by Elice Higginbotham
Let me begin by thanking those of you who so often ask me “How’s Max?” and who let me know that you are holding him in prayer. And for those of you who have wondered “Where’s Max?” let me take this opportunity to offer a long-overdue update.
My husband, Max Surjadinata, is in the middle of a six-month term as a Global Ministries Volunteer, serving on behalf of our United Church of Christ in Indonesia (the country of his birth). He is teaching for a semester in a remote rural seminary in the small town of Lewa on the island of Sumba, where our mission partner is the Gereja Kristin Sumba (GKS) or Christian Church of Sumba. Max teaches a course in liturgy and church music, as well as conversational English, and consults with students – he’s presently up to his ears, he says, in reading the final theses of students about to graduate, as well as reading and grading the papers of the students in his own course.
Quick overview: As you may know, Indonesians are mostly Muslims -- Indonesia is, in fact, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country -- but there are substantial, officially-recognized religious minorities, including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucianists. Because it is made up entirely of islands – over 13,000 – many people do not realize that Indonesia is actually one of the world’s largest countries. Its population includes over 300 ethnic groups, speaking over 700 languages, although virtually all speak Bahasa Indonesia, the official language, a variety of Malay.
Sumba, where Max is based, is a largely Christian island, although Christianity exists alongside ancient indigenous religious practices which still influence people’s lives – as is true throughout many parts of Indonesia. On first view, Sumba is a “tropical paradise” – remote, pristine beaches, ancient and beautiful native crafts. It is also economically underdeveloped; most of the population is very poor. Electricity at the seminary is sometimes uncertain; students carry water in buckets to do their laundry by hand; there is only sufficient housing for first-year students – older students commute, many walking several hours per day to get back and forth between class and home; Max’s meals consist heavily of rice, small fish and homegrown spinach.
Through the wonders of technology, Max and I are able to speak almost daily by Skype or Facebook Messenger. I’ve met some of his colleagues, waved to some of his students, and can see that he’s lost weight on the spartan diet. He speaks of the high motivation of his students, who work hard and walk miles to get their education so that they can better serve what are, in most cases, small congregations in poor rural communities. Max’s experience makes me very proud that Encanto has such a record as an excellent giver to the wider ministries of our United Church of Christ. It is dedication and support like yours that is making it possible for him to serve in this remote place and, I’ve come to see, to learn as well as to teach. Thanks!