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Report GKI Papua

The Year of Jubilee - 2006
Renewal and Restoration in West Papua

“Lord, in your grace, renew and restore us!”

This was the theme of the Golden Jubilee, Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua, in October this year. Rev Dr Karel Phil Erari explores this theme in his book Yubileum dan Pembebasan Menunju Papua Baru (Aksara Karunia, Jakarta, 2006) and he makes the observation that the “Year of Jubilee” in the Hebrew tradition carries the idea of “deliverance” and “restoration”.

The Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua or GKI celebrated its Golden Jubilee on 26th October 2006 and the question is now being asked, does 26th October 2006 mark the beginning of new era? What does this event have to say to the people of Papua, most of whom are poor, isolated and ignored? Is the church being called to take a new form of witness and service?  What will the next 50 years mean for the church in West Papua?


The German missionaries, Carl Wilhelm Ottow and Johann Gottlob Geissler heralded the Christian era in West Papua when they arrived on the island of Mansinam (near Manokwari) on the 5th February 1855. Dutch missionaries followed with an emphasis on the provision of education and health services. Christian missions were often well established before the government arrived while outreach extended into the interior of Papua (Baliem and Yalimo valleys). On 26th October 1956 the Gereja Kristen Injili (Evangelical Christian Church or GKI) was inaugurated in Abepura.

Today there are around 700,000 members of the GKI spread across 1,000 congregations. These congregations are served by 527 ministers (315 men and 212 women), 325 lay pastors (290 men and 22 women) and 119 evangelists (all men). The GKI operates 22 kindergartens, 472 primary schools, 38 high schools and 5 vocational schools together with one seminary (STT GKI I.S.Kinje) and one economics college (STIE Ottow-Geissler).

Fifty Years of Witness and Service in West Papua

Mandala Sports Stadium in Jayapura was packed with a vast congregation. Together with a 1,000 voice choir, some 5,000 people gathered to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (GKI) on the 26th October 2006. During the celebration 201 balloons were released (symbolising 151 years since Christian missionaries arrived in Papua together with 50 years of church witness in the region). This was accompanied by a rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus while traditional dancers and flute players gave the celebration a distinct Papuan flavour.

Alex Hesegem, the Vice Governor of Papua, gave a greeting while church leaders from other denominations expressed their solidarity. Rev Corinus Berotabui, GKI Moderator, spoke concerning the critical role of the church in Papua today. He affirmed the unity of the GKI throughout the Land of Papua and received a thunderous applause. 

The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) was represented through my presence and the presence of Shelly Houghton (Assisted Volunteer in Mission serving with the GKI). Rev Corinus Berotabui was quick to observe this with the comment…. “the Dutch were with us at the beginning of our first fifty years….now it’s your turn….its’ good to have the Australian church with us as we enter our second fifty years!”

The GKI Witnesses and Serves the People

The GKI embraces a very significant witness in Papua today. The newly elected Moderator, Rev Corinus Berotabui, is a forthright yet humble man with strong roots in the local community. He comes from the island of Yapen while the GKI recently ventured into new territory with the election of a female Vice Moderator, Rev Jemima Krey. Rev Krey is a popular leader with great energy.

With the election of a new leadership team in March this year, a significant era in GKI history has come to close. For the last nine years the GKI has witnessed and served in what many refer to as a “culture of violence”. This often involved a highly charged and very stressful environment. Here the former Moderator, Hermann Saud offered extraordinary leadership. Rev Saud listened to the cries and frustrations of many Papuans, he witnessed the impact of atrocities including the assassination of Theys Eluay and the Biak massacre, and he carefully negotiated with the authorities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of his people.

The former Vice Moderator, Rev Herman Awom, also stood tall as an effective advocate for his people and a person committed to human rights. Rev Awom’s involvement in the Second Papua Council and Papua Presidium identified the church with Papuan aspirations while offering the wider community an important option involving non-violent struggle, peace and reconciliation.

The GKI Engages with Major Issues

(1) Rev Berotabui believes in what he refers to as a “comprehensive’ approach where community concerns are identified particularly in the area of health and education. Other strategies see a direct engagement with human rights issues and an ongoing commitment to peace and reconciliation in Papua.

(a) Health:

Papuans face major health issues that are compounded by a lack of health services and the absence of medical supplies. Tuberculosis, malaria, infections and poor nutrition are the killers while HIV/AIDS is making a very serious impact on young people (particularly young mothers). In a recent article, the GKI refers to Provincial Government figures that records 11,600 HIV/AIDS cases in 2005 (Suara Perempuan Papua, No.12, Year 3, 23 to 29 Oktober 2006, p.20).

