Concerns and Gratitude

Concerns and Gratitude

Greetings from Jakarta, a city I (John) generally avoid like the dentist. I am at the guest house owned by the Indonesian Communion of Churches with a small working group who are designing a workshop on environmental awareness and advocacy for local congregations.

The diversity of Indonesia’s churches makes it hard to design a one-size-fits-all workshop. In much of Eastern Indonesia, our environmental concerns are mining, destruction of indigenous forests, land rights for traditional peoples, and climate change (leading to drought, flooding, and rising sea levels). In much of Western Indonesia, the concerns are industrial effluent, air pollution, urban water supplies, and trash disposal/recycling. 

The trash crisis is especially ironic to me, because I remember a time in Timor when people intentionally left soda cans and biscuit wrappers lying on their front lawns so that passers-by would know they had consumed store-bought goods. Having trash used to be a status symbol. Now it has evolved into a hobby: this past Christmas, church youth groups had a contest for who could make the most creative Christmas tree out of recycled trash, and an increasing number of women are using their basket weaving skills to turn plastic wrappers into wallets, purses, and bible covers. Like the Gospel, capitalism has finally reached “the ends of the earth”, but I’m not sure how I feel about a bible covered in the detritus of global commerce.

Our main environmental concern in Timor right now is one we can do the least about: an extended drought. Many villages in the interior have seen their springs and wells run dry, and people often have to walk a mile or more to find the lowest point in a stream where water still seeps out, bathe and do their laundry there, and then carry enough water back uphill for drinking and cooking. Even though sporadic rain has begun, it hasn’t been enough to revive the water sources, or even enough to plant a crop. If these conditions continue, there will need to be emergency water and food aid. It is also likely that the already alarming exodus of young people from the interior will increase as more decide to throw themselves on the mercy of global capital and seek work in the factories and plantations of Java and Malaysia.

In the midst of these concerns, we are grateful for our new leadership at the Synod of GMIT. Our friend (and CGMB Board member) Mery Kolimon was recently installed as GMIT’s first woman Moderator. She has made issues of the environment and human trafficking a priority in her ministry and has already shown her dedication by being actively engaged in earthquake recovery on the island of Alor (in mid-Nov. a 6.2 earthquake damaged or destroyed several church buildings in remote areas of eastern Alor), and giving support to Timorese villagers who are trying to shut down a mining operation that is ruining their fields and their water supply. The problems facing the church in Timor, both internal and external, are grave. Please keep Mery in your prayers.

The guest house where I am staying holds a lot of memories for us. Just down the hall is the room where we spent our first night in Indonesia, 33 years ago, on our way to Timor with our two-month old daughter. Now I am in the process of retiring. Last September we held a book launching for a collection of essays on “theology of the land” that friends here put together as a 65th birthday gift for me, followed by a retirement celebration with two other faculty members who had also reached the official retirement age. Beginning this semester, I will only teach in the master’s program, and by this time in 2017 I hope to be actually retired.

Karen will continue teaching half time in the Artha Wacana master’s program. The other half of her time will go to Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR), an NGO working on advocacy and education for human rights, especially victims’ rights, in Indonesia, Burma/Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

In the midst of environmental damage, economic and political challenges, and the struggle for justice for past abuses, the church in Timor seeks a way to be faithful, as do we. May we all share in the new life that Easter reveals.


John and Karen Campbell-­Nelson serve with the Evangelical Church of West Timor. John serves as a staff support for the Synod’s Theological Commission and Synod programs. Karen serves as a Professor. John’s appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts. Karen’s appointment is supported by One Great Hour of Sharing, Our Churches Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.