A good kind of infidel

“We were far away from peace, but now we are friends with Christians. We are working for peace and humility.” Through an interpreter, Commander Yanni Rusmanto from Solo, Indonesia, spoke at the “Mennonites in Indonesia and Radical Muslims making peace” workshop at Assembly 17 in Indonesia.

This was one of several workshops on interfaith relationships with a focus on Christians and Muslims. In total, more than 50 workshops took place at Mennonite World Conference’s Assembly 17 in Indonesia, with many of them recorded to watch later.

Yanni Rusmanto is a leader of Hezbollah, an Indonesian paramilitary group. (“Hezbollah” means “party of God” and is the name of many Muslim groups with no relation to each other.) They monitor the community for drunkenness and lawbreakers, offering warnings and liaising with the police when there are street fights.

In the workshop, GKMI pastor Paulus Hartono and Yanni Rusmanto talked about their cooperation.

After the 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunami that devastated part of Aceh, it wasn’t enough for Solo-based Mennonite Diakonia Service to respond alone. MDS founder Paulus Hartono reached out to invite the local Muslim commander to join with MDS in the aid efforts.

“Why does this infidel want to dialogue?” Yanni Rusmanto wondered when Paulus Hartono approached him. He was afraid he might be converted. He tried to rebuff, but Paulus Hartono kept asking.

“He spoke to me about humility and about the earthquake in Aceh. I started to open my heart,” says Yanni Rusmanto.

The two groups worked side by side in Aceh for 15 days, living under the same roof. “We started to know each other. We respect each other though we are very different in many things. But that doesn’t mean we can’t work together,” says Paulus Hartono.

Yanni Rusmanto still regards Hartono as kefir – an infidel. But “Paulus is a good kefir. I want to be friends with Paulus, and I want dialogue.

For Paulus Hartono, peacebuilding and humanitarian aid work hand in hand. MDS responds to disasters, builds environmental sustainability and conducts interfaith dialogue. The three are inseparable, even indistinguishable at times.

People ask Paulus Hartono for the secret to his thriving congregation and groundbreaking ministry: “We must do Jesus’ mission: not our organization’s mission or our church’s mission. We live out kingdom values: mission, peace, truth, justice and love, guided by the Holy Spirit.”

“We see the hearts of the Mennonite people. In humility, they make peace. They build good relationships with the other religions – even for us with Hezbollah,” says Yanni Rusmanto.

Yanni Rusmanto now puts Paulus Hartono into a third category: a kindness infidel.

“Peace is better than violence. The world is full of violence including war. This is the time for us to make peace together,” says Yanni Rusmanto. “Hezbollah serves God and the world: with Paulus, we serve the world. In the end, I say to you all my Mennonite friends in all the world, to love peace, humility and nonviolence.”


This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier October 2022.

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