Yunarso Rusandono trims a bonsai tree in his front garden
Silas Crews

Yunarso Rusandono trims a bonsai tree in his front garden

An Indonesian Mennonite shares how an MCC exchange program gave him new ideas for ministry within his church and led him to build ties with other Mennonite synods.


I was studying in Mennonite Theological Seminary in Pati, Indonesia, when an elder from my synod, Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ), asked me to be the first person from my church in Indonesia to take part in the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN). (A joint program of MCC and Mennonite World Conference, YAMEN connects young adults around the globe to service opportunities in countries other than Canada and the U.S.)

He told me the purpose of the program was to change my image of other countries and other cultures and to make a connection between the synod and the church wherever I would go. I was thinking that this is a good program for me, but this is hard for me also. I didn’t know exactly what I could do because I felt like my experience, my knowledge and my skill was not enough, but I wanted to try.

First I went to Egypt, but there were issues with my visa, and MCC asked me to go to Zimbabwe instead.

In the city of Bulawayo, I lived with Milson Ndlovu, one of the seven pastors at Lobengula Brethren in Christ Church, and his wife Thokozani, who was principal of the church’s kindergarten. I visited church members with my host father and helped at the kindergarten. The children could only speak Ndebele, but we played together and became very close.

That was in 2008, when Zimbabwe had an inflation crisis so intense that the country’s money became worthless. Because of this, some women came together at the church to pray every night for one week. After that some of them were fasting. I also fasted.

Every Wednesday I attended an HIV and AIDS support group at church for 50 people. My host father said there could be more than 100 (people living with HIV) in the church. This was my first time to learn about HIV.

When I left, I cried in front of the church and I said to them that I would miss them when I went home.

I learned a lot that I could use back in Indonesia. The experience also changed me.

Before I went to YAMEN, I did not have enough confidence to talk to people who were different than me. Now my mindset is open when I see someone else.

Also, before YAMEN, my connection with other people was only small. Now, not only through YAMEN, not only through MCC, my connections are growing.

After I returned from Zimbabwe, I met Paulus Hartono, the director of the Indonesian Mennonite Diakonial Service (IMDS), the relief and peacebuilding arm of the Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI) synod, another Mennonite synod, during a training about disaster response. We became close.

Because of our connection, the relief arm of my synod, GITJ, met with Hartono, connecting the two synods. Before that, it was unusual for the different synods to work together on disaster response. Now we have many programs together, including a youth program. It’s not just with our synods, but also with Jemaat Kristen Indonesia (JKI) too, the third Mennonite synod.

Last year, after flooding here on the island of Java, we joined together to help people from a church and its community, Christian and Muslim. When the typhoon hit the Philippines last November, we collected money from the churches, and IMDS built a new church there to replace one that was destroyed.

In YAMEN, I also learned new ways to develop the congregation I work with in Sukodono.

The youth used to meet every two weeks for Bible study and discipleship. Now we meet every week. We have social time and time for sharing personal problems. I prepare mentors to help the teenagers. Each meeting we divide into small groups led by a mentor. I tell the youth, “Please, if you have some problem, tell us. I am your brother. I will not tell your problems to others.”

I also encourage the youth to join YAMEN or IVEP, and I am on the committee that chooses Indonesian participants.

Your world is not only Sukodono, I tell them. If you prepare yourself, you can go to an international program like I did. This program is good. This program can open your image about other countries. Sometimes when you see movies on TV about another country, it’s different than the reality when you stay there. So please prepare yourselves.

Now I am studying peace training at Duta Wacana Christianity University in Yogyakarta. I have learned the theory of conflict and reconciliation and practical ways to prevent conflict in disaster situations.

I do not know where I will be 20 years from now, but where God puts me, I believe I can do something in that place by helping people to open their minds to each other.

In 2008-2009, Yunarso Rusandono was in the first group of Indonesian participants in the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN), a joint program of MCC and Mennonite World Conference.

2020 update: Rusandono now works as a lecturer at Sekolah Tinggi Agama Kristen Wiyata Wacana (STAKWW) – Pati, a seminary of Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ), one of the Mennonite synods on Java Island. He teaches several theology courses and serves as a national facilitator for discipleship of young people throughout Indonesia.

Rusandono said that he continues to use the lessons he learned through YAMEN. "I use these lessons to equip young people I serve. Until now I have discipled 1,226 young people in Indonesia. Most of them are members of Indonesian Mennonite churches, I continue to develop them so that they continue to grow in faith and become true disciples of Christ. I also motivate some of them to take part in youth exchange programs (IVEP & YAMEN), like I once did, because this program has a very good impact and changed the horizon of my understanding."