Engaging Community and Hospitality: Unpacking from Indonesia

Date Published

February 26, 2024

Home / Blog / Engaging Community and Hospitality: Unpacking from Indonesia

Published by Calvin Seminary

Over JTerm 2024, Dr. Yudha Thianto and five Calvin Seminary students spent two weeks living and studying in community at Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Amanat Agung (STTAA), a seminary in Jakarta, Indonesia. Over the course of these two weeks, students attended classes, participated in dormitory life, and experienced Indonesian culture and hospitality.

Three trip participants graciously shared their reflections with us.

Evie Dykhouse

The study trip to Indonesia this past January term was an incredible experience for me! I am very grateful for the chance to have gone. From the moment I stepped out of the airport, I was immersed in beautiful colors and warm sunshine. This was a welcome break from the snowstorm we had left behind in Michigan. As we drove from the airport, the amount of traffic that we encountered was very out of the ordinary for me. Our group had lots of questions about how traffic laws worked in Indonesia. When we would look around our vehicle, we would see so many motorcycles zipping around the cars. Some of them had full families riding on the same motorcycle. We described the traffic as a river, where everyone seemed to understand how the flow was supposed to work. I was very grateful for our many expert drivers who transported us places, whether that was a student or the Uber equivalent in Indonesia. As we continued driving, there was so much to see! Between lots of street stalls selling fruits that I had never seen before to homes and businesses, Indonesia is a place with a lot of life. 

Once we arrived at the seminary that we would spend most of our time at (Sekolah Tinggi Teologi Amanat Agung or STTAA,) I was blown away by the amount of hospitality that we were shown with from the very start. Debbie and I stayed on the fourth floor of the building that hosted our dining hall with around 32 other women. Throughout the entirety of our trip, we were treated with such kindness and generosity. The students, dorm parents, faculty, staff, and president were amazing at anticipating our every potential need or desire and filling it. More than that, my time in Indonesia was packed with amazing food. The food prepared for our regular meals was wonderful, even though I am not used to having rice for every meal. 🙂 The restaurants that we went to had incredible food as well. I enjoyed that many of the menus had photos in them, so that I could just page through the menus looking at all of the delicious food options, even if I couldn’t always read the language. We tried a restaurant that was similar to a reverse buffet, where all of the food was placed on many plates on our table. Then we paid for the food that we ate off of those plates. Many of the foods that we tried were spicy, highlighting the special qualities of the Indonesian chilis. I tried lots of foods for the first time on this trip, including mangosteen (a fruit), durian (another fruit), ox brain, whole fish, tempeh, and more. I enjoyed it all tremendously! 

Outside of our times at restaurants and in the dining hall, many of our student friends were also very talented at cooking. They were very willing at all hours to share a bowl of Indomie (noodles) that they had prepared for us, chocolate pudding, or other Indonesian snacks. On one of our final nights, the senior students prepared rujak (spicy fruit salad) for us with meatballs, Indomie, and more. Food was such a wonderful way for us to socially connect with our new friends. We also had fun with mini fashion shows. On Wednesdays, the students of STTAA would wear batik, which was a way that they referred to their traditional clothing. I had lots of laughs and memory-making moments with students as they tried their batik on me to wear. I went home with some very gracious gifts of beautiful batik as well. It was a delight doing morning devotions at 5:15 am with the students too, and cleaning the dorm together. These activities brought us together despite any potential language barrier between us. All of these friends we spent time with became like family during our time living in Indonesia with them. 

We experienced lots of eye opening moments on this trip, whether that was in the classroom, churches, or in the cities. It was cool to be in a classroom with a lecturer speaking a different language. During a chapel, I had my first experience with my message being translated into Bahasa. I enjoyed learning new activities in the classroom and expanding my knowledge on the history of Indonesia and how to approach ministry in a different location.

Our group had another immersive historical lesson in Kota Tua, otherwise known as Jakarta Old Town. We walked through the history museum, spent time in old prisons, and were able to watch bits and pieces of a dancing and singing competition in the plaza. We were also able to visit old churches and a very large mosque, which were other humbling experiences. They filled me with a sense of how central worship was for many people in Indonesia. During the trip, I would often be woken up around 4 am to the call to prayer for local Muslims. It was interesting to experience this and wonder about my own willingness to live out my faith with such dedication. 

