Do this in Remembrance of Me ...

At the Last Supper, Jesus exhorts his disciples to take bread and wine, and divide it among themselves in remembrance of him. The words he uses to signal that his death is imminent become the essence (in Indonesian we say inti) of communion, a ritual practiced by early Christian communities that has continued for 2000 years. That is a very long time to remember, but especially during Lent we realize that remembering is a central tenet of our faith.

The Indonesian Coalition for Justice and Truth Recovery has declared 2013 as The Year of Truth to highlight 40 years of serious human rights violations throughout the country (1965-2005). The Coalition has identified thousands of past violations that have never been addressed, beginning with the widespread extrajudicial killings, detentions, and sexual violence that accompanied systematic anti-Communist purges in the late 1960s. This year the Coalition is also conducting a number of open forums throughout Indonesia—loosely modeled on truth commissions—where survivors and witnesses of past serious crimes will have public space to bear witness to the violence they experienced.  This process will contribute to their right to the truth and help Indonesians better understand the roots of impunity that continue to degrade contemporary Indonesian political and social culture.

Members of JPIT (the Indonesian acronym for East Indonesian Women’s Network for the Study of Women, Religion, and Culture) have joined with Catholic friends and colleagues to sponsor one of the Coalition’s public hearings in East Nusantara Province where I live. The hearing is planned for the end of April and will draw heavily on research and pastoral healing that JPIT has conducted over the past several years.  Last September, JPIT launched its first publication, Forbidden Memories: Women Victims and Survivors of East Nusa Tenggara, that shares findings, analysis, and theological reflection based on nearly 100 interviews, many of which were conducted with elderly women who recalled painful memories of violence and social ostracism because they or family members were branded as communists. In a country where the government’s fabricated lies about this tragedy were for decades the only history permitted, it becomes increasingly urgent to record the memories of survivors before they are gone.

The tremendous shame of being even wrongly accused of affiliation with the Indonesian Communist Party has been so effective for so long, that speaking the truth of one’s experience—even now, almost 50 years after the incident—is still very hard, but possible. JPIT’s women pastors and candidates for ministry who participated in this research soon realized the power of offering safe space for their informants to remember the past. Not only do the women’s testimonies provide a counter-narrative to correct a distorted aspect of Indonesian history, they also contribute to healing for the women themselves who have lived for decades in silence about what they knew to be wrong.

Although the Coalition on Justice and Truth Recovery has highlighted the language of “truth” for its activities this year, the stories collected and public hearings being held are all about remembrance—remembering the past experiences of women’s suffering and sacrifice.  When you break bread and share wine together during these last weeks of Lent, may you do so not only in remembrance of Jesus, but also in remembrance of Mama Karo, Mama Koba, Mama Hani, Mama Wati, Mama Mudji, Mama Wila, Mama Dina, Mama Bunga, Mama Rina, and the hundreds of other women in East Nusa Tenggara Province—indeed remember tens of thousands of other women throughout Indonesia who have suffered incredible pain, but whose forbidden memories, until now, have kept them from being remembered.

Karen Campbell-Nelson, a member of Upland Presbyterian Church, Upland, California, serves the Evangelical Christian Church of West Timor. Karen teaches Practical Theology, Trauma Counseling and Women’s Rights at the Faculty of Theology of Artha Wacana University, and works with Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation initiatives of the associated bodies in the region.

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