Many Tribes, One Gospel

Sarina grew up in a Muslim family on a remote island village of Indonesia. When she met her future husband at the health clinic in Karawang, it was the beginning of a radically changed life.

At first Sarina didn’t realize that the man she was falling in love with was a Christian. But something about him drew her to this kind man.

“I felt it was my destiny that he would be my husband,” she says. “When he asked me to marry him, I accepted and moved with him to Ciranjang.”

In the village of Ciranjang, Sarina and her husband lived among Christians. “They were very humble. I experienced a lot of love and peace,” Sarina remembers. “I began to feel different. When my husband asked me to follow Jesus, I was certain that the Christian faith is the true religion.”

But Sarina’s life was not easy after that. Her parents were not happy that she had left the Muslim faith. “It seemed the more I believed in Jesus, the more difficult my life became.”

Then she became seriously ill. “A pastor came to our house and offered to pray for me,” says Sarina. “I told him sure, I wanted prayer.”

Still, she was amazed that God actually heard those prayers. After the pastor prayed, she says, her illness was gone.

“I realized that I had become a Christian because of my husband. But Jesus wants me to be a Christian because I trust him with my life. I promised in my heart to follow Christ.”

The listener community in the mountain village of Toraja.
Photo by Josh Leo

Growing in Faith

The pastor invited Sarina and her husband to join the listener community in Ciranjang. This discipleship group is one of more than 200 listener communities started by >Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI) in Indonesia.

Seekers and believers meet to listen to and discuss BTGMI radio programs produced by the Indonesian media ministry. Prayer is also an essential element of their time together.

“It’s so exciting to meet together and talk about how to build our faith,” says Sarina. “As I learn the Bible, my faith in Jesus grows stronger.”

She adds, “My husband is learning to lead our children in family worship. We listen to the radio program in the morning and the evening.”

Her parents keep pushing her to return home and become Muslim again, but Sarina says, “I want to follow Jesus.”

Doing More Together

Sarina lives in the Sundanese community located on one of Indonesia’s 6,000 inhabited islands. While most citizens of the vast island nation understand the Indonesian language, the heart language for many is one of 742 tribal dialects. How would you share the good news in a country so vast and diverse?

“Our media ministry is vital for sharing the gospel,” says Rev. Kurt Selles, the recently appointed director of BTGMI.

But what about discipleship for those who are hearing and coming to faith?

In partnership with Christian Reformed World Missions, World Renew, and Timothy Leadership Training Institute, the BTGMI Indonesian ministry began training local leaders to develop listener communities where discipleship can be carried out in people’s tribal language.

BTGMI also partners with Christian Reformed Home Missions and Faith Alive Christian Resources to translate Discover Your Bible discipleship materials and train leaders for Global Coffee Break.

The listener community coordinator in Ciranjang translates BTGMI’s audio program and materials into the Sundanese language. Coordinators in other remote areas translate the Indonesian program into six other local languages: Javanese, Bataknese, Torajanese, Balinese, Dayaknese and Tolakise.

With only 200 trained listener coordinators and 742 tribal languages, the task seems overwhelming.

In 2012, to more effectively reach people in Indonesia’s remote regions, BTGMI entered into partnership with Words of Hope, the media ministry associated with the Reformed Church in America.

Words of Hope’s experience with ministry in tribal languages, combined with BTGMI media outreach and listener community networks in Indonesia, makes it possible to share the gospel with more people.

“There are many tribes, but one gospel,” says Selles, a former missionary to China. “Working with churches throughout Indonesia and ministry partners in North America, BTGMI is proclaiming the life-transforming message of the gospel.”

Our Mission

Rev. Untung Ongkowidjaya, BTGMI ministry leader for media outreach in Indonesia, adds, “Our mission is to spread the gospel from east to west for all cultures [and] different tribes, to help them know about Jesus Christ, our Savior.”

In addition to listener communities and leadership training, the Indonesia ministry team produces six audio programs in the Indonesian language and 10 audio programs in tribal languages that air on 116 radio stations and on several places on the Internet. They also produce three television programs broadcast on three major networks in the 40 largest cities of Indonesia, reaching a potential audience of 42 million people.

Three websites offer audio programs and discipleship resources for children, teens, and adults, attracting an average of 64,000 visitors each month.

“We produce five devotionals, distributing over 70,000 booklets every other month. More than 800 people are part of our Bible study correspondence ministry,” notes Untung. “Media ministry is very powerful to win people for Christ.”

Hearing the Voice of the Lord

Franciscus Suherman is also a member of the Sundanese tribe. He used to hate Christians, he says. “I was raised in a fanatic Muslim family. We practiced the teaching of Islam diligently.”

