Friday, December 7, 2012

Telling the story from different points of view

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  (I Corinthians 3:7)

     Told from a global north point of view, the story of Mennonite missions in Indonesia begins in the Netherlands. In 1851, the Doopsgezinde Zending Vereniging (DZV) sent Pieter Jansz, its first missionary, to Java. The result today is three Mennonite synods with more than 340 congregations and more than 108,000 members.

     But there is a different way to tell the story that is also true. For the leaders of the Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ Synod) the story could begin like this:

     Tunggul Wulung was a Javanese mystic who joined Diponegoro, a Javanese prince,in fighting against the colonial rule of the Dutch in the late 1820s.  After Diponegoro was defeated and exiled, Tunggul Wulung was on the run. His spiritual quest was to find the Messiah. In about 1851, he attended a meeting in which Dutch Mennonite Pieter Janz was sharing about Jesus Christ. Tunggul Wulung sat in the window, unseen by anyone else except Pieter Janz.  Tunggul Wulung took this as a sign that Pieter Janz was speaking the truth.  

     Tunggul Wulung spread the good news by clearing land in the jungle and creating Christian villages in Bondo, Margorejo, and Banyutowo.  As an ex-soldier, he would not honor the colonial government. He also had difficulties relating to Pieter Janz who he saw as coming from the  colonial power under whom the Javanese people had lost their rights. But from these beginnings of a search for a Messiah amidst the struggles of relationship, a church of more than 100 congregations and 40,000 members was eventually born.   

     The Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI) synod might begin the story this way:

      Tee Sin Tat was an ethnic Chinese business man in Kudus in the early 1900s who was seeking spiritual guidance. He first contacted the Salvation Army but he was disturbed when they conducted baptisms under the Dutch flag. He contacted the Seventh Day Adventists, but was offended by their teaching against eating pork. He visited the Salib Putih Reformed Mission in Salatiga and they encouraged him to visit the Dutch Mennonite missionaries in Kudus. The Dutch Mennonite theology satisfied Tee Sin Tat and so he was baptized by Dutch Mennonites in Kayu Apu in 1920.  

      Tee Sin Tat was a businessman and he began a church using the same business principles.  When he wanted to be ordained, the Dutch Mennonites refused.  Instead, Tee Sin Tat was ordained by the government under the Dutch queen’s decree.  

      The GKMI became a Synod in 1948. It now has 50 congregations and 16,000 members. The GKMI has never been dependent on a mission board.  This spirit of independence is an ongoing strength in the GKMI congregations. They fully support their congregations and only funded extra projects from the outside. 

     There is no doubt that the Dutch church played an important role in the Mennonite mission effort in Indonesia. It is also true that God's spirit was already present in Indonesia among the Javanese and the Chinese people.

    Praise God for the vibrant Mennonite Christian witness in Java and elsewhere that is the result today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Connecting in Indonesia and around the world

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.
 Romans 15:13

     One congregation in the rural village of Srumbung Gunung and another in the city of Ungaran. The two Mennonite churches in Indonesia are probably not 20 miles apart, but in other ways, the distance seems much greater. 

     There are almost 110,000 Mennonites in Indonesia in three different synods (denominations). One originated in a Javanese context (GITF), and another began among the Chinese in Indonesia (GKMI). The third (JKI), younger, more pentecostal and urban, is also more connected to Mennonites on the West Coast of the United States.

     On the first Sunday of Advent at 7 a.m., you could see the members and families of the Srumbung Gunung (GKMI) congregation (left above) walk up the road to the church at the top of the hill. They are a minority here because most of their neighbors are Muslim. But neighbors are neighbors and this community appears to be living together in peace.

      During worship, I am sitting beside Fang Deng, from China. Fang is part of a program sponsored by Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee, called YAMEN!, that places young people from countries in the southern hemisphere for a year of service and learning in other countries in the south. Fang worships with this congregation. Four days a week, she travels by motorbike for an hour each way with the pastor's wife to work in a school in the city of Semarang.
     After worship, we join the pastor for breakfast. Sitting on the floor of the well-sized, breezy and humble home, I can see out the door and watch a woman winnowing rice. The pastor has followed his father-in-law as the pastor of this small congregation and feels God's call to this ministry. 

       The Maranatha Church (above right) in Ungaran is bigger, louder and wealthier. We are joining the youth service at 11 a.m. for about 100 youth, the middle of three services that weekly involves 1,200 members. Everything here seems more closely aligned to my experience in North America, including some English words on the video screen.

      The youth are energetic, dancing and raising arms at times, as they sing praises to the Lord. The pastor preaches from Romans 8 and Ephesians 3 and we are reminded that Christ can accomplish far more in us than we could ever ask or imagine. 

      The pastor expresses thanks for MCC, especially for MCC bringing to this congregation Prashant Nand (YAMEN), a pastoral intern from India.  Is this not cool? An Indonesian Mennonite congregation thanking MCC, a North American organization, for bringing them a youth worker from India!
     On this first Sunday in Advent, one thing that connected these two congregations is that they both celebrated communion. "Take, eat, drink," the pastors encouraged us. As we did, the bread and the cup connected, not only these two congregations, but many more in Indonesia and around the world.

     This Advent season, we look forward to Christ's coming, and we know that he comes again and again to each of us who call him Savior wherever we find ourselves. In the city and in the village. In Indonesia and around the world. May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as we look forward to the birth of the child called Jesus.