Yonathan Ibnu Budiyanto applies acupressure to the back of a woman.
Paulus Harton

As part of a trauma healing team of Indonesian pastors, Yonathan Ibnu Budiyanto (seated, in white) offers acupressure and a listening ear to Surtinah (who uses one name only).

MCC supports the efforts of Indonesian Mennonites to provide trauma healing to communities facing the aftermath of disasters or crises.


Darkness had already fallen and the villagers of Jekulo, Indonesia, were getting ready for bed when the rain that had been falling for days broke open a river bank, releasing gushing water onto rice paddies and then into the village itself.

Flooding in this region is not uncommon, in part because of deforestation and erosion on nearby Muria mountain. But residents were accustomed to flood waters that rose gradually — very different from the water suddenly rushing into their homes and rising so quickly they feared it wouldn’t stop.

Most evacuated. Crying children and elderly people were loaded onto the backs of police trucks. In other parts of the village, people waded through chest-deep water to the hills to escape the flood’s grasp.

“The current was so strong,” says Sumarni Sajad, a middle- aged woman who fled carrying clothing on her head. “My feet were hurting. I was afraid because the water pushed me aside all the time.” Another resident, Purnomo, who uses only one name, decided to stay, piling two beds on top of one another.

When the sun rose in the morning, Jekulo was covered with water. Villagers feared the snakes and rats that had been forced from their holes. Rice fields that were almost ready for harvest were ruined. More than four feet of water filled houses in the most-affected areas.

The village remained flooded for 12 days, and the water did not completely subside for about three weeks in January and February of 2014, says Resnu Titik Joko Legowo, pastor of the Jekulo congregation of Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI), one of three Mennonite synods in Indonesia.

The people of Jekulo, both Christian and Muslim, largely sustain themselves from one rice crop to another. Now they did not know where their food was coming from for the next day or how they would survive in the future.

Neighbours shared what they had with each other, and other Indonesians who learned of the crisis sent food and medical supplies, Legowo remembers.

Yet she and other church leaders knew that the people of Jekulo needed something more — care for their spiritual and emotional needs. “The flood not only took their fields and their belongings, but their hope,” Legowo says.

With the support of MCC and the coordination of the Indonesian Mennonite Diakonial Service (IMDS), the relief and peacebuilding arm of GKMI, a trauma healing team was assembled to come to Jekulo.

Responding to trauma is part of a long-term partnership between MCC and IMDS, beginning with MCC sending trauma healing practitioners after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

As part of the tsunami response and for years afterward, MCC has supported the work of IMDS and other partners to develop programs to train Indonesians, including pastors and disaster response volunteers, to provide trauma healing.

Yuria Ekalitani, a psychologist who developed the current trauma healing training for IMDS, says that people’s traumatic stress is often triggered by “something that happens suddenly that they cannot control.” People feel physically threatened, their confidence in themselves is shaken, and their economic life becomes uncertain.

If people don’t deal with the emotions related to trauma, they tend not to be productive even when they work, she says. They are likely to take out their anger and helplessness on people they love or they try to cover those emotions with alcohol.

In Indonesia, Ekalitani says, people are much more likely to give and to receive help from each other than to consult a doctor or psychologist, so people who have dealt with their own trauma and received training in trauma healing are uniquely poised to help others.

The trauma team that came to Jekulo was composed predominantly of pastors, current and retired, who had taken part in MCC-supported trauma healing training seminars that included looking at their own experiences with trauma.

MCC and IMDS intentionally assembled a group that included pastors from the islands of Java and Papua — part of a larger effort of MCC and MCC’s Indonesian partners to break down stereotypes, build relationships and encourage Indonesians from different islands and cultures to work together, says Mark Sider, an MCC Indonesia representative.

When the team came a few weeks after the flooding, the water had receded far enough for people to clean out their houses and move back in, but fields were still inundated.

An integral part of this trauma healing effort — and a common and respected trauma healing technique in Indonesia — is acupressure, massaging pressure points of people’s feet and hands. Ekalitani says in Indonesia acupressure is believed to increase blood flow to the body promoting physical healing. And it helped people to relax as pastors invited them to talk about their experiences and prayed with them or offered words of encouragement.

As word spread that the team was offering acupressure and trauma healing, those whose lives had been impacted by the flood, both Christian and Muslim, came to the church.

Pastors, who are held in high regard in Indonesian society, sat on the floor and worked with each person for 15 to 20 minutes.

“They were able to express their emotion and their story,” Legowo says. “Even some of them, they shared about their family problems, not just about the flood.”

Afterward, most people stayed around to talk to each other, encouraged to do so by people from the church. Some villagers took the opportunity to meet with a pharmacist and a doctor the church provided. In two days the team of pastors worked with 230 people in Jekulo and a neighbouring town – building friendships and connections.

“The whole process helped me to feel better, especially because so many brothers and sisters came to visit us, pray for us and do some programs for us,” Purnomo says. “All this relationship that happened helped us to feel better.”