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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Rev John Barr
Uniting International Mission
Uniting Church in Australia
9th November 2006