Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Go to Bali!


I never thought I wanted to go to Bali. My image of it was tourist areas full of drunk Australians, the “I’ve been to Bali too” stereotypes (to quote Redgum). But I loved it.

First, of course, was the weather. Sitting here now wearing two jumpers and woolen tights under my trousers I’m longing for the warmth of the Balinese winter. (When we arrived back in Melbourne and the pilot announced that the local temperature was three degrees the entire plane groaned.)

Then there were the people, who really were friendly and welcoming. One thing that amazed and impressed me was that I didn’t see any road rage in the time I was there – and this was with motorcycles and cars and buses cutting across each other all over the road.

The conference was held at Dhyana Pura, the Place of Meditation, a hotel owned by the Protestant Christian Church in Bali, which had fairly simple but very comfortable rooms surrounded by absolutely beautiful gardens – which people were watering with hoses and sprinklers! The food was great – I have to admit that I have a weakness for nasi goreng for breakfast.

I enjoyed spending time with 60-odd Uniting Church ministers. I’ve realised that I’ve been feeling a bit lonely here in the Macedon Ranges. My friends all live elsewhere, and while I love my people here I always have a sense that I am “the minister” when I’m with them and that I can never fully let myself go. It was incredibly relaxing to be, as I was at the conference, merely the newest and the least of the Uniting Church ministers.

Any downsides? Well, I got sick one day because I took my anti-malarials on an empty stomach. That led to a couple of hours of vomiting and Isabel kindly telling me that I looked “like crap”. And while I loved the night we spent in Blimbingsari and the family I was billetted with I have to confess that I do not like squat toilets and washing with a bucket and dipper. I’ve done it before, I’ll undoubtedly do it again, but when it comes to washing I’m completely westernised! I only saw one “Ugly Australian” in my time there – a man in the market at Ubud loudly telling a woman to “speak English” and then hugging her, obviously making her uncomfortable. But that was it. 

Last week and this morning, rather than preaching on the lectionary readings, I told my congregations about my time in Bali and what I’d learned from the Balinese church. Here’s today’s version:



Monkey at Ubud

Monkey at Ubud



I have to confess that this isn’t really a sermon. This is a talk titled, “Seriously, my time in Bali wasn’t a holiday”. Well, there was the wonderful weather; the swim every morning before breakfast; the great food; and the visit to the monkey forest. But my time in Bali was educational and I want to share some of what I learned with you. There are three areas in which I particularly think we have things to learn from the church in Bali: their relationship to their culture; their emphasis on service; and their inter-faith relationships.

The Protestant Christian Church in Bali, the GKBP, arrived in Bali through the back door. In 1929 the Dutch government allowed a Chinese missionary to come to Bali to minister to the Chinese Christians, many of whom had married Balinese wives. Tsang To Han was told that if he tried to convert the Balinese Hindus he would be expelled. But some Balinese became interested in Christianity, and were baptised. As a result, Mr Tsang was asked to leave Bali in 1933, but the Balinese Christians maintained their faith.

Mr Tsang had, like many missionaries of his time, told the Balinese Christians that they had to give up their culture in order to become Christian. He equated Christianity with Westernisation. Church buildings were to be western rather than Balinese; male Christians were to wear trousers rather than sarongs; Balinese dancing and drumming were forbidden. So, the Christians became second-class Balinese, foreigners in their own villages, and were persecuted. Hindus didn’t talk with the Christians or shop in their markets. The Hindus refused to allow water to irrigate the Christians’ rice fields because they believed water was the gift of the Hindu gods and the Christians weren’t entitled to it. They refused to allow Christians to be buried in the village cemeteries

In order to prevent violence, the Dutch government decided to move all the Christians to one place in the mountains, to isolate them from the rest of Balinese society. So in 1939 the Christians went to the place that is now Blimbingsari, forest land, full of mosquitos and wild animals. The Christians cut a cross-shaped village out of the jungle, and celebrated their first Easter together in 1940. They called the village after the plants that surrounded it: blimbing is the name of the local star fruit tree, and sari means essence. The name of the village is the essence, or offering, of flowers.


In 1972 a Synod was held that made a decisive change in the life of the church. The church decided to overcome the anti-cultural legacy of Mr Tsang and use Balinese culture to express their faith. The vision behind this contextualisation was the incarnation of God as a person born in a specific time and place. The Synod recognised that the message of Christ is suitable for any culture. The big mistake of the Western churches was that when they told people about Jesus Christ they also exported their theology, buildings and culture. But in Bali the message of Christ needed to be related to the cultural context of Bali. Bishop Mastra says that the water of life must be shared in a Balinese cup.

