United Methodists forge ties with Indonesian church for recovery work

United Methodists forge ties with Indonesian church for recovery work

A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The Rev. Larry Hollon, top staff executive of United Methodist Communications, views damage in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Jan. 16, 2005        

By Linda Bloom*

MEDAN, Indonesia (UMNS) – A United Methodist team’s visit to the island of Sumatra following the Dec. 26 tsunami has laid the foundation for a future partnership with the Gereja Methodist Indonesia (Methodist Church of Indonesia).

United Methodist Bishop Joel Martinez of San Antonio said he found Indonesian church leaders “genuinely pleased and appreciative” about the Jan. 12-16 visit. Martinez, who is president of the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries, co-led the delegation with the Rev. R. Randy Day, the board’s chief executive.

“We tried to listen to the church and get their perspective, and then we also were able to witness and observe for ourselves,” Martinez explained.

Part of that observation included a tour of the devastated city of Banda Aceh and impromptu visits to camps for internally displaced persons. Even three weeks after the tsunami struck, the bishop believes “the full dimensions of the tragedy are not fully known” and expects the price tag of the disaster to exceed initial estimates just as the death toll did.

Although the tsunami swept over other Indian Ocean nations — including Sri Lanka, Thailand and India — the delegation chose Indonesia as the place to make a pastoral call, to let Indonesian Methodists know that the greater Methodist family was grieving with them, according to Day. Sumatra suffered 115,000 of the more than 162,000 deaths caused by the tsunami and the earthquake that triggered the giant waves.

United Methodists forge ties with Indonesian church for recovery work

A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Bishop Rusman Pungka Mual with the Methodist Church of Indonesia welcomes the United Methodist delegation in Medan.

“While we mourn the people who died in the tsunami, we’re also taking immediate action to care for the survivors, so the death toll doesn’t go higher,” Martinez said. That action included delivery of medicines that the Indonesian church can use in its relief efforts in 11 camps for displaced people.

The Rev. David Wu, a board staff executive and native of Indonesia, said he was impressed that the small church had immediately set up an emergency relief committee on its own, without asking for help.

“Perhaps bringing our church and their church together would create a greater energy, a greater hope,” he noted.

Kyung Za Yim, president of the Women’s Division, Board of Global Ministries, said she found the survey of tsunami damage to be a “shocking and painful experience.”

After meeting with several church women in the region, she said she hoped to help them coordinate efforts to participate in tsunami relief efforts, perhaps through the assistance of the Women’s Division’s regional coordinator based in the Philippines.

“Once they set up a system, they can empower local women to join them,” she said.

Day said he is thankful for the initial generous response of United Methodists to tsunami relief efforts through the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Board of Global Ministries. Besides Indonesia, funds have been directed to Sri Lanka and India, and future work is expected in Thailand.

Coordinating with Asian leadership, he would like to see new gifts directed to the care of internally displaced people now living in camps, especially children. That care could include housing, medical and education needs. “We want to do our part in rebuilding those communities,” he said.

As in other countries, the rebuilding of communities by UMCOR covers people of all faiths, according to the Rev. Paul Dirdak, the relief agency’s chief executive. In communities divided by religion or ethnicity, “our projects are often opportunities for modeling coexistence,” he said.

One such possibility, he added, would be in the town of Meulaboh, which was severely damaged by the tsunami. An equal number of homes could be constructed for Methodists and Muslims there.

United Methodists forge ties with Indonesian church for recovery work

A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Bishop Joel Martinez (left) and the Rev. Paul Dirdak visit a camp for displaced people in Bateilik, Indonesia.

Day noted that Indonesia has a long history of religious tolerance, even though it is overwhelmingly Muslim. That foundation of tolerance “gives a basis for cooperation as we do humanitarian work together.”

“We would see it as an honor to work with Muslims in the largest Muslim country in the world,” he added.

Delegation members acknowledged the need for psychological as well as physical care in Indonesia. Dirdak pointed out that Methodists there — in addition to being “shocked and exhausted” from the first three weeks following the disaster — carry the everyday strain of being part of a small minority and sometimes suffering from discrimination.

Right now, Indonesian church members and pastors are in a “survival mode,” Wu said. “But deeper than that, it’s a question of theological understanding: Where is God in this disaster?”

If pastors don’t have the chance to process or cope with this question, there will be a disconnect between what they preach and what they feel.

Since many churches are not equipped to take this step, Wu said he hopes to organize a retreat for Indonesian pastors to help unravel theological issues raised by the crisis.

Another concern is possible discrimination against some tsunami victims by the Indonesian government. The Rev. Henry Leono, an Indonesian native and pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Willingboro, N.J., said a number of ethnic Chinese that he met during the trip expressed fear that the aid would not reach them.

For Leono himself, the destruction of the area where he spent his childhood was painful to see. “I feel so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need,” he said.

United Methodists forge ties with Indonesian church for recovery work

A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The Revs. David Wu (left) and R. Randy Day of the Board of Global Ministries view damage to Banda Aceh.

He hopes the church can at least keep small relief projects going “to keep their hope alive.”

The Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications, said his agency would help present the reality of the tsunami disaster, in Indonesia and elsewhere, to the denomination as a whole. “My hope is that we can help interpret the need, which is obviously for the long term,” he said.

He believes the immediate worldwide response after the tsunami demonstrates a rejection of hostility and conflict in the face of human need. “A spirit of compassion lives around the world, and people want to bridge these divisions,” Hollon declared.

Donations to UMCOR’s “South Asia Emergency” relief efforts can be placed in local church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Designate checks for UMCOR Advance #274305 and “South Asia Emergency.” Online donations can be made at www.methodistrelief.org. Those making credit-card donations can call (800) 554-8583. One hundred percent of the money donated to “South Asia Emergency” goes to the relief effort.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. She is traveling with the United Methodist delegation to Indonesia.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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