I recently returned from my third visit to the Gereja Kristen Protestant Bali, the Protestant Church of Bali (GKPB). During these trips, and with visitors from Bali coming to Perth for short and long-term stays, I have made many friends. It was wonderful to catch up with them and to make new ones.
My latest visit was as chairperson of the WA Uniting Church Adult Fellowship (UCAF), with Jane Robertson, our WA UCAF Secretary. We enjoyed an itinerary prepared by Dr Debora Murtha, chairperson of the GKPB Women’s Fellowship.
We all know Bali as a popular tourist destination for Australians; luxury relaxation is available at bargain prices and airfares are more affordable than to Sydney. Balinese people are graceful and gracious, welcoming and courteous. Balinese markets are fun, beaches are beautiful and scenery is sensational. Happy hour lasts for hours and mocktails and cocktails are cheaper than at home. Balinese lifestyle seems to flow like the traffic – without haste or jostle, with conventions for rightof- way and give-way gently absorbed with the culture.
Balinese society has many faith traditions and religious observances are visible everywhere. Festivals are frequent and acceptable; some businesses closing and others opening on various days of the week, or weeks of the year, and everyone manages without inconvenience. It is not uncommon to see Christians setting off every evening for Bible study, Buddhists meditating in parks during the morning, or Muslims praying throughout the day on street verges. The predominant religion of Indonesia is Islam. However, in Bali, the majority of the population is Hindu. It is delightful to see the Hindu flower and food offerings freshly placed each morning on doorsteps or footpaths, and Hindu sculptures occupy privileged positions at gateways, on pedestals, and even in the centre of road intersections. Daily Hindu rituals demonstrate dedicated devotional time spent morning and night to thank the good spirits and conciliate the bad spirits.
Unfortunately, the religious forbearance on display in Bali is not continuously experienced by Balinese Christians. Christians constitute 1% of a population of 4 million, and numbers are growing. At present there is a strong trend in the church towards evangelism with local missionaries living in rural and remote villages, joining in daily life while undertaking Biblical and spiritual teachings and pastoral work. These activities are not always welcomed.
The GKPB provides services to the community sponsored by the church and funded through government contracts. These services include women and children’s health, health education particularly associated with poverty, and inadequate water and hygiene infrastructure. Clients attending the clinics are from all religious backgrounds. So, too, the orphanages the church manages care for children from all faith traditions. Although I have a limited comprehension of the issues involved, one aspect of the problem Christians talk about is that Christian beliefs are viewed by some people as denying the holiness of traditions relating to ancestors. Awkwardness, uneasiness, wariness, even hostility, are evidenced in village affairs. I have met Christians whose resistance against intimidation is brave and costly.
The stories I hear in Bali, and the faces I see in Bali, prompt me to acknowledge how easy it is for me to be a Christian in Australia. These days we may be a little marginalised in our society – sometimes even a little shunned. But in Australia we don’t have to be brave to be Christian in quite the same way, nor do we have to consider the implications for our families, friends or neighbours. After this last visit, more so than previously, I came away asking myself, and God, if I use the freedom I have as a Christian in Australia as well as I might do. Having friends in Bali who could face dangers in their homes and their work, challenges me to wonder what I risk for God – and, to date, I don’t think I have ever had to risk anything at all.
Fellowship is a key component of congregation life in Bali – the companioning of one another, supporting and nurturing of each other in faith, and witnessing together to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Fellowship is divided into four sectors – youth, women, men, seniors – and each has an active and lively program which consolidates friendships and tends the pastoral well-being of the congregation. Church for Balinese Christians is a lifestyle, not just a belief system, and Christianity is a discipline to which individuals dedicate themselves. My admiration for Balinese Christians grows with each visit.
Top image: Women at GKPB participate in craft activities. Items are sold to fund scholarships for young women in Bali.