Yesterday afternoon I attended the graduation ceremony of dr. Simon Ririhena at the Free University in Amsterdam. Simon received his Ph.D. after having produced a dissertation about a traditional concept (‘Pela’) that is important in the culture of a region of the South Moluccans (presently part of Indonesia). In his study he demonstrates how this concept may provide a bridge to the person and the work of Christ. (I could not help but think of the Peace Child approach that was developed by Don Richardson, when he worked as missionary among the people of the Sawi tribe in Irian Jaya.)
Since a number of years Simon has found his spiritual home in the Protestant Moluccan Church in the Netherlands. Presently he is the rector of the Seminary of this denomination that is located in Houten (near Utrecht). Being a Moluccan himself, Simon feels a close tie with, and a responsibility for, the spiritual heritage of his people. However, Simon has always had a connection with the Adventist church. In the past he served for a number of years as an Adventist pastor. When I congratulated him yesterday, he reminded me of the fact that I was the person who (many years ago) recruited him for the study of theology. Perhaps I should feel sad that Simon, at a certain point in his life, exchanged the Adventist Church for the Moluccan Church. However, I must confess that the atmosphere around the hall where the graduation took place and the massive presence of Moluccan people, strengthened my feeling that Simon made the right choice: This is the place where he can be of most significance for lots of people and for the Lord of the church.
In the evening I had to attend a meeting of a small church committee in Huis ter Heide. We were to discuss some changes in the constitution and by-laws of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands. It is not such a fascinating subject that it would keep one awake. Before the meeting was to begin I had ample time to have a meal in a restaurant that I used to visit quite regularly when I worked in the denominational office in Huis ter Heide: the Chinese-Indonesian Restaurant Tong-Ah. I had not darkened its door for some time, but I was satisfied to conclude that the people there still deliver ‘good value for the money’.
The restaurant was not very full, but nonetheless two ladies decided to take the table next to mine. They soon engaged in a rather loud conversation, apparently unaware that I could easily follow what they were talking about. At first I tried to be polite and not to listen, and to read a few papers while I was waiting for my food. But soon I gave up, since something interesting caught my ear.
After a few moments the conversation was about a question that one of the women asked her friend, who did most of the talking: Did she still regularly attend church? I picked up that she had for some time attended the services of the Salvation Army. But she and her husband had stopped going there, because they got nothing out of it. The past few years they had faced numerous personal problems, but she did not feel that going to a church would help her very much. Of course, she still believed in God. But, she stated, you can have faith without going to a church.
She continued. Some time ago she was diagnosed with Diabetes 2—rather young, for she is now only 51. She gets a regular check by a specialist nurse who is part of the doctor’s office where she gets her medical care. And, you know, this is such a nice woman! In fact, she is the only person she has met for a long time, with whom she feels she can freely talk about matters of faith. This woman knows how to listen and does not push you. Really, she is a remarkable person. This woman had suggested to her that she might perhaps accompany her to her church, if she felt no longer at home in the Salvation Army or some other church.
“And,’ asked the one woman who was patiently listening, ‘did you ever go with her to her church?’ ‘No, not yet, but I might at some point in time . . .’, came the reply. ‘But it is a bit complicated, you know. For that church meets on Saturday morning and that does not really fit my schedule . . . But perhaps I should go. For, if all the people in that church in Huis ter Heide are like .. . . (and here she mentioned the name of her diabetes consultant) then perhaps it would be a good place for me . . .’
I did not recognize the name of this diabetes consultant, but Chapeau! to her. When I heard this, I thought: I just hope that once in a while there are people who talk like this about me . . .