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OCMC News - "Orthodoxy is Home" - Reflection on Mission Work in Indonesia

by Lesia Mahlay (Posted 8/20/2019)

OCMC News - "Orthodoxy is Home" - Reflection on Mission Work in Indonesia
Lesia with her team and the group they were teaching in Bali, Indonesia!

We arrived in a foreign land, with a lush green landscape painted with coconut and palm sugar trees. We were greeted with traditional costume and dance, so exotic and beautiful. We were introduced to each other, less with spoken words, but more so with warm smiles and embraces. It is strange how a place that you've just stepped foot in, and people that you've just met, can feel like home. So what was it about Indonesia that felt like home?

I have had several "homes" over the course of my life spanning three continents, from suburban Ohio to cosmopolitan Bangkok. I've lived in, and traveled to, places where I was the minority, in race, language, religion, to name a few. No matter how foreign these places were, there were always certain values in which I found comfort and this sense of "home".

During my time in Indonesia, where I spent three weeks interacting with, praying with, and teaching members of the Orthodox communities on the islands of Bali and Sumatra, I had those same feelings of "home". In reflection, I often wondered what it was exactly that conjured these feelings of "home". The answer soon became obvious: it was the Church. Orthodoxy is home to me. It doesn't matter where in the world I am, what language I hear being spoken around me, or what skin color the people around me have: what unites us is the Faith. Orthodoxy is home.

The first half of my trip was spent in Singaraja, a small coastal town on the northern part of Bali. On an island of four million people, there is only one Greek Orthodox church — All Saints Orthodox Church. Many of the Orthodox Christians in this community, as well as throughout the country, are converts from Catholicism or Protestantism. This too was the path of the residing priest and spiritual father to many in Bali, Fr. Stephanos Boik Nino, or as everyone in the community calls him, Romo. Romo is a native from the island of Timor in the eastern part of Indonesia who converted to Orthodoxy from Catholicism after seminary and then moved to Singaraja. There, he spent his days fishing at the pier, talking with the locals, and later baptizing many of them. He recalled those early days of the Church in Bali, telling us stories of how locals knew he was Christian from his warm smile and positive demeanor. Romo exemplifies the enthusiasm, growth, and potential of the Orthodox Church in Indonesia. Every member of the community that I interacted with had such zeal and love for the Orthodox faith, and it was such a joy to experience the faith with them each day.

In the past, when I came to this location on a previous OCMC team, our teaching ranged from structured lessons to more experience-based discussions on a variety of topics. This year we approached it differently. We introduced Fr. Thomas Hopko’s “55 Maxims of the Christian Life”, had them translated into Indonesian, and each day would dissect and discuss each maxim, what it means in our Orthodox spiritual life, and how they can apply it to their lives as Indonesian Orthodox Christians. We had such fruitful and, at times, emotional dialogues come forth from this topic, and we were able to learn and help each other in so many ways beyond what we could have imagined.

Our teaching team consisted of three women; for the other two women, it was their first time visiting Indonesia. Each day, we would teach for about six hours to a diverse group that consisted of young toddlers all the way to elderly grandparents, entire families and single mothers, Orthodox and those considering becoming Orthodox, locals and those from other islands. We spent the week praying together, reading together, singing together, learning together, eating together, laughing together, and even crying together.

Over the course of my stay, I was fortunate to be able to interact with a wide range of members of the community. Once a day, I would take the youngest ones into the church to better familiarize them with what we do in the church and why we do it; the afternoons would be spent sitting and talking with some of the adults about what difficulties they were facing as Orthodox Christians in Indonesia. In the evenings we would conclude the day with some conversation and singing with community members which lasted late into the night. We had such fruitful and, at times, emotional conversations, and we were able to learn and help each other in so many ways beyond what we could have imagined.

The second half of the trip brought me to a new and entirely different setting – the city of Medan located in northern Sumatra. The fifth-largest city in Indonesia with a population of over four million in the greater metropolitan area, Medan is a bustling city with a surprisingly large Christian community (making up a little over twenty percent of the population). Here, there is a lively and growing Orthodox community, with more churches than there are priests, parochial schools, and even a university known for its programs and faculty and for producing some of the priests serving throughout Indonesia today.

Over the course of a week, we visited the different locations where the Church does its ministry. One day, we celebrated liturgy at St. Demetrios parish and spoke to the Orthodox men, women, and youth about various topics. Another day we spoke to a mostly Protestant audience of students at St. Paul Theological School about education and youth ministry. We visited St. Sophia School, which has primary, secondary, and high school students who came to learn even though it was their summer vacation.

Every day, we would participate in morning, midday, and evening prayers, which were recited, chanted, or sung primarily in Indonesian. I would follow along as best as I could, though often my eyes would wander to the many icons of saints that covered the walls of the church. My attention did always came back at one specific part – the Creed. As they recited the Creed in Indonesian, I would be saying it in English in my head. But I always joined in at the same part, when I would hear them say in Indonesian: "Saya percaya pada satu, gereja suci, katolik dan apostolik..." ("I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church…"). It was maybe on the third day that I had this realization: this is why Orthodoxy is home to me. It doesn't matter what part of the world I’m in or what language the liturgy is being celebrated in, the Orthodox Church is the same Church – it is the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church".

We too often neglect, knowingly or unknowingly, this concept that the Church is "universal" (katholiki in Greek). The Church is not restricted to the physical walls of your local church, or the cultural diversities of your jurisdiction, or the geo-political borders of your country. The Church is as much a missionary church now as it was at Pentecost, during the time of the Acts of the Apostles, in the era of Saints Peter and Paul and so many other great saints. When we confess our belief in the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church," we acknowledge the fullness of the "catholic" Church in a universal perspective and simultaneously declare our duty to share in the Church's "apostolic" mission.

This may not be a new concept for some, and it was not for me, but being able to understand the fullness of the Church in the right context, and to experience its apostolic mission in person, is so meaningful. This is the beauty in experiencing and participating in a mission trip: you leave renewed and reaffirmed in your faith and in what it means to be a part of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church".

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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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