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?
*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!
*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.
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 email@example.com 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.