Updated: Jul 6
MY EAST TIMOR STORY
The year was 2001.. I was trained and subsequently been assigned to East Timor by the 1000 Missionary Movement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silang Cavite. The Southern Asia Pacific Division (SSD) facilitated my journey, with necessary paperworks, under the Adventist Volunteer Service (AVS) Ministry of the General Conference. I was sent with a Korean young man, Yoon Sung Hyeun.
It took us around 3 weeks to traverse the various seas and Islands from the North to the South Philippines and through Indonesia, via Manado in East Indonesia, Sulawesi, Java, and eventually to to Kupang, West Timor.
Crossing the border from the West to East Timor was seasoned with much faith and trust in God. There was a so-called “no man’s land” patch of around 3 km road where we learned that there were occasional “shootings” still happening. After securing our necessary papers and with much prayers, Sung Hyeun and myself walked the border route with confidence that God was with us. Singing as we walked, in Korean and in Filipino, we arrived at the other side of the border where United Nations Peace Keeping Forces processed our papers through. We were able to breath easy seeing the UN border personnel from New Zealand and Portugal. In no time, by a public bus, we were on our way to Dili, the capital city of East Timor.
We arrived in Dili and was able to easily locate our Seventh-day Adventist Church compound. We were welcomed by James Densing, a Filipino SDA Missionary who was to go back to the Philippines in a few days time as he was just waiting to turnover “the work” to us. Our Seventh-day Adventist Church was amongst the lucky or “providentially” spared buildings as a result of the 1999 chaos, in the capital city. The church property has a couple of rooms at the back and the compound had an adjacent building of which we were housed. We had basic amenities and we also had running water in the property.
We entered the half-island nation, then still just starting to be officially internationally recognized with a referendum of independence happening in the next few months. The atrocities and devastation of 1999 was still very fresh as evidenced by the still unrepaired damage of properties and roads. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was doing its best to stabilize the territory in all areas including peace, development, and government.
I have done a bit homework prior to arriving in East Timor. I learned that it has around 800,000 people of mostly Roman Catholics and although most of these people would speak Bahasa Indonesia, they would not lose their knowledge of the Tetum language, a hybrid Portoguese dialect, due to being under the Portuguese colony until just around 30 years back. Indonesia occupied this territory until the local revolution of 1999, of which, a longer space to tell the accounts of, would be needed. I learned to speak the Bahasa language on our journey through Indonesia and I found it beneficial in connecting with the younger Timorese people.
Life as a “South-East Asian missionary” in East Timor was not without its challenges although I was able to easily mingle with the locals and got to hang out with them in their community, farming vegetables with them, playing soccer with them, climbing the mountain with them, swimming by the beach with them, and just to be amongst them in all daily opportunities.
The people were receptive to Bible reading and studies but to actually accept the teachings and principles was not easily evident. Most Timorese would respect the traditions and beliefs of their ancestors including some apparent cannibal practices in the highlands
Starting up a few non-formal village English conversational learning meetings by using the Bible as a reading tool was a hit done with humour and lots of patience. I was able to secure some language books that helped me with these programs along with the only local Pastor, Inaciu da Costa. He is a pure Timorese.
We secured funding from the UNTAET government to build a Community Leaning Centre which we would later use to run various programs for the community.
Ronaldo Custodio, a Brazilian SDA Pastor, arrived in the middle of the year. The 4 of us -Pastor Ronaldo, myself, Sung Hyeon, and Pastor Inaciu worked together to befriend anyone from the community in a lot of ways.
A Korean Seventh-day Adventist youth group came and run a weeklong Bible School and organized feeding programs and fun games during their visit towards the end of the year.
We did not have any baptism that year but we had a number of Bible students who I believed would accept God as personal Saviour through baptism in the years, if not months, to come. I left East Timor in January 2002 knowing that I have played my bit to expand the kingdom of God by helping plant seeds of God’s love and truth.