07.08.08 08:22 Age: 4 yrs

Despite poverty, seeds of hope bud in Indonesia


Monika Lude (right) said she has reason to hope for Indonesia from the peace-building initiatives of at the grassroots. Photo: Peter Williams/WCC
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By Maurice Malanes (*)


On a recent travel to Indonesia, a "Living Letters" team representing the member churches of the World Council of Churches (WCC) discovered seeds of hope for a world without violence. In Sulawesi, the Moluccas, West Timor and other islands they saw how the churches were working side by side with their communities and those of other faiths to bring peace and the improvement of all people.


Unlike other regions visited by the Living Letters team, West Timor has seen no shootings in recent years. But the province lacks food, drinking water and irrigation for farming. The province does not receive enough rain and many have to brace themselves each year for what they call the "hungry months" of October to December when they have no crop to harvest.


Such poverty can also create situations of potential conflict, such as when large numbers of refugees arrived from East Timor following violence during the 1999 independence referendum. The refugees needed to be properly relocated lessening the burden on the already impoverished residents of West Timor.


The Protestant Evangelical Church in Timor (GMIT) is among those addressing potential roots of conflict for refugees and local residents.

"Among other goals, our programme aims to prevent conflict," Dr Sofia Malelak-de Haan, director of the GMIT-supported Alpha Omega Foundation told the Living Letters team.


During the team's visit to the West Timorese city of Kupang, Malelak-de Haan and her staff toured them around the foundation's four-hectare training center, which doubles as a demonstration area for small-scale fishery and integrated farming.


The foundation has embarked on education programes for refugees and community folk, Malelak-de Haan said. The trainings teach how to resolve conflicts and how to develop livelihoods such as small-scale fish farms and crop production which integrates poultry and livestock-raising.


"We really have to help address the problem of refugees because some of them have become so dependent on donor assistance that they no longer want to relocate or engage in livelihoods," says Malelak-de Haan. "Some also would intrude into the lands of locals and this creates tension."

Letters of love in Christ


"Living Letters" are small ecumenical teams traveling to locations around the world where Christians strive to overcome violence. The team members, who are themselves involved in ecumenical activities and peace building in their home countries, express the solidarity of the World Council of Churches (WCC) fellowship, which comprises 349 churches worldwide.


Until 2010, several Living Letters visits take place each year throughout the world in the context of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence in order to prepare for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011.


Members of the team that visited Indonesia, 17-24 July, were:

  • Rev. Vanessa D. Sharp, Presbyterian Church (USA)

  • Mr Yoonsuk Sol, Presbyterian Church of Korea, South Korea

  • Rev. Prof. James Haire, Uniting Church in Australia

  • Dr Monika Lude, Association of Churches and Missions in South Western Germany (EMS)

  • Ms Beatrice Mukhtar-Mamuzi, Episcopal Church of the Sudan

Kupang alone has 4,000 remaining refugees. In the beginning, West Timor had 29,000 refugees. But some returned to East Timor and some resettled in West Timor. About 10,000 refugees in West Timor have yet to be resettled.


The Foundation also has programmes on community health care and nutrition concerns, HIV and AIDS, gender issues, and environmental woes.


Pastor Ina Ngefar-Bara Pa of the GMIT's Koinonia congregation told the ecumenical visitors about her work on domestic violence, teenage pregnancies, reproductive health concerns, as well as the issue of HIV and AIDS.


At a meeting with the GMIT executive board they learned about the church's response to the literacy needs of young people in the province as well as its micro-finance programme for farmers and fishing folk.


Healing and hope


Despite the stories of conflict, violence and poverty, which they heard during their 17 to 24 July visit to Indonesia, which also included Central Sulawesi, the Moluccas and West Papua, the members of the Living Letters team have reason to be optimistic.


Monika Lude of the Association of Churches and Missions in South Western Germany, who lived in Indonesia for four years, laments the fact that some former government ministers associated with the authoritarian Suharto regime remain among the country's multi-millionaires. She also criticizes that their companies at times have caused displacement and destroyed ecosystems.


But Lude said she has reason to hope for a better and peaceful Indonesia from the peace-building initiatives of Christians and Muslims at the grassroots.


Having learned about pastors killed and other stories of violence in Central Sulawesi, Rev. Vanessa Sharp of the McDonough Presbyterian Church, USA, comforted the parishioners of the Christian Church of Central Sulawesi in Palu and told them not to despair.


"It is in our tragedies that we find our strength in Jesus Christ," she said, preaching in Palu during a memorial service for Rev. Susianti Tinulele, who was assassinated 18 July 2004.


In a worship service marking the end of the visit, the Living Letters team and leaders of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) committed themselves to continue working together "not only to proclaim the Good News, but also to continually bring healing and hope" in Indonesia.


(*) Maurice Malanes is a freelance journalist from the Philippines. Currently a correspondent for Ecumenical News International (ENI), he also writes for the Manila-based Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the Bangkok-based Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN).


More information on the Living Letters visit to Indonesia


Photo gallery


WCC member churches in Indonesia