Photo courtesy of Paulus Hartono

Indonesian Mennonite pastor Merry Apiem does trauma healing through acupressure relaxation to a Muslim survivor of flooding in Papua, 2014.

In 2006, an earthquake greatly damaged parts of Indonesia. The earthquake’s epicentre was a village where Mennonites lived as a minority amongst Muslims.

There had been a history of social and political tensions in the community prior to the quake. The church had wanted to renovate and expand but was not allowed to do so. Indonesian law requires groups wishing to build new houses of worship (church, mosque, and temple) to obtain approving signatures from all residences and business within 500 meters of the proposed building. Muslim groups, being in the majority, had little difficulty getting permission to build a new mosque, but it was a different story for Christian churches, including the Mennonite church. The neighbours had refused to provide the required signatures.

The earthquake had a devastating effect on the community, collapsing nearly every home and causing much death and injury. Amazingly, although damaged, the Mennonite church stood. The congregation nevertheless erected a tent as a temporary place of worship and community kitchen and gave the sanctuary over to be used for the community disaster response. The local church soon found itself working with Indonesian Mennonite Diakonia Service (IMDS) coordinating the local relief response and becoming a material resource warehouse for the whole community.

The congregation worked deliberately to build relationships across faiths. When concerns about people stealing the resources arose, the leader of IMDS, a Mennonite pastor, called a community meeting and insisted that the food was for everyone; if goods were stolen, everyone would go hungry. Both the Christians and Muslims provided security. The sanctuary was also used as a dorm for volunteers from other Mennonite congregations and from a militant Muslim group coming to assist in the clean-up and rebuilding. Mennonites and Muslims ate, slept and worked together and had long talks into the evening.

One of the Muslim neighbors later reported that the Mennonites “made peace by coming to help us. They are people just as we are people. We are no longer afraid. We now know that Christians are not as we thought before.”

Three years following this relief effort, the Mennonite church not only received permission for renovations of its building, but the Muslim neighbors in the village helped build a new building on the same property. As part of the new building, they erected an open pavilion for community gatherings where both Christians and Muslims can meet outside a place of worship.

Based on story provided by Jeanne and Dan Jantzi, former MCC workers in Indonesia.

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