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).

More of the Unexpected

faith, language, mission

…I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:36

Quite unexpectedly one Sunday morning, I found myself walking through the streets of Balige toward the local prison. I was accompanying the 3rd year class of students at the deaconess school, who go into the community every Sunday and attend various churches, often singing a choir piece. I don’t always know where they go or have the opportunity to join with them, so this was a special opportunity.

Although I have not done prison ministry in the US, the differences, I think, are striking. Since we had come for ministry, the door was opened to us, and we walked in, unchecked. No one stopped to ask our names or look in our bags. The men, dressed in normal street clothes, were already sitting, some in chairs outside the church in the center of the prison. Without much time to look around before we sat down in the chapel in the middle of the courtyard, I couldn’t discern the guards from prisoners on the inside. But I was not afraid at all.

The liturgy and hymns were in the Batak language. I have the hymnal in Batak, but not the Bible in Batak, so I had brought with me the Bible in Indonesian. Suddenly came more unexpected. After reading in Batak, the worship leader asked if anyone had the Alkitab (“Bible” in Indonesian). The student sitting beside me nudged me and said yes, we do. The worship leader asked, “Dari mana?” (Where are you from?). “Amerika” I answered. He encouraged me to read. “uhmmm….saya mencoba, ya?” I stammered. (“uhhhmmm…ok, I’ll try.”)

So I tried. In front of my students and the prisoners, I read the Scripture (Genesis 15:1-6) in a language I’m still learning, and at a pace that others might understand although too fast to comprehend some words myself. The student next to me whispered pronunciation help when I stumbled. The preacher didn’t miss a beat as he began his sermon right after I finished. He spoke mostly in Batak, so I received translation from my student, but I had to take a moment to reflect on what just happened.

Abram looked at the stars and God told him that his descendants would be as many as the stars above. I am a Child of God. And so are the men whom I didn’t know that surrounded me, all convicted of one crime or another.

After worship we shook hands with each other, saying “Selamat Hari Minggu.” (Happy Sunday) It is customary and culturally important here to shake hands, and there was no exception in this prison.

I was in prison and you visited me.” I don’t know what their crimes were or what daily life is like for them in the prison or how long their sentences are, but I was moved by the experience grace in another unexpected place worshipping with them.

And I pray for them.

The students singing in the courtyard after worship.

The students singing in the courtyard after worship.

Posing for a group photo after worship.

The 3rd year students posing for a group photo after worship.

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.