Where in the world is Sumatra? Are any independent fundamental Baptist churches there? If so, how in the world did they get started? The answers demonstrate what God can do through believers with vision, initiative, and a will to get the job done.

Where in the world is Sumatra?

Sumatra is one of the islands of Indonesia, just south of Thailand. Indonesia is multiethnic, multilingual, and religiously diverse, though predominantly Muslim. With a population of 222 million people in 2006, it is the world’s fourth most populous country and the most populous Muslim-majority nation. The Indonesian constitution makes no reference to Islam, but states, “Every person shall be free to choose and to practice the religion of his/her choice,” and it “guarantees all persons the freedom of worship, each according to his/her own religion or belief.” The government officially recognizes only six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. However, it does allow Christian churches to be built, but only with community consent. The government will not issue an authorization to build, such as a building permit, unless the surrounding neighborhood approves. This requires church planters to engage in pre-evangelism relationship building.

Are any independent Baptist churches in Sumatra?

Neither the predominance of Islam nor the community resistance have dampened the spirit or drained the energies of a five-member team of entrepreneurial visionaries committed to church planting. Assuming the name Team Sumatra, these five professionals came together five years ago. They are not a mission agency or a parachurch organization, but simply a small group of Christians seeking to facilitate church planting. Their vision is to plant an independent fundamental Baptist church in every town in Sumatra.

Five years ago Team Sumatra set forth the goal of planting 130 churches by 2021. In a recent strategy meeting, they calculated the progress and reexamined the timetable. God has blessed, as 40 churches have been started. Based on that reality, the target date was moved from 2021 to 2015.

How does Team Sumatra plant churches?

Five factors are contributing to the fulfillment of Team Sumatra’s vision:

Team Sumatra conquered inertia. They took the initiative to pray, strategize, and facilitate a church-planting movement.

Dr. Adinda, the team leader and director of EB Hospital, Indonesia, determined to use the profits of the hospital as an income stream to support church planting.

Church-planting pastors and recent seminary graduates agree to live sacrificially because of their commitment to the Great Commission.

One seminary with a church-planting emphasis requires every student in the program to plant a church in order to graduate.

Team Sumatra provides a three-week training program to prepare the church planters for the challenges that lie ahead of them.

What can American believers learn?

Thinking about the makeup of this team raises questions as to the feasibility of something similar in the United States. The team consists of a medical doctor, a businessman, a school psychologist, a seminary professor/pastor, and a church planter. They started with prayer and a God-given vision. Using good business practices, they identified an income stream. Then they partnered with a seminary to produce church-planting graduates. The team challenged these men concerning the sacrifice required to plant a church. And now they help the new graduates and seasoned pastors with the nuts and bolts of church planting, while guaranteeing that their church planters have a fundamental doctrinal position.

History and experience have taught us that there are numerous models for church planting. Our international brothers have successfully negotiated a church-planting movement in an Islamic country through a team of committed Christians who are willing to assist with resources. In the U.S., we do not experience to any degree the amount of resistance that Sumatran believers face. We have abundant resources; we cannot use the present recession as an excuse. Their economic base is far below that of the U.S., but by God’s grace they are getting the job done. May their tribe increase!

International partnerships at work

During their recent trip to Indonesia, Chris and Deb Hindal met with Aryo and Ellen Basuki, and their son, Aaron. Aryo’s story illustrates how international partnerships can work.

While studying at Iowa State University, several Indonesian believers were discipled by George Hatfield, a missionary with Evangelical Baptist Missions who ministers at Campus Baptist Church, Ames, Iowa. Continuing to live in the U.S., these Indonesian believers became burdened to equip church leaders for ministry in their home country. As a result, they identified a young man in Indonesia with ministry potential, and funded a scholarship to support him as he studied at Faith Baptist Bible College. Aryo completed an internship at the Ames church and graduated from FBBC in 2005. After returning to his homeland and marrying, he became a pastor in the growing network of Indonesian Baptist churches.

Chris Hindal is director of GARBC International Ministries.