The following is an account of my recent visit to the town of Batu in the city of Malang of the island of East Java (Jawa Timur) in Indonesia from 26 to 30 December 2005.
It took about 1 hour and fifty-five minutes to arrive at Juanda Airport in Surabaya from Singapore. I arrived slightly past 10 am and was greeted by the hot and humid tropical weather.
Pak Nur and his brother-in-law Pak Bhuddi were at the airport waiting at the exit. Pak Bhuddi drove us to his father’s house where I met Pak Nur’s wife, Ibu Christine (Christiyana), their children, Brian (pronounced in Javanese as bree-arnh) and Novan; and her parents who live in Surabaya.
I have found the Javanese to be a very gentle, and polite in their speech and mannerisms. They are always careful to use the proper salutation to show respect when addressing a person. When addressing men, the prefix ‘Pak’ (pakh) is used and when addressing women, ‘Ibu’ (eeboo) is used. So, they call me Pak Dennis.
Bahasa Indonesia is the national language of Indonesia, but there are still many islands and tribal groups where people are not literate and are familiar only with their own tribal language.
The drive to Batu took slightly over two hours from Kota (town) Malang. Mosques (mesjid) were found every few hundred feet away along the road sides and villages. Seeing the street scenes in Malang made me recollect my early childhood days in Singapore in the early seventies.
Roads are mostly single-laned. The horse cart is still a common mode of transportation over there, and they can be seen competing for road space with the cars and motorbikes.
Interspersed along the roadsides are many warungs (food kiosks), shops and residential buildings. Once in awhile, we get a clear view of padi fields with Mount Arjuno, an active volcano in the backdrop. Roadside peddlers were almost everywhere selling odd things.
Stopping at a traffic junction, a boy rushed up to us with packets wrapped in newspaper. They were selling tofu (soya bean cake) made from the town of Kediri, well known for their fine tofu. Peddlers on bicycle and motorbike sold colorful bamboo trumpets lined with colorful aluminium paper for the celebration of Natal (Christmas). Batu is higher in altitude, and as we ascended, it became pleasantly cooler.
We finally arrived at Pak Nur’s house in Batu situated at a cross junction of two streets just about 1km from the foot of the active volcano, Mount Arjuno. Hardly long after we settled down, Pak Nur and Ibu Christine began to ask questions about Anabaptist history and teaching. Pak Nur showed me a book written in Indonesian by a protestant on the Reformation which was the catalyst for his interest in the Anabaptists. With some understanding of Indonesian, I read the short paragraph which spoke favorably well of the Anabaptists. We spoke till it was time for dinner. After that, we spoke some more.
Nur was born on the island of Madura off the north coast of Surabaya. Madurese are one of the most fundamentalist Islamic peoples in Indonesia. Before Islam came to the Madura, they practiced the dark arts of spiritism. Today, their Islam is a mixture of superstition and spiritism. I wonder if it is the mixure that has drawn them into fundamentalism.
Nur’s parents are still Muslims but they have moved to the mainland and now live in a Madurese community in a town further east of East Java called Jember. Nur recalled how difficult it was when he became an outcast after he came to know about Christ through his uncle. About seven years ago, he left his village for Bandung to study in an evangelical Bible college. He and his wife now attend an evangelical church in Batu, Malang. Pak Nur is a deacon and youth leader in his assembly, preaching every other month. They work at an interdenominational Christian broadcasting station, beaming Bible lessons and counseling help to Indonesian peoples near and far in Asia. A major work of the broadcasting station is targeted at Indonesia’s tribal groups: the Torajanese, the Sundanese, the Achenese, the Madurese and other groups in Sulawesi.
Ibu Christine was born into a family of church goers. Her parents are members of an Evangelical church. Nur and Christine met each other in Bandung, Central Java while Nur was a student at Tyrannus Bible College in Bandung while Ibu Christine was at that time a student at a secular university in Bandung attending a course related to Public Relations. Now, she works half a day at the broadcasting station. She speaks good English, and was my helpful translator during our Bible studies.
