A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I joined a small group from PCPC (Park Cities Presbyterian Church) and traveled to Indonesia to offer a pilot counselor-training program to local believers; and they received it with great appreciation. We taught various aspects of counseling theory, spiritual perspectives, and skill development. The need for counseling has opened the door for a cooperative co-existence with Muslims. Laurie and I held individual training sessions with the local Tengku (the Indonesian title for an “Imam”) who was the Muslim spiritual leader of twelve villages in the area. I also had the privilege of meeting with students at a small seminary there.
In 2004 the world’s attention shifted to this area when an underwater earthquake just off the coast of Indonesia triggered a wall of water six stories high that crashed upon the city. In addition to wiping out 44% of their population, these waters carried huge ships like corks and left them stranded three miles inland. Several excellent before-and-after photos have been presented in Boston.com.
Prior to the tsunami this Aceh (pronounced “Ah-chay”) region was one of the most dangerous places in the world for non-Muslims. Yet the tsunami’s flood waters opened the flood doors of aid and relief work to come in from the outside world. Not only were non-governmental organizations and expatriates welcomed for the first time, but also other Indonesians who were barred entrance before. Even more amazing was the tolerance of many of the Christians (both Indonesian and foreign). Nearly four years later, these open doors allowed our group to come and serve alongside our Christian brothers and sisters. Should we mourn these losses or delight in the opportunities? Our answer is “Yes, both.”
While God has moved to create a large network of seminaries and training sites across Indonesia, our Christian brothers and sisters there still lack proper training in either the Bible or in counseling. Nevertheless, I was very impressed and humbled by how they put into practice everything they know. If we proportionally used the resources we possess here in the U.S., we would turn our whole country on end for Jesus.
I saw Indonesian Christians who are bold, but not reckless. They are active in setting forth the Gospel for others to consider, but they are careful to stay respectful. When I asked the seminary students if their plans to plant churches in this area were dangerous, they looked at me with puzzlement, as though saying, “Of course. Isn’t it dangerous to be a Christian?”
Yes, we mourn the tragic loss of so many lives and structures, but we rejoice in the opportunity to help rebuild the people and to train them beyond what they could have known before. The long plane rides and the mosquitoes spawned by the rice paddies are but a small taste of the discomfort our Lord encountered when he left the intimate presence of his Father to come offer us salvation. Our local church continues to scope out possible opportunities for counselor training, English as a foreign language training and medical missions.
By the way, this barge came to rest three miles inland! The picture of our group (above) was taken atop the deck.
[edited addition 1/4/2009: Time Magazine just honored the fifth anniversary of the tsunami with an article and many graphic and informative links. Click here]