Indonesia: You are Invited

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Sometimes the best photos are people also taking photos:  Muslim schoolgirls on a field trip to Borobudur which is the largest Buddhist temple in the world

In 1950, the first woman was ordained as a pastor.  This happened 2 years after the Indonesian church was formed as the GPI, in English known as the Protestant Church of Indonesia with its origins in the Dutch state church.  66 years later, this denomination is the second-largest with 322 congregations in 26 provinces, with 582 active pastors, more female than male.  All of this in a country with the highest population of Muslims, with approximately 2% Christians.

For the week starting November 10, we met with a wonderful mix of female church pastors and church leaders, in the three cities of Jakarta, Solo and Yogyakarta.  I joined Presbyterian Women staff members Susan Jackson Dowd and Kathy Reeves and 2017 Global Exchange Chair Peggy Free, that together with our Indonesian sisters, we might make plans for the upcoming 2017 Global Exchange in September.  In case you were wondering whether there were any men in attendance, we also met many such as the chair of local church council, Synod chairperson, and seminary intern.

Our initial conversations were in English, with the occasional outburst of common English-language experiences; however, as the days passed, we realized that we needed a translator and more time to know more about each other:

*Within minutes of our first conversation with church leaders, we learned about the issues concerning church and society, such as domestic and sexual violence.  These women also discussed interfaith marriage and conflicts about natural resources with multinational companies.  For the fourth or fifth year in a row, these women would soon launch their own 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, as part of the United Nations global campaign that is happening now until December 10.  They are inviting us to “orange the world,” what will we do now?

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Enjoying lighter moments at the Museum of the Presidents in Bogor

*One day of site-seeing, we passed by a park with many female deer, I mentioned that the English word was “doe” as in female deer.  Without skipping a beat, the vanload of women burst into “Doe a deer, a female deer,” followed by eruptions of laughter.  Who knew how Julie Andrews could bring us together like that!

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Taking a break from Hindu temple sight-seeing

*After that same day of site-seeing, I sat in the backseat with a woman named Ejodia.  I learned more about her than what she learned about me:  She has worked extensively with international NGOs that work in Indonesia, for example, serving with volunteers after the 2007 Banda Aceh tsunami.  As she shared about her work, she also shared about her life and ministry.  I learned more about her leadership in an organization called Association for Theologically Educated Women in Indonesia.  The more she shared, the more I was convinced that I should ask her about human trafficking in Indonesia, specifically if she knew Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipino woman imprisoned in Indonesia for drug trafficking.  I was encouraged to learn that these women knew of Mary Jane and have stood in solidarity with her.

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ATEWI local board members from Jakarta and neighboring cities:  during recent inauguration in Jakarta, the women also used the occasion to “Orange the World” and stand against violence against women and children 

From a recent e-mail exchange, Ejodia asked me for specific books about contemporary issues and theology, to share with this association.  She invites anyone to recommend book ideas or to support this group with actual e-books or physical books.  It is female seminary students who will benefit from these resources, and I am certain that they would welcome the opportunity to hear from you and maybe even participate in some book club exchanges with U.S. theologically trained women.  Please contact me at cathy.chang@pcusa.org for more details.

*Over our last dinner with the GPI women, it occurred to me that we knew about our lives, but not specifically.  I started to ask the pastor to translate so that we could talk about our respective families and church membership.  Most of this group of women had been long-term church members who grew up with Christian families, but I was also surprised to learn that two women converted from Islam because of their husband’s influence. Unfortunately, the conversation got cut short.

These and many other conversations with men and women formed the basis of my first impressions of Indonesian church and society.  I look forward to continuing these conversations, in the months to come and especially during the September 2017 Global Exchange, with these new Christian sisters, as well as Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist sisters.

 

Thailand: Getting to Know You

 

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At the Overbrook Hospital in Chiang  Rai:  name of the hospital comes from the Philadelphia-area church that has provided financial support

“I do not plead for returning calls, handshakes, chairs, dinners and teas as such. I do on the other hand plead for all of them and more if they can be expressions of a friendly feeling, if these or anything else can be the outward proofs of a real willingness on the part of the foreign missionary to show that he is in the midst of the people to be to them not a lord and master but a brother and a friend.”

“Through all the ages to come the Indian Church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self denying labors of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We ask for love. Give us friends.”

