Indonesian church leaders: `Door has opened`

By Kim Krull

Three Indonesian church leaders who are involved in confessional Lutheran renewal say at least one blessing has emerged from the tsunami that devastated their country just about a year ago.

“People (in Indonesia) see that Christians care and want to help them,” said Rev. Mangisi Simorangkir, bishop of the 400,000-member Christian Protestant IndonesiansChurch in Indonesia (GKPI), one of 14 Indonesian synods with Lutheran affiliations in that heavily Muslim country.  “A door has opened.”

Simorangkir was among the trio who traveled to St. Louis and Fort Wayne to meet with LCMS leaders in January, for what LCMS World Relief/Human Care Executive Director Matthew Harrison called an opportunity to begin a dialogue and explore new ways to work together.

“These are three faithful men who love Christ and Luther’s teachings.  They are working hard in their churches to help people in need,” Harrison said.  “There ought to be some way we can work together.”

The Indonesian church leaders also included Rev. Nelson Siregar, executive director of the Department of Diakonia for the Protestant Christian Batak Church (HKBP), a 4-million member church body, and Rev. Bonar Lumbantobing, a lecturer at the HKBP Seminary in North Sumatra.

Accompanying the men was Darin Storkson, LCMS World Relief/Human Care’s regional director in Asia.  Since his deployment to Indonesia following the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami, Storkson has worked with the Indonesian church leaders on various projects, including efforts to provide clean water and medical assistance in devastated communities and Lutheran theology books to Christian seminaries.

Storkson described “enormous challenges” but also “incredible possibilities” in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, which is about 85 percent Muslim.

“These are three special friends who are excited about our appearance on the scene,” Storkson said.  “They have a tremendous hunger for Lutheran theology.   New relationships are being formed in a country where there has been no solid Lutheran church partner ever.”

In St. Louis, the Indonesians met with LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick, who called the meeting “a learning experience.”  “I don’t know where this will lead, but the spirit of God will work as He will,” Kieschnick said. “We are pleased to provide assistance to your churches and your people since the tsunami, and pray that perhaps, in some way, good will be realized from that terrible disaster.” 

The Indonesian church leaders also met with Dr. Samuel Nafzger, executive director, Commission on Theology and Church Relations; Dr. Robert Roegner, executive director, LCMS World Mission; and Rev. Jon Vieker, assistant director, Commission on Worship.

Harrison presented the Indonesian pastors with Lutheran theology books, which are in short supply in Indonesia.

Bishop Simorangkir called the gift of theology materials “very important.”  “If we don’t understand more about our Lutheran identity, we can’t make dialogue about our faith with others,” said the bishop, who recently translated The Book of Concord into Indonesian.

While in St. Louis, the Indonesians toured Concordia Publishing House (CPH).  CPH Interim President/CEO Paul McCain made arrangements to provide an additional $5,000 in Lutheran theology materials for Indonesian schools and churches.

The Indonesian leaders also visited the LCMS seminaries in St. Louis and Fort Wayne, renewing acquaintances with professors who traveled to South Asia last year as part of a tsunami study trip coordinated by LCMS World Relief/Human Care.  

The Indonesians’ visit concluded with participation in the 21st Annual Symposia on Exegetical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne.

“This is just like a dream for me,” said Lumbantobing, the HKBP seminary faculty member.  “This is going back to the roots of our faith and to Martin Luther and learning more that we can share with our students in Indonesia.”

Said Siregar: “I hope this is not a last opportunity but the beginning.”

Posted Jan. 26, 2006

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