Click or see below for the report.  SE Asia Jan, 2010


Report for Missionary Teaching Trip to Asia

January, 2010


January 2-4 Singapore

I spent New Year’s Eve flying to Taipei, completely skipping Jan. 1st, landing in Singapore on Jan 2nd.   Singapore is truly a unique country.  This is my second visit to this wonderful if tiny country.  It is governed by the one-party rule of Yong Lee who is a benevolent dictator of the most excellent kind.  This tiny country, on an island which is 15 by 25 miles, has 5 million inhabitants.  They are a wonderful mixture of Malays, Chinese, Tamils (southern India) and many other nations.  This is an extremely prosperous country of many skyscrapers, full employment, efficient transportation and regulations for almost every imaginable activity.  The unofficial but dominant language is English, as this was a British colony from th 1880s until 1964.  It is also a city of a fantastic variety of food-especially sea food.  I had sting ray here for the first time. This is a country which values efficiency and above all, education.  There is incredible pressure on children and on parents to do well in school.

The church I visited is the Central Christian Church (Singapore).  They have about one thousand members and have been growing steadily the past three years.  They are very capably led by John and Karen Louis.  John is from Malaysia and Karen is from Texas.  I spent time with Chern Yang and his wife, who lead the campus group and with Wee Keong, who, with his wife Joyce, leads many of the singles and marrieds.  There is a great culture fostering healthy relationships.  The leaders are all trained in Christian counseling and really work hard to create a culture of love, communication and deep Christian fellowship.  The church here is relatively prosperous economically.  They use much of their funds to support the churches in Malaysia (there are seven churches there) and in Indonesia (there are several churches in Indonesia.   The leaderships teams of all these churches work together and cooperate very closely.

While here, I taught a class titled "Is Anything True Any More?"  This is a class about the Christian world view and answers the challenges of scientific materialism and postmodernism.  This class was for the campus group.  They are a fairly small but very enthusiastic group.  I got talk with several guests.  After the meeting, most of us went to an open food court, Singaporean style, on the river.  The sky line here is truly spectacular-especially at night.  We paid a visit to the famous merlion, a half mermad/half lion mythical creature which is a symbol of Singapore (do not ask me why!).

Sunday I worshipped with the church.  They have a very contemporary style of worship.  The leaders form the church in Medan, which is on the Northern coast of Sumatra, were visiting to help with a discipling workshop this weekend.  The church in Medan, with 380 members, baptized 62 in the last four months.  It is so challenging to me to hear of them inviting 55,000 people to their recent special service.  When I consider that Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, and that Northern Sumatra is a particularly fundamentalist area, this blows me away.  I think I have no excuse for not sharing my faith in the US of A.  I spent time with my good friend Wee Keong, including a ride on the huge  ferris wheel which overlooks the entire island nation.  Monday I travel to Kuala Lampur, the capital city of the fairly prosperous Muslim country Malaysia.

Jan 4-5 Kuala Lampur, Malaysia

I was met at the airport by Vincent Sim and Steven Chin.  Vincent and his wife Jane lead the church here.  Steven and his wife as well as Burt Ong and his wife also work as ministers for the church here.

Kuala Lumpur is a city of 4.5 million.  It is the capital of Malaysia, which is a country of 25 million.  The countryside is very green, with many plantations of palm oil and rubber trees.  At first glance, Malaysia appears to be a very modern first world country.  In fact it is fairly prosperous, but Kuala Lumpur is considerably more modernized than the rest of the country.  Malaysia is blessed with an abundance of natural resources.  It is officially a Muslim state.  The Malay/Muslim people are given considerable advantages despite the fact that they only make up about 60% of the people.   If a Muslim converts to another religion he or she is subject to arrest and a lifetime of persecution.  Of course, this puts a lot of pressure on the church here.  There is a large ethnically Chinese population who are not fully trusted by the government and face considerable hurdles in education and other areas.  This is an ethnically diverse country, including many Indians, Indonesians and native groups from the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

The Central Christian Church of Kuala Lumpur has about 340 members.  This is a rather young church, with a lot of singles, but also many young marrieds.  Many families have been converted, so there is also a thriving older marrieds ministry.   The church in Kuala Lumpur (KL) helps to support, along with the Singapore church, a network of six other churches in Malaysia in Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu (on the island of Borneo),  Kuantan, Kuching Seramban and Penang.  The church here is very friendly.  I notice that people seem very happy.  Their favorite activity here seems to be eating together.  They are always eating, yet almost all stay thin.

