It depends on your point of view

by J. Ron Byler Ron Byler

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth(I Corinthians 3:7)

Told from a global north point of view, the story of Mennonite missions in Indonesia begins in the Netherlands. In 1851, the Doopsgezinde Zending Vereniging (DZV) sent Pieter Jansz, its first missionary, to Java. The result today is three Mennonite synods with more than 340 congregations and 108,000 members.

But there is a different way to tell the story. For the leaders of the Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (GITJ Synod) the story begins like this:

Tunggul Wulung was a Javanese mystic who joined Diponegoro, a Javanese prince, in fighting against the colonial rule of the Dutch in the late 1820s.  After Diponegoro was defeated and exiled, Tunggul Wulung had to flee. His spiritual quest was to find the Messiah. In about 1851, he attended a meeting in which Dutch Mennonite Pieter Janz was sharing about Jesus Christ. Tunggul Wulung sat in the window, unseen by others except for Pieter Janz.  Tunggul Wulung took this as a sign that Pieter Janz was speaking the truth.

Tunggul Wulung spread the good news by clearing land in the jungle and creating Christian villages in Bondo, Margorejo, and Banyutowo.  As a former soldier, hed didn’t honor the colonial government. He also had difficulty relating to Pieter Janz who he saw as coming from the  colonial power under whom the Javanese people had lost their rights. But from these beginnings of a man’s search for the Messiah, a church of more than 100 congregations and 40,000 members was eventually born.

The Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI) synod might begin its story this way:

Tee Sin Tat was an ethnic Chinese business man in Kudus in the early 1900s who was seeking spiritual guidance. He first contacted the Salvation Army but he was disturbed when he learned they conducted baptisms under the Dutch flag. He contacted the Seventh Day Adventists, but was offended by their teaching against eating pork. He visited the Salib Putih Reformed Mission in Salatiga and they encouraged him to visit the Dutch Mennonite missionaries in Kudus. The Dutch Mennonite theology satisfied Tee Sin Tat and so he was baptized by Dutch Mennonites in Kayu Apu in 1920.

Tee Sin Tat was a businessman and he began a church using the same business principles.  When he wanted to be ordained, the Dutch Mennonites refused.  Instead, Tee Sin Tat was ordained by the government under the Dutch queen’s decree.

The GKMI became a Synod in 1948. It now has 50 congregations and 16,000 members. The GKMI has never been dependent on a mission board.  This spirit of independence is an ongoing strength in the GKMI congregations. They fully support their congregations and only funded extra projects from other sources from the outside.

There is no doubt that the Dutch church played an important role in the Mennonite mission effort in Indonesia. It is also true that God’s spirit was already present in Indonesia among the Javanese and the Chinese people long before the Dutch arrived.

Praise God for the vibrant Mennonite Christian witness in Java and elsewhere that is the result today. It is indeed God who gives the growth.

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