Rev. Dr. Mery Kolimon
Moderator of the Synod of Evangelical Protestant Church in Timor GMIT, Indonesia
(Translated by Dr. Karen Campbell Nelson)
A contribution to an Online Discussion on the topic “Church and Government Synergy in Handling the Covid-19 Pandemic in Indonesia” on April 30, 2020.
- This disaster is a matter of concern for everyone. Previously, the Indonesian government mentioned three important pillars in disaster management, namely the government, the business world, and the community. Later the government emphasized five pillars or a pentahelix and added the media and academics. But if we are honest there has not been strong cooperation in handling the Covid-19 disaster in the regions of Indonesia. On the ground, it tends to be a one-sided affair of the government, especially the Ministry of Health. There has not been strong synergy among the various parties.
- Indeed the Covid-19 disaster relates to the matter of health, but we are learning that it has an impact on many things such as social, economic, and cultural matters, food security, children's education, gender issues, and much more.
- In this Covid-19 pandemic, we in GMIT have seen the extraordinary participation of community and church as part of a disaster response: there are those who make and distribute masks, hand sanitizer, and create places to wash hands in public spaces by using mobile water containers. Others make public kitchens and distribute food staples. It has been extraordinary. This shows good disaster response skills. These things need to be documented for the benefit of knowledge management.
- We in GMIT see the importance of the church’s role in collecting and analyzing data. This is so the church can advocate for its members to be included in government assistance programs. We are quite serious about data collection, but sometimes there is a gap between the data we are trying to collect and the data that the government needs. We ask for better coordination in this matter. We are trying to record a list of vulnerable groups to give to the local government and ensure that all eligible church members have been registered. Then during the distribution of aid by the government, the church should help monitor it to see whether or not eligible church members have been helped. This is also to ensure the prevention of corruption of aid funds.
- Another thing we have been encouraging is the once common practice of church granaries. We have asked the pastors of our many rural congregations that their offerings of “first fruits”, i.e., offerings from recent harvests of such staples as rice, corn, and beans (this is part of GMIT’s Pentecost tradition) not to be sold, but to be stored in the church’s granary. This is important to help families who need food if the disaster is prolonged. In this way, the church participates in efforts to ensure food security for church and community members.
- We are also paying attention to educational materials about Covid-19. Especially in a multi-lingual ministerial context, we have an interest in translating educational materials into various regional languages. GMIT has a Culture and Language Center that can translate such materials into the major languages of our province. These translated materials will be distributed through various media such as radio, Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp.
- We are concerned about education for our children, especially those in the interior. Covid-19 should not stop a child from learning. But the challenge is how to support children to learn independently or through study with their parents. We are exploring cooperation with various parties to provide learning services for our children. Included in this concern is the need to provide ministry for children’s spiritual growth.
- Another issue that concerns us is mental health. We are working to strengthen the pastoral care capacity of our pastors through collaboration with WVI and the Indonesian Communion of Churches. We will have a two-day online training to strengthen the pastoral care capacity. In this way our pastors will be able to become shepherds during this time that is so disturbing for mental health.
- We are also giving attention to economic empowerment of GMIT congregations. As a result of Covid-19, a number of village markets have been closed. Without access to markets, farmers cannot sell their agricultural produce and, in turn, have difficulty getting cash. We are currently seeking to develop a marketing network between rural farmers and urban consumers, especially to help farmers move fresh produce such as vegetables and herbs. Some examples already exist. Some village congregations offer their harvests for sale through social media where members of urban churches can directly order and buy the food.
- Cooperation among denominations and religions is important during this Covid-19 era as this pandemic is a threat to all people. Overcoming it requires the cooperation of all parties. GMIT has initiated a series of virtual interfaith meetings to explore opportunities for collaboration. We have already seen the importance of educational messages jointly delivered by leaders of different religions and also the value of collaboration in promoting food security through marketing networks.
- Another important issue that should not be sidelined is domestic violence. Because crisis always exacerbates gender inequality, everyone needs to give greater attention to this issue, especially the situation for women as long as the policy to remain at home is applied on a mass scale. Besides needed attention to the many health issues related to the Covid-19 situation, we also need to be paying attention to [the problems created by] patriarchal culture. All parties must provide encouragement so that each family in this pandemic situation is able to divide tasks and cooperate to manage a fair and safe life at home.
- Finally, there is the issue of ecology. This is a wake-up call for all humanity: the cessation of air travel means there is also a reduction of air pollution. The reduction in other forms of transportation—ships and cars—is giving the earth an opportunity to breathe freely again. With so many people staying at home, mining activities that dredge away the earth’s body have been stopped. All of us—governments, communities, businessmen, politicians, just everyone—should give meaning to this moment as an opportunity to reconcile with the earth. We need to make a joint appeal for the masses to repent for the sake of ecological justice.
Some footnotes as response to the online discussion following initial input by the resource persons:
- There is a challenge presented by postponing worship in churches. How do we continue to care for people’s spirituality? One idea being weighed is to use megaphones for projecting worship services in rural communities where access to online services is difficult.
- The church also needs to give attention to the issue of stigma and discrimination in relation to Covid-19. Underlying this tendency is a theological construct that regards illness and injury as punishment from God.
- We encourage the understanding that the virus can infect anyone and that those who have been infected can also survive. It is our joint task to encourage each other to have hope.
- We have been encouraging people to plant gardens at home and have supported a movement for seed donations working with our unit on economic empowerment and GMIT’s organization, “Community of Pastors Who Like Farming”.
- I stress again that massive amounts of aid may easily encourage criminal behaviors and that the church needs to ensure that aid reaches those most in need.