I am increasingly disturbed to note that wherever I go in West Papua, health services are lacking. In many cases the provision of health care is completely absent. This was my experience when visiting the island of Supirori (near Biak) recently together with visits to communities on the border with PNG where recently returned (West) Papuan refugees from Papua New Guinea now live. In March this year I briefly visited the former GKI hospital in Angguruk (near Wamena) and was informed that services were now very run down.                                                                                                             

New clinics have been set up in Jayapura, South Biak and Numfor Island. The Jayapura clinic operates under the co-ordination of the synod while the South Biak clinic operates under the coordination of the “Wilayah Klasis-Klasis Biak” (Biak Presbyteries Division). The Numfor clinic operates under the coordination of the Numfor Presbytery.

Meanwhile, Ibu-Ibu Sara (a movement of women within the GKI) has established a well resourced clinic in Padan Bulan (near the campus of Cenderawasih Univeristy in Jayapura) while there are plans to develop new work in cooperation with the Roman Catholics in the Waropen region of Papua.

Clinics near Jayapura and in Biak are being designed to offer particular services to mothers and babies. Here there are plans to appoint specialist midwives and trained nursing staff. Meanwhile, the GKI Synod Executive has established a Diakonia Foundation. This foundation will assist in the co-ordination of services while also providing an effective forum for further planning. The Synod Diakonia Foundation will eventually coordinate the work of all the clinics together with the work of Ibu-Ibu Sara. An important initiative undertaken by the Diakonia Foundation has been the formation of a committee to co-ordinate HIV/AIDS ministry within the GKI.

(b) Education:

The first mission school was established in Kwawi (near Manokwari) in 1857 and education has since become an import adjunct to evangelism. The new Moderator, Rev Corinus Berotabui, has commissioned an audit of all GKI schools while there are now moves to re-open the GKI Sekolah Pendidikan Guru (Teachers College or SPG).

This institution was closed by the central government and students were redirected to the Faculty of Teaching in state run Cenderawasih University. Provisions under Special Autonomy may now see the SPG reactivated.

A training college for lay pastors (Sekolah Pendidikan Guru Jemaat or SPGJ) operates in Manokwari. While lay pastors are responsible for ministering to isolated congregations, they also serve as teachers in communities where there are no schools. These remarkable people offer opportunities to many Papuans who would otherwise never receive an education.

 The GKI also operates the Sekolah Tinggi GKI I.S.Kinje (theologial college or seminary) in Abepura. Undergraduate and graduate education is offered here to theological students while plans are now being made to establish a Christian University in Papua. A formal announcement was made by the Governor of Papua during the Golden Jubilee celebrations on the 26th October concerning this initiative.

Rev Berotabui indicates that the GKI is committed to maintaining a long tradition of education. Indeed this is seen as a key to the future and the GKI wants to ensure all Papuans have access to a basic education.                                                                     

(c) Lembaga Pelayanan Hukum dan HAM GKI (Institute for Human Rights)

The GKI has established an institute to monitor and report on human rights issues. In previous years the GKI worked with ELSHAM or the Institute for Human Rights Advocacy and Study. ELSHAM has since lost funding and is not able to carry out its role. Meanwhile the GKI also maintains a good relationship with Office for Justice and Peace (SKP), Diocese of Jayapura (Roman Catholic).
(d) Papua – Tanah Damai (Land of Peace)

Significant progress has been made to establish a culture of peace throughout Papua. This has taken place through a number of initiatives including the establishment of effective co-operation between Christian Churches in Papua and through the establishment of the Communion of Churches in Papua (PGGP) (involving all major churches in West Papua). A second initiative has been to develop co-operation between the different religious communities in Papua. Catholic, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities are actively participating in this cooperative venture with the GKI.

Both the PGGP and the cooperative movement between religions groups have been able to influence activists throughout Papua who were engaging in some form of armed resistance. These groups have now laid down their arms and a peaceful solution to the issue is now being extensively sought.

The GKI Raises Major Concerns:

(a) Increasing Marginalisation

During my short stay in Jayapura I continually encountered one particular concern. This focused on the issue of marginalization and the belief among most Papuans that they are becoming “foreigners” in their own land.

Concerns about marginalization arise out of a situation where newcomers (from other islands in the Indonesian archipelago and predominantly from Java and Sulawesi) are seen to occupy traditional land, dominate markets, utilize scarce resources and control the local economy. Papuans also believe there is one law for them and another law for the newcomers. This was illustrated as police savagely targeted indigenous Papuans in March after the demonstration against Freeport. Students from the highlands in particular were singled out in the streets for interrogation while non-Papuans were able to move freely around.

