A pioneer witness
This summer Pastor Yesaya Abdi will retire from leadership of PIPKA, the Indonesian Mennonite mission board, which has a long history of partnership with Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Brethren Missions and Eastern Mennonite Missions, all of North America. “Pak” Abdi’s transition is a major marker of a pioneering era in international Mennonite missions.
Pak Abdi spent a lifetime in pastoral leadership, first at Salatiga from 1968 to 1991 in the heartlands of the Indonesian Mennonite churches in Java, and then until 2012 as pastor of the Anugerah (Grace) Mennonite congregation of Jakarta. From the beginning he was a missional pastor.
The first international witnesses sent by Mennonites were from Holland and Russia in 1851 to the Dutch colony in southeast Asia, now Indonesia. The Javanese Mennonite Church, now more than 40,000 strong, grew from this early mission endeavor.
Pak Abdi was born into a family of disciples in 1945. His grandfather — the nephew of a Chinese businessman, Tee Siem Tat, who met Jesus after being healed of a serious illness — was a gambler before he met Jesus. “To remind himself to stop gambling, he cut off his left thumb,” Pak Abdi said. “God gave him the gift of healing, and many around him were healed and drawn to Jesus as he prayed for them.”
At 17, he committed his life fully to Jesus in a youth Bible camp when the speaker said, “There are many around us who are hungry and thirsty. Are any of you ready to give your life to feed them?” Pak Abdi said yes.
Pak Abdi poured his life out for others. He visited prisoners, led student discipleship groups and served as a counselor in renewal meetings. In 1967 he pivoted at the choice between medical school and seminary, so he took a week to fast and pray for direction. Every night he awakened at 1:30 a.m., and on the third night he distinctly heard a voice, “The one who is to become a doctor is not you, but your sister.” He waited for confirmation, and three times the voice came.
He was sure he had heard from God and surrendered hopes for a more lucrative vocation. His sister Lydia entered medical school and went on to excel as a physician. Pak Abdi has been planting churches and mobilizing church planters ever since.
In 1971, a speaker said, “You don’t need to go abroad to become a missionary.” In Spirit-led reflex, he committed himself to his own backyard. From the new Salatiga church they planted fellowships in 13 surrounding villages. Later he helped to spark a new series of local Mennonite congregations in Jakarta and surrounding regions.
He became a leader in PIPKA, begun in 1965. PIPKA has led international Mennonite missions, catalyzing MCC and EMM to join it in pioneering a mission team in the jungles of Kalimantan beginning in 1977. Now there are 19 Mennonite congregations along those beautiful jungle rivers.
Today Pak Abdi not only leads PIPKA but presides over annual gatherings of the International Missions Association, with more than 20 Anabaptist mission groups around the globe. Agus Mayanto, a dynamic young Indonesian church planter whom he mentored, leads the Global Mission Fellowship of Mennonite World Conference.
We celebrate with Pak Abdi, PIPKA and the Indonesian Mennonites, and we thank God for their inspiring leadership in global Anabaptist mission.
Richard Showalter, of Landisville, Pa., is chair of Mennonite World Conference’s Mission Commission.
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