by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Romans 10:17-18
I had an opportunity to revisit the two groups I worked with last year. This time my wife, Gaye, agreed to come with me. It was the first time she has been out of the country. The church in La Vista paid my travel expenses and I paid for my wife’s travel.
The island of Bali is a part of the Indonesian island chain. It is 2,230 square miles in size. For comparison, Nebraska is 77,421 square miles and the counties surrounding Omaha (Douglas and Sarpy) are 587 square miles combined.
The population of Bali is 4.2 million people. 2 million are in the Denpasar area. The population density of Denpasar is about the same as Omaha.
Denpassar, the capital city of Bali, and the surrounding towns are chiefly tourist cities due to the huge beach that lines the western edge of Bali.
The primary religion of Bali is Hindu (85% of the population); 13% are Muslims, which is Indonesia’s official religion; and 1.5% claim to be Christians. The only group you won’t find represented in Indonesia are atheists. Residents of Indonesia must declare some sort of religious belief.
Idols are everywhere and you see idol worship frequently each day. Idols are often placed by doors to buildings and on each corner of every bridge. I assume they are for protection. You have to be careful walking outdoors because offering boxes are typically placed in front of doors. The picture to the right shows a Hindu temple that was just outside of our hotel room.
Buildings are not tall in Indonesia. The rule is that a building cannot be taller than a palm tree. Thus, the population is spread out. Interestingly, there are no real empty lots. Any empty space is used for farming.
The city is not clean. Trash is everywhere. You can’t drink the water, it is under a boiling restriction. While sidewalks are being installed, there aren’t many and they are being built on top of open sewer ditches. Despite this, there are many pockets of beauty here and there and some really good restaurants.
When I went last year, there was no church of Christ on the island – liberal or conservative. Since last year, one liberal group started, but it is over an hour’s drive from where Pieter, Marlen, and Marco live. Pieter tried worshiping with this group for a while but decided to try and get a church started in the Kuta area where he is at.
Pieter’s mother divorced his father when Pieter was young. He and his siblings were cared for by their grandmother. Eventually, Pieter had to drop out of school in the ninth grade to support himself and his siblings. He worked for his uncle in a toy store in Kuta for a few years, and when his uncle decided to sell the business, Pieter, Marlen, and a silent partner bought it. Pieter and Marlen have been running it for the last 11 years since Pieter was 18. Pieter is currently working on completing his high school education and plans to enter college after that.
Last year, the week after I left, Pieter and his sister, Maria, went to Singapore. There they studied with Ed Brand, from Russelville, AL, and Minghui, who had joined me in Bali. May was baptized. Though Pieter was baptized by a denominational preacher after studying with me, he decided to be baptized again to be certain. Since that time Pieter has baptized his father, his brother, Marco. His business partner, Marlen, has been worshiping with them. Maria lives on a different island and decided to go back to the denomination she had been attending, though she has since left it again. Only Pieter, Marlen, and Marco are worshiping together. Bob Buchanon visited them in January. Ed Brand visited with them a month or two later.
Gaye and I worshiped with Pieter, Marlen, and Marco for two Sundays. They only knew three songs from Hymns for Worship that Ed Brand had taught them. They would sing the same three songs every Sunday. I taught them three more songs. They have been using pretzels for the bread for the Lord’s Supper, so Gaye and I told them how to make unleavened bread, only to learn that they don’t have a stove. I mentioned this on FaceBook and a sister wrote back with directions on how to make the bread in a skillet, which we passed on to them.
Pieter and Marlen would come about 7:30 am each morning before their shop opened up and we would study for just over an hour before they had to leave (Monday through Saturday). After work, they would join us again at about 4:30 pm and we would study for another 2 hours. Pieter had classes several nights, but when he didn’t we would go to dinner and then study again for another 2 hours. There was even one night that Pieter came back after school to study for another hour. On both Sundays we spent the entire day together, studying between meals and seeing places. Marco’s work schedule only allowed him to join us a few times.