Effectively, most Papuans believe they are being discriminated against and there is consequently a real need to assert their particular identity and to claim access to same rights and privileges experienced by other Indonesians.

Such a response does not, I believe, equate with concerns that seek “independence”. Moreover, I believe these concerns do not necessarily fall into the category of “separatism”. Rather, I believe the fundamental issue here revolves around Papuan longings to (i) hold on to what I they consider to be uniquely Papuan and to (ii) achieve equal rights with other Indonesian citizens (newcomers in West Papua).

(b) The Treat of Horizontal Violence

Stories concerning the training of a Muslim “Jihad” in Papua abound. I was taken past a “pesantran” (Islamic boarding school) east of Jayapura and near the border with PNG. Here young Muslims are thought to be in training. There continues to be considerable suspicion towards Islamic communities and their so-called intentions. Hence efforts to build relationships with the Muslim community in Papua are important and considerable progress has been made by religious leaders in this area.

Papuan religious leaders are very aware of what happened in Maluku in 1999 (when widespread violence broke out between Christians and Muslims) and they speak often about the terrible situation in Central Sulawesi. Here horizontal violence between Christian and Muslim communities continues. Every effort is being made by Papuan religious leaders to avoid such a scenario in Papua while it is acknowledged that such violence between Christians and Muslims could indeed break out with terrible consequences.

The UCA actively supports all initiatives that contribute towards dialogue and peace. We encourage the building of relationships between religious communities in Papua while we have supported, and we will support, workshops and other initiatives aimed at dealing with the threat of violence.

(c) Surveillance and Miss-information

Concerns were raised about the activity of the Indonesian Intelligence (BIN) and their perceived role in creating fear and uncertainty in the region. Church leaders believe they are under surveillance and this belief shapes their lives each day.

Some church leaders suggest there are moves to undermine the credibility of their leadership and the role of the church. Events associated with the 16th March demonstration in Abepura against the Freeport Mine and the tragic deaths of three Indonesian security personnel are a case in point. Student dormitories were raided and trashed. Some students were detained and assaulted. Many students fled to the mountains while others were too frightened to return to their lectures.

In a very public case, the son of the GKI Moderator, along with 22 others, was convicted of offences related to the Abepura incident. Eko was convicted on very questionable evidence to three years prison. This conviction has impacted significantly on the moderator’s family and the wider church.

Meanwhile there have been moves in Indonesia and Australia to portray the UCA as a church that supports “separatism” in Papua.  This is simply not true. The UCA is committed to working alongside the GKI to address critical issues in Papua. These include health, education, human rights abuses, peace and reconciliation, increasing marginalization of the Papuan community, and development of good relationships between religious groups. Neither the UCA nor the GKI promotes “separatism” in Papua.

The 5th February 2007 Declaration in Manokwari

The Moderator, Rev Berotabui, shared one particular concern with me. Certain Muslim interests are said to be exerting pressure on provincial officials to have a large Islamic Centre built in Manokwari. Said to be “one of the largest centres of its kind in South East Asia”, this development is infuriating the Papuan community, most of whom are Protestant Christians.

Just off the coast of Manokwari lies the island of Mansinam and this is a “sacred” site for many Papuans. It is here that the German missionaries first landed in 1855 and Papuans today identify Mansinam as place where the “Gospel entered Papua.” Importantly, in Papua, Christianity is seen as an agent that brought peace to a land often engaged in violence fed by local tribal loyalties.

Meanwhile Christian faith also provided an effective basis to unite Papua with a sense of corporate identity and a common purpose. In this sense, Christianity and emerging Papuan nationalism are closely embedded. 

The spread of Islam into Papua challenges these aspirations. The issue is not so much Christianity verse Islam. Rather the issue concerns the arrival of a “foreign” culture and “foreign” values that are represented by Islam.

To outsiders Christianity may also appear to be a “foreign” influence however Papuans have actually embraced the faith and made it very much their own. The GKI is now lobbying for Manokwari to be declared a “Daerah Khusus” or “Special Region” where Christianity is observed as the official religion. To outsiders this may appear to be a controversial action and obviously the intention is to try and stop the Islamic Centre being built in what amounts to GKI “heartland”.  

Plans are being made to make this declaration on the 5th February 2007 (the 102nd anniversary of the arrival of the Gospel in Papua). It is a measure not unique to Manokwari and I am aware of similar moves in other parts of Papua where local people want to maintain their Christian heritage

Decentralisation throughout Indonesia is offering local communities more autonomy and it is not uncommon for local communities in Bali, for instance, to assert (and sometimes impose) their Hindu identity. Likewise it is not uncommon for local communities in Sumbawa, South Sulwaesi or Aceh (where Islam is strong) to assert (or impose) their distinct Muslim identity. This often leads to considerable difficulties when building a church, for example, and an overt Christian presence may be excluded from such regions.