One of my favorite days on the trip was when a couple of us visited a volcano in Bandung, Indonesia. It was awe-inspiring to be in the presence of such a large and powerful element of nature. After that, we went to a floating market, where we visited lots of food stalls that were on miniature boats. Finally, we went to a concert where the angklung was played. We got the chance to try our hand at playing classic songs with these instruments made of bamboo. It was so much fun! Another fantastic memory was our Cultural Night on our final night in Indonesia. This was a wonderful time of fellowship celebrating our homes and cultures through dance, music, and spoken word. It was a joy to see all of the different cultural clothing represented between the students from different tribes or villages compared to my own clothing. I learned so much and deeply value all of the photos and videos from that night. 

Overall, I could not have asked for a better trip. While I learned lots of fascinating things about Indonesia and history, it was the immersive aspect that will stay with me the longest. My most special memories are with our group and our new friends drinking fresh orange juice out of a bag or enjoying a coconut, learning new words in Bahasa to use in conversation. I am so grateful for technology that allows me to stay in contact with the students I have met and love. I would return to Indonesia in a heartbeat and am so thankful for this trip!

Cody Miedema

Indonesia was an incredible blessing and there are many reasons for this. The weather was delightful. The food introduced my bland dutch taste buds to a whole new world of flavor and texture. We were able to see historical sites from the Dutch colonization. But amidst all of these wonderful things, the greatest blessing on this entire trip was the fact that we were able to build some very meaningful relationships with our brothers and sisters who live on the other side of the world. There is something very significant that took place on this trip and I do not want to move past it too quickly. For myself, I come from a very different culture than that of the fine people of Indonesia. Our languages differ, we grew up with different experiences, and we even see the world very differently as well. Despite having a world between myself and them, there is one thing that unites us and that is Christ our Lord. It is the love of God stirring in our hearts which unites us as the body of Christ. 

I came to Indonesia with great expectations as I was eager to meet my brothers and sisters. After spending two weeks with them, it was clear that I could call these new found friends my new found family. There is an affectionate love that permeates at STT Amanat Agung. I felt extremely welcomed and it did not take long to start building strong relationships. There are many moments I can remember that were filled with dancing, laughter, singing, and lots of food. The students of this seminary do well in loving newcomers. The more I was able to get to know the students, the more I saw this very real and deep desire to serve the God whom they loved so deeply. Many of them spoke of the ministry they desire to be a part of after they graduate and it was so clear that they long to share the Good News with those around them. 

I believe this passion and desire to serve God is what fuels them in their studies. I was impressed by their continual discipline. Each day they wake up at 5:00 for dormitory devotions. Then they share in a short breakfast and are soon off to class. Each evening is filled with mandatory library time where they commit to their studies. Then their final year requires them to write and defend a thesis, keep in mind they are doing this at the undergraduate level. I was told that this high level of functioning is meant to prepare them for ministry within the Asian context. As a pastor, they are the one that everyone looks to for guidance. If the church does not have a worship director, then that is the pastor’s role. If they do not have anyone leading the youth programs, then the pastor is responsible for this. It seems that being a pastor means being responsible for every area of the church. My initial reaction to all of this was wondering if healthy boundaries even existed here, but who am I to comment on another culture and context? The more I learned of all the responsibilities of the students and the things they would endure as ministry leaders, the more my respect and awe of them grew as well. 

Another aspect of Indonesian culture that I was in awe of was the immense hospitality that seems to be so ingrained into each individual. We joked throughout the trip that there was never a time when we were hungry because students and faculty were always offering us food. On top of that, the students were incredible at tending to my needs before I even knew I had those needs. We would be eating our meal and just as I would be getting up to grab myself a drink, someone would be pushing me back in my seat as they handed me a glass of water. They were also hospitable with their time and company. Some of the students did not speak English very well, but that did not stop them from spending time with us and taking the time to get to know us. It is incredible how much you can communicate with a handful of words. 

Overall, this trip was an immense blessing that I would highly recommend to any CTS student. First and foremost, it acts as an opportunity to meet other members of the body of Christ. The relationships built are reason enough to go on the trip. Also, it is a chance to see what the church is doing in another context. God is at work in Indonesia and he is using his church in both similar but also different ways as he is here in North America. One cannot appreciate the diversity of the body unless you go and experience it yourself. I am thankful to have had this opportunity and it is with great hope that I long to see my Indonesian brothers and sisters someday again. 