Shortly after 9:30 am, Pak Eslo Manik arrived on his motorbike (sepeda motor). Pak Eslo is from the Batak tribe from the northern part of the big island of Sumatra (west of the Java Island). He is in his late thirties and is married with 2 children. Pak Eslo now works with Pak Nur translating and broadcasting Bible lessons into Batak language to the fundamental Islamic people of Aceh in the western-most part of Sumatra. He is a member of an evangelical church.
Several minutes later, Pak Argus also came on his sepeda motor. He is a Javanese from the southern part of Jawa Tengah (central Java). His wife Cici (Chee Chee) came with him the next day. She was born in the northern island of Sulawesi (Celebes). Right now, Argus is enrolled at a Wesleyan Bible College (Methodist) and is waiting for the first semester of Bible school to begin. After 15 years of working in evangelism to village peoples in East Java under a man whom he associated with as his mentor, he left the ministry to start all over again. It appeared that he broke off from him with quite a disappointment. Argus asked many, many questions with great interest to learn more. Everyday, he would remain behind with me till late night, desiring to learn more. He and his wife are presently taking shelter at a hostel within the grounds of the seminary. Since he left the previous ministry, he has been through much difficult times. He speaks good English and has a good understanding of the Bible. He helped my with the translation during our Bible studies.
Shortly afterward, Ibu Youke (Yeo-ker) arrived. She is a single parent with a 12 year old daughter. Her husband died in an accident when their daughter was 5 years old. A throughbred Presbyterian, she also works with Pak Nur, counseling Indonesian people who respond to their radio ministry through writing. She also provides relief advice through the radio to the affected peoples displaced by the recent Tsunami in Aceh. At the same time, she provides Bible counseling to Indonesian listeners to their program who work in Singapore and Malaysia as domestic helpers. She is very intelligent and asked good questions.
We started about the same time. This time, Pak Argus came first with his wife Cici, followed by Pak Ferry Pakiding. Pak Ferry is a Torajanese, an animistic tribe from the island of Sulawesi. Now, about 75% of Toraja are some kind of believers of Christ, but they mix their faith with mysticism and spiritism (Kebatinan). Pak Ferry is still single in his mid thirties. He is from a Southern Baptist Convention church and works with Pak Nur in broadcasting lessons translated into the language of the people in his tribal language in Torja, Sulawesi.
Pak Argus invited us to visit him at his hostel in central Malang which is about an hour away from Batu. It was a pleasant visit with him and his wife and we continued with a discussion in the scriptures till lunch time and then left to visit the language school where Pak Nur is hoping to enrol in, to learn English.
Bible Studies and Discussions
Here is a list of topics we discussed:
Proper principles of Biblical interpretation of the scripture, Scriptural definitions of: In Christ, Church in Christ, Disciples, Saints, Christian, those who are Christ’s, the origin and teaching of the Universal Invisible church theology and its effect upon interpretation of scripture and the Lord’s church, Scriptural authority and the origin of the Lord’s church, Scriptural Baptism and Paul the first Anabaptist (Acts 19), the indwelling Holy Spirit promised to the Lord’s church, the Old and New Covenants and God’s eternal purpose, the relationship of the New Covenant with the Lord’s church, forgiveness is ONLY in Christ and the promises of the Covenant only in Christ, Discipleship and continuing faith, The Kingdom Gospel and the coming Kingdom and the inheritance for the faithful covenant ones. Some of the subjects were covered in more detail, some others were briefly discussed.
These were some of the many questions they asked: How to start an Anabaptist church, Rebaptism, How to become a pastor, Ordination procedure, Women preachers, Order of services in the church.
