A letter from Rebecca Young in Indonesia
Dear Friends in Christ,
Greetings from Indonesia, where we are in the middle of rainy season. Being right on the equator, we don’t get the monsoons like countries further north (Bangladesh and the Philippines come to mind), but we do get rain every afternoon, like clockwork, around 4:00 pm. It makes this crowded city of Jakarta even more difficult to navigate.
People often identify cities with one or two special things. New York is Broadway and the Statue of Liberty. Chicago is pizza and jazz. L.A. is Hollywood and Disneyland. The two things that any Jakarta resident will tell you about this city are: horrible traffic and corruption. Obviously neither of these is a bragging point, but they are the outstanding characteristics of this massive city of over 20 million people.
There are plenty of road construction projects attempted to overcome the traffic problem, although few of them are completed because they run out of money before the job is done, due to problem number two, corruption. Indonesia ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world on many lists. A couple of years ago, when the situation had gotten out of control, the government created a bureau called the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi), which is independent of the government.
They built the office building for the bureau in the center of Jakarta. The building includes an underground level made up of holding cells for the suspects awaiting trial. It frequently appears on the nightly news as the latest famous government leader is led in handcuffs to the basement.
About two years ago a very prominent woman named Miranda Gultom was taken into custody. Ms. Gultom is a Christian and a member of a church where I frequently preach. While she was in the KPK jail she wanted to be able to attend worship services on Sunday, but none were provided. So she contacted her church and got the session to organize weekly services for the Christians being held in the jail.
Last Sunday I was invited to preach at the jail. There were six people. We gathered in one of the visitation rooms for the service. One of the suspects is a session member at his home church and also happens to be an excellent piano player, so he plays a keyboard that the church brings every Sunday.
I preached on Isaiah 9:2-6, the familiar lines about a child being born who comes into the world as our Prince of Peace. I spoke of how this child, when he became a man, experienced the betrayal of his closest friends, abuse by the government of his country, and even the feeling of being abandoned by God. I said that if they are feeling any of those things right now, they can take heart because in Jesus Christ God experienced the same treatment and emotions. Whatever they are feeling, I said, Jesus has felt it too and they should know Jesus is with them, whatever the outcome of their trial.
The most powerful part of the service was the intercessory prayer. Before I began the prayer I asked each person to tell me what I should pray for on his or her behalf. All of them asked for prayers for their trial, and some asked for prayers for their family. It was very moving to think that my prayers for them would be strongly felt and, I hoped, comforting.
During the service there was one woman who was neither a suspect nor a member of the team from the local church’s session. I had been told she was a pastor, but I didn’t know any more about her than that. I thought that her behavior was a bit odd, because she seemed distracted and did not participate in the service. I started to judge her silently in my own mind but tried to stop myself.
After the service she struck up a conversation with me. She explained that she was the mother of our keyboard player. In other words, her son is suspected of corruption. As she told me of the shame and humiliation she was experiencing, she began to cry. I tried to listen as best I could. I admitted that as someone without children I could not imagine what she must be going through, but it had to be one of the worst things a parent could face. I also felt bad for having thought negative things about her earlier. Now I knew why she had been silent throughout the service. She probably would not have been able to hold back her emotions if she had tried to sing or pray with us.
After talking to the woman, pastor and mother, I realized how it is not only the suspects inside the jail who need attention, but also the families they have left behind, who besides missing the loved one in jail also feel betrayed and frightened about the future. It was a very moving experience.
On a side note: I only have one photo from this experience because, understandably, cameras and cell phones are not allowed inside the jail. The photo is of three people from the church session, after the service, as we were leaving the building and they had given us back our cell phones.
It is through your generous support to the PC(USA) that I am able to reach out to people in need such as these people in the Jakarta jail, as well as to their loved ones. I am deeply grateful to you, especially for your prayers, for your willingness to read about my activities here in Indonesia, and to provide the backing that enables me to stay here long-term.
Please remember all our mission co-workers who, like me, are serving in a wide variety of ways in response to Jesus’ call for us to serve those in need, particularly those who have lost their way. It is you who make our work possible!
Thanks be to God.
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 199
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Thanks, Rebecca, for your faithful witness. Your letter helps many of us to pray with clarity. God's rich blessings to you and the mother you cared for.
Rebecca: Your expanded preaching & counselling, from church, to jail, then to the relatives of the jailed people, is truly following where the Lord leads. I wonder how you can cover all the ground in all your various functions. Be well.