During a seminary missiology course and a visit to Edinburgh, I came across these quotes from Bishop V.S. Azariah at the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference.  Especially at times like these when I feel like I want to do more, and I wish others could join me in the struggles of learning more about migration and human trafficking and then doing something about it.  That’s when I remember that friendship from the global church can be the greater and the greatest gift.  Some of these people might never become my Facebook friends, yet they are friends because they have helped shape my perception of the world beyond the facts and figures during my first visit to Thailand:

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Learning about the challenges of obtaining ID cards for tribal minorities, with CCT pastors

*Originally Pastor A is from Myanmar and settled in northern Thailand.  He crossed the border only now to fight discrimination because of his lack of ID card.  Without this card, he has no identity and no rights.  In multiple attempts to complete the paperwork, he paid countless fees to shady government or law enforcement officials and was arrested over 30 times.  After many years, he has received his ID card, granting him permission to work, vote, receive medical assistance, and to travel freely.  I am confident that his story of perseverance gives hope to his congregants for their process which can last anywhere from 2 to 10 years and include exorbitant fees from more shady government officials.

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At the New Life Center, everyone takes their shoes off before entering the buildings — that included us during our introductory meetings

*Girl B lives at a residential facility for at-risk young girls called the New Life Center.  Her family includes her, brother, mother and father, and they are tribal minorities.  When she was old enough and no longer lived with grandparents, she found a job in construction and worked alongside other children.  She lacks education.  Her father encouraged her to claim her ID card, so that she could receive benefits.  She also has abusive father who attacks her mother, and soon turns against her in multiple attempts to sexually assault her.  Each time she screamed loud enough and ran away far enough to get people to help her and to evade these attempts.  Eventually her mother believes her, leaves her husband, and Girl B can begin a new life at this facility.  Her strength and courage to run away from her father, must be a source of strength and courage to her fellow residents.

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Younger school-aged children can attend a version of school while they are detained with their families at the Immigration Detention Center

*Girl C lives in an immigration detention center in Bangkok.  She and her sister and their family have been detained for over one year.  They left Pakistan because of attacks against their family members who are Christian.  On the same morning of the U.S. election returns (12 hours ahead of EST), I spoke to her and her family mostly through yells and screams.  In a noise-filled room, there is an arbitrary separation with moveable gates about 2 feet apart on one side for detainees, and another side for visitors, we introduced ourselves and quickly connected because of our common faith.  She dreams about becoming a missionary pastor and already reads the Bible regularly and preaches to the women in her same room.  Her favorite story and character is Daniel.  She and her family are waiting for the UNHCR to grant them status as refugees.

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During Sunday worship service, Pastor Sirirat shares messages of hope for the children, while displaying their artwork prepared the week before

 

*Rev. Sirirat Pusurinkham is a Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) pastor serving the Prachakittisuk Church.  As a schoolgirl, some of her friends were sold into prostitution by the families.  Some of the children in her current community have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, leaving them in vulnerable situations where other family members might not be able to care for them and open to options like forced labor or sex trafficking.  The women also lack education and skills which could leave them to consider moving to the city for better opportunities.  Many pleas and prayers later, there are now two extra buildings near the church to serve as the orphanage.  Through the church and its orphanage and livelihood projects, the children and women live in relative safety and security, away from the conditions that lead them susceptible to trafficking.

For the first ten days of November, I traveled to Thailand, with a Presbyterian Church USA delegation that included General Assembly co-moderator Denise Anderson, Carl Horton (Peacemaking), Ryan Smith (Presbyterian Ministry to the United Nations), Barry and Shelly Dawson (regional liaisons of southeast Asia).  Many thanks to Barry and Shelly for preparing this informative and engaging visit.   This will be the beginning of many more visits to come, since Thailand is considered my secondary site of service with partners such as the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) and Christian Conference of Asia (CCT) and other organizations.

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Elected leaders such as Moderator and Vice Moderator and staff members of the Church of Christ in Thailand offices in Bangkok

In these first eight months of living in the Philippines, I have been learning about how best to represent the PCUSA and UCCP at different activities and events. For the first time, I would not be the sole PCUSA representative because now I could enjoy the perspectives and insights of my fellow Presbyterians.  All of us knew something about human trafficking before this visit, but all of us left Thailand with new awareness and information and people.  It was as much a time getting to know Thailand and the church, the government, and culture, as getting to know one another and exploring ways of working together as colleagues in ministry.

Our 9-day schedule included visits with church leaders, staff members of non-profit organizations, representatives at embassy and international offices, and at-risk children in residential facilities.  We also met more people in living rooms, community centers, conference rooms, rice fields, hospital and an immigration detention center.  Filled with loads of information to scribble into notebooks, to read later in papers and reports from different organizations, I was humbled to learn through the sharing of life stories from these new friends.

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