One day during Ramadan, the Muslim period of prayer and fasting, Suherman received a booklet about Jesus and the Christian faith. “Even though I knew it was Christian, I opened it and began reading. I found these words: ‘For by grace you have been saved, through faith.’ But when I finished the booklet, I tore it up and threw it away.”

That night, coming out of the fast, he became very ill and was unconscious for four hours, he says. During that time he “heard a voice from heaven.” The voice spoke the words he had read: “For by grace you have been saved, through faith.”

Suherman remembers asking, “Whose voice is that?” He heard the voice three times. After the third time, he awoke and was able to open his eyes. He realized then that the voice was speaking the words from the Bible that he had read earlier.

“Even though I was fasting, I realized it could not save me. I had almost died! I prayed and asked Jesus to be my Lord.”

Now Suherman serves as the leader of tribal languages for BTGMI Indonesian ministry. “I believe God called me to share the good news of salvation with others. We have to spread the message of the gospel to the people of Indonesia. Tribal language outreach is so important. People feel more comfortable hearing the message in their own language.”

Marce’s Gift

To strengthen tribal outreach, the listener communities distribute radios made available by partner churches in Indonesia. These radios enable people to hear BTGMI programs translated into the local language.

Marce, who lives in the Toraja region, received one of these radios. “The radio is very useful for me, especially the Christian songs and messages,” she says.

Marce was raised in the tradition of ancestor religion. Although she had come to know Christ, she continued to practice ancestor worship.

“But my life was empty,” she testifies. “When I received the gift of the radio, I began to listen to the programs. Since then I have a new motivation to live closer to God. I like to participate in the listener community gathering and worship with Christians.”

Marce’s husband is not a believer. “Pray for my family,” she asks. “I always invite my children to listen with me. I’m asking God to soften my husband’s heart so he will be open to receive Jesus as his Savior.”

Kadek’s Testimony

Kadek is a member of the BTGMI listener community in Bali. He came to know Christ through the tribal outreach ministry.

“I used to be Hindu,” he says. “My father was a shaman active in the occult. I also had his ability to practice evil.

“A pastor in my community told me about the Word of God. In response, I tried to use my magic on him, but it always failed. I went to Lombok Island to learn a stronger magic, but I could not attack the pastor. I didn’t understand. It had been easy to attack others.

“I finally went to the pastor to learn about his magic. He told me about Jesus Christ. From that moment, when I learned the Word of truth, my magic power was gone. I began to know Jesus personally and I repented of my sins.

“My wife also followed me to the Christian faith. But my family and neighbors expelled me from the community and crossed out my name.

“Later I heard your radio program. My heart began to love this ministry. I went back to my parents and shared the program with them but, because they don’t speak Indonesian, I translated the words into Balinese. The programs really blessed us.

“My family, who previously rejected me, now believes in God because the Holy Spirit spoke to them through your radio programs!

“Many people in the remote areas don’t understand the Indonesian language, so I try to explain the gospel to them in the Balinese language. Praise the Lord! Some of them now understand the truth and have received Jesus as their Savior.”

A Powerful Witness

Udin was a Muslim from Java who moved to the Sundanese area. There he became friends with Christians, and through their witness he gave his life to Christ.

Udin enrolled in a Bible school and later became involved in the BTGMI radio ministry. “I praise the Lord for the opportunity to spread the gospel. Although I face a lot of obstacles, God strengthens me.”

Udin now hosts the Sundanese radio program. “God is using this program to win people for Christ,” he says. “Through it many Sundanese people have opened their hearts to believe in Jesus Christ.”

A Word of Thanks

These are just a few stories of people in Indonesia who heard the gospel, came to faith, and are now sharing the good news with others.

“None of this would be possible without generous support through ministry shares, offerings, and individual gifts,” Selles says. “Thank you for faithful prayers and financial support that make it possible to reach people from many tribes and nations with the one true gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Thank God for the ministry partnerships that enable people throughout the vast island nation of Indonesia to hear the gospel and grow in faith.

  • Pray for Rev. Untung and his family as well as the BTGMI Indonesian ministry teams. Pray for protection, for strength and energy to carry out ministry, and for trained staff and financial resources to meet the spiritual needs of Indonesia’s people.
  • Pray that evangelism and discipleship in Indonesia will not be hindered by political, religious, or language barriers.
  • Pray that as Marce’s husband hears the gospel messages on her radio, his heart will be open to receive Jesus as his Savior. Pray that through BTGMI media ministry, many people will hear the good news of salvation through grace and come to faith in Christ.

About the Author

Nancy Vander Meer is a staff writer with Back to God Ministries International in Grand Rapids, Mich.