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"Family life has become much more intense"

Pastor Debora Purada Sinaga is head of the Diaconia Department of the HKBP (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan) in North Sumatra, Indonesia. (Photo: Evangelical Church in the Rhineland)

The following interview has been published on the website of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland. The questions were asked by Aaron Clamann, PR desk of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland.

Indonesia is one of the most populous countries in the world and wants to contain the spread of the coronavirus with strict rules. This also restricts church life. Debora Purada Sinaga, head of the Diaconia of the church Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, talks about how new forms of worship are emerging in the process.

Ms. Sinaga, where can we reach you for this conversation?

Debora Purada Sinaga: I live and work in the HKBP (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan) headquarters in Tarutung in the district of Tapanuli Utara on Sumatra in Indonesia. In 2018, the North Tapanuli region had 299,881 inhabitants. The headquarters of the HKBP is located about two kilometres outside the city centre of Tarutung.

The corona virus has changed life in many communities. Even you?

Sinaga: Due to the corona virus, community life has changed a lot. Because there are many restrictions, many things take place at home. This also has consequences for the way we pray and celebrate church services.

Are you still able to celebrate church services?

Sinaga: On March 29th, the HKBP, at the behest of Ephorus (Leading Bishop), recommended families to celebrate home worship services. Services were also celebrated at home on Good Friday, Easter and Ascension Day. The liturgy and the current sermons on these occasions were sent by our headquarters to all 31 church districts throughout Indonesia by e-mail. Most of the messages were sent on Wednesdays so that the local pastors had enough time to forward the liturgy to the parishioners via e-mail, WhatsApp, Instagram other messenger services or printed out. Because there are no church services in churches, the collection is also different. There is an online collection.

The local churches have become very creative. Pastors offer online worship services in live stream, but worship services are also held within families. Talented musicians then sing and make music freely along the liturgy.

In the families it is usually mother and father who read out the sermons provided. The children then lead through the liturgy and the family decides which member will recite prayers. As a result, family life has become much more intense in this area.

How do you keep contact with your parish members?

Sinaga: We keep in touch mainly through video conferencing, telephone, messenger services, Sykpe, Zoom or Facebook.

Does your church also offer special services?

Sinaga: Yes, there is especially help for those who are in danger of becoming social fringe groups: taxi drivers, bus and train drivers, retailers, workers in the palm oil industry, workers in the rubber industry, and hotel and restaurant workers. They have lost customers and income. The church provides them with packages containing five kilograms of rice, one kilogram of sugar, one kilogram of oil, soap and tea. The Diakonie department of our church has already distributed 3000 packages to 300 families.

In addition, our church also provides masks and disinfectants, and our deaconry department gives courses on how to sew masks yourself or make simple disinfectants. The offer is free for everyone - whether churches, mosques or households that are not religious at all.

In addition, we offer a wide range of courses for children, teenagers and students, because from kindergarten to university, most facilities are available. Through art competitions we teach children what the Covid19 pandemic is all about and why it is important to stay at home. Primary school children receive reading material or can write poems on the topic themselves, older students even process what they have learned in video blogs. We offer students the opportunity to produce their own songs. The theme of the activities is: Better to take precautions than to have to heal later.

Do you have the feeling that pastors now have more to do than usual?

Sinaga: On one side yes, but on the other side also not. Because official ceremonies like weddings, birthdays, baptisms, confirmations and funerals are cancelled.

Pastoral care, on the other hand, takes place online - via video telephony or text messages. Prayers are performed from home without direct contact with the people they are supposed to reach.

They work a lot with German partners. How does church life differ in general in both countries?

Sinaga: There are also big regional differences. In some regions families live close together and you can reach each other on foot, in other regions you can only reach church members by motorbike or car. Some parishioners can only be reached by a several-hour drive or half-day marches, because the regions are not accessible by other means of transport.

In Germany, the churches have a positive presence in the media with their online church services, among other things. How do you currently perceive the church in the media?

Sinaga: I also perceive the positive echo here. In order to convey what we are currently doing, we publish a lot online. This ranges from cooking tips on healthy eating for families to music recommendations. Others share with the community the morning jogging round in the livestream. This is very positively received.

On the other hand, we also benefit from the media. This allows our medical teams to better prepare how we treat people who have tested positive for corona. We know how many people are infected, how many have died and which regions are affected. In addition, we can orient ourselves on how best to protect ourselves from spreading.

Organisations in Indonesia also benefit from a recently established relief fund. The United Evangelische Mission (UEM) in Wuppertal has set up a relief fund of one million euros. The Evangelical Churches in the Rhineland and and of Westphalia are each contributing 250,000 Euros.

You too can contribute to the UEM relief fund with a donation. Here are the details: Donation account of the United Evangelical Mission

KD-Bank, IBAN: DE45 3506 0190 0009 0909 08, BIC: GENO DE DI DKD; up-to-date information on aid measures:

About the person

Debora Purada Sinaga, born on 5 April 1965 in Jakarta, is head of the Diaconia Department of the HKBP (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan). Sinaga studied theology and Hebrew language. The HKBP is a Lutheran church founded in 1861 with about 4.5 million members in Indonesia. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, among others.

We publish the above interview in full with the kind permission of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, Communications Department.


IBAN: DE45 3506 0190 0009 0909 08