The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


LOVE – OR BOMBS AND TERROR © Duncan Graham 2006

It has to be one of the most remarkable religious sights in Surabaya. Maybe anywhere.

Every Wednesday afternoon around 4,000 poor people are bussed free from their kampung around the city to a suburban stadium in the East Java capital. Here they listen to thumping evangelical rock music, hear passionate Christian sermons and collect a bag of rice and other food on the way out. Sometimes they’re given powdered milk or a box of goodies from Australia.

Outside the kids sing and exercise in age groups led by young teachers. Mums get their babies’ health checked and the sick can seek a cure though healers laying on their hands. Some pray with vigor. Others seem indifferent.

From dress and behavior it’s clear not all participants are Christian. In fact they’re probably a minority.

This weekly two-hour event has been underway since 1999. It’s a huge logistic operation organised by the Pondok Kasih (House of Love) Foundation and the energy is Hana Ananda.

She’s a former Pentecostal Sunday School teacher who recovered from a crippling illness through prayer. Her epiphany came when she saw beggars ignored at church gates by departing parishioners smug with sanctimony having just heard a sermon on giving.

Her self-imposed task of reaching out to the poor and reconciling faiths has created a major industry with 80 staff. This is part bankrolled by her husband Harry, a rich importer of commercial kitchen and laundry equipment.

An overseas consultant involved with the foundation estimated the cost of giving to be at least US$ 500,000 (Rp 4,400 million) a year. The foundation’s annual report includes an auditor’s statement but no figures.

Other support comes from donations including an Australian Christian NGO called International Needs. So far 300 containers full of goods and clothing have been delivered from Australia and Japan, and from the US through the Samaritan’s Purse charity. These gifts have also been on-sent to other provinces, including Aceh and Nias.

Every Friday when Muslims are at prayer there’s a two-hour discussion in the Pondok Kasih office with pastors from 23 different Protestant churches. The aim is to sort out differences between denominations, share problems and work together. Intra-faith disputes can be as damaging as inter-faith friction.

On the office walls are photos of staff working with the handicapped, homosexuals, the poor, Muslim youth and senior clerics – and chatting with VIPs. Pondok Kasih isn’t just into hallelujahs; it runs practical projects, including water purification, health clinics, an old people’s home, an orphanage and rehabilitation centres.

Hana, 61, said she’s been dubbed the local Mother Theresa (a Catholic nun who worked in Indian slums) by some, but rejected the honor. She spoke to The Jakarta Post two days after some powerful preaching at the stadium:

Surely most of the people at the stadium were Muslims?

I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I only know they’re poor and in need. Of course some come because of the food but they also need love.

Aren’t you attempting to Christianise them?

If you’re writing about this you must be very careful. Religion is an extremely sensitive issue in Indonesia. This is a Muslim country. Better that you explore how we can all live together in love and peace. Expose the humanitarian issues.

Everyone knows what’s happening at the stadium – you can hear the noise streets away. As a journalist I should report what’s happening honestly …

Pray to God for guidance in what you write. Lives can be lost, churches closed over this issue. I could be killed if some people read the wrong things. I only want to help people live a better life. I want my country to be peaceful, united and prosperous.

I don’t want to convert people. Do you think you can buy a person’s religion with a packet of rice? If so you’re insulting them.

How do you manage to run these huge weekly events without trouble? (The indoor stadium is well secured with high walls and heavy steel gates. Scores of security guards monitor arrivals and marshals help the crowds. When The Jakarta Post visited there was no palpable tension and the participants – mainly women - seemed to be having a good time.)

It’s a miracle that it’s happening in Surabaya. It’s not happening elsewhere yet, but I pray it will. There were some problems in the beginning and threats to report me to the police but that didn’t happen.

We have very good relationships with the Muslim clerics. They see our integrity and defend me. We even pay for circumcision ceremonies for the poor.

I’m a triple minority – a woman, a Christian and Chinese – yet I can talk to Muslims at all levels, so others can do the same. I respect them and they respect me.

I’ve read the Koran. I say to clerics that because Islam means submission to God I can be classified as a Muslim because I submit to the one God whom we all worship.

It’s easy to get along with well-educated and liberal leaders at inter-faith forums. Isn’t the problem with the people in the village and kampung?

I don’t want to answer that question. I don’t discriminate. People have needs. I just love the people. We must have reconciliation. I only want to say positive things.

I’m not just dealing with top clerics. I’m also talking to village heads.

To avoid being accused of Christianisation why not get government agencies to distribute the foods and goods instead of including it with religion?

The donors give because they trust Pondok Kasih. I don’t think they’d trust the government.

I have to be held accountable when I die. I have to do these things, that’s my belief. When I die all this will continue – successors have been trained.

I love my country. We need to restore the image of Indonesia in the world as a country free of hate and suspicion. I believe that requires people to recognise Jesus and bend the knee. But you don’t need to be a Christian to love Jesus.

Why is there such an issue with religion in Indonesia? Is it because there’s no clear separation of faith and state?

Maybe. It’s also a problem of history. The Dutch came here with the Bible in one hand, a gun in the other. We were oppressed by white colonialists.

Christians today are also to blame for failing to develop a relationship with Muslims. Too many Christians are affluent and arrogant and exclude themselves from the community. There’s a big gap. We must soothe, not provoke – respect people’s dignity, treat them as human beings.

If we as Christians don’t go to Muslims with love they will come to us with bombs and terror.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 17 May 2006)

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