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OCMC News - He is Love – Teamwork in Indonesia

by Presbytera Renee Ritsi (Posted 8/27/2015)

OCMC News - He is Love – Teamwork in Indonesia
This year, a short-term mission team from North America, sent by the OCMC, served in Indonesia for the first time. The team was led by OCMC's own Pres. Renee Ritsi. While there, team members taught the Faith, enjoyed moments of fellowship, and saw the many amazing ministries that are helping the Church in Indonesia to grow so rapidly.

Many voices joined together in a beautiful song of praise to God, as the minds and hearts of the sweat-soaked people in the Orthodox Church were escorted to a holy and divine place. While the melody of the doxology was familiar, the words were foreign, so we let our hearts listen to what we were experiencing. Sweet voices, beautiful voices, praising voices moved our souls, reminding us that we are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, even if we live a world apart and face extremely different challenges in our daily spiritual walk. As the choir from Nias Island sat down, the entire church clapped, and the group from Medan took their place in front of the solea at the impromptu choir competition. Those who were seated were transfixed as each choir, in turn, lifted their voices to heaven, taking pieces of our hearts upwards, bathing us in His love.

It was the last day of the second Annual Event, in the early part of the exceptionally hot month of July, in Medan, Indonesia. The theme “Growing up in Christ, Strengthening in Orthodoxia” was appropriate as believers from different parishes came together to strengthen their faith. A group of seven individuals from the United States were part of the first Orthodox Christian Mission Center short-term mission team to Indonesia. We had prepared lessons on Orthodoxy and religious education to share at the Annual Event and in the days of teaching that followed.

Over a year ago, His Eminence Metropolitan Konstantinos of the Holy Metropolis of Singapore and South Asia invited an OCMC Team to Medan. The Metropolis is huge, not only in geographic area, but also in its potential for numbers of believers. Indonesia is the fourth-most populated nation in the world. The Metropolis includes Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Singapore. The love of His Eminence for the people of the region is evident, as He is often heard referring to His flock as "His family."

During the Annual Event, each of our presentations was followed by a time for questions and answers. A microphone was passed around the church and thoughtful questions came to us, through the voice of one of the incredible translators: “How can I spread the Orthodox Church to my village?” “How can we keep our children in the Church?” “What is a prayer rule?” Our answers reflected the struggles that Christians in Indonesia face in purchasing property, getting jobs, and raising their families. They reflect the challenges of living as a minority in a nation where the majority is not Christian. Perhaps if we held an Annual Event in the United States, the questions might be very similar, but we had crossed a cultural divide, and our answers reflected that we were far from home as we shared, for one short moment, in the life of the Orthodox Christians in Indonesia.

In the days that followed, we got to know our hosts even more. We taught at the St. Paul School of Theology in Medan and the St. Sophia Orthodox School in Tanjung Anom. At St. Nikitas School in Tanjung Mulia, we sang songs and spoke encouraging words to the students and teachers. In response, they gifted the team members with table covers that the graduating students had stitched. One day we traveled around the city to avoid the traffic that often can add hours to one's commute and made a visit to the RSU Theotokos Hospital. The Hospital is a ministry of enormous proportions that serves as a witness of Christ’s concern and unending love for the whole person.

In those short days, we drove the length and breadth of sprawling Medan and saw from afar the daily struggles of average people. Small wooden tables served as vegetable and fruit stands and filled blocks and blocks of the city; streets were packed with scooters and SUVs scurrying around pot holes, and there were street cleaners who pushed ancient brooms, trying to contain the dust and debris. Women with covered heads and men wrapped with sarongs served as visual reminders that the predominant religion was not Christian, and that even the Christianity that had come during colonial rule had not been widely accepted. Spicy noodles and stir fried rice for breakfast, rambutan, mangosteen, or durian with lunch, nasi campur with sambul for dinner all reminded us that we were far from home. The regular "call to prayer" that we heard throughout the day and night, the rush to eat at sunset for those who were holding the Ramadan fast, and the gentle scent of incense sticks in the breeze reminded us more concretely of what it is like to live in a culture where not only is Christianity a minority religion, but it is a place where other religions are often antagonistic towards Christians.

The priest of the St. Demetrios Parish in Medan and the vicar of the Church of Indonesia is Fr. Chrysostomos Manalu, a man of great inner strength and a personable chuckle. Many works have been accomplished because of his efforts: churches are being established, people are being nurtured, a hospital has been built, and schools are teaching a new generation of Indonesians at a high standard. Fr. Chrysostomos reflects the love of Christ to those who work with him and alongside him. Equally capable is his wife, Presbytera Elizabeth, an exceptionally well-educated and hard-working woman who holds a doctorate and three master's degrees. She is at times by his side and at other times creating her own flurry of activities. As graduates of the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, both are professors at the St. Paul Theological School and the ones that are sought after for spiritual guidance and assistance from as far away as East Timor. Their vision and energy have inspired many to step inside of an Orthodox church and make the life-changing decision to inquire into our theology and reason for being.

As our days in Medan came to a close, an understanding of how this experience was important for the Orthodox world became clearer. We met those laboring in a majority non-Christian nation who are introducing people to our faith, and we walked a short walk with them. We felt the heat of Medan in July and grappled with answering questions in sensitivity to their unique challenges. We felt the stillness of the city at sunset, when Ramadan fasting ended, and understood in a small way the great need to share Christ with this nation. We are part of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and that makes us brothers and sisters in Christ, bonded together in the love that comes only from Christ. As the choir from Nias Island glorified God and directed our own hearts upward, our time in Medan was a time to share Christ with others, for it is Christ who gives us Hope, who is Himself Love.

We shared Christ in simple ways, through our teaching, interactions, and presence. Christ was shared with us many times while we were there: in the Choir Competition, in the purity of the souls we met, in the witness of hardworking people whose efforts are establishing the Church in Indonesia. In his book Facing the World: Orthodox Christian Essays on Global Concerns, His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos) inspires us in this simple reminder of the true source of love: “The radically new and different message that Christianity offers to humanity is that God, ‘the living God’, is Love. He doesn’t simply have love as one additional attribute among many others, like mercy and goodness: He is Love. Furthermore, God truly became a human being.”

Our brothers and sisters in Christ are next door, and they are also in often unknown places around the world with diverse pasts and different futures from our own. As Orthodox Christians who reside in the richest nation in the world, we are called to be participants in spreading this radically new message of a living God Who is Love to the ends of the earth. Join us today to work with people like Metropolitan Konstantinos, Fr. Chrysostomos and Presbytera Elizabeth to reach out to places like Albania, Indonesia, and Zimbabwe, where our involvement means a world of difference to those who hunger for His Love. Spread the Good News to the rest of the world!

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Prayer for Missions

God of truth and love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Hear our prayer for those who do not know You. That they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth, and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world. Sustain, inspire, and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel. Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith; sustain our faith when it is still fragile. Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church, and raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world. Make us witnesses to Your goodness full of love, full of strength, and full of faith for Your glory and the salvation of the entire world. Through the prayers of all the missionary saints, Have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
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