On Monday evening I spoke on God and Science to 300+, including a good number of guests.  On Tuesday we went for a bit of a tour of the city with Vincent, Steven and Burt.  First we went to the administrative capital at Putra Jaya.  This brand new capital is about 45 minutes from the city.  It is an architectural marvel which one must see to believe.  Every building is nearly new and a wonder of design.  Each is absolutely unique.  From there we returned to the city of KL where we went to the center.  Here there is a wonderful park and of course the world famous twin towers which are the third tallest buildings in the world.  Despite lingering problems of poverty and corruption in the government it is clear that Malaysia is making big strides forward.  It provides is some ways a model for the Muslim world.

One major goal for the church here is to acquire land and a building.  For cultural and political reasons it is more important here in Muslim parts of Asia to have official sanction and property so that the church can be free to function.  They would appreciate prayers for this goal.

Indonesia Jan 6-15

The biggest part of the trip was a visit to the churches in Indonesia.  There are a group of twenty-two churches in Indonesia which work in very close cooperation.  They are led very capably by the amazingly faithful Harliem and Vania Salim who also lead the church in Jakarta.  The vision of these churches is truly inspiring.  They have set a goal of raising up leaders and planting five churches every year for the next three years.  They reached their goal last year, planting five churches in this region.  Indonesia is a huge country with more than ten thousand islands.  It is the fourth largest country by population in the world with well over two hundred million inhabitants.  The population is distributed quite unevenly, with over one hundred million living in Java, which is only the fifth largest island in the archipelago, behind Sumatra, Bornea, Iryan Java (Papua New Guinea, half of which is an independent country) and Sulawesi.  To give a feeling for the size of this country, it stretches over a distance greater than that between California and Maine in the US. 

The churches here include on Java: Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Jogjakarta, Solo, Semarang, Batam, Bangka and five satellite churches around Jakarta.  On Sumatra there are churches in Medan, and Nias (This church was started as a direct result of HOPE tsunami relief).  There are also chuches on Bali, Manado and Makassar in Sulawesi, Jayapura and Manok Wari  in Papua New Guinea (started as a HOPE project), also known as Irian Jaya.  There are also churches in Pontianak on Borneo as well as Pekan Baru.

Unlike Malaysia, Indonesia is not officially a Muslim country, but the government quotes statistics saying it is about 90% Muslim.  People here tell me that the actual figure is between seventy and eighty percent Muslim.  Christian and Buddhist groups are sometimes tolerated fairly well and sometimes much persecuted, including the burning of churches in some situations.  The "odd man out" from a religious perspective is the island of Bali, which is mainly a Hindu/local religion mix.  There are many limitations and disabilities put on non-Muslim groups.  Islam here varies from quite radical in places like Banda Aceh in Sumatra and Solo in Java, to very mild, and is many cases there is a shocking admixture of local pagan and animistic religion among the Muslims.

This is a beautiful country, with much jungle, many volcanoes, floods, rice fields, bustling cities resort islands and archaeological wonders.

Surabaya Jan 6

I arrived in Surabaya on after a three hour flight from KL.  This is a city of 3 million people.  It is the largest city and business center of East Java.  I was met by the couple who lead the church here, Johnson and Alin Sibuea.  I was able to tour this charming city with Johnson and my translator Frans Manurung.   We visited the Majapahit hotel, reminiscent of the last major Muslim empire in Indonesia before the Portugese and later the Dutch took power here in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.    This hotel is the scene of the battle in 1948 in which the local Indonesians defeated the Dutch troops, establishing independence for Indonesia.  Surabaya, which means shark/crocodile is known as the city of heroes for its role in liberating Indonesia from the Dutch in 1948, led by the hero General Sudirman.

In the evening I taught about Church history to about 300.  There are  270 in the church in Surabaya.  This is a very young and enthusiastic church which has been growing significantly.  They have a deep desire to learn more deeply about the Bible.  The HOPE project in Surabaya is a computer training institute.  They have already trained 400+.   They train the poor people for better jobs.   Also they train teachers how to prepare for earthquakes and floods, both of which are a very big danger in Java.   They also have a Saturday school program for the children of the very poor families and provide clothes for these kids.  Hope in Indonesia is very famous for the amazing work they have done in flood relief, especially for the massive floods in Jakarta and the relief work after the tsunami in Aceh.    Charles Ham (Harliem’s brother in law) heads up HOPE projects in Indonesia.  HOPE has begun a project to train 5000 teachers in Indonesia.

