Elder Joyce Rarumangkay moved to Washington, D.C. from Indonesia in 1989 for her job, bringing her husband, Henry, and 4-year-old daughter, Patricia, with her. She had grown up in the Indonesian Protestant Church, but when looking for a faith home, she and her husband felt drawn to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) because of its similarity with their church at home, especially its stance on gender.
“The fact that the PC(USA) is open to women as pastors was important. We women have to grab that opportunity. Our denomination gives equal opportunity to women to minister,” Rarumangkay said.
She said that when she arrived in the United States, she and her family felt isolated by the language and cultural barriers, had little support and were missing home. That is, until they found a faith community among Indonesian Presbyterians. It was then that Rarumangkay began to connect with friends who spoke the same language and decided to become involved in the Indonesian Presbyterian Church and the community of churches in the Washington metropolitan area under National Capital Presbytery (NCP).
Rarumangkay is part of the National Presbyterian Indonesian Council, the National Asian Presbyterian Council, and the NCP’s Immigrant Ministry Network (IMN), among many other ministry activities. She makes a point to take part in committees on both the local and national level and says people like her — as well as the larger church — can learn from her experience as an immigrant.
“I think it would be really good to encourage members of the immigrant ministry to be part of committees at the presbytery and GA levels so we have a voice,” she said while attending Big Tent in Louisville, Ky., this past summer. “I feel like there are lots of immigrants in our communities that we as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will not be able to capture unless we blend in these new incoming groups.”
As with many other immigrant groups, one of the challenges is with members of the second generation.
“For instance, my daughter is now grown, and in many ways she is more American than Indonesian. She understands English better than Indonesian,” Rarumangkay said. “The youth and young adults have different ways of communicating, including how they talk about church. It’s more relaxed and practical — being practical is not the way my husband or many of the church people who are actively leading the church see it, so understanding each other can be a challenge.”
Leadership is another obstacle for many immigrant groups, Rarumangkay said. It can be difficult to find pastors who speak the language and can adjust to the reality of a church that needs dual approaches in regards both to language and to how modern the style of worship should be. She said this is where Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/PW’s Asian Congregational Support Offices have been incredibly helpful and supportive.
“Mei-Hui [associate for Asian Congregational Support (ACS)] and her office are doing a fantastic job putting together a series of learning programs,” Rarumangkay said. “For Big Tent, many NAPC attendees came to Louisville early and took part in a 10-hour series of workshops and learning sessions.”
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It’s part of a program developed by ACS to provide leadership training for those within Asian congregations. Rarumangkay’s work with the Immigrant Ministry Network within her presbytery seeks to do the same.
The network, which falls under National Capital Presbytery, brings together more than a dozen new immigrant churches or fellowships. They learn from one another and are taught more about the Book of Order and how the General Assembly works. It not only helps them have a seat at the table but creates a more diverse church within their neighborhoods.
“We are moving towards building a multicultural community,” Rarumangkay said. “The local churches are joining forces with the IMN to encourage all churches to be more open in inviting new groups of people. It’s something all Presbyterians should strive to achieve. We won’t be able to bring these people who are hungry for a faith community into our church unless we go to the immigrant communities and really reach out.”