Monday, May 5, 2014

My Conversation with Rev. Bimen Limbong

On April 14, 2014, I spoke with Rev. Bimen Limbong, who is originally from Indonesia and currently serves as the chairperson for the Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory’s Companion Synod Relationship with the Huria Batak Protestant Church (HBKP or the Batak Church).  After Rev. Limbong moved to Kentucky several years ago, the synod office invited his participation within their Companion Synod Relationship with the Batak Church.  Rev. Limbong kindly took an hour of his time to share with me his experiences working within this relationship.

Rev. Limbong recently traveled with Bishop Bill Gafkjen and two others to the nation of Indonesia.  These four represented the synod as they met with the Batak Church district Bishop for the island of Sumatra as well as many local pastors, congregation members, seminary students, and residents.  After discussing with the Batak Church Bishop how the two church bodies could be in partnership with one another, the Batak Church Bishop invited the group to attend the National Children Worship Celebration.  Rather than try to describe that event, I refer you to Rev. Limbong’s description which he shared as part of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod’s Lenten Devotional series.

When I asked Rev. Limbong to describe his vision for the ideal relationship between the Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory and the HBKP, he stated that both church bodies will need to educate their members so that local congregations and pastors understand the relationship which the two church bodies are trying to build.  Previously, the two church bodies built a “negative relationship:” the Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory had resources which they could bring to the HBKP.  In doing so, they also brought Jesus to the Batak Church.  The two church bodies are now trying to build a relationship based on the “accompaniment model” which asks the two church bodies to work together, walk together, and teach each other.  For this to work, both sides need to carry the understanding that they must discern how the Lord is already present in Sumatra, Indiana, and Kentucky and how the Lord is calling the two church bodies to participate in what the Lord is already doing.  Rev. Limbong suggested that teaching this understanding of the relationship throughout the respective churches may be the biggest challenge as the two church bodies restructure a relationship which began in 1998.

Rev. Limbong gave the Batak Church great praise by saying that they are already responding to this challenge.  The Batak Church has adopted the theme of “Becoming a Blessing to the World” and is branching out from Indonesia to other parts of the world as they seek to fulfill their theme.   For the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, this shift is a great challenge because it offers a very different model and requires much more involvement in the relationship.  As both groups work through this change, each church body can teach the other by exchanging their best talents, gifts, and strategies with each other.

An example of this exchange of gifts and talents is an opportunity which the Batak Church has offered to Rev. Limbong.  The Bishop of the Sumatra district will turn 60 this July.  The district has invited Rev. Limbong to be one of 60 theologians to compose an essay in honor of the Bishop’s birthday.  These essays will be collected, published in book form, and presented to the Bishop as a birthday gift.  This opportunity is a great way for the two church bodies to put this accompaniment relationship into practice.

When I mentioned the recent discussion in The Lutheran magazine over the child sponsorship model and international relationships, Rev. Limbong emphasized the premise of relationships verses resources: “When we work together, we realize our needs.  We do not determine the priorities of our companions; we may give them gifts, but we cannot tell them where the gifts must go.  If we are directing the gifts, they are no longer gifts.  We trust that they will use our gifts in appropriate ways to meet their needs and priorities.”  As an example, Rev. Limbong referred to an orphanage run by the Batak Church.  The Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory may support the orphanage, but it trusts the Batak Church to operate the orphanage and determine what is best for the orphanage.

Rev. Limbong also mentioned the inequality that can develop within a child sponsorship relationship.  While the financial contributions may go to the community, the personal communications go directly to individual children.  If a child is sponsored and receiving regular correspondence from his or her sponsor, the child feels loved.  However, if a child is not sponsored or does not receive regular correspondence from his or her sponsor, the child may feel unloved.  The inconsistencies within the child sponsorship model can greatly undercut the goals for the relationship.

Rev. Limbong is often asked, “What can we do?”  He asks that we keep in mind that the synod and the Batak Church are still transforming their relationship structures.  This transformation is a five-year process.  However, this does not mean that individuals and congregations should just sit and wait until the process is over.  Individuals can participate in upcoming “breakout sessions” during synod assembly and discuss the current issues within the Companion Synod Relationship.  Individuals and congregations can also read and pass along communications from the synod office and sponsor ELCA missionaries who are called to work in various communities around the world.  Meanwhile, the Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory and the Batak Church continue to strengthen their communication practices and structures.

What are your reactions to these ideas?  Do you have any lingering questions about what the Indiana-Kentucky Synod and the Batak Church are trying to do?

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