Jan arrived in the evening after an amazing set of circumstances.  She landed in Jakarta, but for some reason the church there thought she was arriving on Thursday.  Imagine landing in a country where you know literally no one and do not speak the language, to find that your are stranded.  She went to every terminal in the airport to see if she had a flight to Surabaya.  Finally, she gave up and all on her own she chose an airline and bought a flight to Surabaya, not even knowing for sure if I was there, never mind if anyone would meet her in the airport.  Fortunately, a text message got to Harliem in Thailand and he called Johnson here, who raced to the airport and met Jan.  It was an emotional reunion.  I had a study with a man who was converted in Australia and left the church in 1992.  He had lost his faith, but it appears he will be restored.  To say that we are exhausted is to make a great understatement.  Of course, we had to get up at 5:15 the next day for the next leg of our journey.

Jogjakarta Jan 7

We took the 50 minute flight with Johnson and Alin to the main city in southcentral Java; Jogjakarta.  It is a bustling city of two million which specializes in part in tourism because of its proximity to Borobudur and the Sultan’s palace.  We  were met by Hedron and Mike, the couple who lead the church here.  There are 69 members of the church here, with many in the campus group, and almost equal numbers of singles and marrieds.  We are here to travel with our four friends to Jakarta and to see the sights, so, unfortunately, we did not meet with the church here.

Jogjakarta is quite different from Jakarta or Surabaya.  The people here are very polite.  The city is largely Muslim, but it wears its religion lightly.  The locals mix the old animistic Javan religion with Islam.  This is very surprising to us.  For example, they believe in all kinds spirits and keep their houses quite dark at night because they want to honor the equivalent of the mother goddess here.  I see almost no mosques or minarets here.

First we visited the Sultan’s Palace.  This was built in the 1700s in a time the Dutch were already ruling here.  The Sultan cooperated with the Dutch.  Now the 10th Sultan is ruling.  There are dozens of "guards" around the palace who seem to just sit around for ceremonial reasons.  We watched and listened to a gamelan orchestra.  This is a truly unique experience.  Not a single one of the instruments are like any Western instrument.  They use gongs and various strange percussion instruments.  What an experience.

Next, we ate local food from Jogjakarta, all of which is extremely different to our taste (otak-otak, tempeh, pempek, etc.),  We also had coffee, including Kopi Luwak.  This specialty is very expensive.  The natives collect the coffee beand which have been eaten by the luwak and pooped.  This gives the coffee an unusual flavor.

Then we went on a trip of 1-1/2 hours to Borobudur.  This is the most famous archaeological site in Indonesia.  It is a Buddhist temple built at the center of Java on a small mountain.  The temple was constructe in the 9th century.  It is very large and is covered with hundreds of statues of Buddha and bas relief carvings of daily life and Buddhist teaching.  The top of the temple represents heaven, with three levels.   32 stupa for lower heaven, 24 stupa for middle heaven (both of which require one to be reincarnated) and 16 stupa for the  most stable highest heaven, at which point one has reached nirvana.  It is all topped with a very large stupa.  This monument is really spectacular and is definitely worth the trouble to visit.  On the way home, we stop to eat rambutan ("hairy fruit").

We returned to Jogjakarta extremely exhausted.  After a wonderful meal of Indonesian seafood in a castle-like restaurant, we went to bed early for the first really good night sleep Jan and I have had for several days.

Jakarta Jan 8-10

Today we travel with Johnson, Ani, Hedron and Mike in Jakarta.  We have now reached the capital of this country.  It is a city of 15+ million.  We are met by Harliem and Vania.  In the evening I taught about 200 largely campus, including many visitors on God and Science.  Harliem and Vania tell us an almost infinite number of  stories of the amazing things which have happened in the church here.  For example there is the "mafia" guy who was converted.  Harliem studied with him and he finally became open.  He was in charge of bribing the legal system to get guilty bad guys set free from the legal system.  He did come clean, but for the next two years he was sued by twelve different bad guys who were upset that he would no longer be corrupt.  He won all twelve cases.  He also had to give up 8 million dollars of illegal money he was going to be receiving, but he turned it down.  There was a 700 million dollar deal which he broke up.  He has had many threats, but he is faithful.

