Indonesian Mennonites and Muslims work together after earthquake

By Jeanne Jantzi and Tim Shenk

Pak  Payilan Martowiyardjo and Ibu Sumarna, a Mennonite couple in Pundong district, Indonesia, salvaged building materials from their house after an earthquake destroyed it. An Islamic group helped the couple clean up their property as part of a project organized by Indonesian Mennonites. (Photo by Dan Jantzi) Four months after an earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Java, Indonesian Mennonites and Muslims are rebuilding homes and forging new relationships across religious lines.

The May 27 earthquake claimed more than 6,200 lives and destroyed tens of thousands of homes in Java, Indonesia’s most populous island. Starting in October, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is sponsoring a project to build 100 earthquake-resistant houses in Java’s Pundong district. The project will involve and benefit both Muslims and Mennonites, and it follows a successful interfaith relief effort.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Indonesian Mennonites organized Mennonite and Muslim volunteers to distribute aid, clean up rubble and construct temporary shelters in Pundong.

Sixty-two volunteers from an Islamic group joined more than 200 volunteers from Muria Christian Church in Indonesia and 32 volunteers from Evangelical Church of Java, which are Mennonite World Conference denominations. Eight MCC workers joined the effort as well. Together, the group assisted thousands of people and prepared sites to rebuild 100 homes.

The participation of the Islamic group was remarkable because it is a militia that fought in an armed conflict between Muslims and Christians on Indonesia’s Maluku Islands in 2000.

Pak Payilan Martowiyardjo, a Mennonite whose home was destroyed in the earthquake, said that the Islamic group “made peace by coming to help.”

“They cleaned our well,” Pak Payilan said. “They are people just as we are people. We weren’t afraid of them.”

The volunteers worked together, ate together and slept together in tents and in a Mennonite church sanctuary. They were organized by Mennonite Diaconial Services, an agency of Muria Christian Church in Indonesia.

Paulus Hartono, the agency’s director, said that community members marveled at the cooperation between Mennonites and an Islamic militia. Some asked, “How can this happen?”

The partnership began several years ago when Hartono befriended the militia’s commander by helping to mediate a conflict involving the militia’s radio station. Hartono is a member of Forum for Peace Across Religions and Groups, an MCC partner organization in the Indonesian city of Solo.

The commander then asked Forum for Peace Across Religions and Groups to organize conflict transformation workshops for militia members. The forum worked with Muslim and Christian facilitators from Duta Wacana Christian University’s Peace Center to plan the workshops, which more than 75 militia members have attended.

The objective of the workshops was to enable participants to become agents of peace in their communities and purveyors of wisdom in addressing community problems. When the earthquake happened, trust had built to the point where collaborative peace work in the form of helping others was possible.

Hartono overheard one Muslim volunteer explain to a community member, “This works because we want to have good communication. … We want to do something we can be proud of. Now we can give something to the community.”

Another Muslim volunteer told Hartono, “Thank you for this disaster response program. We know now that the Church and Christian people are not like we thought before.”

Mennonite Diaconial Services is organizing the MCC-supported project to build 100 houses in Pundong district. Builders will be hired from local communities and Indonesian Mennonite churches. The recipients will be 45 Mennonite families and 55 non-Mennonite families, most of whom are Muslims.

Priority was given to families whose homes were irreparable, people who lost family members in the earthquake, widows, orphans and households with small children. Many of the families contributed to the project by salvaging building materials from their ruined houses, such as bricks, tiles and timber.

Jeanne Jantzi is an MCC country representative for Indonesia. Tim Shenk is a writer for MCC communications.