The Pniel Church at Blimbingsari

So the church looked at which parts of the Balinese culture could serve the church. The church at Blimbingsari where I worshipped a fortnight ago is an example of this. The church is built in Balinese style, the shrine symbolising a mountain, which the Balinese believe is the source of life, with Christian symbols decorating it. The church is open to the air, so that creation can join with the human congregation in worshipping God. Behind the altar an open wall looks toward the mountain, it faces kaja, the direction of divinity. The traditional three Balinese elements, water, fire and air are present in the three gushes of water that come from the rock, the sunlight and the open air. The gushes of water represent the story of Moses striking the rock in the desert. The building is decorated with Balinese carving. Worship starts with a procession, with a bible sheltered with umbrellas to show its majesty. Balinese dancing is used to tell biblical stories, and on the Sunday that we were there the Call to Worship was an Angel Dance.

The altar before the waterfall

The altar before the waterfall

The entrance to the church

The entrance to the church

The leg of the Balinese Cross is bent, and is called the dancing cross, since Balinese culture is inseparable from dancing. The smear of red on the cross represents the blood that Israelites put on their doors during Passover, since the Balinese who came to Blimbingsari felt that their story was the story of the Israelite slaves liberated from Egypt and given a new land.




The Balinese call their church the Mango Tree Church. Jesus told his first followers that he was the vine and they were the branches, that they were to bear fruit. Had he come to Bali Jesus would have told his people that he was the mango tree, but the message would have been the same: that they were to bear fruit. A ‘Mango Tree Church’ is one that will grow well in Bali’s soil and environment and bear rich and abundant fruit.

MBM – Maha Bhoga Marga – the Path to Sufficient Food



The Balinese Church believes strongly that people have three basic needs: the needs of head, heart and stomach; or mind, spirit and body. Most people in Bali are poor – they need to see the love of Christ demonstrated, not just talked about.

MBM, the Path to Sufficient Food or the Way to Prosperity was set up in the 1970s. It serves people of all religious and ethnic groups in Bali, and helps people become self-sufficient. MBM doesn’t give outright grants; it gives loans that people then pay when they have set up small businesses.

When we visited MBM, we met with three groups of people who had been helped by MBM. The first group was women who had been lent money to buy sewing machines and so were able to set up their own businesses. The second group was disabled people, people in wheelchairs, who had previously been hidden away by their families in their villages and whose lives involved waiting to die. MBM helped them to meet together, to support each other, and to learn how to be self-sufficient. The third group was transgender people, people born male who lived as women. They too faced discrimination in Balinese society, and MBM also helped them to meet together, support each other, and learn beauty techniques so that they could start their own businesses.

MBM runs on the basis of seeing a need and doing it. They see people discriminated against in Balinese society, poor women, disabled people, transgendered people, and work to help them rediscover their God-given dignity. They do an enormous amount with small amounts of money, and a lot of that money comes from us through Uniting Church Overseas Aid. It was fabulous to see our money at work. I’m always worried that the little amount I can give can do nothing – but small amounts of Australian money can change Balinese lives, and it was great to see that.

We also visited one of the Balinese Church’s seven orphanages, one of the Houses of Knowledge and Love. Some children have no parents, some just have one, all are poor. The motto of the orphanages is “blessed to bless”, and they take children of all religions to provide them with food and shelter and education. Now the church has begun the CDC program, which provides nutrition and educational help to children in their villages, rather than removing them from their families.

Meeting with Kerry Enright

Meeting with Kerry Enright

The vision of the Balinese Church asks a great deal of its members: they are asked to give the first part of the day to God; the first day of the week to God; the first ten per cent of their income to God. This last request, that people give the first ten per cent of their income to God, is also made of everyone who receives a loan from MBM. Christians are asked to give the money to the church; non-Christians to some form of charity.

Inter-faith discussion

There are five official religions in Indonesia: Islam, Protestant, Catholic, Hinduism, Buddhism, and every Indonesian must belong to one of these religions. Religious pluralism is a fact of life; the challenge is for the members of these different religions to live together in peace. Recently, as we in Australia know very well, religion in Indonesia has become part of a culture of violence and there is a great deal of fear between people of different faiths. For some Indonesians Christianity is seen as purely Western, an invasion. For some Christians all Muslims are seen as jihadists. So the Church in Bali is involved with people of other faiths in programs that try to overcome this fear.

In Bali, 90% of the people are Hindu, with a very small number of Christians and Muslims. In most of the other islands of Indonesia, the majority is Muslim, and so interfaith dialogue is Christian-Islamic. The Moderator of the West Java Synod of the Indonesian Christian Church told us about courses that are organised in Muslim schools and Christian congregations on ‘Christianity and Pluralism’ and ‘Islamology and Pluralism’. The courses often end with residential programs, in which Muslims and Christians live together and learn from and about each other. What the church has learned from these is that both Christians and Muslims want encounters and friendship, but have been unable to find it because of resentment and out-of-date theological understandings.

