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Space for Grace

A letter from Bernie Adeney-Risakotta serving in Indonesia

November 2015

Write to Bernie Adeney-Risakotta
Write to Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta

Individuals: Give to E200303 for Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D50600for Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,

Space for grace.  For almost 25 years we’ve experienced the grace of participating in God’s work in the hauntingly beautiful country of Indonesia.  Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world as well as 25 million Christians and many other religious communities.

Beginning in 1991, support from the PC(USA) gave me six years of space to help Indonesians build a graduate program in the study of religion and society.  Together we prepared an academic structure that educates Christian leaders to understand the rapid social changes that are happening in Indonesia and lead the church to be a light in this Muslim society.  The PC(USA) created space for me to spend years learning the language and culture of Indonesia and develop deep relations with both Christian and Muslim leaders.  My students from those years are now leading the church in many parts of Indonesia.

In 1997 Farsijana and I were married by Rev. Mark Labberton in Berkeley, California.  We returned to Indonesia in the midst of a huge national crisis.  The authoritarian and corrupt government of Soeharto collapsed and Indonesia seemed near to civil war as different groups jockeyed for power.  Foreign embassies advised their citizens to leave the country.  But the PC(USA) stood by us as we determined to stay and accompany our Indonesian sisters and brothers in facing whatever was to come.  In a period of violence and chaos the PC(USA) even helped us build a home in an all-Muslim neighborhood in the city of Yogyakarta.  We longed to create a truly human space for grace, where Muslims and Christians could learn to trust and honor each other.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is manifested through reconciliation, justice and love, not through suspicion, hatred and violence.  God gave us a beautiful home named Pondok Tali Rasa (a home where people are woven together in their thoughts, feelings and senses), which still serves as a community center for creativity and reconciliation among people of different faiths.

The PC(USA) continued to create space for grace as Farsijana finished her Ph.D. and also became a mission co-worker.  Farsijana worked at Duta Wacana Christian University (DWCU), teaching and directing the International Office.  She also created multiple programs in our inter-religious home. Christian orphans from the civil war between Christians and Muslims experienced trauma healing at our home through learning Javanese dance along with Muslim kids from our neighborhood.  After 17 years the weekly Javanese dance lessons still draw Muslim kids from all over our neighborhood.  Later Farsijana led the Research and Community Service Center of the university, spreading the idea of “action research,” i.e., research that leads to action on behalf of the community.  Farsijana stimulated creative research and secured government grants to extend the ministry of the university to many parts of Indonesia.  Farsijana also encouraged the Information Technology faculty to reflect and do research on the impact of the digital revolution on society.  She helped start a Center on Technology and Social Change.  Farsijana also served as the head of the Indonesian Women’s Coalition empowering Muslim women and children throughout our province.

When I first arrived in Yogya I was impressed with the quality of leadership at DWCU.  The Faculty of Theology faced many challenges: there were many students but few qualified faculty. Today DWCU has the strongest Protestant theology faculty in Indonesia with about 25 Indonesian lecturers, most of whom have doctorates.  After 12 years of helping build strong graduate programs to train Christian leaders, I longed to work more directly with Muslims.  The PC(USA) and DWCU created the space for this to happen.  God answered my prayers and I was invited to teach at the State Islamic University and at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM).  Later I became director of the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS).  ICRS is the first and only doctoral consortium of secular, Muslim and Christian universities.  ICRS transcends the usual segregation in the education of religious leaders, not by teaching that there are no differences between religions, but by creating structures where we can learn from each other, even in the areas where we most disagree.  Next year ICRS will celebrate 10 years of space for grace.  We now have Muslim and Christian Ph.D. students from all over Indonesia as well as 13 other countries.  ICRS is now led by a very competent Indonesian Muslim woman scholar, and I am able to spend more time teaching, guiding the research of students, and doing my own research on Islam and social change in Indonesia.  Being released from administration means, for me, that there is more space for the grace of deep scholarship for the sake of God’s people.

Farsijana has found a new space for grace.  She leads a foundation and cooperative called House of Authentic Sense (HAS), which draws on the resources of the Economics and Biology Departments of DWCU to get students involved in working alongside villagers from various parts of Indonesia.  One of her many projects seeks to empower Muslim women from a poor village to raise orchids as a business.  Her latest challenge is to protect the orchids from the monkeys during the dry season!  Farsijana is a bridge person, not only between Christians and Muslims, but also between professors, government officials and poor villagers.  Her vision and hard work give hope to many people.

The future of the world depends on how Muslims and Christians learn to relate to each other. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) created this space for grace by supporting us to work in partnership with Indonesians for reconciliation, justice and peace.  The greatest fruit of our work came after many years.  Every year we spend here is more valuable than the last, because we build on the experience, relationships, networks, institutions and trust which only come through time and long-term commitment.

Space for grace is not easy to create and maintain.  The PC(USA) has always prioritized God’s mission in Indonesia, even when funding for World Mission was short.  Thank you so much for your prayers and the financial support that makes our work possible.  Unfortunately, recently the PC(USA) has been forced to recall 10 mission co-workers because of lack of funds.  Our own positions are also at risk because even at this late date our ministries are not yet fully funded for this year. Will you please pray about this situation?  If possible, will you increase your gift for this year?  Would you consider advocating for this ministry with neighboring congregations to see if they would join us?  We would so appreciate your help in these ways.  We plan to be in the United States during June, July and August, 2016.  We would like to visit your congregation during this time, and would welcome your invitation.  Please contact us at

God’s grace is never limited.  We just have to make space.

Warm regards,
Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 239

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