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Meet Indonesian Christian ministers in Australia

Agape International Church of Christ in Sydney has Indonesian and English services
Agape International Church of Christ in Sydney has Indonesian and English services.

Supplied: Flinklupe Productions

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As we approach Christmas, Australia Plus spoke to four Indonesian ministers about their experience of leading churches in Sydney and Melbourne. According to the Australian census, Christianity is one of the most popular religions amongst Indonesian Australians. In Victoria, there are around 30,000 Indonesian Christians across 23 churches. Thirty years ago, there were only three churches so the number of churches has grown significantly. In Sydney, there are at least 17 Indonesian churches in the city and its immediate surroundings. Most of these churches are made up of both Indonesian Australians and Indonesians who have come to study or work in Australia, which means that each community faces unique challenges and opportunities.

Ayub Yahya (R) and his wife Dewy Christiany
Ayub Yahya (R) and his wife Dewy Christiany.

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Ayub Yahya, St Andrew's Gardiner Uniting Church, Melbourne

Ayub came to Melbourne to be the Indonesian minister of St Andrew’s Gardiner Uniting Church, Melbourne in 2014. Focusing on the Indonesian Christian community is important to Ayub. He says: "An Indonesian priest and Indonesian congregation will use the same lens when they are looking at something [so] they can 'relate' to each other."

There are significant differences between churches in Melbourne and churches in Indonesia.

"The lifestyle is varied. In Melbourne, we have to do everything by ourselves. In Indonesia, there is a lot of help available. In the church, there are helpers, administrative staff and drivers."

Despite having less staff in the church, Ayub is fascinated by the way that the congregation in Melbourne contributes to the church. It's a sight that Ayub says doesn't happen in city-based churches in Indonesia.  

Yonathan Chandra
Yonathan Chandra.

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Yonathan Chandra, Indonesian Baptist Church, Melbourne

Yonathan was a minister in Jakarta for more than 20 years, before coming to Melbourne in 2011. He was sponsored as a religious worker on a temporary visa and is now a permanent resident. Leading Indonesian Baptist Church - a growing, independent church - means that Yonathan's responsible for weekly sermons, regularly attends youth and women's fellowships, and visits members in need.

He is very positive about his experience in Melbourne.

Pastor Stephen Tanuwijaya addresses Agape Church
Pastor Stephen Tanuwijaya addresses Agape Church.

Supplied: Flinklupe Productions

Stephen Tanuwijaya, Agape International Church of Christ, Sydney

Stephen studied at medical school in Jakarta and moved to Sydney in 1976 to pursue further studies. After working in pathology for 18 years, he became a minister in 1998. He now leads Agape International Church of Christ, which has 400-500 members, and 150 children who attend services there. The church has a mixture of Indonesian Australians and Indonesian students who are living and studying in Sydney.

"There are a lot of needs. For example, the overseas students who come here experience loneliness. They're far away from their parents. They need to talk to somebody else - they need to know, if they've got a problem, where to go. For young families, if they have a problem in the family, they need to talk to someone," says Stephen.

He finds the ability to speak in Indonesian to be incredibly valuable.

"If the person who approaches them uses a different language, it's possible that they can understand but it cannot go through to the right points."

Agape's emphasis on pastoral counselling means that Stephen also visits Indonesian inmates in New South Wales correctional centres.

Agape Church in Sydney
Agape Church in Sydney.

Supplied: Flinklupe Productions

Being friendly and welcoming is a priority for Agape. Their church activities include 'friendship tours' where they invite friends to trips to places like the Blue Mountains, Canberra and Nelson Bay.

"We are open to everyone who comes. We try to be friendly with them - especially for the students who come here, who are far away from their family. If they can come here to have fellowship with us, that means they will feel more at home - rather than being somewhere not knowing anyone."

Janto Suganda (R) and his wife Diana Witto
Janto Suganda (R) and his wife Diana Witto.

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Janto Suganda, Rhema Church, Sydney

After studying economics in Jakarta, Janto came to Sydney in 1997 to help his brother's father-in-law's church. When his relative decided to go back to Jakarta, Janto stayed in Sydney and started a new church - Rhema Church - in 2004.

It was a challenge that took Janto out of his comfort zone. Today, Rhema is a house church of 12-20 people that meet throughout the week in the home of Janto, and his wife Diana Witto.

He prefers a smaller model of church community.

Members of Rhema Church in Sydney
Members of Rhema Church in Sydney.

Supplied: Janto Suganda

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