The daily studies were in the hotel lobby and in restaurants where other people could see us and overhear our conversations. A few of the hotel staff seemed interested. We invited them to join us but eventually learned that at least one was a Muslim, which was the reason for her declining to join us. We also had some of the other guests stop by to encourage us, including one who came in clearly drunk, but at least he was polite.
Here is a list of the topics we covered in the ten days we were there. As you will see, they covered a wide range of issues. When I was asked to pick a topic, I would use a story from the Bible as the basis, figuring that these would stay with them longer.
- Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the ending of miraculous gifts
- Repentance, using Simon as an illustration
- Sins that lead to death and those that do not lead to death
- Baptism: Looking deeper into its meaning and purpose, using John 3 as the base text.
- The Lord’s Supper
- Marrying someone of a different belief
- Whether I Corinthians 7:12 meant Paul made uninspired statements in the Bible.
- Marriage and Divorce
- The need for repentance before baptism and what is repentance
- Faith, using Peter’s walk on the water
- The mention of blood moons in Revelation
- “The day of the Lord” meaning “judgment”
- Shadrak, Meshak, and Abed-Nego: faith and confession
- Hannah’s prayer: The need for persistence in prayer
- Difference between elders and deacons
- Supposed contradictions in the Bible
- Jehoshaphat and the dangers of making peace with evil
- Jabez’ prayer: Resolving apparent contradictions and digging for deeper meaning
- Uzzah and the need to be obedient to God
- The story of Micah in Judges to illustrate how false religions start and survive
- The story of David being told “no” in regards to building the Temple and how to handle disappointments
- Giving, both to the church and in helping people
- Bitterness and how it can become the cause of sin
- How to get along with people
- Samson: How God makes use of even sinners and how a lifelong sinner can repent
After we left, Pieter sent me this note:
“Thank you for the time, effort, and sacrifice you made to be with us, and also for all the brethren that support this trip. May our Lord Jesus Christ give you safety on the way back to your home.” The next day I also received this: “Hi Mr. Jeffrey, It’s almost a day we spend without you. I still hear your voice and laughter echoing in my mind. Thank you for the time, effort, and sacrifices you made to be with us. It means a lot to me and Marlen. We are very lucky to know you. With all the effort you put in. Lord willing we can grow to be better Christians. Sorry, we are located very far away. Maybe sometime in the future, Lord willing, we can come to you in the US, so we can know how long the journey you made to be with us.”
There are three preachers trying to visit Bali and stay in touch with these new Christians: Bob Buchanon, Ed Brand, and myself. We are trying to stagger our visits so that those in Bali are not left without encouragement for long.
Singapore is a small island at the end of Malaysia. It is about 276 square miles in size and fairly flat. Compare this to Nebraska’s size of 77,421 square miles, or the size of Douglas County, where Omaha is located, at 340 square miles.
The attitude toward distance is reflected in the country’s size. Going 20 or 30 minutes is considered a long way. But you can get to most places in Singapore in under 2 hours. Essentially the island is one large city of 5 million people, about the same size as New York City in population and land area. But it is New York City totally cleaned up. It is also a very rich city. It is the fourth largest financial center in the world and in the top five busiest ports in the world. It is basically a merchant city. One out of every six people there is a millionaire.
Four languages are spoken in Singapore: English, Mandarin Chinese, Malaysian, and Tamil. It makes navigating the city easy. It is one of the most culturally diverse countries that I’ve seen.
While we were there the city has been suffering from a heavy haze due to farmers in Indonesia burning forests to make room for planting. The haze had been going on for a month and they were expecting it to last another month before it cleared off. On really bad days people are wearing masks.
The government is extremely authoritarian. Laws are strictly enforced and penalties are severe; yet, it is not oppressive as you might suppose. You don’t see or hear of much crime. You generally don’t see beggars. The city is kept very clean. The transportation is very efficient. There isn’t even much noise. Traffic for this size city is relatively light because car ownership is very expensive and discouraged.
