Nathan Jansen came to Indonesia as a missionary's missionary. He and his wife, Harmony, were all set to "do the crazy jungle thing" and serve among the tribes of Papua, the country's easternmost province.
Jansen was a Bible teacher and a church planter, a younger version of the classic image shaped by half a century of TEAM missionaries there and by legends like Don and Carol Richardson, missionaries who lived deep in the Papuan jungle with a cannibalistic tribe during the 1960s and 1970s.
So when locals came to his door asking for English lessons, Jansen politely declined. Hungry to learn English, these mostly Muslim immigrants from more populous Indonesian islands kept knocking. But Jansen didn’t want language classes to pull focus from his primary mission. “I turned them away because I was here to teach at the Bible school and plant churches,” he says.
But the nuisance soon became the opportunity of a lifetime.
About five years ago, TEAM appointed Jansen to facilitate the Muslim-ministry portion of a new vision, one that shifted the focus from general tribal ministry to bringing the church to maturity so it could reach Muslims in its community. As Jansen surveyed what other mission organizations were doing in Papua, he couldn’t find anyone who was reaching out to Muslims. He and his team began asking: “How can we reach these Muslims? What’s going to be a good model to reach out to them?”
At some point, it dawned on Jansen that English classes would be the model — at least, they would be part of the model that would grow into the Merauke Community Center, a facility that five years later is bursting at the seams and building relationships with hundreds of local families. “We thought through how we might teach English more formally in order to reach a larger number of people with the gospel,” he says. “The community center idea was birthed.”
From Vision to Reality
Jansen began looking for the perfect person to be the center’s first director, knowing that TEAM couldn’t do this ministry alone. “We needed Indonesians at the forefront running the center,” he says. He found Johanis Ciandy.
Ciandy grew up in East Timor, but after a short training period at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, he settled in Merauke in 2007 and met Jansen through a youth camp ministry co-run by Jansen and Ciandy. Ciandy accepted the job as director in 2009 and began working with Jansen to establish the organization, get permission from the local government, and find a temporary facility. “We don’t just want to run the facility,” Jansen says. “We want to empower local Indonesians to run it themselves. I’ve been blessed to have local staff, such as Johanis, who have a passion for their own people and who want to see their community grow. Partnering with them has been one of the most rewarding things about the community center model…seeing them grow and expand their abilities and potential and walking alongside them as we’ve learned together about the most effective way to reach our community and build a relationship with the local government.”
On April 7, 2010, the regional mayor officially opened the Merauke Community Center. “We began with English and computer classes,” Jansen says, “and have since become a network where local Indonesian non-profit organizations, mission agencies, and churches can plug in to serve the community. We have grown, and are continuing to grow, into eight distinct yet interconnected ministries: youth ministry, church planting, community development, computer training, English, agricultural consulting, sports ministry, and medical and counseling ministries.”
While English classes and computer training are the main programs, the center also welcomes members of the community to participate in various recreational activities, such as ping pong, soccer, and other sports. In addition, a library allows children to enjoy books, either on their own or by having their parents read to them.
Approximately 100 students are currently enrolled in the English classes the center offers, and 50 are learning computer skills, using every bit of the center’s space and resources. “We can’t add computers or people,” Jansen says. “We either need to change location or maximize the facility in some way.”
Community Centers: A Healthy Model
Ciandy describes the center as a ministry that “can reach all the people in Merauke because it’s a public place for people to come. We do things because it’s our vision and mission to spread the gospel and the kingdom of God. Through the community center, we can help them in different ways: education, health, agriculture, and more. I think it’s the right place for people to see us doing something — investing in the community and sharing the love of God.”
A community center is a good model for this type of ministry because it’s so open-ended. “There’s tons of possibilities,” Jansen says. “Basically, anybody can get involved who has a passion to serve the people and love them in Jesus’ name, no matter what kind of background they have. So we thought, let’s give it a shot and see what happens.”
As the center becomes known and accepted in the community, more and more people have approached and asked to be taught English. For example, Swiss-Belhotel, a local four-star hotel, asked the center to teach their staff English. For the past year, twice a week, the almost exclusively Muslim staff has been receiving English lessons on location. “We’ve built relationships with them,” Jansen says. “We’ve helped them out and also been blessed by their financial resources to run our English programs that people normally wouldn’t be able to afford.”
The center seeks to reach everyone around it, no matter their ethnicity, social status, or religion. “We want to serve and increase the potential of people in Merauke, whether they are Muslims, Christians, Hindus, or Buddhists. We want to share the love of Christ,” Ciandy says. “We want to bless them. We want to do something for the local government and influence the community.” The center has also worked closely with government officials to find new ways to work together, like offering services to government-run schools.
One of the most exciting things Jansen has experienced at the community center is new partnerships. “We’ve been able to build partnerships with local organizations as well as international ones, such as World Vision and World Team,” he says. “The community center has become a network of different organizations through which they can serve the Merauke people most effectively.”
The center also runs an annual youth camp, offers leadership training, and has developed an initiative to encourage local youth to stay sexually pure until marriage. Recently, Ciandy coordinated a group of students to deliver groceries to a Muslim orphanage in the neighboring town of Kalapalima. “I think it’s good for them to see that we care about them. We want to show them that…we love them and want to help them,” Ciandy says. He teaches all of his students — whether Christian or Muslim — “to have generosity in their hearts; to not just take but also to give.”
Though proud of the holistic approach, Jansen is most passionate about church planting. “I’m trying to keep our main thing the main thing,” he says. “Our goal is to plant churches among Muslim people. We’re doing that through various programs and activities, but our main goal is to bring the gospel to people who don’t have it. That’s what keeps me coming to the community center every day: It’s the times I get to sit down with our missionaries and mentor them, opportunities I get to interact in the classroom with people who have never heard the gospel…It’s exciting to be on the front line of ministry among Muslims in an open and free location. We don’t have to worry about security like other parts of Indonesia. We can be really open about our faith. People know we’re Christians and yet they come because of the quality of the programs we offer to our community.”
Dreaming about the future, Jansen is looking for people “who can come and help us accomplish things we’d like to do.” He’d like to see new programs in place, like an expanded agricultural development program, a sports ministry, and a medical ministry. Two missionaries have already been recruited to add a clinic. Jansen’s long-term vision is for others to replicate the community center model in other cities within Papua and around Indonesia. Ciandy dreams that someday the center could open its own building on its own land, expanding the number of people it could reach.
Jansen adds, if God provides the right people who are willing to do the work, he has a long wish list of ministries that could be offered at the center, including psychology, counseling, and more youth activities. “The sky is the limit,” Jansen says. “Whoever God provides, we’ll use to reach the community.”
- Written by Ann-Margret Hovsepian
- Photography by Robert Johnson