The Realities Of Youth Challenges For An Ecumenical Unity In Indonesia

Some Facts on Indonesia

Indonesia is a very plural country; with 208 million people lived from East to West with over 13,000 islands, and more than 600 ethnic groups.Indonesia, according to Wallace Line division, is divided into two parts: West Indonesia Pattern and East Indonesia Pattern. The variety of ethnic groups is more diverse in East Indonesia with 547 ethnic groups while West Indonesia only has 109 groups. However out of the 9 major ethnic groups based on their numbers in Indonesia, only one belongs to east and 8 are in the west line.

The biggest religious group in Indonesia is Islam. Indonesian official statistic of 2005 shows that the there are 12,964,795 Christians (6,20%) out of a total 208,819,860. In the West part of Indonesia, Islam is the majority with some exceptions in North Tapanuli, Nias, some regions in East and Central Java, and Kalimantan. While in Eastern part of Indonesia Christians are the majority in North Sulawesi, Tana Toraja, Central Molluca, and northern West Papua, while Catholics are mostly the majority in Flores, Timor, South East Molluca and southern part of West Papua…. (read more)

The Indonesian economy continues to struggle to find her way out of the economic crisis that has been strangling since 1997. The high cost education in Indonesia has made the gaps between the rich and the poor widely opened. High number of unemployment and low capital income has contributed the difficult situation that Indonesia has to face with. On political situation, Indonesia has celebrated the first direct presidential election in 2004 starting to enjoy the spirit of democracy even we still need to work hard on it.

In sum, Indonesia is a very diverse country on many aspects. We will see how this diversity also influences the ecumenical movement in Indonesia in the later part of this paper.

Some Facts on Ecumenical Movement in Indonesia

The differences that we have seen are very complex. To make it more convoluted, add those differences with different mission groups that came during and after colonial period, where different political agendas were also mingled. In a way, Christianity in Indonesia can’t be look from one point of view. This should be a tough work for the idea of the unity of Christ’s body. That is why ecumenical project is often neglected if not forgotten.

However, Indonesian churches felt a need for a unity of the church. This is where the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (CCI or formerly known as Council of Churches in Indonesia; Ind: DGI) came to existence. CCI until now is still traditionally the recognized national council of churches. Since it was first established in 1950, CCI now has 82 church councils as its member and claimed to represent 80% of the protestant congregations in Indonesia. One of its main responsibilities and tasks is to play an important role in national issues and is trusted by the government to be the representation of Christian in Indonesia.

To have an ecumenical relation is a difficult task for Indonesian ecumenical movement. Although Indonesia has its own national council of churches, but the numbers of churches are increasing steadily (from 36 members in 1964 to 82 in 2007). This could be interpreted as a good sign of unity within churches or a break up among churches since most of the later established churches are coming from the division of the older church.

One of the most significant documents that the churches confessed is the Document of Church’s Unity. This document emphasizes the importance of unity in action. Unity will grow and develop in our common action on our common problems. The theological and ecclesiological principle of this unity in action is the church for others. This opens a new chance for a new form of ecumenical movement. We will see how youth ecumenical movement in Indonesia captures this spirit in their action.

CCI also has a unit that is specialized in youth. This youth desk is working to encourage more ecumenical cooperation in youth sector. This unit is also working together with other ecumenical movement in national level such as YMCA, PMKRI, GAMKI, and YWCA as well as international level as this CCA Youth Desk.

Strength and Challenges for Indonesian Ecumenical Youth Movement

Indonesian youth has been well known for their spirit of liberation, breaker of oppressing rulers, and reformer. It is the youth who started 1966 revolution and 1998 reformation. It is also the youth who keep shouting their voice when injustices occurred. Basically youth are the frontline of Indonesian reformation.

Today’s challenges for Indonesian youth as it is seen in Asia Pacific Students and Youth Gathering 2004, are “violence and human security, “terrorism’ issue is used as an excuse for government’s militarization; terrorism is not brought by religious differences, poverty is still prevalent; there is a weak educational system as the government is not paying attention on it; very few provinces have strong educational system; interfaith dialogues are affected by terrorist attack”. One of the key factors in relations among Indonesian youth is interfaith dialogue. For Christians in Indonesia, there is a necessity of having interfaith dialogues and we need to redefine what mission means in the context of plurality. This would make us learn to have new approaches on missio dei. These are the main challenges in Indonesian context that were reported in 2004, and still exist until now. Interestingly, most Asian countries are facing the same problem which we already try to deal with 50 years ago when CCA was first established.

