We took a 45 minute ferry ride with Rev Dr Timothy Chong from Singapore to Batam, a neighbouring Indonesian island. Timothy is Dean of Indonesia and he is creating many inspiring projects to serve the people of Batam and other islands in the archipelago. We spent the ferry journey swapping stories of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the UK, including the discovery that we have a number of mutual friends.
We visited a school and community project in a squatter camp behind an unlicensed graveyard and met the staff and some of the children in the project. I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of many Singaporean Anglican youth who travel to the centre to do work with the children at the centre. The long term aim of the work is to bring an end to the cycle of deprivation through education and discipleship.
Our next stop was another school, which is now under construction. It will be an amalgamation of two existing smaller schools and will house a sports hall, gym and chapel as well as classrooms for 500 pupils. This school aims at the other end of the spectrum from the slum as it will be selective and, like many areas in the UK, the construction of a good school is affecting house prices in the area! Teachers are recruited locally and from Singapore.
We stopped for a delicious lunch before visiting the local Anglican church which meets in a two-storey shop-house, just like the Evangelical Free Church where Amanda and I were members in Kuala Lumpur (imagine a church in a shop on West Bromwich High Street). Pastor Agong and Agnes who accompanied us on our visit (pictured) serve at this church. Our sons played “In Christ Alone” on drums and keyboard then we prayed for all the work and people in contact with the projects before heading home.
Batam is clearly a developing place. Lots of new cars reveal a growing affluence. Roads are crowed and without markings. Packs of 50cc motorbikes with three or four passengers are forced to ignore the normal rules of give way, because size goes first, unless you are nimble. The smell of open drains and mounds of litter reminded me of our life in Pakistan in 1994, India in 1995 and Malaysia in 1997. All this tugged missionary chords with Amanda and me, but not our kids. They may take some time to come round to the heat and smells.
There is clearly much to do in Batam. The work of the Anglican Church is embryonic. It was less than 30 years ago that the only Anglican community in Indonesia was the post-colonial international congregation in Jakarta. My day with Timothy Chong, Pastor Agong and Agnes left me glad to be Anglican and wondered how today might change things in West Bromwich, Lichfield, Singapore and Indonesia. I also found my sparse Bahasa Malayu came back and allowed me to make a little conversation with the children and our hosts.
I wondered about whether I had a call to mission again. Then I reminded myself that there are many opportunities for global mission in West Bromwich and, apart from last summer’s flooded basement, we don’t have the smell of open drains.