After studying and discussing the scriptures with them almost every day and night for three and a half days, they all individually agree that the Anabaptists teach and practice the need for a pure church and that the teachings are Biblical. The responses received have been very positive. They are all convinced that the Anabaptist church and their teachings are closest to the scriptures. However, each of them individually has many long, hard bridges to cross and to burn behind them. Pak Nur especially desires greatly to have scriptural churches established in Java, Indonesia. He told me that he would study more of the teachings to gain a better understanding of the covenant church and also expressed a desire to see Anabaptist teachings translated into the Indonesian language, and hopes to get a website on Anabaptist teachings in Indonesian language designed with the help of Ibu Christine’s brother.
In my latest correspondence with Pak Nur, he has requested prayer for a friend by the name of Kefas (Cephas) from the city of Blitar who was to visit him in Batu, seeking to learn about the Covenant church teachings.
Absent was Pak Herry from Jakarta who is a very close friend of Pak Nur and Ibu Christina. He was busy making preparation for his coming wedding. Herry graduated from a Bible College of some protestant group and teaches fulltime at a high school in Jakarta. Having heard of the Anabaptist history and teachings from Pak Nur, he greatly desires to learn more. Lord willing, there may be an opportunity to meet him in the near future.
Religious Situation in Java
In the last three months, 27 independent assemblies of various denominations in central Java were closed down. This was because the fundamentalist Islamic group, the Jemmaah Islamia (JI) has embarked on an ongoing crusade to hunt down unregistered Christian groups by sweeping through village by village either by using force (bombing and shooting) to exterminate ‘illegal’ groups or by reporting them to the government whenever they found a group unregistered. People are now afraid not to register with the government, but a registered group must be subject to some degree of governmental control and intervention.
The fundamentalist Islamic groups are now sweeping across East Java and 2 ‘Christian’ groups had to close down in the last month. Fundamentalists are now dressed in western clothes and not in religious garb anymore. They have shed off the beard, making them now very hard to detect.
It was at the foot of Mount Arjuno, just about a kilometre from where Nur lives that Dr. Nordin Azahari the leader of the JI was gunned down; but one of his senior lieutenants escaped and is still at large. Batu, being a hilly and mountainous region is a natural hide-out haven for many fundamentalists. Many protestant groups have built seminaries and hospitals there. Along the way to Batu, there are at least four large protestant seminaries. Many muslim schools are there too. The largest moderate Muhammadiya Islamic school in Asia lies on the slopes of Batu. The more radical Sunni and Shiite groups also have big seminaries there. Two days before I left for Surabaya, the news over the radio reported that Islamic militants had issued threats of bombing hotels in Batu on Christmas day. Batu depends heavily upon the tourism and hotel industry. Two months ago, a hotel was bombed. Although the bombing did not take place this time, it did bring about great fear and danger to people in Batu.
A most recent bombing by the JI group occurred just behind Pak Ferry’s house, just about 10 minutes away from where Pak Nur lives. Pak Nur’s friend, an American protestant tent-making missionary who tried to help a village in Madura build a farming irrigation system was accused by the Islamic village head for proselytizing the villagers and was thrown in jail in Madura island since several months ago. Although it is not safe for a westerner to be in Indonesia at this time, Pak Nur introduced me to a friend from Colorado by the name of Pam who speaks very fluent Indonesian and quite good Javanese. She has been working in Java under the Brethren church for the past nine years. Now, because of the fundamentalist Islamists, she is keeping low key and hardly goes far away from her house. Two Javanese friends have set up a language school in Malang nearby where she lives, hoping to help her obtain a government employment pass to teach English.
Brethren, here ends the account of my first visit to Jawa Timur. I am very hopeful that there will be further opportunities to visit Nur and the others in the Lord’s time. In the meantime, I continue to keep in touch with Pak Nur through writing.
Please continue to pray faithfully for those mentioned above. Nur has been sharing with his other friends about the Anabaptist teachings. Do pray that Nur and his wife will be able to burn the bridges behind them and to walk that narrow way to follow the Lord in covenant. In spite of the volatile religious situation and unstable politics of the country, we should still especially pray that the Lord will put his Name in Batu, Malang, Jakarta, Madura, Aceh and in all the islands of the largest Muslim nation in the world.
May the Lord bless His Word into the hearts of those who have ears to hear.