Madurese Services A Century-Old Tradition

gkjw-sumber-pakemAdhu Yesus Alla kasokan se toron, Rabu e alam dunya karsa merokon, Enggi e antarana reng-oreng se odhi, Jugan kaula neka ampon e tembeli.
(Jesus came to earth, Earth and nature received peace, This was felt by all humankind, Who have been forgiven their sins.)

The theme of this hymn is the birth of Jesus Christ. Madurese congregants sang it during Christmas Eve services this year at the East Java Christian Church (GKJW) Sumberpakem in the town of Jember.

Dozens of people who attended the service joined in the singing to express their thankfulness to God.

“Ampon kaula ngartetresna panjenengan, paneka sengatore ajunan sampiyan (I’ve felt love from Jesus, and all this happened because of the will of God).” Pastor Sapto Wardoyo spoke these words in Madurese during the service.

The GKJW Sumberpakem church in Sumber Jambe subdistrict, 35 kilometers from the city of Jember, is different from other churches in Indonesia because services are held in three languages: Indonesian, Javanese and Madurese.

Even the Bible they use, called Alketab, is a special Madurese edition.

alketab“We use this Bible to be sure everyone understands its teachings,” Sapto said.

Madurese has been used in the church continuously for more than 120 years.

J.D. Wollterbeek wrote in his Babad Zending Ing Tanah Djawa (Spreading the Bible in the land of Java) that the arrival of the Christian missionary Dr. Esser to Sumberpakem was what started it all.

Esser already spoke Madurese and Javanese fluently because he had studied both in Surakarta (Solo) in Central Java.

The Dutch pastor successfully joined forces with a Madurese man named Ebing who became a faithful follower. Ebing was the first Jember resident to be baptized a Christian on July 23, 1882.

Esser and Ebing conducted services in that area for more than seven years, but during that time neither had any success in Christianizing even one person.

“Esser got frustrated and moved his church to Bondowoso, about 35 kilometers from Sumberpakem,” Sapto said.

Though Esser continued his missionary work, he later wrote he thought he had failed to make any headway in Bondowoso as well. Esser went back to Holland in 1889 and a second pastor, H. Van Der Spiegel, came to replace him.

The situation did not change, and several pastors arrived in rapid succession. Van Der Spiegel was replaced by P. A. Otto Lander in 1890. H. Dekker arrived in 1891, then H. Hendrik filled the post between 1897 and 1908.

“Pastor Hendrik lasted the longest and was the most successful,” Sapto said.

Though he successfully converted some in the community, Handrik’s presence in Sumberpakem led to unrest. One day a mob burned down his house and the church which had been erected in Slateng under his guidance.

Since then, no more Dutch missionaries have come to Jember or the surrounding area. After 1908 the mission entrusted its responsibilities to Ebing and his son Sulaiman.

Ebing continued the work and found his more familiar preaching style helped make the Christian religion more acceptable to the community. Ebing continued to preach in Madurese to be sure his messages were easy to understand by the Maduranese who had settled there.

“The efforts of Ebing and his son Sulaiman helped Christian teaching in Sumberpakem and Slateng to increase sharply,” Sapto said.

The sharpest increase in followers came about from external circumstances. After the Sep. 30, 1965 coup attempt in the capital which led to Sukarno’s ouster, violence erupted in other areas of the country, particularly in Central Java. In the area around Jember, Communist supporters and non-Communists traded violent attacks in the days following the coup.

At the time, Jember was a base for groups hostile to Communism. Frightened members of the Communist party (PKI) became Christians on the spot and joined the church congregation.

“Later, when the situation returned to normal, Christian adherents in Sumberpakem numbered no more than a hundred people,” Sapto said.

Back to his minority status after the upheaval, the Maduranese church continued to serve its community.

Another Indonesian pastor, Alphius, took up the baton from Ebing and Sulaiman in 1972. The current pastor Sapto Wardoyo, who graduated from the Protestant Theology Institute in Malang, East Java, took over from Kukuh Supitono in 2002.

Sapto said he considered his coming to Sumberpakem to be a challenge from God to further Dr. Esser’s missionary efforts that had begun in the 1880s.

Spreading Christianity in the middle of Jember, where the majority of residents are Muslims, was a daunting challenge, but working in Madurese helped Sapto.

“I had to learn the Madurese language to be able to run my mission here,” Sapto recalled.

Studying Madurese culture was Sapto’s first task, which was not easy for the father of two who was born in Yogyakarta.

Things changed when he moved to Situbondo, 70 km from Jember, a focal point for Maduranese culture.

“The culture in Situbondo is special because it has a very high tolerance level,” he said.

That tolerance made it possible for him to get to know Muslim teachers and leaders of Islamic boarding schools in the area.

His study of the language and culture took many years; while he studied, he appointed Madurese advisers to supervise him whenever he gave sermons in that language.

He asked the two advisors, both from Sumberpakem, to correct his pronunciation and delivery.

“This was crucial. Even though a person can speak Madurese, the language used in the church has to be rendered softly,” Sapto said.

His careful efforts eventually bore fruit. After six years, Sapto is fluent in Madurese.

Developing a local way to convey Christian teachings has its lighter side. Sapto relies on special local Christmas trees.

“The Christmas tree sends a message of joy and stands for the strength of the Christian faith. These ideas can be represented by any kind of tree, even these coconut palms and banana trees.”

Taken from: The Jakarta Post