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Missions: John Butler’s recent trip to West Timor (28 May 2018)

Pastor John Butler recently spent a week in West Timor, Indonesia, to help teach and train church leaders. If you missed the report back a few Sundays ago, you can read about it here.

What were you doing in Indonesia?
I was invited by the Gereja-Gereja Reformasi Calvinis (Calvinist Reformed Churches of Indonesia) and ITEM (International Theological Education Ministries) to conduct a four-day intensive course in the doctrine of God (theology) and doctrine of man (anthropology) for pastors, elders, ministry students, high school teachers, and year 12 students. ITEM coordinates with local denominations in sending out teachers for intensive courses; instructors are ministers from biblically conservative Presbyterian and Reformed denominations, usually from the USA or Canada.  It is part of an on-going program conducted by the GGRC and ITEM to assist the GGRC and other Indonesian churches in getting a better grasp on Biblical doctrine. The goal is to equip the churches in their ministries and outreach by understanding the Word and its teaching.

ITEM uses a curriculum prepared by the Presbyterian Church of North India for teaching rural pastors and elders; it has worked well with churches around the world. The module I taught utilises the Westminster Shorter Catechism as its main outline of the subject of the doctrines of God and of man. My lecture notes and the module material were translated into Indonesian and given to the students, as well as copies of the Westminster Shorter and Heidelberg Catechisms in Indonesian.

How did your relationship with the churches in West Timor come about?
I have been interested in ITEM’s work for several years; they conduct similar courses in Eastern Europe, the some of the former Soviet republics, Africa, India, and South America. A couple of times a year ITEM sends out requests for instructors to fill teaching slots in courses around the world. I’ve taught at theological-college level in Malaysia on several occasions, so the work that ITEM does has been of interest. They have kept me on a list of men interested in being instructors.

After moving to Australia, I saw that the relationship between the GGRC and ITEM had developed and that a friend of mine had taught for them on several occasions. When ITEM found out that I was in Indonesia, they asked if I could go (it is much easier for me to deploy to Indonesia than someone in the USA or Canada). After formally applying to teach for ITEM and being accepted, they secured the invitation from the GGRC for me to come to Kupang, West Timor, Indonesia. Instructors are responsible for raising their travel, lodging, and meal expenses for their trips. Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Paris, Texas, USA, provided funds for this trip. I was there for a week in late April, early May of 2018.

What is the Christian landscape like in West Timor?
Of the 1.8 million West Timorese, the main religions/faiths are Catholicism (56%), Protestantism (35%) and Islam (8%). It is part of the former Dutch East Indies, and there is a long history of Christian mission and involvement with the area. The numbers are changing, though, as more and more Muslim Indonesians from elsewhere are moving into West Timor. Driving to/from our teaching site, we passed by many churches and a few mosques. There have been heavy inroads of both liberal theology and Pentecostalism/Word of Faith in the Christian community in West Timor; the level of Biblical understanding on the part of many in the churches is low. Materialism is also a concern. The GGRC was started in the 1950s as a reaction to increasing theological liberalism in the more mainline Reformed Churches of Indonesia. It today has about 20 churches and missions in West Timor and several other islands.

What were the highlights of your trip?
Travelling on Sunday to preach at two sites: the denomination’s “mother church” on Sunday AM and at a mission church in the afternoon about three hour’s drive out in the country. The opportunity to sit and learn from our brethren in Timor and to enjoy fellowship with them I will always treasure. This culture loves to sing and dance; the singing was always joyous. The students and faculty on Thursday after all our sessions were completed had a session of singing and dancing to communicate their appreciation for the week’s instruction. The teaching sessions were on Monday through Thursday, 8 am – 2 pm (when it would get to be too hot to continue teaching profitably). We had 70-80 students in attendance at each session. I preached and taught through interpreters; from the feedback we received, it appears that the material was readily understood and appreciated.

 

I stayed in a hotel overlooking a bay; at night fishing boats with light sets would work the waters. The fresh fish market was about 100 metres up the road from the hotel; one night my local pastor friend and a couple of other new friends went to the market, selected a fish for dinner, and it was prepped and grilled on the spot for us. It was some of the best fish I’ve ever tasted.

What were the major challenges?
Speaking through interpreters is challenging; but at each teaching session, a couple of people would be called to the front of the classroom to give a review of what has been taught that session. From what I have been told, they have a good grasp of the material I presented. One of my three interpreters attended seminary in Canada; he could more easily communicate some of the theological terms and concepts than the other two.

Transportation is always a challenge, mostly time-wise. No direct flights from Australia to Kupang exist. I flew from Brisbane to Bali (6.5 hours) and overnighted there, and then on to Kupang  (1.5 hours) the next day. The trip back took about 18 hours (long layover in Bali). A couple of pluses, though: Kupang is only two hours behind Brisbane, so no jet lag, and it much, much better than having to fly from the USA or Canada!

How could we be praying for the churches in West Timor?
For a deepening understanding of the Scriptures; for faithfulness to Christ in the face of an increasing Muslim presence in West Timor (favoured and sponsored by the central government); for funding for better biblical education for pastors; for employment, training and opportunities for graduates of the GGRC primary and secondary school system in a place with little economic opportunity and growth.

For the GGRC’s outreach to other islands and churches to help strengthen them. I have been given an invitation to return to Indonesia to teach again in West Timor, as well as possible teaching opportunities on other islands.

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