The change of scene from Sydney, Australia, to Jakarta, Indonesia, staggers the imagination; and both from a physical and a psychological point of view we were hardly prepared for such a change. At this point in our tour all three of us were totally bone-weary. Add to this a long, monotonous flight of some nine hours’ duration in a not very comfortable plane, with only an occasional glimpse through the over-cast of the vast inland wastes of Australia, and a three-hour time change, and you can understand somewhat our feelings when we arrived at the Jakarta airport late Saturday afternoon, to be greeted by an entirely new scene.
Our plane made only one stop, at Bali, a famous resort city, where most of our fellow passengers disembarked. From the descriptions given us, Bali might have been a nice place for a couple of days’ rest. We, of course, were ignorant of what would greet us in Jakarta; and it certainly did not encourage us when the stewardesses on the plane expressed surprise that we were going on to Jakarta, rather than stopping at Bali. Nevertheless, to Jakarta we went.
Immediately upon our arrival at the airport the changes to which I referred struck us with their full force. For one thing, we were now in a tropical climate; and while some warmth was indeed welcome after the chill of the winter season in New Zealand and Australia, the change to the heat and stifling humidity of Jakarta was almost too much, so that we welcomed the refuge of our air-conditioned hotel rooms. But more than anything else, we were in a totally different culture. The culture of Indonesia is very definitely oriental. The people are, of course, different in appearance. The language—or, I should say; languages—were foreign to us. The social and economic structure is altogether different, virtually defying description Religiously speaking, we were no more in a nominally Christian country. And, as we shall see, even the Christian church, in so far as we came into contact with it, was very different from that to which we are accustomed.
Before I continue with my description, I should perhaps explain how it came about that we went to Indonesia. Neither Indonesia nor Singapore (our next stop) was originally on our schedule. The chief purpose of our tour from the outset had been to visit New Zealand and Australia. But our New Zealand friend, brother Bill van Rij, had made various contacts in both of these places in the course of his business trips. And he had recommended to our Contact Committee that we include Indonesia and Singapore on our itinerary. When we learned that we could include these stops at relatively little additional expense, and could then return home via Europe, our Committee decided to heed Mr. van Rij’s advice. With respect to Indonesia, an additional consideration was the fact that we would be able to make an on-the-scene inquiry into the success of and the response to the literature distribution project of our Foreign Missions Committee in Indonesia. Thus it was that on Saturday, July 19, we found ourselves in this strange scene.
Already at the airport the scene was one of teeming (and steaming) masses of humanity—most of them speaking a language which we did not understand, and only very few of them able to communicate at all well in our language. We began to wonder how we would ever find our hosts in that confused scene, or how they would ever find us. They had no pictures of us, nor we of them; in fact, we were not even certain as to the identity of the person or persons who would meet us at the airport. However, as our hosts later told us, they were looking for a rather peculiar party: one American lady with two American gentlemen, both of whom, so they thought, must look rather distinguished. At any rate, we were glad to be found soon after we passed through customs by Mrs. Pauline Mangindaan and a young evangelist of the church, Cornelius Kuswanto. We left Mrs. Hoeksema with our newly found friends; and Rev. Hanko and I made our way through the crowds of people in a vain attempt to find the airline office and confirm our reservations to Singapore for the following Monday. Then we had our first ride in Mr. Kuswanto’s jalopy, which, in spite of its ancient vintage and its non-cooperative first gear, somehow furnished us dependable transportation whenever it was needed.
We had been warned a bit by Mr. and Mrs. van Rij as to what we should expect in Indonesia, and we had also been given a few do’s and don’ts. We soon learned that the van Rijs had not exaggerated. In the warm weather Rev. Hanko naturally had the window open on his side of the car, and he was resting his arm on the sill. When we came to a stop in the busy traffic, he was quickly warned not to drape his arm on the window-sill of the car door, lest someone should snatch the wristwatch from his arm. And Mrs. Hoeksema was warned to clutch her purse closely to her, to prevent anyone’s snatching it. We were even warned that sometimes the eyeglasses are pulled from your face while you are walking on the streets. Hence, we were duly cautious about our belongings during our brief stay in Jakarta.
The city of Jakarta is a city of extremes. There are the extremely rich, who have beautiful and well kept homes; there are also millions of poor, living in poverty such as you and I cannot imagine. The city, we were told, was planned for some 2 1/2 million people; but officially, there are supposed to be about 5 1/2 million inhabitants, while unofficially there are undoubtedly many more. Traffic conditions are unbelievably disorderly, noisy, and smoky; it seemed to us as though the most successful way of getting through the traffic was to follow the strategy of playing a constant game of “chicken”—that is, if one succeeded in getting through the traffic at all.
