Locked down but uplifted

“The love from Indonesia”: for YAMENers Enosh Rupamajhi, Jeu Song and Olicky Muchindu, the warmth of relationship – from their hosts and each other – is a hallmark of their year.

YAMEN offers young adults from around the world an opportunity to leave what they know for a year to serve, grow and learn in an international placement. YAMEN is a joint program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite World Conference (MWC).  In Indonesia, YAMEN is a joint program with Indomenno, an association of the three Indonesian Mennonite synods, and Mennonite World Conference.

Andrea Geiser, YAMEN coordinator, says “the benefits [of exchange programs] for individuals, church, host families, host community, workplace are huge.”

In Indonesia, YAMENer Jeu Song (Laos) visited parishioners alongside the pastor and worked on the multimedia team at JKI (Jemaat Kristen Indonesia) Kasih Allah church in Semarang.

Olicky Muchindu (Zambia) served in the kindergarten class at GITJ (Gereja Injili di Tana Jawa) Tompomulyi Juwana. He frequently practiced his newly-learned Indonesian with people in town. “I’m kind of a social person,” he says. 

Enosh Rupamajhi (India) was an assistant English teacher at GITJ Ketanggan Pati. He enjoyed learning about the business of beekeeping from his host father.

From March 2020, these YAMEN participants serving Mennonite churches in Indonesia were unable to serve in their placements due to COVID-19 lockdown  yet unable to go home due to travel restrictions. Until July – when they returned home one by one – the young men endured lockdown together in an office in Salatiga.

YAMENers from Zambia, Laos and India wrote a worship song together in Indonesian while in lockdown together.

‘The Boys’ became like family.

At times, they “just needed to breathe,” says Olicky Muchindu. Confined to the office, they missed their hosts, were sad about events and opportunities they missed and worried about their families.

To pass the time, they sang songs together, wrote stories about their placements and commiserated about language mishaps, taught each other to cook their home cuisine and prayed together every night. “Now I can cook chicken curry,” says Jeu Song.

“Getting them home was tricky,” says Anielle Santoso,  Indomenno liaison. “But ‘the Boys’ helped each other.” Two of them worked with their governments to get seats on repatriation flights. 

“If we work together [across differences],” says Jeu Song, “we will know each other and we can help each other when we go through something difficult” – in ecumenical settings or personal relationships.

“When it became clear that COVID-19 was a global pandemic, MCC had to make decisions regarding service workers,” says Andrea Geiser. Area directors, program coordinators and participants discerned the options available as programs curtailed their activities. Facing travel restrictions, many YAMENers, like ‘the Boys,’ remained in their host countries for months. Three YAMEN participants from 2019/2020 continue their pandemic-affected terms until December.

As COVID-19 continues to impact travel and health and safety guidelines, service opportunities are limited, with only two YAMEN participants starting in October 2020.

Under lockdown, ‘the Boys’ in Salatiga continued their cross-cultural experience, using both Indonesian and English as a common language. [Click here to view a worship song they wrote together in Indonesian]

“Every morning, we sang worship songs in Bahasa Indonesia,” says Enosh Rupamajhi. “I feel that here is the presence of the Lord; terima kasih, Tuhan! [‘thank you, God’ in Indonesian].”

—A Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee joint release by Karla Braun, a writer for Mennonite World Conference who lives in Winnipeg.

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