I enjoy music, and I love Boyz II Men. Of their songs, one of my favorites is “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”. Even when we’re excited about the future, it can be difficult to let go of the past. This was my experience as a participant in the discipleship training program of Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM), and I also think that this is how the EMM staff felt when the program ended after 35 years. After the many years of helping young people become disciples and sending them to approximately fifty-six countries, they sensed that God wanted them to take the next step. They had had a special event called “35 years of saying Yes,” EMM’s farewell event for its young adult evangelism program. The event, which took place on May 21, 2016, at Lancaster Mennonite School, included those who were part of the program since its inception in 1980.
I am from Indonesia, and sixteen years ago I became a mission volunteer with EMM’s program. Together with thirty-four other participants, I went to Harrisburg Discipleship Center. I was so lucky to be able to learn in this new environment, and I learned a lot about how to be a disciple of Christ and how to love Him wholeheartedly, and also how to love others. I was shaped in many aspects of life, especially in my character, in my journey of knowing God more deeply, trusting God more and willing to do whatever God wanted me to do. Through staying together with several staff members who love God and love people, and interacting with many new friends and a new environment for three months, my life changed.
That was not the end. After training in the classroom and reaching out to the community around Harrisburg, we were finally sent to several countries for the next outreach internship for almost six months. I was sent back to my homeland, Indonesia, together with my teammates. It was not easy saying goodbye to some of my new friends who became like family to me, brothers and sisters in Christ. It was not easy to say goodbye to the staff and their families. It was not easy to say goodbye to Harrisburg Discipleship Center and all the people around that “full house.” Yes, it was not easy for a person like me who came to the US for the first time and finally had to say goodbye to all of those great memories.
After leaving Harrisburg I returned to my homeland with my team to serve in Indonesia for almost six months. We arrived in Solo, Central Java in 2000 and served with a Mennonite Church in Indonesia called GKMI Surakarta. We initiated influential ministries, such as teaching English to children in a mosque, teaching English to bus drivers at Tirtonadi Bus Station as well as in the Solo Empire, and broadcasting at a radio station. We also helped to equip the church we worked with by teaching Sunday School, teaching English for the community and mostly building friendships with Muslims. It was a glorious ministry, and it was all about God. We learned how to walk with God in everyday life, by living together as God’s disciples and sharing our lives with others through simple love and actions beyond borders and beyond our own cultures. It was not an easy journey, but really worth it.
Finally after six months serving together in Solo, Central Java, we as team had to say goodbye to each other. I had to stop in Jakarta and continue my study in seminary, and the rest had to go back to the US, to Harrisburg Discipleship Center and join the reentry program for several days. At Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, we had to say goodbye. We prayed together, holding hands, and blessed each other’s next journey with God. I remember how difficult it was, saying goodbye to yesterday and not knowing whether we would see each other again.
Several years after that, I became a pastor at Koinonia Church in Surabaya, Indonesia. In 2007 one of my fellow staff members at the Harrisburg Discipleship Center, Troy Landis, after his graduation at college, felt God’s calling for mission and came to Jakarta and then to Surabaya where he served in Indonesia for almost six years. And you know what? We started a young adult evangelism program in Indonesia together. What an unbelievable thing! God is a Great Arranger and Organizer. Our friendship which began several years ago in Harrisburg had moved into another place where God has something new for us to do here in Indonesia. God is not only God of yesterday, He is the God of today and also the God of tomorrow. Several years after Troy’s arrival, here again God sent another surprise, Angie Earl, who then became EMM’s discipleship training coordinator. She came to Indonesia and joined our ministry, teaching young people to love God and to love people. For almost five years, I had been ministering together with Troy, Angie, and later Han Li (another former evangelism service alumna from Indonesia) for several years. Since 2009 we have trained almost 40 young people from the US, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines. This year, 2016, was the last team that we had. We believe God has something new for us, we believe God didn’t want our work to only be a program; we believe God wants to walk with us in everyday life.
Two years ago, God called me into a new role, as General Secretary of GKMI Synod. Through this, God gave me the opportunity to attend Mennonite World Conference as a member of General Council. So in 2015, by God’s grace, I travelled again to the US. During those meetings and conferences I was able to again visit the Harrisburg Discipleship Center. I had such mixed feelings; I was able to remember and reflect on what God had done in my life fifteen years ago, when I lived at the center. Yes, I believe God is far greater than a program, and I agree discipleship in not about only a curriculum. It’s all about relationship with Jesus and others. Yet, we cannot deny that discipleship also involves investing our time, life, and many other resources. This was the hardest thing, saying goodbye to all of those people God used to mold and to shape us, our teachers, our mentors, and our staff. I was sad, but also thankful to God. God is not only God of yesterday; He is God of today and God of tomorrow. Yesterday may have passed, but God’s presence and God’s will have not. The best is yet to come. I thank God for what God has done through the young adult evangelism program, and I also thank God even though we finally had to say goodbye to this program. I believe together with the EMM staff and all the program alumni around the world, that we will not stop saying yes to God, whatever we are asked to do, we will do it.