Nias Island: Onward and Upward!
Written by Heidi & Rolland Baker
SUMATRA, FRIDAY, 15 APRIL 2005
Our Merpati Airlines Fokker F-27 is old. The interior is faded and stained. The seats are frayed, and tiny. My briefcase won’t fit under the seat. But at least I am on the plane, along with Steve Lazar, director of our children’s center at Maputo, and Mel Tari, my evangelist friend of almost thirty years and best man at Heidi’s and my wedding. We are headed for Nias Island off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, departing from Medan. But Nias is an earthquake disaster zone, and all flights there are booked up for months. Nobody can get to the island in a hurry without special intervention. And that’s just what we got…
Our aging but faithful turboprop airliner is leveling out at only ten thousand feet, allowing a detailed view of the thick Sumatran jungle below. We are near the equator, and all is continually hot and steamy in this part of the world. As I study with wonder the wild, remote, exotic scenery before me, I consider all that God has done to bring the three of us to this point in God’s even more wondrous unfolding of His purposes in this world.
Twenty-five years ago Heidi and I eagerly took off from Los Angeles International Airport for Indonesia with one-way tickets and thirty dollars in our pockets. We had no support but Jesus, no plan but His voice, and no desire but to forsake all and follow Him. Encouraged by the fiery revival in Timor described by Mel in his famous book, “Like a Mighty Wind,” we have pursued the powerful presence of God ever since.
We landed in Bali in the summer of 1980, and over the next few years brought evangelistic dance-drama teams back to Indonesia and all over Asia. Gradually we learned to slow down and concentrate on the poor. Intent on maintaining Hindu culture in Bali for tourism, Indonesia revoked our missionary visas. We relocated to Hong Kong, very confused and grieved. But we pressed on in the poor back alleys of the glittering big city, and made numerous ministry trips to China. Bringing good news to “the least of these” became our focus. We took on more and more of the “DNA” of my grandparents, who saw such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit after taking in wretched beggar children in Kunming, China, where I was born.
The story of our transition to London, England, and then to Africa is told in our book, “There is Always Enough.” For years the Moslem world did not concern us much, as we were looking for more fruit than we thought we could expect there. Through the disastrous floods of 2000 and 2001, revival came to Mozambique. We pressed on, province after province, as desperate villagers in this poorest nation on earth cried out for God. Finally we came to Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s northernmost province, almost totally Moslem. But in the last two years we have found that when Moslems see that Jesus is real, and that He responds to us with power, beauty and glory when we want Him, they melt in His love. The Gospel is spreading rapidly through “unreachable” Cabo Delgado, and now we as Iris Ministries are being led further up through North Africa as the Holy Spirit prepares the way.
BACK TO INDONESIA
But what of Indonesia, the largest Moslem country in the world, which has seen such revival in some areas, and also severe conflict and persecution of Christians? What of our experience there? Nothing is wasted or accidental in our lives as we are formed into His likeness. On December 26, 2004, our attention was suddenly and forcibly drawn back to Asia, and to Indonesia in particular. On a flight to Zanzibar in our Cessna, we heard the news of a terrible tsunami that brought unspeakable devastation and grief to the eastern rim of the Indian Ocean.
Shara Pradhan, of Indian descent, was with Heidi and me, and our first response was to send a team immediately to Chennai, India, where some 55,000 people died in the disaster. Many in our Iris family of friends and supporters have been fervently supporting our ministry and relief work there, and we are so encouraged by the power of the Holy Spirit we have seen as a result.
The 9.2 earthquake that caused the tsunami set up a wave traveling at 500 mph that landed sixty-five miles from the epicenter at the beautiful ocean-front town of Banda Aceh on the northern tip of the huge island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Now, months later, we are finding out that probably 300,000 people died along the Aceh coast in a matter of ten minutes when the energy of the wave hit the land.
There are many Moslems throughout most of Indonesia, but Aceh Province where the tsunami hit has been known as the most extreme, militant Moslem area of the country. Foreigners were forbidden, and an insurgency had developed against the national government demanding more independence and Islamic law. Concessions were granted on Dec. 24, and two days later disaster struck. In extreme desperation, Aceh opened up to massive aid from around the world.
Money, personnel and relief goods poured in. Sympathy skyrocketed. Aid management quickly became a massive challenge. Corruption set in. And Christians were were almost universally advised to keep a low profile and not take advantage of the situation to advance their faith. Heidi and I wanted Iris to be involved with tsunami relief in Aceh, but with so much aid arriving from secular agencies, we felt our main contribution had to spiritual. Still, Christian influence from outsiders was not generally welcome, even by other evangelical workers on the scene.
Many Christians did, of course, come to help in any way they could, and Indonesian believers arrived to comfort and pray with the small Banda Aceh church community that survived. I was delayed by my travel schedule for months. But God has His own plan to raise up fiery preachers of the Gospel who will carry His glory with wisdom and power throughout Indonesia, even into the most tragic and resistant of situations.
Two weeks ago a 7.1 aftershock of the tsunami earthquake hit the nearby island of Nias, where I am flying now. Most major buildings were destroyed (see photos). Water and power lines were broken. Roads to villages were blocked by cracks and landslides. Businesses were shut down, and many owners fled the island. Food supplies were cut off. The island’s infrastructure was crippled, and its 650,000 people were desperate.
