Back Home in Indonesia

Posted on July 4, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Down Home in Mississippi

The hot, sticky weather wasn’t so different than a Mississippi summer but the sounds, smells and people everywhere had a familiarity of life in the tropics. When we were awakened by the call to prayer from a nearby mosque at 4:30 am we knew we were back home in Indonesia.

Not much had changed about the four-hour train trip from Surabaya to Jember in the last 40 years. We used to opt for the train rather driving on the rough, congested, pot-hole filled highway to our assigned outpost. Passengers piled baggage in the aisles, babies cried and hawkers paced the cars with “kopi tubruk,” fried rice and other delicacies as emerald rice fields and distant mountains flowed past the window.

As we pulled into the Jember station a surge of nostalgia and emotion swept over us. It was almost 40 years ago, following a year of language study, when we arrived in this commercial center on the tip of East Java. Years after receiving a missionary call and completing the pilgrimage of seminary studies, ministry experience, orientation and language learning, we were finally there. Lori was almost three and Russell was not yet two; this is where they grew up bi-culturally and multi-lingual, and Bobbye faced the challenge of being both the “P” and the “T” of PTA.

We were there for nine years, seeking to plant churches in one of the strongest Muslim areas of the country, before being asked to transfer to another location and a regional leadership role. As we look back on our experiences, the challenge was more difficult than we realized at the time. We were five hours from the nearest missionary colleagues, but we experienced God’s grace, and He blessed.

We found the house where we lived upon our arrival (pictured with Jerry on the porch) and the old house where our first church met.

Our first house in East Java.

House where our first church met.

We had returned a couple of times in the last 30 years since leaving this initial assignment; this time we were hoping to recognize familiar landmarks and search for acquaintances from long ago. Jember is like a county-seat town, and although the population was 400,000 it wasn’t recognized as an urban area by Indonesian standards when we were there. Now it had ballooned to a city of more than two million people including multiple modern shopping centers and a university with 25,000 students!

One of the first persons we found was Ibu Soegeng, one of Bobbye’s Muslim friends who attended her English classes taught from the Bible. Then we were reunited with Berli Chandra, a childhood friend and playmate of our daughter; her mother was one of the first believers to be baptized and died a few years later while we were there.

Riding in pedi-cabs.

Eating gado-gado at sidewalk warung.

For two days we walked around the city, rode becas (bicycle pedi-cabs) and ate food in road-side stalls just as we had done years ago. Making our way through the maze of alleyways in backstreet kampungs we learned that our household helper had died just a year ago. Most of the older neighbors had also passed away, church members we knew had moved and the little Baptist congregation is still there but struggling for survival. It was a joy to find several of the young people we had reached, now middle-aged, and faithfully serving the Lord.

We were amazed that a language we had not used for years flowed fluently. Our hearts went out to the mass of people in this little niche of the world who have yet to know Jesus. We found ourselves musing, “Why did we leave? What if we had stayed and poured our lives into planting the gospel there until now?”

One Comment on “Back Home in Indonesia”

  1. Settling in to Retirement | Down Home in Mississippi

    […] year was an especially busy and meaningful year including a three-week trip back to Indonesia, a mission trip to Moldova and vacation-time in Austria, Switzerland and Bavaria. We spent a couple […]

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