There is the story about how the church got their church building.  A relative of a convert was an architect who offered to build the church for them above an 8 level parking garage.   He then offered to build the auditorium on top of the three levels completely for free.  This auditorium holds 1700 people.  Harliem and Vania have studied with and converted many of the most famous and influential people in Indonesia. 

At the same time they have an amazingly strong and varied HOPE outreach in the city, including marriage and parenting counseling, orphanages, a computer training center and many more.  Their evangelism is to a very large extent and extention of their benevolent work.  I am so proud of how the church here is being like Jesus. 

Saturday I was very busy, as I taught a total of seven hours.  The staff and a few intern trainees came for a two hour class on Church History and a two hour class on other religions.  I covered Islam, 7th Day Adventism, Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism for a group of about 50, as these are principle religions the Christians here deal with.  After a very short break I taught for the entire church on the book of Hebrews.  About 1300 are in attendance. 

By Sunday I am so tired I can barely function, but there is much to do.  At church, Jan shared her testimony.  There were few dry eyes in the house.  The attendance is over 1800 with many out in the foyer.  I taught about The Problem of Pain and Suffering.  The church here has 1700 members.  It is growing very fast.  Jan and I met an uncountable number of people who either came to church for the first time or are presently studying the Bible.  There are 800 studying the Bible right now.  Many members spend much of their time sharing their faith, not because someone tells them to, but because it is their lifestyle.  The church started an older person’s ministry with three or four and this ministry now has 80-90.  So many whole families have been saved.  The worship service is really inspiring.  The singing and band are nearly at a professional quality.  The singles here are very service oriented and virtually run all their activities.  They charge for many activities, so that the church does not even need to budget for them.  The singles group is about 600.  Next, we traveled to Bandung with Frankie.

Bandung Jan 11

After a quick lunch with Didit and Astri, the leaders from Solo, a Muslim fundamentalist area we drove with Frankie 2 hours to the college city of Bandung.  This is a city of 2.5 million up in the mountains in a gorgeous valley at 2500 feet.  There are several important universities here.  It is a favorite weekend outing/tourism place for Jakartans and others as it is relatively cool here.  As many as 1 million visit on an average weekend.  As we drive to Bandung we seem wonderful terraced rice fields.

The church here has been turned around recently under the capable leadership of Charles and Sarah.  This is a very young church, made up of mostly campus and singles.  There are 130 members.  One hundred seventy attended a lesson on God and Science.  As with church this morning in Jakarta it seems that there is a huge number of visitors.  Practically every other person we talked to are studying the Bible or came for the first time.  One visitor is Muslim and she is close to becoming a Christian.  The church here has so much vision to grow, yet their Bible knowledge and maturity have a long way to go.  The members are fantastically friendly. 

We went for dinner at "The Valley."  This, paradoxically, is high up in the mountains in a wonderfully scenic location.  The manager is the cousin of Charles.  Charles tells us an interesting story of a woman and a number of children on a bus who were hypnotized by a practitioner of black magic.  The claim is that this is very common here.   The woman ended up at a "Christian" school where Charles and Sara’s child attends school.  The Muslim lady was caused to be "demon possessed."  Charles was asked to perform an exorcism.  It took him two hours of rebuking the demon, who left and came back several times, to help the woman.  This is difficult for us Western disciples to accept, but Harliem has apparently done at least one exorcism as well.  They definitely believe that something is going on of a demonic nature.  The version of Islam here is quite mixed with black magic and other things which seem completely incompatible with Islam.  This is hard for us to understand, but it is difficult to explain away what people experience here.  Tomorrow we are off to Bali.

On Monday we got a bit of a tour of Bandung and the countryside.  We traveled through magical farmland with fantastic terraced rice fields and an almost unimaginable variety of fruits and vegetables.  The reason this area is so fertile is that we were driving up the side of a huge volcano.  At almost 6000 feet of elevation we pass through pine forest, finally reaching the summit of the volcano.  This is Jan and my first time on an active volcano, as there is steam and sulfur coming out of a deep crater.  The volcano is known as "upside down boat."  Actually there are a number of craters.  We go right up to the edge.  It is a bit creepy.  After a quick lunch of Pedang-style food, we are off for Bali.

Bali Jan 12-13

A 75 minute flight brings us to the tropical paradise of Bali.  This is the crown jewel of Indonesia, at least from the point of view of tourists.  It is a fairly small island (about 100 miles east to west, 50 miles north to south) with a population of two million.  There are many resorts, with tourism being the main industry.  The beaches here are beautiful, with striking cliffs, unusual rock formations, and plentiful white sand.  The water is about 85 degrees.

