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The Pearl of Great Price

A Letter from Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta, serving in Indonesia

August 2019

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Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,

How do we carry out the mission of the Church to be a witness to the Good News in the largest Muslim country in the world? One way is to work with Muslim friends to overcome poverty and injustice. In Indonesia, we promote peace between religious communities, empower villagers, strengthen Christian educational institutions and work with the government to help poor villagers find new ways to face globalization and social change. Through cooperatives, villagers in Yogyakarta province are learning ecological, healthy means to start new businesses after having lost their land to the building of a massive new international airport.

“It turns out that cake can be made from purple bulbs without using MSG,” commented Mrs. Sagyo when we conducted an evaluation of the process of making three types of food from purple yams, including broiled steamed cakes, savory pastries and purple yam balls. The aim of our training in how to process purple sweet potatoes into flour is to help members of our co-op gain skills and choices for using local products that can be offered on the market. The villagers learned processing skills, as well as product variations, packaging, business management and product marketing. To this end, we held a two-day training workshop conducted by Ms. Hani and Ms. Enjang, expert women from the “Farm Children of the Earth Community” in Yogyakarta, which is partnering with us in training village co-ops in the area around the airport. The workshop was for members of the “Reaching for Prosperity Co-op” in Palihan village and was the result of collaboration with the Center for Studies of Development and Social Transformation (CSDST) at Duta Wacana Christian University (DWCU). Remarkably, it brought a Christian university, poor villagers and multi-religious NGOs to work with the government for the common good.

The regional government was impressed with our work and invited CSDST to assist cooperatives in the villages affected by the construction of the New Yogyakarta International Airport (NYIA). This mentoring was formalized by a one-year, renewable government contract to empower cooperatives in five villages. The project was initiated by our local foundation, the House of Authentic Sense (HAS), working with CSDST to carry out the mandate of a substantial grant from Presbyterian Women. Thank you PW!

Two and a half years ago, the government took over the houses and agricultural land of five villages in order to build the NYIA. Residents received adequate compensation and were moved to a new location not far from the airport. Before they received compensation, the government organized them into cooperatives. Compensation funds can be used as business capital as well as access to jobs at the airport. Residents from villages are trained in various skills that are expected to be used to fill jobs around the airport. Some of these professions are successful, and some are not.

The invitation to CSDST from the local governments to help foster and train cooperatives is included in the Indonesian government’s goal that universities play a part in assisting rural communities. Higher education is the backbone of the nation. In addition to teaching the younger generation to be ready to enter the labor market, universities also produce research that can be implemented in society. As a Christian university, Duta Wacana Christian University has been blessed by God with the opportunity to witness to the good news and serve in the world’s largest Muslim country. As in many parts of the world (including the U.S.A.), identity politics is growing stronger in Indonesia, including more radical or intolerant forms of religion. Mr. Warno, the Muslim chairman of the Reaching for Prosperity Co-op, expressed our hope that working for the common good between Muslim and Christian institutions can overcome prejudice and further our common goals as human beings: “We hope that Duta Wacana Christian University’s efforts to foster cooperatives in our area will advance us, both as members of co-ops and as village communities.”

The PC(USA) has sent me to our partner, DWCU in Yogyakarta, where I teach in the Master of Management program and encourage the lecturers to take seriously their call to be witnesses and serve the broader society. These lecturers are now directly involved in fostering village cooperatives. This also aids their goal to achieve the highest accreditation from the government for the DWCU MM Program. Accreditation “points” are won through activities that improve people’s welfare through the application of business science. DWCU is the only university that works directly with one of the poorest communities in our province, helping them to adjust to an economy that is changing rapidly because of globalization.

In April 2019, CSDST and the Business Faculty arranged for the products of the co-ops to be displayed at an exhibition sponsored by the government in celebration of Kartini Day. Kartini was an early hero of the movement to empower women in Indonesia. This exhibition provided valuable experience as the products on display are professionally curated for sale at the new airport. It helped them hone the skills they will need when selling their products at the international airport in the future.

The road to success depends on the hard work of each individual, skills, shared strategy, and faith. I encourage the co-op members to believe that their products are worthy to be sold at the new airport. They are not just consumers who will squander the funds they received from the sale of their land. Christians and Muslims are called to work together to escape poverty through partnerships and useful research for the community. The story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread illustrates how faith can multiply our efforts if people believe that God’s involvement can change their lives. Peace in Indonesia between Muslims and Christians depends not only on goodwill, but on communities working together with commitment to justice and the good of all, especially those who are marginalized.

Since retirement, Bernie has been traveling a lot, visiting family and places where his family has history. He is exploring new aspects of his identity. He loves it! I am delighted that he is now home and has brought many examples of how local products from around the world are sold as gifts. Indonesians always bring back gifts for those they love when they travel. Bernie’s gifts inspire me with new ideas for my ministry with villagers. For example, he brought back wildly colored socks that are made out of bamboo! Next week, Bernie is leading an international seminar that is a dialogue between scholars from China, India and Indonesia on the role of religions in their societies. The seminar starts with a discussion of his new book, “Living in a Sacred Cosmos: Indonesia and the Future of Islam” (Yale 2018).

You are among those who make our work in Indonesia possible. Thank you. We would be grateful if you would consider making a one-time or monthly donation to our support. Your support reminds me of Jesus’ words: “When God rules, the situation is like this parable. A merchant is looking for precious pearls. When he found a pearl that was extraordinarily beautiful, he immediately went and sold all his possessions, then bought that one pearl” (Matthew 13: 45-46). I imagine that you, like us, are seeking this pearl of great price. With the grace of God, we hope that just a little of its glory may shine out through our ministry in Indonesia.

Salam (peace) from Indonesia,

Farsijana (Nona) Adeney-Risakotta


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