in Tsunami Country
Adventist Christians share their faith amid daunting difficulties.
By Caroline V. Katemba Tobing
Some months after a tsunami hit the Asian coast in July 2006, faculty and staff of the Universitas Advent Indonesia (Indonesian Adventist University) in Java visited the region of Pangandaran, Indonesia, one of the areas hard-hit by the three-meter (10 feet)-high waves. The group saw the resulting devastation and destruction firsthand, as well as met many of the residents and listened to their stories. Along with tales of tragedy, suffering, and sorrow, several Adventist Church members told of God’s protection and care and how the gospel message is spreading in the area.
Volunteer missionaries Sumarsono* and Tri Murti Ningsih “Fien” Martaatmadja arrived in Pangandaran in March 2004. West Java Conference secretary Sutrisno Tjakrapawira had arranged for the couple’s mission endeavor there as part of the Global Mission Pioneers taskforce, a program Tjakrapawira coordinates. The Martaatmadjas’ goal was to share the message of Jesus in this region where no other Adventists lived—an objective not easily reached.
“The first and the most important step [in sharing the gospel] is to make friends with the people and mingle with them,” Sumarsono said. “When someone is sick, we visit them, bring them medicine. If there is no medicine, we bring fruit, food, and other necessities to help them. We also pray for them, because we know there is power in prayer.”
BELIEVERS: Sumarsono Martaatmadja and his wife, Fien (back row), first arrived in Pangandaran as missionaries in 2004. They stand with a few of the 80 Adventist believers who have come to know Jesus because of the ministry in the area begun by the Martaatmadjas. One new believer, Mrs. Udin (second from right), leaves home at 3:00 every Sabbath morning to make the five-hour journey to Pangandaran for worship services.Sumarsono and Fien said they cite verses from the Qur’an that refer to the Sabbath and other doctrines in which common beliefs can be found. Then they explain those scripturally based beliefs more fully. As a result of this simple approach, in just the first year 10 people accepted Jesus as their Savior.
The new converts joined the Martaatmadjas in their quest to share the gospel, and within three years 80 people were baptized.
The evangelism is not being done in the area without sacrifice. “All the things we give away—medicines, food, and other items—are paid for out of my own pocket,” Sumarsono explained. Although he and his family are happy to give what they can to win souls to Christ, funds are not abundantly available. The Martaatmadja family—husband, wife, and two daughters—live on a stipend of only US$50 a month. Sumarsono says many more people in Pangandaran are open to learning about Jesus, but a shortage of financial support hinders the work.
In spite of the financial challenges, however, the Martaatmadjas are branching out to other areas. In Karanganyar, a village located 20 kilometers (12 miles) from their home, the couple has been making friends and telling them about their soon-returning Lord. Sumarsono and Fien travel first by bus and then by boat to reach the village, and so far 70 people have been baptized there.
Surjo and Saiti
Recently baptized Adventist couple Surjo and Saiti were earning a living selling food near the beach in Pangandaran. They owned a small warung, or food stall, out of which they sold coconuts, noodles, rujak (traditional salad), beverages, and other items. Their warung was a popular place and their business successful. Because they did so well, neighbors wanted to know the secret of their success.
“They asked whether we used a talisman or amulet that was causing many people to come to our warung,” Surjo says. So the couple invited the neighbors into their shop and showed them the “secret.”
“When they would gather in, I would take out my small Bible, open it, and read some verses from it,” Surjo explains. “I would tell them that the Bible and the words in it are alive and that they are the secrets of the success of my warung. The Bible strengthens me and gives me light. It’s Jesus Christ who helps make my warung prosper and thrive.”
After accepting the Adventist message and evidencing their commitment to Christ in baptism, the couple faithfully began to set aside the Lord’s tithe. They kept the tithe in a place separate from their other money inside the warung. They started noticing how much more abundantly God blessed them after they became tithepayers, and soon Surjo and Saiti began planning to expand their business. Then came the tsunami.
“When the beach security alerted everybody to leave the beach because a big wave was coming, we started running,” Surjo says. “But then we remembered the money we’d collected to build a new warung, and the offering for the Sabbath. So we went back to get it.”
HOUSE OF MEETING: Adventists in Pangandaran meet for worship under a tarp set up in front of a member’s home.Before they could escape again, however, the tsunami waves hit and lifted them and their warung. The couple, trapped inside the stall, felt themselves being carried away by the wave and rolled around violently by its sheer force. “We were so scared,” Surjo says. “We felt we couldn’t stand it any longer because the waves were so powerful they kept the warung turning around until we became very dizzy.”
In these moments of desperation they cried out to the Lord, “God, we can’t stand this pain any longer. We still want to live and serve Thee and spread Your gospel to the people around us. Please help us!”
Right after they prayed, other strong waves hit their warung and broke it into two pieces. The couple became separated from each other. Finally, one part of the structure along with Surjo was flung onto the second story of a hotel. The other half with Saiti landed on the second floor of a different hotel. Their warung was destroyed and their money was gone, but both husband and wife were safe.
Surjo and Saiti credit God for their survival. “We are alive because we cried to God for help, and the Lord heard our prayer,” Surjo says.
Another couple who joined the Adventist Church is Mr. and Mrs. Udin. Both husband and wife were faithful to their new beliefs. Mr. Udin, however, has since died. But 56-year-old Mrs. Udin is still committed to serving her Lord and His church.
In order to attend Sabbath worship services, Mrs. Udin leaves her home as early as 3:00 a.m. to make the long five-hour journey to Pangandaran. She walks five kilometers (three miles) to reach public transportation, and then changes buses three times before arriving at the location where the Adventist members meet. She works a full week just to earn the money needed to pay for the transportation that takes her to fellowship with other Adventist believers each Sabbath.
“I always carry a flashlight with me because it’s dark when I walk down the road by myself so early in the morning,” Udin says. “But I never miss Sabbath worship.”
The Adventist believers in Pangandaran do not yet own a church in which to meet on Sabbaths. Sometimes they rent a hotel room; other Sabbaths they worship at a member’s home. Their inadequate facilities, however, don’t dim the flame of their faith and their zeal to tell others about the Jesus they love and serve.
In spite of tragedies, disheartening experiences, and taxing circumstances, church members in Indonesia continue to worship and witness for their Lord. Their mission is to share the gospel message with others so many more people will come to know the living God.
*Since the writing of this article, Sumarsono was tragically killed in an automobile accident. His wife, Fien, continues to witness for the Lord in Pangandaran and looks forward to the day when Jesus will return to this earth and she will be united with her beloved husband.