As what the document on church unity states, these problems should be the main concern of youth today so that they can be united in action. Youth movement in Indonesia could be the reformer on the social problems such as corruption, poverty, ecology, HIV, cheap labor, child labor, consumerism, hedonism, etc. One of the chances that Indonesian youth have is that they seem to have more freedom to cooperate with other youth in solving these problems. There are examples of how Batak and Manado youth are working together, inter-denominationally, to answer current problems in society such as avian flu, AIDS, and flood. There are examples how Javanese youth work together to help earthquake victims, and how Indonesian and the whole world working hand in hand to help tsunami victims in Aceh. These are the power of Indonesian youth.

However ecumenical cooperation among youth is more limited in actions and human resources compared to a general cooperation among youth. Christian students and youth movement that were the frontline of this ecumenical movement have somehow fading now. Organizations such as GMKI (Indonesian Christian Student Movement), GAMKI (Indonesian Christian Young Generation Movement, Ecumenical Youth Movement in regional CCI, YMCA Indonesia, YWCA Indonesia, and many others are getting less and less involved than they were back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. there are new organizations such as If this continue, it would difficult to find a future youth leader that has ecumenical spirit.

After looking at the facts and talking to my ‘ecumenical activist’ friends, I can see three main challenges that Indonesian youth have to face in ecumenical movement.First, it is a lack of regeneration and education in the youth sector. Most of the cultures in different ethnic groups in Indonesia give a very huge space for the respect of elders. This cannot be automatically translated as ‘there’s no place for youth’, but in most cases chances are always given to the seniors. This is not only happening in Indonesia, but also in most areas in Asia. Youth are often considered incapable of doing things because of their age.

CCI has realized that the education of future ecumenical generation is important and therefore they have made it as a priority in their General Assembly in 2000. They also order the department of education and training in CCI to create an ecumenical catechism curriculum that will educate future ecumenical generation. If we want to trace this back to the earlier stage of CCI, then we can also see that back in the 1960s, there was already an awareness of the importance of regeneration in ecumenical generation. Recently, the central board of CCI has formed a new national ecumenical education that would also touch the youth sector. Basically we realized that regeneration holds an important step in ecumenical movement. Nevertheless, if this issue has already seen as an important thing within ecumenical movement, why does Indonesian youth still has problem with it?

This question leads us to the second challenge which is lack of knowledge on what is ecumenical relations are all about. There is no sufficient understanding of what ecumenical movement is really about. This is caused by several things, namely the cultural differences, the never-ending debates on institutions instead of essence, the effect of globalization, modernization, and hedonism, etc. Churches are also divided and thus drag down the youth as well. While more of these conflicts are on power and politic of the church, the real essence of ecumenism is left behind. The division is becoming more obvious.

I would like to quote what Stanley Wesley Arirajah said in his paper about the real essence of ecumenism. He said, “Ecumenism, however, is about life; life in which the truth, integrity, and reality of the Gospel as that which heals, restores, reconciles, unites and gives life is lived out and witnessed to.” This is the emphasis of what ecumenism is all about. It is not just about some theological discussion rather it is already the movement of people that are gathered by the Spirit to be one people of God. Further, Arirajah went on by saying, “Ecumenism is about life in all its fullness; it is about the way we deal with our differences; the way we relate to one another and to the world; about solidarity and willingness to bear one another’s burden.” Again, the key words of solidarity and willingness to feel what other’s feel are united under unity in action. Ecumenism is about life, and living the life with the Spirit as one body in one house of Christ.

There are youth that realize the importance of being one in action. However, as youth are often still in the early stage of their economy independence from their elders, we can see that in terms of financial help they are by and large still dependent. Programs, ideas, and projects are often neglected by people in charge by the reason ‘insufficient funds’. This is the third challenge that creative and innovative youth ecumenical movement has to face, that is the lack of independence in terms of financial support.

