Indonesian Mennonites promote interfaith dialogue

Posted on July 20, 2011 by VMMissions Staff

From mid-January to the end of March 2010, my wife Cathy and I were in Indonesia on a short-term Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) assignment during our sabbaticals, mine from Park View Mennonite Church, Cathy’s from Eastern Mennonite University. We stayed on the island of Java, in the city of Salatiga, centrally located on the island between the cities of Semarang on the north coast and Yogyakarta on the south coast. It is the home of the MCC Indonesia office, where Jeanne and Dan Jantzi are the country representatives. Much of the work of MCC in Indonesia focuses on education and peace-building. MCC has a remarkable team in Indonesia who are working hard and developing deep relationships that extend the Kingdom of God through peace-building and capacity-building. My focus there was to learn about Christian-Muslim relations and to engage with the Mennonite churches of Indonesia.

In general, the Mennonite churches in Indonesia seem to be quite healthy. Worship is enthusiastic. Youth are heavily involved in all aspects of the service. It was striking to meet young Indonesians who had been a part of the MCC International Visitor Exchange Program (IVEP) and to note that they are heavily involved in the life of the church. I also noted that the process whereby young adults are put forward for the IVEP program is not driven by the individual. The Synod and the congregation must be involved for MCC to consider a young person for IVEP. As I reflected on this, I wondered if the result of this process was that former IVEPers were more likely to use the experiences they gained in service to their home church. Might we benefit from such an approach?

The Mennonite church in Srumbung Gunung hauled fill away from their church expansion to be used as fill at the village mosque—true interfaith cooperation!

Sunday School at a Mennonite church in Indonesia. Photos courtesy of author.

In Indonesia, pluralism is a basic tenet of the constitution. Given that Christians are such a minority, it is not surprising that many Christians view pluralism as a value to be pursued. They must get along with their Muslim neighbors or they will be crushed. While visiting an interfaith agency in Yogyakarta, I asked the agency assistant director why Muslims are involved in interfaith dialogue when they are such a majority. His response was that interfaith dialogue was consistent with the teachings of the Quran and that it was also consistent with the basic Indonesian value of harmony. He went on to say that interfaith dialogue enriches one’s own beliefs. The goal is not to become one faith, but to understand and respect the other. He also said that the bridges they build between faith groups start in the middle, with moderate Muslims and Christians, and intentionally work toward drawing in the more radical or extreme groups through persons who have credibility with those more radical groups.

Overall, I found Christians and Muslims to relate and cooperate very well together. Violence, when it occurs, is often instigated by radical members of one group or another who come in to communities from outside. Over and over I was told that relationships work to prevent violence and promote understanding. Villages seem most capable of fostering these cooperative relationships, while in the cities it is more common to hear of radical groups. Many of the people involved in the peace-building efforts have received some training through the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at EMU. In many instances I was amazed by the attitudes of openness and conciliation held by both Christian and Muslim. Coming back to the U.S., it is my hope that I can adopt that same attitude with all of the people I meet, regardless of race or
religion.

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