The poverty and the filth, due in part to the overcrowded conditions of the city, are worse than can be described without pictures. Rev. Hanko volunteered that he had not seen the equal of it when he was in Jamaica. Part of the problem lies in the fact that many people come from the surrounding countryside in the hope of finding some employment and earning some small living in the city. However, there is no housing for these people. Hence, there are thousands of people living in little squatters’ shanties—shelters which can hardly qualify as shanties, constructed mostly of cardboard. You can find these shanties in any available spot along a main road, between the front property line of the houses, which is usually protected by a strong fence with barbed wire and a locked gate, and the edge of the road. Of course, there are no utilities of any kind, and no water, and no plumbing. One of the worst such areas is along a large, open sewer-canal, which runs through the middle of the city. Along the banks of this canal are hundreds of these little cardboard shanties. The foul, stinking water of that canal is their toilet, but it also serves as the place where they brush their teeth and bathe. The stench of the canal is overpowering, and we could smell it even at the church building, which was some distance away. Periodically these areas are cleaned up, and the shanties are dismantled; but the materials from which they are made are simply stacked up, for the people will be back the next day to rebuild their shanty village. One can well understand that there are diseases to be caught from the very air which one breathes; the puzzle to us was that people could live this way at all. Do not forget, however, that there are also the very rich and the moderately rich in a city like this. We were almost ashamed, after seeing sights like that just described, to go back to our luxury hotel, which was equal to the finest in our own country. Yet there is another side to the picture. We were told, for example, that while the Indonesian people are very artistic and creative people—and we have samples of this artistic ability among our souvenirs—yet they do not know how to take care of things or are not interested in taking care of things after they have made them. We were also told that it is difficult to run a business on a European basis of punctuality and orderliness, for the simple reason that many of the people, after they have earned a couple of dollars, are quite satisfied and simply leave their work. We were also told that some kind of “payola” or bribery is necessary frequently to accomplish anything in the business world. Where the truth lies with respect to all these matters we certainly could not discern in the short time we were there. But the above description of some facets of Indonesian culture and society will give you somewhat of an idea as to what we encountered.
O, yes, I must mention the food. The one outstanding impression of Indonesian food with which I was left was the fact, not merely that it was different, but that it is so highly spiced that one really cannot taste the true flavor of what he is eating. For politeness’ sake, and also partly out of curiosity, we partook of the Indonesian food which was served us for Sunday noon dinner at the church which we visited—although I must admit that it was with a high degree of skepticism that we even sat down to dinner. And I well recall that one of the fish dishes served us was so highly spiced that it burned all the way down, and that surely one would not have been able to tell whether the fish was fresh or rotten. And when one went down the street in the evening past many of the street restaurants, the air literally reeked of curry. But I suppose one must remember the proverb: “There is no disputing about tastes.” Nevertheless, I much preferred the American-style food which was available at our hotel.
It was not my purpose, however, to tell you only about our strange experiences in a strange culture and society. This is only background information. Our purpose was to visit the church which had the following name above its entrance: “Geredja Santapan Rohani Indonesia.” We were told that the American name of this church was the Spiritual Life Church.
In our contact with this church there awaited us experiences which I am sure none of us, in his wildest imagination, ever expected to have. Let me try to tell you a little about this church.
The constituency of this congregation, we were told, is 95 per cent a people of Chinese nationality living in Indonesia. I must mention, however, that all of our information about the church was gained from the people themselves. Their language is the language of Indonesia. Mr. Kuswanto seemed to understand English well, but spoke it rather poorly and was frequently at a loss to express himself in our language. Mrs. Mangindaan communicated with us partly in very broken English; but mostly in rapid Dutch, but Dutch which was also not free from adulteration. Mrs. Mangindaan appeared to be a rather capable woman. She was the architect of the church building, which was a well built structure, though in the open-air Indonesian style. This reminds me of another facet of this church which we were surprised to encounter, namely, that Mrs. Mangindaan was one of two deaconesses of the congregation whom we met and who appeared to take a leading part in the life of the church. As far as this church is concerned; it had no connection with the former presence of the Dutch in Indonesia and with the Gereformeerde Kerk. When we tried to find out something about the origin and the position of this church, .we were informed that this church did not have its roots in Europe and in the Reformation of the 16th Century, but rather traced its origin via China to India, where the Apostle Thomas is traditionally supposed to have worked. We were unable to find out more about this, perhaps partly because one of their elders, who might have been better able to communicate with us, was at that time attending the ICCC conference in Africa. That was elder Charles Sudargo, with whom we had originally been put in touch by Mr. van Rij. We were impressed, however, by the busy schedule of activities at the church on Sunday. We had no way of knowing, of course, what was being said at some of the meetings. In fact, because of the language barrier we did not even know what was said at the services, apart from our sermons; and we could not even check up on the accuracy of the translations of our sermons. But the church appeared to be very active. Not only were there two services in the morning, but there was also a large Sunday school. And when we returned for the evening meeting, there were already various activities—among them, junior and senior choir practice—which still had to be concluded before our meeting began. Here, as elsewhere, more especially because we really did not know what situation we would face upon our arrival, we had made it very clear in advance that we were willing to speak the Word in this congregation only on the condition that we were to be left entirely free.