The other day, I had the great pleasure of visiting an 85-year old Indonesian deaconess, Ibu Gultom (“Ibu” translates to “mother” in English, and in Indonesia is used as a term of respect. Perhaps it’s equivalent in English would be “m’am”). She helped start the HKBP deaconess school and also spent nearly 6 years living and working in Germany with the deaconesses there. We spoke in German, as that was the best common language for both of us. What a surprise that my German skills would be useful so far away from home and from Germany.
Mostly, I sat with my coffee and listened to Ibu Gultom tell stories about her work in Germany (in Kaiserswerth, and other places, including Tuebingen, the city where once I studied for a year) and her family. She also told me some history of the Batak people and their culture, as well as some history of Indonesia. The younger generation of Bataks sometimes do not know the Batak language well. The children only learn Bahasa Indonesia in school, and it is then up to the parents to teach their children the language and culture. Batak is only one of about 300 languages spoken by the peoples of Indonesia. Therefore, Bahasa Indonesia is used as a unifying language. But it is important that the different cultures continue to pass on their own languages.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to listen to such wisdom in the presence of a woman who has committed a long life to service of others.