Ministry with victims of Mt. Sinabung eruption

diakonia, Indonesia, mission

Before Easter, I had the opportunity to visit some refugee camps for those who have been displaced by the recent eruptions of Mt. Sinabung in the Karo regency of North Sumatra.

After hundreds of years without any activity, Mt. Sinabung erupted again in 2010, causing mass evacuations and refugee camps. People were allowed back, but have been displaced again since last September when the volcano again erupted. Since September hundreds of eruptions have occurred, a few of them large with ash, lava, and pyroclastic flows. As many as 20,000 were evacuated during the eruptions, and now that number is still more than 5,000–the remaining are from inside 3km from the volcano, and many of their homes are destroyed.

Together with 4 of my students, we went to Kabanjahe to learn about the social ministry of the Gereja Batak Karo Protestan (GBKP, or Karo Protestant Church). The GBKP currently supports 12 refugee camps for those not able to return to their land, and they will continue to house and feed them for as long as necessary. Help from the government is scant, although it is hoped that the government will be involved to resettle the people whose homes were destroyed and for whom it is too dangerous to return.

After touring some of the camps, we volunteered to help cook, wash dishes, clean, and talk with the people, even give the children an English lesson. Below are some photos.


Teaching songs to the children


Kids still going to school


Chewing betel nut with the grandmothers. In Karo culture, this is common for women.


Serving a meal.


Washing dishes


The list of camps from the GBKP; total number of people is 5,761.

Here is an article from The Atlantic of some incredible photos of the eruptions from Mt. Kelud (on Java), and Mt.Sinabung (Sumatra).

Presentations in the Village

diakonia, mission

Time for an update. Busyness plus persistent computer and internet problems have limited my time and access to get posts on this blog. Sorry, for those who have subscribed and want to hear about what I’m doing.

Last month (March) I again had opportunity to go out with my students. The 51 students split into groups and went to different villages to give presentations on health, traditional medicine, taking care of environment, and HIV/AIDS. I accompanied the group to the village of Bonan Dolok, which happens to be the home of one of the students. After the worship the students took turns presenting, and then there was time for questions from the congregation. This is part of their ministry, to take what they’ve learned and share it directly with people, in this case it was especially for women in the congregation. They called it “Empowerment.” Here are some photos:

Examination and Graduation

diakonia, teaching

On August 14, 2013 the school held an oral examination of the graduating students. It was a busy and intense day for everyone, especially the students. They were questioned one-by-one in three areas: society, theology, and health. The Ephorus (Presiding Bishop of the whole denomination) was there, as well as the #2 in the denomination, other pastors and deaconesses. All 17 of the students passed. Below are a few pictures from that day (find more here):


The theology examination


Making juice




The students (holding a copy of their thesis papers) with the Ephorus.


It’s all over!

Ready for the Unexpected

diakonia, faith, mission

Be ready for the unexpected. That’s a lesson I’ve learned here. Not that I’ve never had something unexpected happen in my life, but in this life in Indonesia, I’m often called upon to do something I didn’t previously plan on. And here, it can mean living and doing something without much detail or knowing what’s coming next. Flexibility is a must-have attitude. I suppose since I was never one to need all the details ahead of time, it’s easier for me to adjust and go with the flow around here.

So last weekend I had one of those moments of needing to be flexible. As usual on a Saturday morning, I was relaxed, sipping my tea after my breakfast meal of rice and fried egg. I learned from the director of my school, that I had been invited to an event in Samosir (an island in the middle of Lake Toba), hosted by the District President of the Samosir district of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP). The director of the school wasn’t able to attend, but I was still welcome to go. Although I had woke up that morning thinking I’d wash my clothes and get a haircut, this is the kind of thing that one is better to say yes to.

Two of my students accompanied me, excited to join me along for the journey. As we made our way by public bus and ferry, we chatted in a mix of English and Indonesian. We arrived just after the cultural event of boat races had finished, but right on time for lunch. Excellent. I was greeted by the district president and also the Ephorus (whom they call the leader of the entire 4 million member denomination). After a warm greeting we sat down for lunch, which was surprisingly relaxed for being in the presence of such Important People.

After lunch was a special tree-planting of the church leaders (the exact purpose of this being lost in translation). Another surprise of the day: they asked me to plant a tree, too. A nice little avocado tree. In a plot that had been reserved for some other church leader, I knelt down and planted my avocado tree just before the rain started.

What might have been a relaxing, and perhaps boring day, turned out to be full of the unexpected—traveling across the beautiful landscape along Lake Toba (rather than spending a few hours hand-washing clothes), meeting with church leaders, planting a tree on behalf of the church, having fun with my students. The day didn’t go as planned, but there was blessing in it.

Sometimes when encountering the unexpected, it isn’t so lovely an experience. But it is important to face that, too. Open your heart and mind and live in the moment, and surprising things just may happen.

The Ephorus of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) planting a tree.

The Ephorus of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) planting a tree.

Planting an avocado tree

Planting an avocado tree

Update with images

diakonia, Indonesia, mission

I apologize for the lack of postings recently. Some days it is difficult to put my experience into words, and other days it all seems not so interesting. Now it is December, and suddenly, time has passed. Christmas and New Year’s are only a couple of weeks away; I’ve now been here for 8 months.

