He gave himself as our mentor
Rev. Charles Christano, Mennonite World Conference (MWC) president from 1978 to 1984, and one of the cornerstone pastors of GKMI (Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia church) in Indonesia, died Friday, 22 September 2023, at age 84.
He was born Tan Ing Tjioe in Indonesia in 1939. He wanted a to be a doctor, but felt a strong calling to be a pastor when he was in high school, so choose to enter seminary instead.
In 1976, he became senior pastor of GKMI Kudus, one of GKMI’s pioneer churches and mother church of many congregations in Central Java.
GKMI Kudus went through a transformation under his leadership. He firmly believed in the importance of laypeople (non theologians) in the church and welcomed them in church leadership and evangelistic ministries. Their outreach in the 1970s resulted in a lot of young people coming to GKMI Kudus. Today, many are leaders and theologians in the Mennonite church.
During his presidency (1978—1984), Mennonite World Conference began to evolve from a conference (focused around an event) to a communion (koinonia). This was a pivotal time when MWC transformed from a Europe-based movement to a global fellowship of churches linked together in worship, service, witness and fellowship. Concurrently, he also served as moderator of GKMI.
Charles Christano was described as very principled and firm, but generous with his time to mentor and be a role model to younger leaders.
“His involvement as president of Mennonite World Conference when I was still a teenager inspired me to be involved also with the global church, because he often spoke to me personally about MWC and its work,” says Rev. Paulus Widjaja, chair of the MWC Assembly 2022 advisory board and former chair and secretary of MWC’s Peace Commission.
“He was adamant about protecting the church from a monopoly of what’s right and true by an individual pastor,” says Nindyo Sasongko, Asia representative of MWC’s Creation Care Task Force. A former youth pastor of GKMI Kudus who calls Charles Christano his spiritual father, Nindyo Sasongko cherishes these words from a decades-past sermon that ring true today: “‘Truth doesn’t belong to an individual, rather a community.’”
Eddy Sutjipto of Indonesia remembers Charles Christano’s role in helping him see beyond the local church, including attending the MWC Assembly in Winnipeg in 1990. “He said the experience in connecting with Mennonites and Anabaptists from all over the world would be good for us and our ministry in GKMI. And it was! Our being there opened many doors for closer collaboration with churches, as well as and development and mission agencies in different countries. The experience of connecting with the global church eventually led me to serve as GKMI moderator, then as member of General Council and Executive Committee (2003—2009).”
Andreas Christanday, Charles’ younger brother and an evangelist says, “His sermons and writings were relevant interdenominationally, while staying true to his Anabaptist roots. He was not afraid to critique the church, but never without showing a way for the church to resolve the issues.... Through his work so many people were inspired to follow his example in serving God.”
“Charles’s integrity and moral standards were unmatched. His words and deeds are in line with what he believed in his heart. He served not only his own congregation, but also the national and even international churches. I am grateful for all the encouragement, constructive criticism and mostly being a role model,” says Paulus Widjaja.
“A wonderful man: humble and joyful,” says MWC president Henk Stenvers. “At age 39, Charles Christano followed Million Belete as the second president of MWC from the Global South. Highly respected in Indonesia, he brought his principled but generous leadership to help shape MWC into a global communion. We are grateful for pastors and church leaders like him who show us how to follow Christ in unity and peace."
Charles Christano is survived by three adult children. The funeral will take place 26 September 2023 in Kudus, Indonesia.
Click here to read about a memorable communion service Charles Christano led at the Wichita MWC Assembly in 1978