GKI-Uniting Church in Australia (UCA)Partnership

Discussions with some members of the new GKI synod executive (Rev Corinus Berotabui – Moderator; Rev Hiskia Rollo – General Secretary and Mr Boas Duwiri – Treasurer) identified a number of important points:

(a) The UCA-GKI Partnership

This partnership is greatly appreciated and the synod executive trusts this relationship will continue to grow. Both the UCA and the GKI recognise our partnership is a mutual church-to-church one involving a commitment by both churches to the expression of solidarity. Meanwhile ecumenical networks operate in Indonesia and Australia involving the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) and the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA).

The GKI is a member of the PGI and the UCA is a member of the NCCA. These ecumenical networks are important and we remain committed to them while also recognizing the particular relationship that is shared in our church-to-church partnership.

The synod executive also recognizes the particular relationship that exists between the Presbytery and Synod of South Australia and the Biak-Numfor Region of the GKI. This partnership involves a commitment to projects and the synod executive supports this initiative.

Rev Berotabui indicated the GKI has moved into a new period of leadership and there may be new opportunities for the UCA to develop relationships in Papua. Hope was expressed that other UCA synods/presbyteries may be interested in developing relationships with other regions of the GKI, eg. with the central highlands and in the Warpoen region.

The GKI Synod asked to be constantly informed about the progress of the SA-Biak-Numfor partnership while they requested all funds allocated to Biak-Numfor projects be sent via the synod account in Jayapura. This is to ensure adequate monitoring and feedback as the synod takes responsibility for receiving progress reports from the projects. When funds are allocated and sent for projects, I suggest the project be directly informed and then the funds be sent to the synod account with clear instructions concerning their use.

(b) Visits to GKI

The synod executive is looking forward visits by the SA Presbytery/Synod and/or a group of women led by Lyn Leane (this particular visit was postponed in September due to the death of Yakoba Ibiri, the facilitator of the visit to Numfor). February 2007 was suggested as an appropriate time for a visit. A special celebration will take place in Manokwari to acknowledge the 102nd anniversary of the coming of the Gospel to Papua in 1855. This will coincide with the “Manokwari Declaration” mentioned on page 6 of this report.

(c) Relationship with STIE Ottow-Geissler

The UCA has developed a relationship with the GKI economics and management college called STIE Ottow-Geissler in Kota Raja (Jayapura). Our primary contribution is through the significant work of an Assisted Volunteer, Shelly Houghton. Shelly teaches on the staff and has developed an important program concerning English teaching. The principal of STIE, Calvyn Masembra, is very pleased with Shelly’s work and the UCA is providing funds to meet the cost of tuition fees for 38 students involved in this program.    

(d) Personnel Needs

The GKI has requested personnel support from the UCA in a number of areas. These include another volunteer English language teacher for STIE. Shelly Houghton is finding it difficult to respond to the huge student numbers wishing to undertake this course. Another volunteer English teacher is urgently required.

The seminary (STT GKI I.S Kinje) in Abepura is seeking volunteer teaching staff to serve on the faculty. Teachers in the area of pastoral studies and developing the capacity of the congregation are needed. A commitment to at least one semester (six months) is required while short-term teachers to lead intensive programs (one to four weeks) are also welcome.

STT GKI I.S. Kinje is experiencing financial difficulties and teaching staff are limited. There is also a sense of growing isolation in the theological community. Contributions from experts in the field of theology, missiology, Biblical studies etc. to short-term intensive programs are particularly welcome. It’s important to note that personnel for STT GKI I.S. Kinje must have a degree of fluency in Bahasa Indonesian before they can teach. 

The GKI Synod is also hoping to develop its capacity in the area of advocacy and research/monitoring/reporting skills. Personnel with these skills are welcome to serve with the synod in this area.

(e) Future Projects and Support for the GKI

The GKI has requested an opportunity for key leaders to undergo advocacy training in Australia. This will involve around six months of English language work followed by a six month or one semester period of training in the area of international advocacy. The development of such skills is strategic to the GKI’s commitment to (a) developing effective human rights monitoring and reporting and (b) raising the profile of Papua in international forums and networks.

The GKI Moderator, Rev Corinus Berotabui, lacks international experience while his English language skills are very limited. Opportunities are being sought for Rev Berotabui to spend three months in Australia (March, April, May 2007) to upgrade his English skills. This is a very important request.

