John and Jan Oakes are visiting four churches in Indonesia as well as Singapore. We will be regularly updating our report on our wonderful journey to teach and encourage Christians in this exotic part of the world. We will also be posting lessons as we go. We have now been in Surabaya on Java, inManado on Sulawesi, and Jakarta to teach for the chuch there. From there we went to Bali to rest and teach. Plans for travel to Singapore are put off by an volcanic eruption in Eastern Java at Mt. Ruang.
Missionary Teaching Trip Report Indonesia and Singapore, 2015
Surabaya, Java June 25-29
We are met by our friends Sahat and Joyce on arrival in Jakarta. They lead a region of 300 in the southwest of Jakarta. For now, we are just passing through Jakarta on our way to Surabaya. Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia. It is in the northeast of Java, with a population of about six million. It is famous in Indonesia as the center of the uprising against the Dutch in 1949 in the battle of Surabaya that led to independence from European colonization. The name of the city means shark-crocodile.
Indonesia itself is a massive country, with 6000 inhabited islands, stretching farther than the distance from San Diego to the tip of Maine. Surabaya, like Jakarta, is on Java. Java is only the fifth largest of Indonesia’s islands, behind Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea and Sulawesi, yet the population of this crowded island is more than 140 million out of a total of 252 million inhabitants in the country. The island is wall-to-wall rice-farming villages between the large cities such as Surabaya, Bandung, Jog Jakarta and Jakarta. The country is an interesting religious mixture. It is about 85% Muslim, making it the largest Muslim-majority country in the world (only India has more Muslims). However, it is officially a secular state, with significant minorities of Christians, especially in parts of Sumatra, New Guinea and Ambon and other islands, as well as a good number of Buddhists, mostly ethnic Chinese in the cities, and Hindus on Bali. Radicalized Islam is relatively rare in Indonesia, but there are regions such as Banda Aceh in northern Sumatra and in various cities across the country where sharia law is enforced. Christians are occasionally strongly persecuted, yet this I spotty and there is generally a relative peace and acceptance.
We are met in Surabaya by Johnson and Alin. They lead a group of 250 here in this bustling city. Johnson an Alin help to support the work in seven churches in Eastern Java and Bali. Part of our purpose here in Surabaya is to provide teaching and encouragement for the leaders of these seven churches. The churches and their leaders are Jursen and Wari Lee in Denpasar, Bali, Fenho and Joina from Makasar (in southern Sulawesi), as well as Tobing and Kanti from the important city of Semarang, Hendra and Mike, from the third largest city on Java, Jogjakartkka, Oscar and Wenchy from Solo, and Herdi and Sien-Sien in Malang, a city only three hours from Surabaya. The church here in Indonesia has been very faithful about planting churches in every major city. There are more than thirty churches with over 4500 disciples. Next year, Jursen and Wuri are planning on planting a second church in central Bali. We are really encouraged by the faith of the leaders and the members of all these churches.
On Friday PM I gave a lesson on God and Science to an expanded Bible group of about forty, with many visitors. We shared a wonderful meal of local Indonesian food. Saturday was a very full day, made a bit tough by jet lag. I taught for 3-1/2 hours on the book of Revelation. With a church of about 250, there were at least that many at the classes. This included disciples from Jogjakarta, Solo, Malang and Semarang. Some drove eight hours for these classes. The hunger for deep teaching from the Bible here is really amazing. Lunch on Saturday was at a really great Japanese restaurant with the leaders of the seven churches. This is particularly poignant since I am teaching from the Book of Revelation and the letters to the seven churches. Jan shared her life and gave some inspiration to the women leaders from the different churches. It is good to have her here as a partner in helping encourage the Christians.
Worship on Sunday was so inspiring. The singing is really amazing. There are about 350 in attendance, with no empty seats. Given that the church has 250 members, this is really something. The sermon was on Living by Faith from Hebrews 11. After a quick lunch, we are back for 2-1/2 hours more of teaching from the Book of Revelation. It seems that the church can’t get enough of Bible teaching. In the evening we have dinner with Johnson and Alin, dreaming for what can happen through the churches here in East Java. They REALLY need some support from mature leaders to help the work. With just one full-time couple leading 250, and also overseeing the work in six other churches, it is easy to understand why they might feel the need for help. Will anyone reading this report consider coming to help with the campus or teens here in Surabaya? Perhaps you could teach English here. It would be the Christian adventure of a lifetime.
Monday AM I am now teaching for the staff from the churches on the Book of Ezekiel. This is one of my very favorite books in the Bible. After teaching for five hours on Ezekiel, these brothers and sisters are still wanting more teaching, so we have an additional unplanned class on the Holy Spirit. After six hours of teaching, they still have many questions, so we go another hour. The people here love to eat. It seems they are always eating but never becoming overweight. I do not know how they do it, but perhaps it is because they have such a wonderful variety of exotic fruits and vegetables. The diet here is much healthier than in the US. In the evening we go to a wonderful restaurant serving Indonesian food. Typical here is to put ten or more different kinds of food on the table. It is quite spicy and, to us, exotic, and the variety of tastes are absolutely wonderful.
