• Indonesia is an archipelago of 17,000 islands located between the Indian and Pacific oceans.
• The Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) Church of Indonesia joined the Lutheran World Federation in 1952 and currently has 3 million members.
• The HKBP and ELCA provide for new churches in the ELCA's Batak Special Interest Conference of North America, with funding from the Division for Outreach, synods and the congregations.
Forty years ago, Indonesians found a home at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in Gramercy, Manhattan. In 1999 they organized the HKBP of New York at Gustavus Adolphus. HKBP New York hasn't had a pastor for two years, and visa problems have stalled bringing one from Indonesia. Half of the parishioners are new immigrants, says Welly Napitupulu, a lay leader. "The younger immigrants are not all of HKBP background, but they follow their friends to church," he says.
Indonesians also are building a church in
Norco, Calif. About 100 Indonesians are members of Batak Lutheran, a
new ELCA congregation that worships at Bethany Lutheran. Norco is
growing fast. Since many Indonesians live in the area, Batak expects to
"The Batak people are strong in their faith, and church membership is an important part of their sociological identity," says Maulinus Siregar, Batak's pastor. "The next step for us is to serve the second generation of Indonesians in this country ... the young people speak both languages. The teenagers bring their friends — many are from other denominations. Some are Muslim. Our congregation is inclusive and welcoming, as is the HKBP church in Indonesia. And we have a good story to tell."
“Wherever Indonesian Christians find themselves, even as few as three, four or five, they gather and build a church," says Maulinus Siregar, pastor of Batak Lutheran Church, Norco, Calif. That's happening not only in Norco but in cities such as Seattle and New York.
Many Indonesian Lutherans came to the United States looking for religious freedom and a better life after encountering persecution against Christians in their country, says Yutaka Kishino, the mission director for ELCA Region 2, which covers synods in the Southwest. These Lutherans from the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) Church of Indonesia immigrated from a country that is 88 percent Muslim, where they faced pressure to convert to Islam and a lack of career opportunities.
But life in the United States also is hard for new Indonesian immigrants. They are lonely and exhausted and often feel isolated, says Sonny Ritonga, a Sintua or lay leader for the HKPB in Seattle. Most people have left families behind, either parents or children, and immigration is restricted. "They work all the time," he says. "They don't know how to find a church — so on Sunday they work another job. They have no fellowship, no choir to sing with, nowhere to go on Sunday, so they just work."
That's why in congregations related to the ELCA and the HKBP (see page 42), Indonesian Lutherans are reaching out with the gospel and the comfort of Christian community.
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