Dr Margaretha Hendricks-Ririmasse, the Vice-Moderator of the World Council of Churches, also talked about a program in Maluka which had Christian pastors staying overnight in Muslim homes. She said that when the first program was held one pastor was so scared that he hid in his room, and when he was found explained that he was simply terrified. But the Christians and Muslims involved each found out that the other was human and also wanted peace.

Etha said that recent conflicts in Indonesia, including the Bali bombings, have taught Indonesians that religious plurality is part of God’s creation, and so is to be accepted and embraced, that there is no perfect religion and people of faith must respect each other and have lots to learn from each other. The hope is that through these inter-faith exchanges religion will be a source of peace and reconciliation in Indonesia, rather than a source of violence and hatred.


So, what does the Protestant Christian Church in Bali have to teach us? I learned three things; and I’ve come home with three questions. The first is the importance of enculturation. The church is Bali is a Mango Tree Church – growing richly in Balinese soil. How do we ensure that the Uniting Church in Australia is a truly Australian church; what do we need to do to ensure that we continue to grow and bear fruit in Australian soil? The second is the attitude of MBM; see a need and do it, become a blessing to bless others. How do we fulfil the needs of head, heart and stomach; or mind, spirit and body, in our area? And finally, I was reminded about the importance of inter-faith dialogue. How do we ensure that the relationship between people of different faiths in Australia is a source of peace and reconciliation?

I had a wonderful time in Bali, and I learned a lot. It wasn’t a holiday, but it was a very rich and worthwhile visit. Thank you for letting me go.


July 20, 2008 - Posted by | Life, etc., Ministry


  1. nice monkey! I also have monkey pictures…we shall have to meet up and compare! glad to hear bali was a success

    Comment by Veryan | July 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. Rules for an Australian Uniting Church

    -Vestments include hats with corks, or loincloths and ochre. Or both.

    -Organ comprising a whole pack of didgeridoos

    -Communion with beer

    -No bishops/hierarchies (tick)

    -Simple, straightforward, uncomplicated bureaucracy (NO tick)

    -Bible rewritten with broad vowels and a limited but colourful vocab.

    -Integrate sports watching (but almost never sports playing) into services. Priests to perform heroic acts of sporting prowess while congregations swear and throw things at officiating umpires (choir boys?).

    -All churches to have tin roofs, verandahs, water tanks.

    Comment by Alex | July 22, 2008 | Reply

  3. -Vestments include hats with corks, or loincloths and ochre. Or both.

    No, up here in the Macedon Ranges truly local vestments need to include thermal underwear and several layers of wool everywhere. Which I wear!

    -Organ comprising a whole pack of didgeridoos

    Okay, failing this one badly.

    -Communion with beer

    We had mango juice at Riddells Creek last week. Can’t have beer (or any alcohol) when the minister’s still on her Ps.

    -No bishops/hierarchies (tick)

    -Simple, straightforward, uncomplicated bureaucracy (NO tick)

    Hey, the reason we’re complicated is BECAUSE we have no hierarchy and everything needs to be discussed by millions of committees so everyone can have a say.

    -Bible rewritten with broad vowels and a limited but colourful vocab.

    Have you see The Aussie Bible? I gave copies to friends at Bossey.

    -Integrate sports watching (but almost never sports playing) into services. Priests to perform heroic acts of sporting prowess while congregations swear and throw things at officiating umpires (choir boys?).

    Well, I’m going to fail at performing “heroic acts of sporting prowess”.

    -All churches to have tin roofs, verandahs, water tanks.

    Working on the water tanks and I don’t think any new churches will be built without them!

    Comment by avrilhj | July 23, 2008 | Reply

  4. A better substitute for grape juice when you can’t find it is apple and red currant juice, which at least looks the same. We used it at Dimboola once and one of the members of the congregation asked what brand of grape juice we’d used because it tasted so good.

    Speaking of Ps – favourite communion moment at a youth event: Colleague who prides self on trendiness and general youth-friendliness, having come from a strongly teetotal background also likes to show liberalness by *always* using wine at communion was celebrant at closing communion for youth retreat. Whips out bottle of port. Several of the young people look worried and one says “do you have any grape juice – if we drink that, we can’t drive home”. Ah. So we had a choice of port from the common cup, or coke from kitchen glasses. Which I’m sure made the young people feel totally included. And may also have left us open to charges of providing alcohol to minors, although I think everyone present was at least 18.

    Comment by Judy Redman | July 29, 2008 | Reply

  5. Now Avril, if you’d offered me fortified booze like Judy did I might have listened to your god stuff….

    Comment by Alex | July 29, 2008 | Reply

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