he had graduated from seminary. Incredulously, they asked him, "But who will employ you?" The Methodist Church in Indonesia received him with joy.
The family also asked, "And who will marry you?"
"God provided for me a wonderful woman," said Rev. Purba of his wife, Farida, "and we have three children, a girl and two boys."
Farida teaches at Yoshua Trimomukti's preschool. She also drives the motorcycle that takes Rev. Purba to an internet café in the next town twice a week to check his e-mail. The Rev. Don Turman, a former Global Ministries missionary in Indonesia, provided software that makes it possible for Pastor Purba to use a computer.
The Apostle Paul declares in I Corinthians 12, "…but the Lord said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness…' for whenever I am weak, then I am strong." Echoing Paul, Rev. Purba testifies, "My weakness is my strength!"
Methodist mission in Indonesia began in 1905 as an extension of the work in Malaysia. The church became autonomous in 1964 during a period of volatile political confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia. This condition made it difficult for the bishop based in Singapore, then a part of Malaysia, to lead the church in Indonesia.
But Global Ministries has continued through the years to link closely with the Methodist Church in Indonesia through scholarships and other programs aimed at developing the leadership capacity of the church's pastors, youth, and women. Through The Advance program, United Methodists have contributed funds toward medical outreach, the opening of new congregations, agriculture-extension ministries, and theological scholarships.
Currently, the Methodist Church in Indonesia is appealing urgently for individual volunteers to teach in the departments of medicine, agriculture, and English at the Methodist University in Medan. Truly God has marvelous plans in store for the church in Indonesia.
Rebecca Asedillo is the executive secretary for Connectional Relations relating with mission partners in the Asia Pacific region for the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.
Date posted: Oct 28, 2008