May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.
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.