Missionary Teaching Trip to Indonesia and Hong Kong

Jakarta, Indonesia 3/13

After passing through Hong Kong we land in Jakarta. Corona virus has become a big threat and we see many with masks. President Trump declared a travel ban from Europe just at the time we were leaving.  We considered reversing course, but decided the need to help the churches was greater than the slight risk to ourselves. Besides, the rate of infection is much greater in the US than in Indonesia.

Indonesia is the fourth largest country in terms of population in the world, with 270 million inhabitants. They are scattered across an archipelago with thousands of inhabited islands, including the massive Sumatra, Borneo (Kulimantang) and Papua New Guinea. Over half of the entire population are on the medium-sized island of Java, which has more than 140 million inhabitants on an island the size of Cuba. This is a very crowded island! The country is mainly Muslim, with somewhere around 87% of the population being part of Islam. Christianity is the second largest group, with about 10% of the population. Some smaller islands, most of Papua New Guinea and parts of Sumatra being majority Christian. There is also the Hindu island of Bali, famous as a vacation spot and also a small but important Buddhist minority among the Chinese immigrants here. Much of the country is tolerant of non-Muslims, but there are pockets of radical Islam as well. There are occasional pogroms against the Chinese minority as well as Muslim attacks on Christians, including the burning of churches, such as on the island of Ambon. It can be intimidating to be a Christian in Indonesia.

Despite the difficulty (or maybe because of it), the church here has thrived. There has been consistent growth for many years. There are now 35 churches from our fellowship scattered across the islands. The Jakarta church is nearing two thousand members. This in a country in which it can be very dangerous to share one’s faith. The faith of the members here is really amazing.

Robert picked us up from the airport.  He is a campus minister and is engaged to be married in November.  We spent time with Frankie on Friday.  He and his wife Earlie oversee the campus ministry as well as leading one of the regions of the Jakarta church. He also oversees the teaching ministry and with Earlie helps to shepherd several churches in the Eastern part of Indonesia. They are very busy people.

Bandung, Indonesia 3/14 – 3/16

On Saturday morning we were driven about two hours to Bandung This is a city of 2.5 million people, with a metropolitan population of 8.5 million. It is also the most important education center for all of Indonesia. The drive to Bandung is beautiful as we pass through terraced rice fields, rising to 2500 feet above sea level.  In the Dutch period, Bandung was the “summer capital” of Indonesia, as it is cooler than Jakarta. We were driven to Bandung by Andreas and Eddie.  Both work for the church—Eddie as the administrator and Andreas who, with his wife Icha, oversees the singles group of 80 disciples.  The church here has 230 members, including a campus group of forty. It has grown significantly since we last visited here about ten years ago.

Church in Bandung

On Saturday evening Jan and I have dinner with some from the married group. The local Indonesian food is good but the fellowship is better. We spend time with Charles and Sarah Setiawan, Eddy Mida, Andre and Icha. On Sunday I gave a sermon on Hebrews 11, followed by a three hour class from Hebrews. Well over two hours of church, followed by a three hour class on Hebrews and there are still nearly two hundred in attendance. We get the sense that there is a great hunger for knowing God’s Word here.  We learn that next week the church will be meeting in house churches because of the coronavirus.

On Monday we travel south about 90 minutes high into the mountains to spend time at a volcano. The entire staff comes as well. The crater is at about 8000 feet. There is still a lot of sulfur and other gases coming from the remains of an earlier eruption. The scenery is beautiful, with pine trees and many kinds of trees and flowers. From there we travel to a lake for lunch in a restaurant built to be like Noah’s ark. Muslims believe in the story of Noah. We drive through tea plantations.  The intricate geometric patterns of the lines between the tea fields is beautiful to behold.

In the evening we give a class on being In Christ for the leaders of the Bandung church. News that the government is taking stronger measures against Covid-19 has reached us. We begin to practice some social distancing at this meeting. Afterward, I take questions. There are so many great questions from this group.

Surabaya, Indonesia 3/17-3/19

The flight from Bandung is just one hour.  We are met at the airport by Johnson and Alin Sibuea.  After many years leading this large church without any full time staff help, they finally have a younger couple to help with the campus and singles group here. This is a great relief.  They are leading a group of about 380 here in Surabaya. Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia and is the principle city of East Java. The metropolitan population is over ten million. This city was the center of the revolution that led to independence from the Dutch in 1945. Its name means shark-crocodile.  Leaders from Solo, Jogjakarta in Central Java and also from Makassar, on the island of Sulawesi are also here for the classes. A number of churches have been planted in central and East Java since we were here five years ago. There are now 35 churches in our family of churches across Indonesia, with six thousand members, and with plans to plant several more churches in the next couple of years. This is a really faithful group of Christians.

On Tuesday evening we meet with the leaders of the church here, plus the guests from the provincial churches. There are 100 in attendance, and we are sitting a couple of feet apart. The topic is Freedom in Christ. Because of the virus, Jan and I are not able to tour the city. Especially rewarding is time with those who have traveled many hours to be here to be taught.

On Wednesday we spend time with the staff, the guest leaders and the shepherds. There were about thirty now, and we are sitting more like six feet apart. I teach on the Holy Spirit: His Role in Our Lives. This is fairly new teaching here. During the class, one of the sisters stepped out for a call. She learned that her brother has died of Covid-19. This put a pall over the church, as you can imagine.  We had a meeting scheduled for more teaching in the evening but now the leaders have decided it is time to not meet in groups at all.  Instead the class on the Existence of God is delayed for Thursday, as well as a class on Jesus in the Old Testament.  Now I have an audience of Jan, Alin and Johnson and our two tech helpers. I guess this is the new normal.  We have dinner of amazing Indonesian food after a few hours of teaching.  Because of concerns over travel restrictions, we decide that we will head home one week early and completely skip Hong Kong.  They are no longer accepting foreigners to enter without a two week quarantine.  We are very disappointed, but it is time go get home. We are leaving Surabaya with a heavy heart, knowing that the church is heading into a time of great difficulty.

Jakarta, March 20-21

On Friday we fly back to Jakarta. The weather for the 90 minute flight is stormy, and it seems to fit the mood in the country. There is very little traffic coming from the airport—something that never happens in Jakarta.  We see very few cars, but a huge number of trucks as the government is asking shipping companies to send in as many supplies as possible before an anticipated lockdown. Again, we get the sense that we are leaving just in time. On Friday PM we have a great time with Harliem and Vania Salim. They lead the churches here in Indonesia. Both of them are among the most visionary church leaders we know of. They have an amazing vision for how to win the hearts of both Christian and Muslim Indonesians. Almost certainly they have converted more Muslims here than in any other church across our fellowship. They do this by loving people and letting them get involved with their amazing lives and with the Christian community. Their vision is almost scary. We discuss our common vision for the teaching ministry here. Frankie in Jakarts and Andreas in Bandung are training as teachers. They have begun a ministry training school here in Jakarta, with Frankie being the lead teacher.

On Saturday I give a sermon on Life in Christ and a nearly three hour class on Church history to a packed house of about seven or eight people in an auditorium that holds one thousand. It is hard to give heart-felt lessons to an empty house, but that is the best that can be done now.  We blessed to get dinner with the leader of the Jakarta church, Budi. On Sunday we head back to the US through Hong Kong. This is Jan’s first trip to China.  Too bad we cannot visit our friends here.  Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Indonesia and China.

John Oakes


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