The Moderator of the GKI performs an extremely important international role as he represents his people and articulates their needs and concerns in many forums, meetings and networks throughout the world.

Health and education are the GKI’s priority and there continues to be a massive need in this area. Rev Bertoabui indicated that assistance for Ibu-Ibu Sara initiatives is still needed while GKI clinics operating in Jayapura and Biak require funds to develop a midwifery program together with the provision of a number of beds in each unit to receive admissions. Clinics in Biak and Numfor require a constant supply of medicines.

(f) Ongoing Dialogue between the UCA and GKI

There are frequent communications between Australia and Papua. Indeed, the communications revolution makes this possible (email, phone and text messaging). In times of crisis the GKI has sought immediate channels of communication with the UCA. Meanwhile face-to-face meetings are considered to be a highly effective as a means of encouraging one another.

Following the Abepura incident in March this year the GKI sought some direct engagement with the UCA. Unfortunately this did not take place for a number of practical reasons. However we are committed to the principle of face-to-face engagement and will seek opportunities for direct dialogue in the future. This could involve a small delegation traveling to Papua or it could mean that the UCA hosts a small delegation in Australia. Delegations would involve church leaders and resource staff.

Personal Observations

The GKI has entered its next fifty years of witness and service. The Papua of 2006 is a very different place to the Papua of 1956. Papuans perhaps feel less optimistic now about their future than they did in 1956. The claim that “we are becoming foreigners in our land” is clearly heard these days and there are genuine concerns about the future of Papuan identity and Papuan culture.

I also heard comments suggesting Papuans lack the necessary education and skills to effectively deal with the massive changes in their homeland. Recent history indicates Papuans have suffered terribly at the hands of the military. This has engendered a culture of fear and a lack of confidence among many people. It has also triggered a significant lack of trust towards security personnel and influences coming out of Jakarta. Meanwhile development priorities have certainly favoured newcomers from other parts of Indonesia.

Special Autonomy has created a lot of confusion in Papua however it may still offer some hope. More responsibilities are being exercised by local people. Money is flowing into Papua however there are signs that resources are being mismanaged by an emerging Papuan elite. Benefits are not flowing through to the “grass roots and this is likely to become a very serious problem.

While I was in Papua I heard no references to “merdeka” (independence for Papua). Indeed, the message I received indicates most ordinary Papuans are trying to make the best of what is available. Papuan hopes and aspirations are rather straight forward. People embrace a real desire to maintain their distinct identity as Melanesians and they long to receive the same rights, the same privileges, and the same protection as other Indonesian citizens.

I was also able to visit a community near the border with Papua New Guinea and its possible their story may embody the broader experience in Papua today. This community suffered at the hands of a brutal military campaign in 1969. On a mission to drive out the OPM (Papuan resistance), the army burnt villages and gunned down innocent people. Many members of the community escaped across the border where they took refuge near Vanimo for a period of thirty years.

After the fall of Suharto and with the beginning of Indonesia’s incredible journey towards democracy and reform, this Papuan community returned home. Simple housing was constructed by the provincial government and this community was able to live close to their ancestral lands.

While some things have happened, this former refugee community continues to live in a high degree of deprivation. The community has no access to schools. Children are therefore receiving no education beyond what the local evangelist is offering on occasions in the tiny church. Health facilities are absent in the area while basic needs including access to clean water and sanitation are lacking. The community does not have access to markets to sell their excess crops and generate a much needed cash income. Meanwhile, local Javanese loggers are coming onto their ancestral lands to extract timber. Only token compensation is being offered.  

All the ingredients of Papua’s dilemma are here in this story. There is enormous potential in Papua however indigenous Papuans are simply missing out.

Meanwhile, in more recent times, lack of capacity and poorly prepared Papuan bureaucrats means those few opportunities offered to local people through special autonomy could actually lead to failure. In all of this Papuans really have little to celebrate.


The GKI is our major focus and I reminded of the GKI Golden Jubilee theme. The work of the church is related to “renewal” and “restoration”. I understand this as a ministry that values Papuan identity, restores Papuan dignity and works to create a society where the rights and the freedom of all people are respected and maintained.

There is no doubt the GKI has a vital role to play in Papua. Most Papuans see things this way. Their future largely depends on what the GKI and other churches in Papua are planning to do in the next few years. Hence, the churches do have a role and they do maintain a significant profile in the country.

The UCA was there in Jayapura to witness the celebration of GKI’s first fifty years. Our commitment is to journey with this church as it continues to be an effective voice of the people. Our undertaking is to work with the GKI as it serves as an important agent of change in Papua today.

Rev John Barr
Executive Secretary
Uniting International Mission
Uniting Church in Australia
9th November 2006

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