Tuesday we are up very early for the flight to Menado, thanks to Jursin and Wuri.
Manado, Sulawesi, June 30-July 1
The flight to Manado is 2-1/2 hours. We are coming to Sulawesi. This is one of the more exotic places on the earth. The island is very large, in the shape of the letter aleph. Sulawesi is famous for its coffee and for the beautiful coral reefs. Manado is the second largest city in Sulawesi, after Makassar. It is on the northeast tip of this very large island. The church we are visiting has about 150 members. It is led by Togar and Frieda Siantari. They have been here for nine years. The church is made up of mostly younger people, with eight campus students, many singles and mostly young marrieds. Manado is unusual for Indonesia, as it is a principally Christian city. Northern Sulawesi is 60% Christian and 40% Muslim. Driving around Manado, it is clear that it is more than 60% of the Christian faith, as there are churches on nearly every corner. We only saw one mosque here in the city. This part of Indonesia is a model for cooperation between the religions. On Christmas, the Muslim youth come to help with parking and security for the churches, and at Ramadan, the Christian youth return the favor. We can only wish this was the pattern throughout this country.
On Monday evening I spoke on Acts and Church History—a challenge for us to get the vision for our mission and to do what the early church did to change the world. The place was packed, and I met several visitors. There is also a group which drove 1-1/2 hours from their sister church in Bitung, which has thirty members. We are very encouraged by the Christians in this wonderful church. Both lunch and dinner, of course, consist of several kinds of fish. Food here is largely a wide variety of sea food, and everything is served with very hot chili.
On Wednesday we are blessed to travel to world-famous Bunaken Island with Togar and Frieda and a few friends to snorkel in the coral reef there. The beauty of the fantastic variety of fish, corals, and many other kinds of animals is awe-inspiring. It can only be experienced—not adequately described. The class for the church tonight is on the Holy Spirit. Togar is trying to help the church to fall deeply in love with God and to take things deeper in the knowledge of the scripture. Again, the attendance is excellent and we meet new visitors.
Thursday we traveled with Togar and Frieda to Bitung. This is a port city of about 125,000 forty kilometers from Manado. There is a small church here of just over 30 members. We are received by the leaders here with a feast of fish and other local food. We also are able to see the tarsiers. These are the world’s smallest primates. You can hold them in your hand. From there we travel back to Manado for the flight to Indonesia. We need to remember the size of this country. The flight is three hours, along the northern end of Sulawesi, across the entire length of southern Borneo, across the Java Sea to Jakarta.
Jakarta July 3-6
We are now back in one of my favorite cities in the world. Jakarta is a mixture of first world modern sky scrapers, malls and infrastructure with third world poverty. It is a bustling city of 25 million, with traffic to match. Do not plan on getting anywhere too fast in this city. Jakarta, like Surabaya, has lately been blessed with good government and relatively less corruption. The city is modernizing and even the poor are beginning to see some benefits.
The church here has 2000 members. Last time we were here—two and one-half years ago, it was about 1500, so they have had considerable growth. The faith of both the leadership and of the members here is a marvel. Harliem and Vania Salim have done an amazing job to inspire faith in the church here, and this faith has spread to the more than thirty churches across Indonesia. The faith of the church here is something amazing. They have converted literally hundreds of people who are successful—judges, lawyers, business men and professors. They have raised up leaders in order to plant fifteen churches in the last five years. Because of a need, they are now helping churches in Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam. It is the faith in God of the leaders and the members which encourages us so much. It gives us vision for others to do the same.
We could tell a limitless number of stories of miracles of faith here. Space does not allow. I met with a man who was at the highest echelon of the mafia here. When he repented of his sin, his income went from $500,000 per month to $500 per month because he had no means to make a living which were not corrupt. When he “counted the cost” one of the costs he counted was that a one hundred million dollar cash payment was coming to him that very week, as payment for some corruption he had agreed to. He turned down the money, of course. After four years of no income at all (the $500/month came from selling their many possessions), he finally found an opportunity without any corruption at all, and is now doing very well financially. The convictions of this man are astounding. He has an insanely busy schedule with his current business pursuits, yet he prays and studies the Bible four hours per day. Many dozens of the most wealthy and successful Indonesians have flocked into the church, along with regular Indonesians, as well, of course. The singles group has gone in the last few years from a struggling ministry to more than five hundred, most of whom are in their 20s. Harliem and Vania share that there are so many who want to study the Bible that they have had to create a waiting list. Most of us would love to have this problem. I met a man who is extremely successful who was baptized recently. It turns out that he was a student of mine at Grossmont College back in 1988.
On Friday we drove 90 minutes to a teen retreat south of Jakarta. There were 150 teens at the retreat, including some from Surabaya, Semarang and other churches. I spoke on “Knowing God: The Christian Adventure” which was a call for us to love God with all our minds and to take seeking after God as the greatest adventure of our lives. The teens were called to use their gifts in service to God. Afterward, the question and answer session went for over an hour. We spent time eating and fellowshipping with the teens for another hour and a half, after which we drove back to Jakarta and the home of Tadge and Linda. They run an international school from preschool to twelfth grade. Their home is a mecca, with friends coming and going all the time.
