Indonesia Churches Set Example of Faith

Monday, 24 August 2015 13:06

I want to share with the churches what I have observed in our sister churches in Indonesia.

Jakarta ICOC
Worship service in Jakarta.

In the past ten years I have been privileged to travel literally all over the world visiting churches in the ICOC fellowship. I have had the wonderful pleasure of teaching to more than 150 churches in nearly 70 countries. My observation is that everywhere I go I see a few churches “holding their own” spiritually, but the great majority are growing in faith, in zeal for God, in raising up visionary leadership, in the teaching ministry and in reaching out to the needs of our communities. 

In my travels, to me, the Indonesia family of churches stand out in some really important ways and I want to share what I have observed with the rest of our fellowship. First let me share a bit about Indonesia. It is a unique country in many ways:

  • Fourth largest country in the world, behind China, India and the US.

  • Largest Muslim majority country in the world. With a population of a bit over 250 million, it is about 85% Muslim.

  • Although it is a predominantly Muslim country, it is relatively open to other religions and has an officially secular government. Christians have had very significant persecution for sure, but despite occasional acts of violence and official resistance to Christian missionaries, it remains one of the most evangelizable of predominantly Muslim countries.

I have now had the amazing pleasure of visiting the church in Jakarta four times in the past eight years, as well as churches in Medan, Denpassar, Surabaya, Manado and Bandung. Everywhere I go I see a spirit in the disciples in Indonesia which is an example to all of our churches. It is hard for me to put my finger on it, but I would like to mention five aspects of what I see.

1. Real and lasting effect on their society as a whole

Our churches in Indonesia see no limit to what God can do through them to impact their people, their society and even their government. I find myself thinking, “Don’t they realize that this goal is not possible?” In my “sophistication” I think that there are certain things that are more or less not possible for us to do. These disciples do not have such “sophistication” and I am grateful for that. They see a singles ministry which is not doing so well, put emphasis on singles, and two years later they have what is one of the most dynamic singles ministry in all our fellowship with 500 singles who truly believe they can change the singles landscape in Indonesia.

Salims and Oakes
From left to right: Harliem and Vaina Salim and Jan and John Oakes.
Four years ago, their leaders Harliem and Vania Salim, together with their leadership team, decided to plant 15 new churches in three years. I am so glad I did not point out the obvious reason this was not a good idea. Where will the leaders come from? Where will the money come from? I do not know the final count, but I believe they reached their goal. They have raised up as many or more well-trained leaders here in Indonesia than in any other church I have visited. I ask myself why that is.

My wife Jan and I were in Medan two years ago. Many of the people in the northwest of Sumatra are Muslim fundamentalists. The brother leading the church, Awi, shared that he has a problem, which is that everyone wants to be a leader. Don’t we all wish we had that problem? I ask myself why they have this “problem.” I believe it is because from top to bottom, God has used Harliem and Vania to infuse into the disciples here that they are really part of something great -- what God is doing in Indonesia.

One of the “problems” Harlem and Vania shared with us last month is that they have simply too many people wanting to study the Bible. They have had to literally create a waiting list for people based on how open they are and who is available to study with them. We all wish we had this problem.

2. Faith that God can do anything (and in seeing miracles in correspondence to that faith)

My second observation is closely related to my first. Harliem and Vania, working with their amazing leadership team, have found it possible to set before the church seemingly any goal and the people rise to the occasion. The church here was illegal and God, through a miracle which would be too long to explain, converted a person who knew a person who got the church legal status.

They also needed a school to send the children of the staff to here. It is difficult to explain the situation for church staff in this third world Muslim country. Most or all of the staff come from privileged backgrounds but are not paid the salary commensurate to their education and therefore are in a really tough spot in educating their kids. Bottom line, they needed to establish a Christian school. Through another miracle with a long story that would blow your mind, a very powerful and wealthy Muslim businessman gave them land for a school as well as half the cost of building the school.

I could tell you a seemingly unending number of stories like this. The disciples here have a deep, childlike faith that moves God and moves people and miracles happen.  

3. In reaching out to the influential, powerful and the wealthy

Several years ago, Harliem and Vania, working with their amazing support couple, John and Karen Louis, realized that in order to build a nation-changing church in a third world country it was imperative that they reach out to and baptize members of the wealthy and the educated class in their country. They began a ministry devoted to this effort, not because God loves these people more than the poor and uneducated, but because if they were going to have the financial resources in a time that our sister churches are offering relatively little support, this was absolutely necessary.