Debbie Jin

I would like to focus on my strong recommendation for CTS to bring more students to the future Indonesia J-term program. There are four reasons.

First, CTS focuses on Western theology for a Western ministry context and STTAA focuses on Asian theology for an Asian ministry context. CTS’s teaching and STTAA’s teaching can complement each other. The potential crisis of only staying in CRC and CTS too long will limit our horizon. How can we talk about the global ministry without putting ourselves in a different context and experiencing what it looks like and what it means? This travel course is helpful for CTS students to feel with their bones and skin that there is a different theology developed for different contexts and needs. It feels more real than a piece of information. It is more specific than a vague idea of global evangelism. Furthermore, this travel course helped me to see what the needs and challenges in different contexts are.

For example, from conversations with professors at STTAA, I learned that the struggle for Christianity in Indonesia is not about whether God exists. Indonesia has many supernatural things going on and faith is more about experiencing than intellectual reasoning. In general, Indonesians all believe there are gods. Christians’ struggle is how to show people that Jesus is the better God among all different gods. Therefore, opposite to the West, Christian apologetics is making things more complicated and not helpful for churches in Indonesia. This trip also reminded me who I am. I am Asian, but I am learning Western theology in CTS. I don’t have a problem with learning Western theology in CTS. I am grateful. My point is this trip helped me to have a bigger picture of theology and understanding that I might need to learn about Asian theology as well in the future.

Second, we learned a lot from STTAA professors, leadership, and students. One thing is the hospitality I received in STTAA is a whole different level compared to CTS. Here, I am talking about Western hospitality and Eastern hospitality. Through communal life, we learn a different picture and possibility of community. On this trip, we grew our sense of sharing, taking care of others’ needs more intentionally, and community. We also learned to love by receiving love. Furthermore, we learned that on another side of the world, there is a group of dedicated and diligent students who love God deeply and are eager to serve. These brothers and sisters are just like us. I witnessed their confidence, leadership, profession, and dedication. There are many things I admire and respect. It made me humble. The friendship with them feels like a big and beautiful reunion. It was incredible to connect the body of Christ through this J-term course. It was also a beautiful moment to ache for our brokenness together. We became one in Christ when we carried each other’s burden.

Third, the Indonesia J-Term course is such a unique course. It is different from the academic and informative Greece and Turkey trip, and the social justice in Mexico trip. In this course, we lived at the STTAA student dormitory. We live together, clean together, do 5 am morning devotions together, eat three meals together, go to chapels, and take classes together. The uniqueness of this course is we are taking time and building relationships with people who live in different contexts today. There is beauty in taking time to know someone. It is something we can never learn from a textbook or research paper about Indonesia. The power of being in the context and living with them helps me to understand who they are, what kind of life they live, and what they care about. It connects our hearts.

Additionally, one thing is unique and what I value the most is the value of this country — unity in diversity. If my cross-cultural internship at Al Amana Center in Oman is the first thing I strongly recommend, then the Indonesian J-term travel course is the second thing I strongly recommend. I believe Christians should not live in a Christian bubble only. Christians need to embrace different people and religions and have the capacity to communicate with them. Listening should be an essential and fundamental quality! I believe the J-term course is a more powerful trip than my Oman Internship because it would not be one student’s formation, but a group of students’ formation. The more we learn to wear different lenses to see the world, the more we are capable of appreciating the differences.

Lastly, I want to talk about what CTS students and Dr. Thianto brought to STTAA. STTAA students are good at English, but they don’t believe they are good at English. Nevertheless, as time goes by, even shy students are coming up to us and starting to carry on a conversation. If more CTS students can go to STTAA, I believe they will have more confidence in their English because talking to English speakers is not an uncommon thing for them anymore. This confidence will also build them up for their future ministry. I can’t verbalize how much it would mean to them to have this confidence.

Therefore, if there is a small way that CTS can contribute to the reunion of the body of Christ with Indonesia and Indonesian ministers, sending more students to Indonesia’s J-Term course should not stop in the future. We only see the world that God created when we step out of our comfort zone and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two weeks might seem short, but it is enough to extend CTS’ student’s horizons in many areas. For the sake of CTS students, STTAA students, reunion of the body of Christ, please send more students to Indonesia to make this learning and contribution accessible.



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