Saturday was a five hour class on the Book of Revelation. There were about 900 in attendance, including a lot of visitors. There is a great deal of confusion and false teaching from Revelation in Indonesia, and even the church seems to have accepted some of this teaching, so the lesson is helpful. The class went from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM, yet the crowd did not diminish at all. They are really hungry for knowledge of the Bible here.
Sunday, of course, was church. They have two services here. The auditorium, which holds about 1400 was packed for the first service (at 8:00 AM!) and nearly packed for the second service. I was blessed to speak on Living By Faith (Hebrews 11). Jan shared for the Lord’s supper at the early service. The worship here is really encouraging. After church was a two hour question and answer session with singles leaders, followed by some rest and a movie. We are blessed to spend good time with both Harliem and Vania and the official leaders of the Jakarta church, Budi and his wife.
Monday I taught five hours to the staff on the Book of Ezekiel, which is one of my favorite books. There were about forty in the class, including leaders of the Tangeran church and other churches in the satellite cities around Jakarta. The need for in-depth teaching is great here. There are so many young Christians and young leaders who are ready for “solid food.”
If you are inspired to hear about the example of the churches here, let me suggest two possibilities. Consider coming to visit Indonesia and spend some time with the church. Your faith and vision will be encouraged. Between Manado and Bali, there are two great resorts to visit while here. There is much need for mature Christians, so perhaps you might consider coming and visiting one or two of the smaller churches to do some teaching or to share your experience. Any help and fellowship would be greatly appreciated.
Denpassar, Bali July 7-12
On Tuesday we take a ninety minute flight to Denpassar, the leading city on the island of Bali. Bali is a smaller island–about 50 miles across. It is only a 30 minute ferry ride from the extreme eastern end of Java. It is unique, being a majority Hindu island. Where there are Dutch-style churches everywhere in Manado and mosques everywhere you look in Surabaya, here there seems to be a Hindu temple on every corner. Bali is known as the island of one thousand temples. This is not an exaggeration. Bali is best known as a resort area. In fact, we are being generously given two days to enjoy the island before speaking for the church in Denpassar.
We are staying in the city of Ubud, which is about 20 kilometers north of Denpassar. Here we visit the cloud monkey sanctuary where there are hundreds of macaque monkeys. We are blessed to visit the Batur volcano which is about 6500 feet high. It is an active volcano, with a very large lake in the bottom of the massive caldera. The drive there is through gorgeous countryside. From there we travel to the largest temple on the island, called Besakih. This is more of an active place of worship than a tourist spot. The spectacle is beautiful, but at the same time disturbingly pagan. Thursday we tour another beautiful temple in the bottom of a deep river ravine with Jersen and Wurri. After that I teach for the church here on From Shadow to Reality. The church is fairly small, with about 120 members, but the place is packed for the midweek meeting with a lot of visitors. We meet several who were baptized very recently as well as a number who are studying. The church here is made largely of relatively simple people, but their faith is very powerful. They are planning on planting a church in central Bali next year.
Friday we plan on traveling to Singapore for the last leg of the trip, but there is an eruption of the volcano Raung in Eastern Java. It is sufficient to close the airport. So much for teaching the singles and campus in Singapore in the evening. We are disappointed, but God is in control. Fortunately, we are fantastically well taken care of by the church here. We are blessed to find a hotel owned by a member of the church and get to hang out with Rebi and Cynthia, leaders from Jakarta who are here to vacation and to help out Rebi’s childhood friend who is suffering from a devastating injury he got while diving. On our third day at the airport we are finally able to fly to Singapore.
Singapore July 12-13
Our planned three day stay visiting with and teaching for the church in Singapore was reduced to one day. We arrive just in time to be whisked off to church. The church here has 1200 members. This is a very mature church with well-developed ministries. The campus has had a great revival the past few years. John and Karen Louis have handed off the principle leadership role to Vincent and Jane Sim so that they can focus on helping churches throughout Southeast Asia. John is a powerful and visionary leader and the Sims do a great job here. We are really encouraged to visit such a strong church with a great emphasis on helping the poor, building families and helping other churches.
Singapore itself is truly unique. A country of six million on a small island with no natural resources, it gets by on one resource, which is the hard work if its cosmopolitan population. Here Hindu Tamils, Muslim Malays, Buddhist Chinese and Christians of every stripe get along peacefully and in harmony. The government is quite autocratic, but it is amazingly efficient and truly seems to have the interest of the people in mind. This is one of the cleanest, safest and most prosperous countries in the world. It is a marked difference from Indonesia.
We spent time with the young singles, sharing local food. I was able to do the lesson planned for Friday PM for a smaller group of fired up young Christians. We met more than one intern here working to help the church to grow. This is a very healthy church and we are very encouraged to be back with our many friends here. I suggest you plan on visiting this amazing city on the tip of the Malaysian peninsula to taste the amazing food and experience the encouragement of our sister church in Singapore.
Monday, tired but encouraged beyond description, we head back to San Diego.