We need to build the spirit of entrepreneurship among youth, so that we can be self supporting. Instead of just asking for financial support, we should do something creatively that can make us self supporting. By being able to support our own activities, we will be able to go forward not just in our ecumenical movement, but also in other activities.

Youth Should Move Forward

There are other challenges that youth have in terms of making ecumenical movement possible in Indonesia. However, those are the three things that I consider as the leverage of the obstacles that Indonesian youth have. From what I shared with friends that are actively involve in ecumenical movement in Indonesia, we are hoping to further the ecumenical youth work in our local level by start building awareness of ecumenical movement itself. This would be very important for the church as a whole.

I see the chance of improving ecumenical work and ideas by the presence of national ecumenical body in Indonesia. This is the realization of the dreams and hopes of churches in Indonesia. This should be followed by movements in congregation level, by making projects together and share experiences. The first step to take is, again, to build an awareness of the ecumenical idea and project itself among congregations, especially youth. As I said, there is now a gap between today’s leaders with the next generation. This is because the lack of the regeneration process in Indonesia. Therefore, to prepare ecumenical youth leaders as the future leaders of the church and society as a whole is very important.

Youth can also start ecumenical movement on the basis of friendship. For me, the concept of being together as friends is more important than just gather and discuss an important topic. The sharing of ideas and works, and getting to know each other, could overcome possible future conflicts when these young people become the future leaders.

Some Closing Remarks: New Ways for Youth

David Devadas wrote a beautiful expression and report from the Ecumenical Global Gathering of Youth and Student in Brazil, July 1993. He says,

“The ecumenical mission of the twenty-first century will perhaps therefore be a quiet one. It will listen with concern, watch with caution and speak with a voice laden with guilt. It will seek answers rather than point the road. More and more young people are becoming conscious of the need to minister themselves, to find the strength and the grace to change their life-styles, to limit themselves, to watch and hear and love….their mood is introspective. Many of them are looking at themselves, searching for ways to live, act, connect, love and be loved that would make for a more wholesome world. The new heaven and new earth must come from within…”

This is the new way of ecumenism movement for youth today. We may feel that we are not as strong and as outspoken as the ‘sixties generation’. This is not because we don’t care about our surrounding, but because we are more concern about changing ourselves. Gandhi says, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” These very profound words are exactly what youth all around the world are doing today. I would like to recall our theme for this occasion, “Be Humble, Be Gentle In Love, Be United For Peace” and ask us to reflect on this. Humility should be the backbone of our Christian life and work. When we are thinking about how we can overcome injustices, we don’t think about our own power and effort of activism or aid, but more through changing one self.

I remember what Dr. Nababan used to say in various youth meetings, that is “be excellent in wherever you are!” My interpretation is instead of finding an escape goat for the situation in this world, we should equip ourselves and be excellent, and people will trust us despite our age. Similar to this, let me also put what Paul said to Timothy as my closing remark, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Tim. 4:12)

Article, Youth Movement Comments 2 Jun 22nd, 2007

2 Responses to “The Realities Of Youth Challenges For An Ecumenical Unity In Indonesia”

  1. Bambang Rahardjo Pakpahan Says:
    August 1st, 2007 at 6:57 pm jadi orang batak jangan terlalu melankolik , kecuali mau jadi orang jawa atau orang setengah jawa setengah batak.jadi orang batak itu harus GAGAH – KERAS- JANTAN -TIDAK CENGENG dsb dsb ok . eh No Hp nya berapa kirim ke aku yah . No Hp ku 0813 86 585 240
  2. binsar Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 9:39 am <p>siap bos ampara, tapi itu kan jadi stereotype juga tentang orang Batak, sama seperti kerjanya pengacara, hakim, jaksa, tukang copet, dan tambal ban hahaha :D:D, dan itu akhirnya jadi generalisasi tentang kita! :D. Padahal kultur Batak yang sesungguhnya ada sopan, lemah lembut, peka terhadap keadaan, dan penyayang. Globalisasi dan perubahan dunia (terutama buat mereka yang merantau) banyak mengubah mereka menjadi keras di perantauan in order for their survival dan blablabla… masih panjang lagi deh hehehe. Nanti aku kasi deh no hpnya, cuma pake nomor blanda yaa</p>

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