Reaching the Proud Lampungese Community

( [email protected] ) Dec 04, 2003 09:37 AM EST

LAMPUNG PROVINCE, Sumatra, Indonesia— On Nov. 30, the Southern Baptist Convention launched the weeklong 2003 International Missions Emphasis to boost congregational and individual offerings to the board. The International Mission Board – SBC’s wing for foreign missions, relies on the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for half of its annual financial support.

Following the challenge of $133 million in offerings, the Baptist Press – SBC’s media wing – began releasing a special series on international missions fields, new and old, to supplement the missions emphasis, entitled, “That All Peoples May Know Him: Follow God’s Purpose.”

The Dec. 3 highlight was placed on the Lampungese in Sumatra India. According to Baptist Press, there are less than 20 Christians in the province of 2 million. And with many Lampungese having minimal to zero exposure to the modern world, the missionaries stationed in the Sumatra’s most impoverished region endure severe hardships as they try to change the status quo.

One of the main characteristics boasted by the Lampungese is a communal work spirit; the villagers gather together to undertake housing and farming projects. Another characteristic painted by the people is pride.

“Lampungese are a fierce and admittedly proud people,” explained a missionologist who called himself Calvin Walters for security purposes. "Guarding your honor -- personal, family, tribal -- at all costs is paramount."

"Lampungese say: "It is better to die than to lose face,” explained an Indonesian Christian who lives among the Lampungese. "They are so proud, but so blinded by their apathy and poverty."

According to Walters, the Lampugnese are a “high-identity Muslim” community, that follow the religion because of its ties to the ethnicity.

"They may say they are 99.9 percent Muslim, but they are 'high-identity' Muslims," Walters says. "They say, 'I am Lampungese, so I'm Muslim.' But they don't know really what it means [to be a Muslim] beyond fasting, praying and covering their women,” said Walters.

In actually, what defines and binds the Lampungese is animism and fear - fear of death, the spirit world, superstition, the future, and fear of bucking their age-old cultural traditions.

"If a Lampungese has a problem, they go to the 'dukun' [witchdoctor], not to the imam at the mosque," Walters says. "And no self-respecting Lampungese parent would let their child go out without a protective amulet."

Such fears and traditions, said Walters, makes it markedly difficult to reach the people.

"There are churches all over the province," Walters said. "But fear keeps the Lampungese from searching out [truth about Jesus] and the national churches from reaching out."

Fear keeps them firmly planted in the status quo. "It's not a question of what a person wants, it's what brings uniformity," he explains. "The community is everything to them.

"Whenever a Lampungese is won [to Christ] and brought into the traditional church, at best they are kicked out of their village," he says. "At worst they are threatened with death. There's not much opportunity for growth there."

Nonetheless, Walters held onto the hope that God can work through the Lampungese to effectively change them.

"My prayer is that people will see one person saved -- giving confidence that 'yes, there can be Lampungese Christians.' And when persecution does come," Walters says, "there will be such a large number of believers who are living out changed, Christian lives that there won't be a lot that can be argued with."