Executive director and pastor reflect on visit with Indonesian Mennonites

Mennonite Church USA

Ervin Stutzman prays for students of the Sangkakala Theological Seminary in Central Java, Indonesia. (Photo provided by Sangkakala Theological Seminary)

Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, and his wife, Bonnie, spent 13 days in Indonesia in September with Sunoko Lin, pastor of Maranatha Christian Fellowship (an Indonesian Mennonite congregation in Northridge, Calif.), and Natalie, his wife. The first part of the trip consisted of ministry visits; the Stutzmans and Lins spent four vacation days together at the end.  

What was the purpose of the trip and your hopes for the trip?

Ervin: I responded to an invitation from Jemaat Kristen Indonesia, (JKI) one of the three Indonesian synods that are part of Mennonite World Conference. They have a number of congregations in the United States, two of which are also affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. They would like to plant more churches in the U.S. The main goal of the trip was for me to learn about their church and to discuss ways for us to partner in ministry.

Sunoko: As said, the purpose of the trip was to be a learning tour for Ervin as a Mennonite Church USA representative to gain a deeper understanding of our synod (JKI) and to engage in conversation to discuss a possible partnership in these areas of ministry: education, missions, and church planting. My hope was simply that the trip would result in fostering a deepening relationship between the two churches and would prepare ways for our future engagement.

Which areas did you visit, and what kinds of activities did you do?

Adi Sutanto prays for students of the Sangkakala Theological Seminary in Central Java. Sutanto, the founder and head of the JKI synod, sponsored Ervin’s and Sunoko’s trip. (Photo provided by Sangkakala Theological Seminary)

Ervin: We visited several cities or rural areas on the island of Java. I preached and taught in a number of venues, including congregational worship services, pastoral gatherings, and a seminary training event. I also met on site with the leaders of two very large Mennonite congregations to learn about their ministry. In the two leadership seminars for pastors, we had people from the other two Mennonite synods as well as other denominations. (The two other Mennonite synods are the GKMI [Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia, or Muria Mennonite Christian Church in Indonesia]and the GITJ [Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa, orJavenese Mennonite Synod].)

Sunoko: Our trip took place mostly in Central Java, where the majority of JKI’s churches are located. We visited rural and urban areas of Central Java such as Kudus, Salatiga, Semarang, Solo, Ungaran, and Yogyakarta. Ervin preached and taught at our Sangkakala Bible college and churches. In addition, Ervin also had the opportunity to connect with our three most active member churches in regard to their evangelistic activities and community involvement: JKI Injil Kerajaan (the Holy Stadium Church) in Semarang, Jakarta Praise Community Church in Jakarta, and JKI Maranatha in Ungaran.

Could you share some highlights from the trip?

Ervin Stutzman and Sunoko Lin worship with students at Sangkakala Theological Seminary in Central Java. (Photo provided by Sangkakala Theological Seminary)

Ervin: Perhaps the most memorable highlight was the two days I taught at the seminary, which we would call Bible school. I have never spoken to a more enthusiastic and receptive audience. This group of 150 young people worshiped enthusiastically, prayed fervently and drank in the teaching that I gave on leadership.

I was also deeply impressed by the congregation called Injil Kerajaan, the Gospel of the Kingdom Church, in Semarang. This congregation has 20,000 active members and worships in a stadium they constructed. They are part of the JKI synod. Their ministries of compassion and evangelism have blessed their Muslim community to the extent that they now enjoy the deep favor of government officials. They operate a school with 4,000 students from K through 12—mostly Muslim students. They help Muslims market their farm products. Their healing services have touched the lives of multiple thousands of Muslims as well as Christians. They have baptized thousands of Muslims, many of whom have become vital witnesses for Jesus. The church is currently building a university, a hospital and an orphanage. They sponsor many other ministries as well.

Sunoko: During the trip, I served as Ervin’s translator. I was amazed by the responses I saw to Ervin’s teaching and preaching. I was deeply touched by the enthusiastic response from our Bible college students to Ervin’s message on servant leadership. When Ervin gave the invitation for prayers, more than half of the students came forward to receive prayers of anointing and affirmation. It demonstrates their hunger for God’s Word and their commitment for ministry.

I was also moved by God’s wonderful presence when we ministered at JKI’s first church in Sampetan village right beside Merbabu Mountain. Most of the attendees are farmers with limited formal education. While they appeared simple, their hearts were full of God’s spirit. Their worship was vibrant, and they came with readiness to receive God’s Word—even their young children. When the children’s Sunday school teacher asked them to leave the room before Ervin came to preach, they asked permission to stay to hear the message.

How has this trip made a difference for you? What could potential benefits/results be for Mennonites in Indonesia and for Mennonites in the U.S. going forward?

Ervin: What touched me most deeply was the deep generosity of Christians and their faithfulness to Jesus in a very challenging context. I feel like Mennonite Church USA has much to learn from these brothers and sisters. We also have some things that we can share with them, such as teachers of English for their school. I hope that we can partner with JKI in planting Indonesian-speaking congregations in the United States.

Sunoko: I learned that both churches have much to contribute to the global body of Christ. I am hopeful that our Indonesian churches can inspire and mobilize Mennonite churches in the U.S. to actively engage in evangelistic outreach to non-Christians and to plant vibrant, Spirit-filled churches. On the other hand, Mennonite Church USA can help extend scholarship for JKI’s emerging scholars so that they can receive further training to equip new generations of leaders in Indonesia.

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—Mennonite Church USA staff

Photos available at:

http://www.facebook.com/MennoniteChurchUSA/photos_albums
Album is titled “Indonesia”
Ervin Stutzman, Sunoko Lin and Adi Sutanto pray for students of the Sangkakala Theological Seminary in Central Java. Sutanto, the founder and head of the JKI synod, sponsored Ervin and Sunoko’s trip. (Photos provided by Sangkakala Theological Seminary)

(Contact Annette Brill Bergstresser for high-resolution photos.)