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Our Flickering Candle

A letter from Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta serving in Indonesia

March 2017

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Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,  

Recently our house filled with people who came to attend the wedding of our neighbor’s daughter, Tina. Our neighbor, Pak Muji, is a muezzin (prayer leader) at the mosque in the village where we live in the city of Yogyakarta. We love to hear him call the people to prayer. We used to say that our dog would pray too, because whenever he heard Pak Muji’s voice over the mosque loudspeaker he would howl!

We watched Tina grow up. For years she took Javanese dance lessons with her Muslim friends in the Javanese pavilion in our home. On Sunday, March 12, 2017, Tina, her fiancé and the whole wedding party came to our house to be dressed in sumptuous royal garments. It reminded us of when she was a little girl and used to dress up for dance performances in our house. On the wedding day, our house filled up with lovely Javanese couples dressed in royal Javanese wedding costumes, which recall the glories of an ancient civilization. Pak Muji invited family and close friends to represent the family and form a receiving line to welcome the approximately 500 guests attending the party. In Javanese tradition, the wedding is done at the bride’s house, which was expanded to include our house, as well. In the bride’s house, the couple hope to receive blessing and revelation from God. Bernie and I were honored to be included in the family, although, to his great disappointment, he could not attend because he was traveling in the U.S.A.

The Bible tells of a wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. There are revelations and miracles that occur in a marriage ceremony performed at home. The wedding brings people home, from far and near, to bless the married couple and celebrate their happiness and hope. Marriage brings peace and joy to families where they can gather to eat together and heal the wounds that are an inevitable part of family. In Indonesia, many families include both Muslims and Christians. One of the miracles of family weddings is that the common celebration recreates human solidarity that transcends the barriers between religious communities.

Tina’s husband came from a village near Imogiri, about an hour’s drive from our home. The day after the marriage, the wedding party piled into cars with the new bride and groom to pay respect to the groom’s family in his village. Revelation is peace between two villages and the miracle of creating one new family out of two. The revelation included the miracle that a Christian neighbor like me was also included in the family and invited to participate in the wedding rituals to bless not only the union of two people, but also the union of two families and two villages.

While we celebrated in Yogyakarta, Bernie and his colleagues from the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) were in the U.S.A., sharing the results of their research on the influence of religion on public policy in eight Southeast Asian countries. Our neighbors felt sad that Bernie was not with us in Yogyakarta, but we were proud that he and his Indonesian colleagues could share their research with distinguished scholars at the University of Washington, Hartford Seminary, Yale University, USINDO in Washington, D.C., and the Association for Asian Studies in Toronto. Their presentations centered around how countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam manage religious diversity and how religions influence public policy that affects women. Bernie’s presentations focused on Indonesian repertoires (both positive and negative) for dealing with groups considered “alien” or “heretical.”

Bernie’s travels were abbreviated when a doctor advised him to have an emergency hernia operation. By the grace of God, Bernie was operated upon by an excellent surgeon at Yale New Haven Hospital. In New Haven, he was well cared for by friends from Yale and the Overseas Mission Study Center (OMSC). A week later, he flew back to Yogyakarta. Now Bernie is in Yogyakarta, at our home, Pondok Tali Rasa, where revelation and healing occur because people who are different from each other are knit together in love and common sensibility. I love to help him with small physical tasks that he normally insists on doing himself. Bernie is already back into a full schedule of teaching and meetings, but I remind him to take enough time for rest and healing, as well.

Our lovely home is far from perfect, for we are wounded healers, reaching out to others even while we ourselves also need healing. What we long to demonstrate in our home is a microcosm of what we hope for the nation of Indonesia: imperfect people who are different, showing respect for each other and living in peace. This is the largest Muslim country in the world, but it also includes 25 million Christians as well as sizable communities of other religions. Indonesia’s long tradition of interreligious tolerance is threatened by increasingly strident voices of those who demonize groups other than their own and demand that those who disagree with them be accused of religious blasphemy.

As I write, we are concerned about the controversy surrounding the election of the Governor of Jakarta. The incumbent (“Ahok”) is a Chinese Christian Indonesian who was widely popular because of his courageous and efficient approach to corruption, traffic, flooding, poverty and other urban problems. Unfortunately, his political opponents have found potent weapons to attack him on the basis of his religion and race. Now he is not only running for office but also trying to stave off criminal charges of defaming Islam. What concerns many Muslims and non-Muslims in Indonesia is not whether he wins the election, but the ugly reality that his political opponents are using the powerful weapons of religion and race to undermine tolerance and stoke fears of the “Other.” What is happening in Indonesia is not unrelated to what is happening in the U.S.A. and Europe. Muslims fear that they are under attack by the “Christian West.”

As we anticipate celebrating Easter, I am reminded of Christ’s suffering that must also be lived by others. Mary had to give up her precious son to be crucified because of false allegations. God allowed Jesus to suffer in the way of the cross. The world suffers because of hatred, fear, bigotry and competition for power. But God promises the hope of resurrection. Perhaps our flickering candle is not much in the face of so much darkness. But an open home, empowerment of villagers and partnership with Muslim and Christian leaders in education and research are mustard seeds that are pregnant with the power of life.

Bernie and I are supported in our work by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In a time of shrinking budgets, we are conscious that we could not do what we do without the courageous, generous donations of many people. If you are among our financial supporters, thank you so much. If you are not, please consider making a donation to our work through the PC (U.S.A). We are grateful for your prayers.

Warm Peace,

Farsijana (Nona) and Bernie Adeney-Risakotta


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