Presbyterian Women Mission Exchange to Indonesia

by Virginia Champlin

“And they shall come from the east, and (from) the west, and from the north, and (from) the south and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.”  This is the motto for the Gereja Protestan di Indonesia bagian Barat (GPIB). GPIB is The Protestant Church in Western Indonesia a Reformed Church, and its theology is based on the teaching of John Calvin. 

The eighteen women from across the United States who comprised the delegation of the Churchwide Presbyterian Women’s 2017 Global Exchange to Indonesia traveled south and west to “Build the Bridge of Understanding” as sisters in Christ. Over the two and a half weeks of September 12-29, 2017, we accomplished the program's two main goals: we learned how to live respectfully in a multi-faith culture, and encouraged and accompanied one another as together we are seeking a more peaceful and just world.  The communities we visited were Jakarta, Solo, Yogyakarta on the island of Java, and Bali.

We learned so much from our hosts in Indonesia. It is a different experience where Christianity is the minority faith community: mosques & temples everywhere, the frequent sounds of the “call to prayer,” and shopping areas for hijab. 

Christians in Indonesia are not permitted to evangelize; therefore, music is one of the main emphases of the church. All of our worship experiences were full of music: lots of singing, liturgical dance, and Kolintang choirs and ensembles. The Kolintang is a native Indonesian musical instrument similar to a marimba, and it is quite popular. There were Kolintang ensembles for all ages, even the little ones. Additionally, when we arrived at the church in Solo, we were greeted by an ecumenical welcome dance.   

Christianity is one of six official religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism) from the many present in Indonesia. In 1945, the first president, Sukarno, outlined a philosophy called Pancasila to guide and unify the nation.  The first of the five Pancasila Principles is belief in a One and only Almighty God. Later, The Pancasila was incorporated into the Indonesian constitution to unite the nation and to hold together its diverse and multi-faceted religious traditions while believing in a single god. The other four Pancasila Principles are: Humanity, Nationalism, Democracy, and Social Justice.   

The best part of this experience was the women (and men) we met, who were so warm and abundantly generous with their hospitality and gifts. They wanted to share so much with us: their music, their dances, their mission partners, their crafts, their entrepreneurial venues, their foods, and their customs. We never lacked for anything to do and eat. Everywhere we went, we were presented with fresh flowers to wear as lei, in our hair, or as a corsage.   

The women and children of Indonesia were very patient with us as they taught us some of their dances, how to play the Kolintang, and a palm branch craft. At the same time, we shared with them the meaning behind “Orange Day” as we gave them orange ribbons to wear on the 25th of each month. “Orange Day” was conceived by the UN Commission on the Status of Women and is part of the UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign to raise awareness and take action to end violence against women and girls. 

There were lots of smiles when we presented our gifts of yarn necklaces, handmade by the women of our synods. All of the necklaces I brought were dedicated and blessed at the PWSNE Triennial Gathering in August. 

While in Jakarta, we visited a Women’s Empowerment Center. This is no bigger than a very small garage. In this tiny space, the center provides: kindergarten, health and nutrition education, a library, and a community center. While at Bali, we also visited the newly opened school and health clinic in a garbage dump community.   

I, as the representative from the Synod of the Northeast, traveled with women representing twelve of the sixteen synods across the PC(USA), two staff, and the Moderator of PW Churchwide. We were a diverse group of women ranging in age from 38-78 with varying ethnic and professional backgrounds.   

The Rev. Cathy Chang, PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker deployed to the Philippines, also joined our group. Cathy’s ministry is concentrating on human trafficking in Asia. Human and sex trafficking is one the main concerns of the women in Indonesia. 

For me, the lasting image of this trip is of the gracious hospitality given to strangers from across the vast ocean. Our hosts are funny and like to have fun with a great sense of joy and talent for music and dance. I will always remember that we together are serving the same God. 

I am reminded of the Girl Scout song: “Make New Friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” I made new friends from both Indonesia and our PW Sisters who made this trip with me. We are all Sisters (and brothers) in Christ! 

The Global Exchange will also be highlighted in the January-February 2018 issue of the Presbyterian Women's magazine, Horizons

Virginia Champlin is a Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church in Geneva, NY (Presbytery of Geneva), and is the Registrar for the Coordinating Team of Presbyterian Women, Synod of the Northeast. She has also served on the Churchwide Coordinating Team as the Synod/Northeast Representative in 2008-2011 and the Search Moderator in 2012-2015.  She also serves as the Geneva Presbytery representative to the Synod's Mission & Ministry Commission, and its Commissioner to Synod Assembly.