Again international aid is pouring in. We land at the airport on this hilly, lush tropical island of palm trees and rich, green foliage and see a familiar sight: cargo planes and helicopters coming and going, aid agency tents set up everywhere, military guards on duty, television crews carrying equipment, boxes of relief goods stacked high. Most volunteers have to find a cot somewhere in the heat and humidity to sleep, but through connections God gave us, we not only got seats on a plane to Nias, but we find ourselves guests at the governor’s house in the main town near the airport.
Driving through town, I begin taking pictures. Street vendors continue to sell what they have right in the rubble and devastation. Children play on piles of collapsed concrete. The few bulldozers on the island begin the massive job of clearing wreckage. We meet the governor, a wonderful Christian man beloved by his people, and he tells of his day-and-night struggle to bring comfort and order to the island. He is sick from breathing dust and fumes, working around dead bodies, and from sheer fatigue. We pray intensely for him.
LIFE INSTEAD OF DEATH
The island is ninety-five percent Christian, with over 1,300 church buildings, and we learn that 1,100 of them are completely ruined. The pastors are so discouraged. Few have come to visit and respond spiritually. We suggest a meeting that night of the leading pastors, and it is arranged gladly. Twenty members of the island’s pastoral intercessory prayer group gather in the governor’s living room under the leadership of Pdt. Fatieli Laoli, and Mel, Steve and I begin to minister as the Holy Spirit moves us.
The disasters of life in this world either embitter us against God, leave us numb with no understanding, or they impress on us just how utterly we need our God — vastly more than we ever felt or realized before. Grief, loneliness and the frailty of life should carry us immediately to the foot of the Cross with an overwhelming desire to seek the face of our Savior until we find in Him what only He can provide. Will the Christians of this island and their leaders, as a result of this cataclysmic event, pursue and carry on with the revival that visited other parts of Indonesia so graciously years ago? Will we rebuild simply and concentrate more on the heart and the Holy Spirit? The Nias church was comfortable, self-contained and in a rut. Can we now hear God’s call to come higher, to pursue Him with a passion, to come alive with intensity, and be His instruments for righteousness in this nation? Can this disaster turn the many Christians of Nias into a spiritual resource for all of Indonesia?
The pastors cry yes! and they pour their hearts out in prayer. Yes, they want revival; they want miracles and visitation from God Himself out of the worst Satan can do. They don’t want all this pain and suffering to be wasted. They hear and understand. They will exercise all the faith they have, and strengthen themselves in the Lord. They will take up the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24) in Aceh, the other islands of Indonesia, and beyond.
We suggest that churches in America and around the world connect with Nias churches one-on-one to help rebuild them. We would like to start a children’s home on Nias, and then a Bible school after the pattern we established in Africa, all with the intent of fueling revival and transformation. We would like to invite pastors and short-term missions teams to Nias. We ask the Holy Spirit to control us, so that we can participate in God’s nature and help fulfill His purposes in this part of the world.
Pastor Laoli’s son Berkat fervently tells us of his call to minister to orphans, and offers his own house if we will help with expenses. We gladly agree. As a start Berkat will gather thirty children by the end of the week who have fled into the mountains. We will establish Iris Indonesia, set up bank accounts and email, register with the government, and put together an Indonesia board of directors, beginning with the governor, Agus Mendrofa!
Back in Medan we follow through, and in a few days are ready to begin. Mel’s sister Ice (pronounced ee-chay) Tari, with twenty-five years of ministry experience in north Sumatra, will help lead Iris in Indonesia, along with her friend Lina Gultom, also with a huge heart from Jesus for the poor and suffering. One of the first pastors we are enlisting is a man from Banda Aceh who was in Medan when the tsunami hit, but he lost his wife and all his children. Grief-stricken but unbroken, he has returned to Aceh to minister to his own people. May Jesus Himself be his lover, comfort and joy. Such men will be towers of power and glory in the days to come when a tsunami of the Holy Spirit overwhelms this huge nation. The living God in all his tender mercy and magnificent grandeur knows how to respond to dark despair, and to hearts that cry out to Him alone. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He will find His lost sheep.
MOZAMBIQUE, SATURDAY, 23 APRIL 2005
Back in Africa I am about to fly to Congo in my Cessna for conferences in Goma and Bukavu as we set up Iris Congo there. Heidi is in Brazil. We will both be in Malawi and Mozambique in May at a series of bush conferences. Then in June our missions school begins in Pemba, northern Mozambique, and we will be sending teams out across a whole province. Iris Sudan is getting established step-by-step under very challenging circumstances, and we are planning outreaches in the Darfur region.
We are extended far beyond any normal, natural capability, but daily we are moved by the beauty of how Jesus works through His Body throughout the world to take care of us and all those He has put under our wings. Our lives in Jesus are miraculous in every detail. We cannot sustain ourselves, but in Him we will not run from disaster. We will be carriers of His glory, always moving forward in faith and not shrinking back. We love and bless you for participating with us in so many ways. May righteousness, peace and joy overtake us together as we enjoy His Presence now and forever!
Much, much love and appreciation in Jesus,
Rolland and Heidi