On the RoadApril 23, 2010
The beginning of Lent finds me contemplating two months of being on the road almost constantly. I face it with the usual ambivalence about traveling: it's good work to be doing, and I enjoy seeing new people and places (or at least revisiting places I rarely get to), but I like my morning coffee on the front porch, watching the birds flying over the rice fields and listening to the news on the BBC. Ah, well. At any rate, if I tell you where I'm going and why it will give you a pretty good picture of the current evolution of my work here in Eastern Indonesia.
I begin with a trip to Jakarta, a city whose traffic jams are predicted to reach total gridlock within the next ten years, for a planning meeting with a Dutch mission agency and its local partners. They are doing a program of continuing education for pastors in the Protestant Church of Minahasa (north Sulawesi) and have asked me to be involved. The Dutch churches have very few missionaries on the ground any more – they operate more like an international NGO, supporting a limited range of program initiatives from local partners, accompanied by occasional "field visits." The program emphases are pretty much the "usual suspects" these days: good governance, capacity building, gender equality, interfaith dialogue. I fit into the capacity building category; the problem we'll be working on is how to build a support system for pastors in rural and small town congregations.
After that, I fly to East Timor for a week of teaching a group of lay preachers who are being prepared to administer the sacraments and provide pastoral care to the many tiny groups of Protestant Christians scattered throughout the mountains of East Timor. The Protestant Church of East Timor (IPTL) grew a good deal during the Indonesian occupation due to the presence and money of Indonesian protestants, but is now left with an unsustainable structure, empty churches in some areas and Christians, but no churches in others. They are in a long process of death and resurrection, and the CGMB has been one of their most faithful partners in the struggle.
From East Timor I fly to Ambon, where we will be working on an interfaith program of "Preaching Peace," which will involve pulpit exchanges between Christian and Muslim preachers. This is one of many creative responses by local people of faith to the devastating communal conflict that wrecked the area in the early 2000s. I'll be working with my friend Abidin, who is vice chair of the Muslim council in Ambon. He grew up in an area where Muslims and Christians had lived together in friendship for centuries and has spent much of the last ten years working tirelessly to restore those friendships. One of his concerns is that if we don't actively promote interfaith friendship, the tolerant and liberal local form of Islam will be inundated by more fundamentalist evangelists who are heavily funded from the Middle East.
After Ambon I have a week at home, and then off to southeast Sulawesi for a "training of trainers" in lay leadership development. Another week at home, and then on to Halmahera for the third in a series of trauma healing workshops for pastors on that island, which suffered the same Christian-Muslim conflict as Ambon. I'll also be teaching in a Master's program at a new university that was founded by the church in Halmahera. The founders of the school intentionally chose to subdue the school's Christian identity in order to make it a more welcoming place for Muslim students as well. (The Muslims now make up nearly half the student body).
From the list above you can see that a lot of our work is among post-conflict communities. While churches are often slow to respond to social events (as they were in the original crises 10 years ago), on the positive side the churches are very good at providing the long-term commitment and care that is needed to restore these communities to life. When the "peace" has been declared, the troops withdrawn, and most of the NGOs have moved on to the next crisis, the churches continue to plug away at healing the hidden wounds and listening to the silent voices of the victims.
In this connection, it would be hard to overstate the power that the idea of resurrection has among traumatized Christian communities in Eastern Indonesia. It gives them the strength to strive for a future different than the one dictated to them by a history of terror and grief. When I work with these people I am convinced that the power of Easter is not confined to "long ago and far away," but a very present reality.
On the home front, Karen is mostly home these days, spending her time editing human rights documentation. Our daughter Katie is fully absorbed in her job as a soil science researcher at the University of Massachusetts, and we are enjoying the luxury of a six month visit by our son Sam and his girlfriend while they wait to begin graduate school in the fall (environmental studies). GMIT, our partner church here, is enjoying a period of relative calm, free from disasters and social or internal conflict (mostly), and working hard on a revision of the Church Order. This will be the fourth effort in my time here; maybe by the time Jesus comes back we'll finally get it right.
Wishing you all the hope and strength of Easter,
John Campbell-Nelson serves as a professor with the Evangelical Church of West Timor.Make a gift for this Mission placement
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