Peace at all times, in all ways. Give to the Peace & Global Witness Offering

Humility and Curiosity

A letter from Bernie Adeney-Risakotta serving in Indonesia

October 2016

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 D506007 for 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).

Everything we see hides another thing.
We always want to see what is hidden by what we see.
—Rene Magritte








Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,

My Uncle Harold and Aunt Isobel Adeney were both medical doctors. After getting their degrees from Cambridge and London they went to Africa. They spent 36 years in Burundi and Rwanda, serving poor communities in difficult conditions. When I was young Uncle Harold was not my favorite uncle. He seemed far too pious for my teenage sensibilities. In those days I aspired to be James Bond. After Aunt Isobel passed away Uncle Harold started to correspond with me by email. He was fascinated by our work in Indonesia and curious about Islam. He kept asking me theological questions about relations between religions. At the age of 95 he was still learning. The last time we visited he said: “Bernie, when I went to Africa I was so full of false assumptions. I thought I had a lot to offer and the Africans needed me. It was only the grace of God and the generosity of my African friends that taught me how much I needed them.”

What makes a person curious, humble and willing to learn, even into old age? Recently we invited 70 students from Muhammadiyah University over to our house. Farsijana and her mother cooked for them. I served. It is humbling to see the shining eyes of these Muslim teenagers. They’ve never had an American Christian professor before or been in this kind of home. They are so open to learn. We moved out all the furniture and all sat on mats on the floor, sharing food and ideas. Some of them come after each lecture and touch their foreheads to my hand. If only I could catch their humility and curiosity, I know it would make me wise.

I see the same hunger to learn among some of my Muslim colleagues. I was invited to speak on a panel with a young lecturer from the State Islamic University. His research traces how early Muslim philosophers drew from many different civilizations to enrich their understanding of Islam. Early Islam was open to learn. This is quite different from radicals who want to expel all outside influences from Islam. Some Muslim friends are working to empower women. Others are working on Islam and the environmental crisis, as well as issues of bioethics, poverty, corruption, violence, racism and religious freedom. They long for Islam to be a source of blessing for humanity, not a cause for fear. I wish that more Christians could be like them: curious about the perspectives of those who are different from them.


Bernie and students over for dinner

Last week my Ph.D. students came to our home for dinner. One of them is a gifted student from Columbia. I asked why he chose to do his doctorate at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies. Why would a Catholic from Latin America come all the way to Indonesia to study in an interreligious setting? He replied: “Indonesia is as different culturally and religiously from Columbia as any place on earth. I want to learn from people who are really different from me.” He is curious. There are many challenges: Javanese Muslims are indirect, subtle and polite, whereas Columbians are direct and emotional in their communication. Indonesians guard a distance between women and men, whereas relations between the sexes are much freer in Columbia. Why would anyone want to overcome such cultural differences? He is curious, hungry to understand people who are different.

Anna Clara is an Indonesian Christian who wants to learn how to help her majority Muslim village achieve sustainable development. She is manager of Farsijana’s coop and microfinance organization, House of Authentic Sense (HAS). Recently she ran for mayor of her village. To strengthen her nomination, Farsijana facilitated a public workshop on planning and budgeting for village development at the Business faculty of Duta Wacana Christian University. Anna Clara was the only woman to run for mayor and was narrowly defeated by the incumbent. Even though she did not win, her strong support by the villagers showed that a non-Muslim woman could become their leader. Anna Clara is curious about how to empower her village. With Farsijana’s encouragement she is reaching out to the youth of her village, to access the HAS coop and increase their creativity, production and marketing, using local resources.

We want to learn from Indonesian Muslim, Christian, Hindu and other communities. They have so much to teach us. They are also eager to see the light that has God has granted to us. When we are open to learn, everyone benefits. Farsijana is always thinking outside the box. She challenges me to not be satisfied with words and ideas. She expresses her passion in art and activism on behalf of poor villagers from all kinds of backgrounds. She is always expanding her vision, trying to see “what is hidden by what we see.” Then she mobilizes people to do something new. She is curious. When we think we know all the things worth knowing, we are blind to what is hidden in a different way of being in the world.

We are grateful for your support. The reality is that if you don’t support us financially, our work in Indonesia will come to an end. More important, without support, the amazing, holistic, partner-based ministries of the PC(USA) all over the world would come to an end. Thankfully, there has been a significant increase in support from the Church. But our positions are still under-funded. Farsijana and I are honored to be part of PC(USA) world mission and invite you to be partners with us in sharing the love of God in Indonesia. Perhaps you too are curious about what will happen next in the largest Muslim country in the world.

Warm peace,

Bernie and Farsijana (Nona) Adeney-Risakotta

Please read this important message from Tony De La Rosa, Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1b-2, NRSV)

Dear Friend of the Presbyterian Mission Agency:

Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support of Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta this year, and any previous year. We hear from our mission co-workers how much your prayerful financial support has meant to them. Please know that you are a vital part of ministries throughout Indonesia. Even as I thank you, I want to let you know that this is a critical time for our congregations and all people of faith to commit themselves to support mission co-workers like Bernie and Farsijana. Our global church partners greatly value their service, and you well know how important this ministry is in building connections between the body of Christ in the U.S. and Indonesia.

We have historically relied on endowment interest and the general offering from congregations to sustain the vital work of all of our mission workers. Those sources of funding have greatly diminished. It is only through the gifts of individuals and congregations that we are able to keep Bernie and Farsijana doing the life-giving work God called them to do. A year ago, in May 2015, we had to recall some mission workers due to a lack of funding. World Mission communicated the challenge to you, and you responded decisively and generously. Through your response, we heard the Spirit remind us, “Fear not!”

Today, I’m asking you to consider an additional gift for this year, and to increase the gift you may consider for 2017. Sending and support costs include not only salary but also health insurance and retirement contributions, orientation, language training, housing, travel to the country of service, children’s education, emergency evacuation costs, and visa/passport costs.

My heartfelt thanks for your prayers and support of our Presbyterian mission co-workers. In the coming season, we will celebrate God’s sending of the Christ child, the source of the good news we share. May you experience anew the hope, peace, joy, and love that are ours because “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18).

Thank you for saying “yes” to love.

With you in Christ,

Tony De La Rosa
Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?