Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of stories about the more than 50 Presbyterian mission workers and international peacemakers who are speaking in more than 150 presbyteries in the coming month as part of World Mission Challenge. — Jerry L. Van Marter
“How many of you are afraid of Muslims?” asked Bernie Adeney-Risakotta, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker who serves in Indonesia
In the adult education class at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, one brave man out of 30 people raised his hand.
Adeney-Risakotta suggested that the fear we might feel at seeing a Muslim in Arab dress is “the very fear that may prevent us from establishing relationships with Muslims and finding common ground between Islam and Christianity.”
The challenge was intended to connect mission co-workers with Presbyterians across the country. From Sept. 25-Oct. 18, 45 co-workers visited 152 presbyteries, sharing their stories and educating listeners on how to get involved.
Together, the Adeney-Risakottas work to promote reconciliation between Christians and Muslims, even going so far as to build their home, Pondok Tali Rasa, in a Muslim neighborhood in Yogyakarta.
Farsijana said that pondok means home, tali means a rope or cord and rasa is an Indonesian concept combining the five senses of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch along with an added sixth sense that embodies thinking. She said the loose translation of their home’s name would be “A place of reflection where all your senses may be woven together.”
Early on, the Adeney-Risakotta’s home lived up to its name during a Muslim celebration. Ramadan is a 30-day religious fast from dawn to dusk during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The fast is broken with a feast.
The leader of the local mosque, Zainal Mustafa, was feeding 100 of the poorest people at the close of every day. Farsijana told Bernie she thought they should make a donation to the mosque, so they decided to deliver a 50-pound bag of rice and a monetary gift. Just as they arrived, Zainal told them he had been thinking of paying them a visit.
“Why did you want to see us?” asked Bernie.
“We have run out of money to feed the poor and we are down to our last bag of rice,” Zainal said.
“What made you think we would help?” asked Farsijana.
“Even though you are Christians, you are good neighbors,” said Zainal. “May I ask what prompted you to visit me?”
“The Holy Spirit,” Farsijana said.
This led to a discussion about the Holy Spirit and what it means to be a good neighbor. It also led to the start of a lasting friendship.
Because of the reputation they have built in their neighborhood, the Adeney-Risakottas have impacted their work place as well.
Their passion for reconciliation led them to pray for six years to have more interactions with Muslims. Their prayers were answered in 2006 when Bernie was named the director of the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies. ICRS sponsors an international, interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in inter-religious studies and is the first of its kind co-sponsored by major Muslim, Christian and national-secular universities.
“The program is designed to integrate Islam, Christian theology and the social scientific study of religions,” Bernie said. “The idea is not to form one religious orthodoxy, but to learn from one another, respect one another and live in peace.”
Marue White is associate for communications for the Presbytery of East Iowa.