Like most large affluent cities, the population is only nominally religious. Finding people interested in a serious Bible study is difficult.
Singapore has about a half-dozen liberal churches. There are no conservative groups. The one church where conservative brethren were welcomed, Northwest Church of Christ, has moved into Mutual Edification. When brethren disagreed, they were basically told to go elsewhere. Since the conservative brethren left, they heard that it was being taught at Northwest that baptism is not essential for salvation. Not all remaining at Northwest agree, but nothing is being done about the false teaching either.
There are only three conservative brethren left and they are worshiping at Lavender Church of Christ, which is probably the least liberal of the remaining churches. Minghui and Deng Xin, who were there last year, have married and Minghui is now teaching math at Florida College.
I held studies for the brethren on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 6 to 10 pm.
On Tuesday we had a woman named Debra visit from the Seventh Day Adventists. We discussed:
- How to establish biblical authority by harmonizing the texts in their context.
- The need for repentance, and the need to forgive.
- Because of our visitor, we got into a discussion about the end of the Old Covenant and Sabbath worship.
- This also led to a discussion of how Christ’s death brought salvation to those under the Old Law as well as under the New.
On Wednesday Peter Culpepper stopped in when he arrived in Singapore. He does a lot of business in Singapore and visits regularly. It turns out he knows the Sizemores who just left La Vista to return to Washington, D.C. We discovered we knew many people and then realized that Peter was the treasurer at Annandale back when we lived in the Washington, D.C. area 25 years ago. The topics we discussed on Wednesday were:
- How false teaching is promoted, how to spot it, and how to counter it.
- The inappropriate use of church funds, such as supplying food at worship (a common practice in Singapore), and funding church camps. We tried to make it clear that food and camps are not wrong if done by individuals – it becomes wrong to spend the Lord’s money on things He doesn’t authorize and it is wrong to blend entertainment with worship.
I also got to study with Lifu at the National University of Singapore. Minghui introduced me to Lifu last year and I’ve been studying with him weekly via Skype since that time. We studied for about 3.5 hours on Tuesday and then 6 hours on Wednesday. We talked mostly about I and II Samuel on Tuesday, which Lifu had just finished reading again. We also continued our study of Proverbs, covering chapter 17. He had a number of good probing questions about the texts.
Lifu is a member of a huge denomination that has 25,000 members. It has been in the news recently because the leaders have been convicted of misusing funds and attempting to hide it from the auditors. Lifu was very disturbed by this. We discussed what was wrong with the organization and how those errors led to a lack of checks on the use of the funds. We then talked about contributions, tithing, and how funds were to be used according to the Bible. We then discussed how the New Testament church was organized and the roles elders, deacons, and preachers played in the church. Lifu wanted to know how he could find such a church and I encouraged him to check out the churches of Christ.
My brother, Darrell, and his wife studied with a woman in Singapore via email for a while, so I contacted Janet. Emiko, Gaye, and I went to visit Janet and her mother. Emiko is arranging a study with Janet.
Jordan Park Church of Christ, near Huntsville, AL, where my brother worships, also sent a list of over 230 people they had correspondence with in Singapore and two people in Bali. I wrote to all of them before heading over there. Half the email addresses were no longer valid and only Janet and one other woman, who was out of town the week we were in Singapore, wrote back.
We talked a lot with Emiko about getting a Bible study group going with hopes of it growing large enough to start a sound church in Singapore. But those left in Singapore feel overwhelmed by the task.
Both Bali and Singapore need sound preachers but finding someone able and willing to live there hasn’t worked out so far. Even for some sound brethren to live there while they work would greatly benefit both groups. The brethren still have fond memories of the time the Percells were living in Singapore. It should also be noted that the university in Singapore attracts a large number of students from around the world. Many are eager to learn about Christianity because it isn’t taught in their home countries.