by Kevin Honore

Kevin is a Partnership Facilitator with Bright Hope World

Jelina was six years old when the team first met her. Her feet were malformed and she could only walk with great difficulty. Her mother brought her to the team1 based on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra, but without the right documents it was not possible to access any form of government assistance. Moreover, without these documents she would never be able to attend school. On that first visit, Jelina was so shy and terrified that the poor little girl did not whisper a single word.

After weeks, Jelina’s father finally plucked up the courage to bring her back to the team. He was afraid to go anywhere near people who might create issues for him and his family. Now, many months later, Jelina is wobbling around in the kindergarten on her back-to-front feet squealing and laughing with her friends and interacting with the team members.

Several barriers confront Jelina in her quest for some sort of normal life. The team members have searched extensively for someone capable of making her shoes but, so far, none of the local shoemakers can do it. She desperately needs surgery to straighten her feet, and this is not possible on Sumatra. Surgery and shoes would only be feasible on Java but in order to make any of that possible, she and all her family would need the right documents. Day after day at kindergarten her confidence is developing. The dream is that one day Jelina will walk in beautiful shoes!

Fear & Lack of Education

Jelina’s odyssey highlights everything that makes our partnership simply wonderful. Poor people live in fear and it pervades every aspect of their lives. Most of them end up on the margins of society, living outside the formal structures of the culture, trapped in ignorance with no one to advocate for them. They have large families and spend their lives begging and scraping for food. Many of their children die of preventable diseases and are often buried in unmarked graves. Many people die without leaving one piece of physical evidence that they ever existed.

Lack of awareness of the value of education goes hand in hand with poverty. Most people are uneducated so they have little idea of how education empowers and changes lives. Many of the children joining kindergarten are nearly teenagers and cannot read one word of their own language. This slow start makes life very difficult for them and convincing parents to send them out of the house every day is a major challenge. Jelina’s parents have chosen a better way.

Advocating for the Poor

Most families, like Jelina’s, do not have legal papers. The team in Sumatra typically meets with people who have no birth certificate, identity card, family identity card or marriage certificate and, because of this, they cannot access free insurance programmes from the government. This means they cannot go to school, visit a health clinic, or engage with the police or justice system. Without these papers the poor become poorer, the sick die quickly and many become victims of injustice with no legal recourse.

In 2021 the team helped 230 people to obtain necessary governmental paperwork, a total of more than 700 different documents. Two team members work at this day after day. Few could afford to pay for documents, let alone the time required to process them.

Thriving Though Disabled

It is difficult for anyone to thrive without access to mainstream society. For Jelina, who is physically disabled, everything is so much more difficult. In the ‘old days’ she may well have been allowed to die as a new-born baby. But in her case, she’s healthy and well-loved but her family cannot access the help they need. Her parents live with shame, and many young people in Jelina’s situation would likely be confined to a house for their entire lives. Without the support of good people, these lives would remain miserable. With these good people comes good news, hope and abundant life.

A Team of Good People

The team in Sumatra see and care for the poor and the lost. They intentionally serve in this place of poverty and hardship. Most who live in this community eke out a living by making and selling kiln-fired mud bricks. It is dirty, backbreaking, dangerous work with little return. It is here, alongside these people, that the team does its best work. It is hard work and people are suspicious of ‘outsiders’. especially those who worship a different God. However, by building relationships, many become open to listen to words of life and hope; families are being rescued and lives transformed.

Some of the current team members are from this community and are gaining degrees and employment beyond their wildest dreams. This provides great modelling for the community. An essential part of this work is the development of young people into leaders. It is tough, hard work that requires long-term investment in their lives. Inevitably, many of the best young people leave as they develop and there is pressure to constantly produce more mature leaders.

…by building relationships, many become open to listen to words of life and hope; families are being rescued and lives transformed.

Eva is about to go to Papua, the largest and easternmost province of Indonesia, as a teacher to the poor. Nofita has just been married and is returning to her home village with a vision to help her people there. Iskah has been an effective worker and is looking for new employment but will still be involved as a volunteer. There are many young people currently on the team but their lives as students are busy and they have a lot of pressure from their families.

The key to the sustainability of this work is the investment in young people and their ongoing development. Many of them have been isolated by their families because of their newfound faith and the team becomes their new family. This places a lot of pressure on key leaders and their families and also has financial implications. To achieve their objectives, they have frequent camps and mentoring groups which provide many opportunities to serve in teams.

Serving as a minority group is tough: needing to remain alert at all times and always feeling as if you are being watched. It is hard to communicate the good news and it’s hard to gauge the true intentions of the people they talk to. In some villages there is open aggression and opposition but there have also been some amazing breakthroughs.

Aiming at Being Self-sustaining

Team members have established several enterprises to assist with resourcing. These businesses include an English language academy, a pineapple farm and a coffee exporting company. Covid-19 has severely affected small businesses here. Small-scale loans are available to assist faithful people and, in general, these are going well. However, the poor are very susceptible to misfortune and they live in a country that is well known for major natural disasters. In fact, the reason most of these people live where they do is because they were relocated to this area after the Asian tsunami destroyed their homes in 2004.

Jelina isn’t the only one in difficult circumstances. Budi is just 18 months old. He is blind and lagging in development. He cannot crawl, stand, walk or sit up by himself and has epileptic seizures. He has only recently started picking things up and feeding himself. His parents asked for help and the team has been able to organise paperwork and link the family with medical professionals. Team members have been doing regular exercises with him to develop his muscle strength. They are teaching Budi’s mother how to stimulate him so he can discover the world around him. It is delightful to see Budi’s mother being so eager to learn to help her little son. The hope is that one day Budi and his mother will come into the light of relationship with Jesus.

In this land of densely packed, teeming millions, it would be easy to only see the masses and miss the Jelinas and Budis of this world. Stopping to see the little people, the hurting and the disadvantaged is right at the heart of this work. That is why it is so transformational. One little child here, a poor family there, that child needing a home in that village and so it grows. Slowly it develops and, before long, there is a movement that changes whole communities and confronts a culture of fear and death. It is a movement that sets people up for a life of freedom and flourishing.

1 Bright Hope World partner team www.brighthopeworld.com