As Harliem and Vania have explained to us, at first it took three to five years to convert people of this caliber. However, within five years or so of beginning this ministry the change became something you have to see to believe. There are well over 100 disciples from the highest level of this Muslim society who have been baptized. With the influence of some really amazing men and women already baptized, the time frame for such conversions is now six months to a year. There is a spirit of commitment and zeal in this group that I have witnessed firsthand that, again, you have to see to believe. It would be impossible to begin to list the number of educators, architects, doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, hotel chain owners… the list goes on, in this group. What they have discovered is that this group “gets it.” In other words, they understand what commitment and devotion means. They are already mature, self-motivated and generous. They automatically are out-of-the-box thinkers who think globally. All are leaders already and this has infused the church in amazing ways.

As an example, I spent some time in our most recent visit with a brother who was formerly in the mafia of Indonesia at the highest level. He was a “fixer” for the mafia, overseeing corruption at the absolute highest levels of the government, including the judiciary, the police and the congress.  When he was counting the cost to become a disciple, one of his issues was a 100 million dollar payment he was to receive that week from a corrupt affair that he had helped to establish. His income went from $500,000 per month to $500 per month for the next four years. He had such a deep sense of conviction that he got up at 3:30 am every day during that time, having a four to six hour quiet time daily. After four years with no work, God blessed him with another of those miracles and he is now again in fantastically lucrative businesses but doing it to the glory of God. He was concerned as he got with me that he might be getting too devoted to his work as his quiet times had been reduced to only two or three hours per day.

4. Maintaining a real sense that we are part of a world-wide mission

Manado Sulawesi ICOC
Disciples in Manado, Sulawesi.
Our paradigm as a fellowship has been that first world churches lead and financially support churches in the developing world. This is a simplification of the facts, but it is, in essence, the case. Among the revolutions coming from Jakarta includes the next step in the growth of a family of churches. First of all, many of the churches in Indonesia are fully self-supporting, including supporting the church plantings every year. Now they are helping to encourage and spiritually support the churches in Cambodia and Thailand. Harliem and Vania have taken themselves out of the position of leading the Jakarta church so that they can support the work throughout Southeast Asia. Their attitude is similar to that of John and Karen Louis. If they are asked for help, they will give the help. The changes in Cambodia are already remarkable.

In the last six years, the Indonesian churches have planted 16 churches. Their prayer is to plant another 20 churches by 2020. Thirteen of their churches are currently self-supported, so the money collected from the U.S. is used for newly planted churches. In the last year alone, three more churches have become self-supported. The Indonesian churches are grateful to the U.S. congregations that have faithfully supported them for many years: Northern Virginia, Potomac Valley, Ohio (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Dayton) and Delaware.

5. Creating new ministries and missions, as needed, to adapt to various situations and cultures

We should not forget that all this is happening in a country where Christianity is not particularly welcome. Just a few years ago, on the island of Ambon, where we have a church, Muslim fundamentalists went on a rampage, rioting, burning down churches, killing and looting. The “Christians” responded in kind, so not all fault lay with the Muslims who were the initiators. As a result, whole parts of the island are now controlled by radical Muslims and a “Christian-majority” island is no longer a safe place for a Christian. There are many stories like this. Yet, the church has moved forward. The church in Jakarta has grown forty percent in the last six years. They have started a ministry to the older ladies that is now one of the fastest growing ministries.

The teen ministry in Jakarta was doing okay but not great. They decided to do something about it. Jan and I went on a teen retreat this summer. The juniors and seniors ran almost the whole retreat and they lead the studies with the other teens. There were 150 teens in attendance: 100 baptized and 50 studying the Bible. They have one of the most dynamic teen ministries I have seen.

The churches across Indonesia are very committed to meeting the needs of both Christian and Muslim poor and disadvantaged. They have innumerable programs geared to help the real problems in Indonesia. They run an orphanage, do flood relief, offer counseling for marriages and parenting, and many, many more. We should remember that it is not straightforward to simply share one’s faith in Indonesia. It is essential that they make a real difference for ALL the people of Indonesia, and the churches across Indonesia are doing an amazing job. A principle form of evangelism for the churches there is their work to meet the needs of the society. It is their benevolent work that has opened many of the doors, for example, to having a Christian school.

Final thoughts:

What the churches in Indonesia are teaching me is that simple faith in our amazing God is the key to building a great church. This faith comes at least in part from a visionary leader or leaders who model this kind of faith for the people. They must be completely devoted to the work, of course, but they must fundamentally believe that this is a work of God and they must put before their people a vision for greatness in God’s kingdom. They need to move from a fixing problems mindset to a “What is God doing today?” approach to ministry.

Dr. John Oakes

Read more: John Oakes Reports on Missionary Trip to Indonesia & Singapore | Testimony: A Talented Woman Standing for the Truth

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