This week is final exams for the semester. My load will not be as heavy, although my students are stressed and weary from much homework on top of studying for their finals, as well as the other work and responsibilities they have throughout the week—all with very little rest. I hope to share more stories in the coming days. Below are some pictures from some recent events. For more, please explore my Indonesia Collection on my Flickr page.


R A I N. It’s the rainy season here in North Sumatra, and this photo is a creative shot from a storm in Pematang Siantar back in November. This is the view outside the door from my little room where I stay when I teach at Nommensen University. The heavy downpour lasted for hours, accompanied by lightning and thunder. A small stream of water rushed past the patio from all the rain soaking the ground and pouring from the roof.



M I N I S T R Y. These are a few of my students in action, giving talks about health to people in the village of Siboruon, outside of Balige. The presentations came after the Sunday worship in the village HKBP church and were on topics about healthy eating, traditional medicines, and breast feeding, and HIV/AIDS. Find more photos from this day here.


F U N. On the same day as above, after the worship, presentation, and a nice meal of saksang, we hiked to a nearby waterfall. The path was at times steep, and very muddy. It was best to take off the flip-flops and hike barefoot. Our treat for the slippery hike was this gorgeous waterfall to play in. My students, never having experienced a hike in the North American mountains with water that flows from melted snow, thought this was cold; I was pleasantly cool, and had a blast splashing and standing under the falls. In spite of being cold, as you can see, they had fun, too.


A D V E N T. On the first Sunday in Advent (Dec. 2nd), the students walked around town singing Advent hymns by candlelight. I joined with. We began at 4am with the hospital across the street. This photo is my students lined along a corridor (in this hospital the hallways are all open air) singing with the nursing students. We then walked around town, leaving advent wreaths and candles at some select homes. We also sang in the courtyard of the local prison. Altogether, it was a beautiful morning, well worth leaving at 4am. Find more photos here.

A common calling

culture, diakonia, Indonesia, mission

June was a busy month, and July promises to be another busy month. Although most of the students have left the deaconess school for their practical work, there is still plenty of work to do. Presently, I am working on a schedule and syllabus for an intensive English course for the incoming students due to begin in August, as well as the teaching I’ll do throughout the semester.

And then there is my responsibility at the HKBP Nommensen University in Pematangsiantar. The final week of June I had another busy week of teaching and observing (and being a radio star on an English radio program). For the students there, that was the last week of the Semester. I will return to Siantar on Friday in advance of a rather large seminar on the 7th of July. Somehow, this small deaconess found herself as a speaker in a plenary session of a seminar titled, “English Language Acquisition Paradigm and Integrated Character-Based Learning”. The topic assigned to me is “Models of Teaching.” A post will follow about the event.

I have not forgotten about other stories to share. My time has been short and only recently have I fixed my laptop (well, not fixed. It needed a completely new hard drive, but a clever university student helped me). So, I expect it to be easier to post my reflections.

Until I am finished writing my own stories, I can share this one from the ELCA about myself and the deaconess school in Balige. The is a resource of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is an interactive site that has articles about culture, faith, the church, and more. You can find the article about my school here: A common calling

The reason it is titled “A common calling” is that as a deaconess, I have been called here to be a servant. There are many things that are different about life in the U.S. and life in Indonesia. What is the same, what transcends the language barrier and other differences, is our desire and common calling to love God and love neighbor. Enjoy!

Now, below are some recent photos for your enjoyment
Batak party
This is a Batak party

A typical scene in a restaurant here. This one is in Siantar, where I ate some delicious mie goreng (fried noodles).

A Servant’s Heart

Batak culture, diakonia

“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you came to look after me, I was in prison and you visited me.” — Matthew 25:35-36

I recently had the opportunity to go with some of the students to visit people in the hospital across the street from the school. Every weekend, the students go out to the people to serve. Some of them help the elderly, some of them visit the prison, some of them work with children, some visit the sick.

These young women have committed their lives to faith and service in Christ, and they come to the deaconess school for training in Biblical studies, community organizing, Church history, health, sociology, English language and theology, and more, though it is serving the people that gives them joy.

The hospital is laid out in separate buildings with covered walkways as corridors between the buildings. Some rooms have one patient, others have 2 or as many as 6 beds in the larger rooms. Every Saturday the 3rd year deaconess students come to the hospital to sing hymns, read a Bible passage, and visit patients. They do this by first going to a section and singing from their choir book. Then a Bible passage is read in Batak and Bahasa Indonesia. After this, they visit the rooms. I sang and prayed with them, even though I could not understand the words.

As is customary here, we greeted everyone in the room with a handshake, each time touching the right hand to the heart. Sometimes we stopped in a room for prayer and a hymn. In a room with a mother and new baby, I was asked to pray; my prayer in English was then translated into Batak. In all, we saw new babies (one very premature), people with diabetes, the elderly, young children, a young man with a broken arm, a young man with malaria, and others whose illnesses I don’t know.

It is early in my time in Indonesia, so I am just becoming acquainted with the food, culture, the students themselves and their way of life at the school. Nevertheless, their way of life as joy in serving others is very apparent. They give of themselves, showing the love of God, and attend to the needs of the people. For the deaconess students here, serving is a way of life.

I, too, experienced the love of God as I looked into the eyes of those in the hospital and their families. I cannot yet speak their language, but the language of love centered in Christ isn’t English, Bahasa Indonesia, Batak, or German.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

A heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. This, I believe, is a central part to the diaconal identity. It is such a blessing to be living with sisters in Christ.

Visiting the hospital with the students