Bali is completely different from the rest of Indonesia.  It has a 95% Hindu population.  Muslims are in a small minority and are not all that welcomed here, especially since the tragic bombing in 2004 which killed more than 100,  most of them Western tourists.  We learned, after the fact, that we ate dinner our first night at one of the locations of the bombings.   A few differences between Bali and Java are immediately obvious.  First, we saw not a single dog in six days in Indonesia, because dogs are considered "unclean" by Indonesian Muslims.  Here in Bali there are dogs everywhere, both of a generic variety and of various breeds.  Hindus honor dogs and let them run free.  There are small Hindu temples and statues/idols everywhere here.  It is very charming if one can ignore the fact that this is rather obvious idolatry.  Also, we see cows roaming free here and the favorite food is pork (virtually unknown in Muslim Java).  What a great time we had in Java.

We are met by the couple who lead the church here:  Jerson and Wurry Lie (pronounced Lee).  They are fairly new here, with a church of about eighty members.  After an out-of-this-world meal of spicy broiled seafood (including my favorite: lobster), Jan and I get some rest at a wonderful resort. 

Tuesday includes a little tour with Jerson of the capital of Bali, Dempasar a trip to a massive statue of Vishnu on an eagle which is under construction (very impressive, but a bit disturbing, as this is a statue to a Hindu god) and a visit to a wonderfully exotic little beach which we arrived at by climbing down through a cave.  We had lunch of the local favorite: suckling pig.

In the evening Jan and I met with the church of about eighty, where I spoke on the Problem of Pain and Suffering.  This is clearly a rather poor church, but the people are so happy.  We are so well received that we feel a bit like rock stars.  Their love and respect is so overflowing it is almost embarrassing, but we must remember this is the local custom (combined, of course, with Christian love).  After church we saw families of four and five (yes, five!!!) riding home together on a single motorcycle.  I do not think this would be legal in the US, but that is what is required to attend church here for these simple Christians.  One family of five lives in a 10×18 foot house, but they seem so content.  We really regret having only two days in this exotic tropical paradise, but it is time to move on.

Manila Jan 14-18

Jan stayed behind in Jakarta with Harliem and Vania Salim for two more days to see the city and meet with those who lead the HOPE work here before heading home on her own while I flew through Singapore to Manila.

This is my third trip to Manila.  This sprawling and bustling city of 15 million is memorable for its outrageous traffic and friendly people (for such a big city, anyway).  This is a very poor city, still recovering to some extent from the massive floods this Fall.  Yet, they are a resilient people and seem to have bounced back, almost as if nothing had happened.  What a remarkable people.   They are so grateful for the amazing outflow of generosity from churches all around the world in the ICOC fellowship in the time immediately after the flood.

I am here to teach a class on Christian Evidence for the Asian Pacific Leadership Academy (APLA).  This is an effort to train and teach church leaders in Southeast Asia, primarily in biblical topics.  The school is run capably by Rolan Monje.  Its principle teacher is Gordon Ferguson.  The teaching schedule involves twenth-eight hours of classroom time in four days covering most major topics supporting the Christian faith, including Arguments for the Existence of God, Jesus (claims, miracles, prophecies, resurrection) Inspiration and Inerrancy,  How We Got the Bible, Supposed Contradictions and Mistakes, The Greatness of the Bible, History and Archaeology, Science and Christianity (Science and Religion, Age of Universe and Earth, Genesis 1, Flood, Evolution, God and Science, Science and the Bible), Christian and Other World Views, and Defense of Christian Theology (Free Will vs Predestination, Problem of Hell, Problem of Evil and Suffering).  There are more than forty students from Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Guam and from Mindanao and the Visayas regions of the Philippines, as well as several from Luzon.  It is great to meet again with good friends such as Cesar Lopez (Phnom Penh), Danny Cabadsan (Cebu), Boonsong Asawaworapon (Bangkok), Hung Quoc (Hanoi) and many others.

Sunday I visited with the Southland region of the Metro Manila Christian church.  This group of 280 is made up mostly of families.  They have a large teen group.  I preached on From Shadow to Reality.  After service we had our last four hours of APLA class.  I can finally relax as tomorrow I return to the States.

John Oakes


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