It’s 4:00 AM on a Sunday morning and Pastor Rojerio is waiting for a bus in the darkness beside a dirt road. He is on his way to the congregation where he has been assigned. Because he is committed he’ll get on the bus sometime before 5:00 and arrive at the small congregation a couple hours later. There, he’ll lead a simple service, following which he’ll wait for another bus to return to Lospalos, getting home by late afternoon.
John and Maria also serve a small congregation in rural Timor-Leste (East Timor). They have three kids who are undernourished and often sick. They receive no salary except for what they get on a typical Sunday: a bucket of tomatoes. This is the bounty of their congregation and while you can’t live on tomatoes, it’s what their people have to offer.
Four youth live with us on the compound of Immanuel Church Lospalos. They are IPTL members from rural villages and have come to Lospalos to attend high school. Their lively presence is a welcome addition to our daily lives. Recently, we have begun fixing up a long neglected building to make space for an all-purpose youth center – and it’s going to be the best thing we do this year!
Aurelia is a young pastor in Lospalos who has just returned from yet another trip to a local school where she is facilitating religion examinations for Protestant students. Timor-Leste is a Catholic country (95%) that requires students to take religion in school. People who are not Catholic in Timor-Leste face various kinds of discrimination. In school, for example, Protestant churches must provide their own exams, otherwise students fail religion and their GPA goes down. Each school has its own requirements for Protestant or Muslim students which often results in the pastor running back and forth to fulfill requirements on behalf of their students who are often among the poorest in the community.
Clinic Immanuel, in Lospalos, serves as a bright spot in the life of the Protestant Church in Timor Leste. Five days a week, the clinic provides patient care to hundreds of people from the district. The clinic is truly an alternative health care source focused on preventative care and public health outreach, while continuing to offer basic medical treatment, TB screening and treatment, prenatal care, and referrals for more complicated health problems. A recent highlight was an 11-year-old boy who came in and said “I have scabies!” When asked how he knew this, he said, “I read the poster and saw the picture of scabies on the clinic wall.” Thrilling to know that our homemade medical media reached this savvy kid, and also that we had medicine to treat him!
Hebrews 11:1 is a passage that speaks to us lately: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The author goes on to reflect on the ways faith has helped imagine a different future in the midst of what seemed hopeless. Timor-Leste has a long history with such imagining. We hope that our presence here adds to that.
So day-by-day, Monica works alongside staff in Clinic Immanuel. Tom serves a local church and works with IPTL’s pastors and leaders. Mentoring and teaching happen along the way, usually informally. The most substantial and lasting thing we give is our presence and friendship. Simon continues to thrive with his Timorese buddies, and started second grade in January. Hannah continues to astound us with her positive attitude and insightful thoughts on “Life in Lospalos.” When we announced to her 2 years ago that we were moving here again, she cried and thought her world was ending. Today, she still misses parts of her life in Minnesota, but she loves just as much gathering with the youth group here, eating fish and boiled bananas outside in the yard, taking field trips to the beach, and especially preparing for musical ensembles for church events.
In all it’s a challenging, meaningful life made rich by the people who surround us and support us. We are glad you are among them.
Monica, Tom, Hannah, and Simon
Tom and Monica Liddle serve with the Protestant Church of East Timor. Their appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.