Amid rice fields and villages, along the furrowed tracks and potholed roads in the Tapanuli region in rural North Sumatra, Indonesia, more than 85 per cent of people are farmers. Many are caught in the enslaving trap of debt to landowners who demand high rent for the use of land, which they need to grow […]
Amid rice fields and villages, along the furrowed tracks and potholed roads in the Tapanuli region in rural North Sumatra, Indonesia, more than 85 per cent of people are farmers. Many are caught in the enslaving trap of debt to landowners who demand high rent for the use of land, which they need to grow their rice crops. In order to produce quick rice harvests, many farmers purchase chemical fertilisers at high costs, which increases their debt and further imprisons them within the debt cycle. The global financial crisis has also deeply affected the lives of these people, dramatically lowering the price of their cash crops, such as rice, coffee, cocoa and rubber. At the same time, the costs of all the commodities needed just to live have escalated.
In such a harsh, challenging environment, I heard and witnessed amazing stories of hope as I spent a long and winding day visiting this eye-opening region. As when I had previously travelled with Pastor Rein Justin Gultom, this would be a journey to remember forever.
Male and female farmers, together with their pastors, were assembled expectantly in houses or church buildings throughout the day. They waited patiently in the various locations for the arrival of our increasingly late group (which also included Sam, Ramses and Timbul). These people were gathered to share their stories with us and ask questions of Rein Justin – about rice harvests, pigs, organic fertilisers, community radio stations, communal credit unions and even a cow called “LCA”.
An increasing number of squealing pigs and piglets poked their snouts over the walls of their odorless, organic, “Korean” method pig pens, while we inspected the piles of organic fertilizer produced and used to sew coffee tree seedlings. With smiles of hope on their faces, farmers shared stories of the increasing productivity in their rice harvest, achieved by using the System Rice Intensification SRI (Organic) method for planting their rice paddies.
Others were able to give examples of how the Credit Union they established in their community enabled them to borrow funds at 1 per cent or 2 per cent interest for ten months, ensuring that they could buy seed, food, as well as extend their agricultural land. Happily, this assisted them with generating the necessary funds to send their children to school.
Even if a person is not a member of the church, they can be a part of the credit union. Within some Christian communities, even Muslims have become part of their credit union!
Like the farmers who waited expectantly for Rein Justin to answer their questions, I too listened intently as he talked about the four community radio stations set up to share information with farmers.
The inspiring organisation behind these radio stations, and many other community projects, is Pengmas. An abbreviation of the words, “Pengabbdian Masyarakat”, which translates as “Community Development, Pengmas departments exist within many Indonesian churches. This Pengmas group assisting in Tapanuli belongs to the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) church.
An additional program has been added in the area – the “Revolving Cow” project. With funds provided by the LCA from the LLL, the Board for Mission and Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS), four cows have now been purchased and given to members of four of the Credit Unions. The members choose who will look after the cow (at no cost to the farmers) until it has calved. They do need to pay up to 1,000,000IDR (approx $130) for artificial insemination but, after calving, the farmer keeps the calf and the cow is then given to another farmer in the credit union to look after until the next calf is born.
My introduction to “LCA”, the cow in the village of Sionggang, was wonderful and encouraging, Already pregnant, “LCA” is sheltered under an imposing Batak house and fed on a strict diet of three specific types of grass which can increase the weight by up to a kilo per week.
Throughout the region of Tapanuli, many of the LCA’s partner Churches are offering hope through their Pengmas’ livelihood and social justice programs, which are integral to their ministry. In the HKBP, the Pengmas program is a truly remarkable story of multiplication – God’s multiplication – taking the small gifts offered and giving a harvest beyond expectations.
Under the leadership of Pastor Rein Justin Gultom – a graduate of the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Japan – the Pengmas team demonstrates (in the most basic and practical ways) the love, compassion and justice of Jesus Christ to the poor and underprivileged farmers and their families in this rural region of Indonesia.
Commenting on the Pengmas projects, Rein Justin said: “This is not a give-away program – charity does not teach”. And it’s not just about pigs and cows and organic methods, either! The Pengmas programs have a significant component for teaching about matters of faith and life, advocacy, gender issues and on HIV/AIDS. As Rein Justin states, they tailor the programs to the needs of the people, bringing in church leaders, lecturers from the seminary and faculty from the Centre for Community Development of Nommensen University (another exciting project the LCA has the privilege of being a part of).
The Pengmas program is an amazing story of multiplication. God has taken our seemingly small gift and multiplied it over and over again as he did the loaves and the fishes
What’s even more remarkable is the fact that you and I are part of this program in Indonesia though our giving in several ways!
Through the generous support of the LLL, together with the Board for Mission (your weekly offerings), Australian Lutheran World Service and Lutheran Education Australia, you and I have been able to give added support and encouragement to the churches in Indonesia as they seek to be “the hands and feet” of Jesus, to struggling farmers through the Pengmas program.
Pray for these workers in the harvest – always working long days without a break and in circumstances that are difficult and at times discouraging.
This story was also published in the April 2009 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.
Many of our partner churches are working in new territory for the kingdom of God; therefore, spiritual attack is their everyday reality. As a member of a congregation, school, or family, or a couple or individual, you are invited to commit to praying for our partners in mission. For regular prayer point updates, go to www.lca.org.au/international-mission/act-now/pray
Read more stories about our partner churches in Indonesia at www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/international-partners/indonesia/