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Indonesia Trip Report

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I have to admit that my motive for White Horse Inn trips is partly selfish. I've learned that I always receive more than I give of actual learning, challenge, example, and encouragement. Even though Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, there seems to be respect for the minority Christian population. The republic's constitution, drafted in 1945 after a very tumultuous era, recognizes "one God" as the religious foundation. It's an interesting experiment: neither completely secular nor sectarian. Perhaps more like the U.S. in 1945, but this civil religion is an essential—and practically implemented—part of Indonesian political life.

Christians communicate God's Word freely, although there are occasional outbreaks of anti-Christian violence. Tragically, Reformed churches were so closely tied to the Dutch colonial government that they lost much of their authority with the struggle for independence. Today there seem to be few solid Reformed churches left in the islands; the ones that have not caved in to liberalism have embraced the charismatic movement.

Yet for some time there has been a faithful ministry of the Word in various churches of the Reformation and they are still thriving. A key figure behind the "new Reformation" movement in the region is Dr. Stephen Tong. Born and raised in China, he was a remarkably bright and committed Marxist and the son of a wealthy businessman. His father disinherited him when he came to faith in Christ.

I first became familiar with Dr. Tong long ago through James Montgomery Boice. I expected to find a very old father in the faith enjoying a peaceful retirement. Instead, I found an evangelist who is, if anything, busier today than he was years ago. At 73, his set weekly schedule includes preaching two services on Sunday morning in Jakarta at Messiah Cathedral, two Sunday evening services in Singapore, a Monday service in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), a Tuesday evening service in Hong Kong, and a Wednesday evening service in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition, he holds one or two evangelistic meetings in locations throughout Asia, often attended by 10,000 or more people, including many Muslims. The church trains pastors and missionaries (the two are virtually synonymous) at its seminary.

Dr. Tong also designed and oversaw the building of the Reformed Millennium Center, a fixture of the Jakarta cityscape. This massive structure houses one of the best collections of Chinese art in Southeast Asia as well as the largest concert hall in the region. In his spare time, Dr. Tong composes and conducts the Jakarta Symphony and Oratorio Society in the hall, where Jahja Ling presided until becoming the director/conductor of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.

The impact of this group of churches has a far reach. The group also started a publishing company, TV and radio station, and network of schools—including a major university. A few years ago, in a London cab, the driver told me that he had become a Christian under the ministry of Dr. Tong.

It was a pleasure to join the many Reformed pastors and teachers who have learned more than they taught during a brief experience of this church's hospitality, along with my friend and seminary colleague, Julius Kim. There are many there—especially younger folks—who are regular listeners of White Horse Inn and readers of Modern Reformation. In addition, the group's publishing company has translated several of my books into the Indonesian language.

I was there just long enough to realize my trip's brevity. After leading a seminar in Singapore, I preached at the English service at Messiah Cathedral. Then I taught a weeklong course on Reformed theology and piety.

A highlight for me was when a young Chinese man from New York City, now speaking with Dr. Tong at these large evangelistic meetings, brought into one of his talks an emphasis on Christ's active obedience that he had learned in the course I taught. With honest tears, he added, "Jesus Christ was forsaken by God so that you need not ever be again." I learned later that soon after his conversion he had been introduced to White Horse Inn by a NYC pastor (now teaching at the Jakarta seminary). White Horse Inn was his "pre-seminary education."

The work that the Lord is doing not only in Jakarta and Singapore but also throughout the region revolves around one man: Jesus Christ. Assisted by a host of fellow pastors, Dr. Tong has led a reformation in that entire region that now has its own next generation of leaders who will carry on the mission.

Tagged in: Indonesia Singapore

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  • Guest - Alex Garleb

    Great news! Thanks for this report, Mike!

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  • Asia is ripe for the Gospel. I suspect that we may end up seeing the working of the Lord there on a scale that hasn't been seen since the Reformation. Most of the world's Christians today are not of European descent. The underground church in China is thriving, and within the next couple of decades we may actually see a collapse of the Community Party.

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  • Our church has two of our members living in Jakarta, and others around the area. I'll be there this November as well. Thanks for the report.

    I concealed my full name for the security of the members living there.

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  • Guest - Ellen Jervis

    In 1984 I made my first and only overseas short time mission trip to serve at the International Youth for Christ headquarters which was then located in Singapore. I lived there for thirty day all on my own. I'll never forget it and nearly thirty years later I am still processing the experience. I want to help Dr. Tong's ministry where do I send financial support.

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  • How great is our God - Thanks for sharing Pastor Mike...

    Still in the learning curve process of get into Reformed Theology

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  • Guest - John Yuhan

    Mike, I am always encouraged by your work! Please keep up the great work!

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  • Guest - Edwin Wong

    Dear Mike,
    So glad to hear how the Lord linked you up with like-minded servants of God in this part of Southeast Asia for the faithful proclamation of the gospel and strategic training of leaders.

    Hopefully, we who are serving and worshipping in the Presbyterian Church in Singapore will also have the honor of hosting you and your co-workers the near future.

    Do pray for us too as our churches grapple with various theological issues and ministry practices. More often than not, we tend to be more all-embracing doctrinally and would rather sweep issues under the carpet for the sake of preserving "unity".

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