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Mareeba resident celebrates with the church in Bali

Blimbingsari, the
Leslene Woodward from Mareeba Uniting Church is in Bali under the ‘Partners in Mission’ plan teaching English as a second language and sent the following report of the 74th Anniversary Celebrations of the Christian Protestant church in Bali.

The Protestant Church in Bali dates itself from 1931, when the first baptism took place.

But holding the major celebration in Blimbingsari has a very deep significance for this culturally rich, “see the hand of God in everything” people, who have incorporated their rich, intense culture into their religion in a totally satisfying, holistic way.

Who else could incorporate thousand-year-old Balinese dances by girls in full traditional regalia dancing to the gamelan orchestra as part of the celebrations of the foundation of a Christian church, or who could build a church that combines the best of Balinese and western architecture that any western city would envy?

The story of Blimbingsari is the story of what the Balinese call “the Jerusalem of the Bali Church”.

In 1939 the Dutch Resident (person in charge) in Bali sent all the Christians to a swamp called Alas Rangda, (now Blimbingsari), 120km west of the capital, Denpasar.

The idea was to stop the constant friction between the Hindu majority on the island and the small band of Christians by literally getting rid of them in the middle of a swamp, and hopefully killing them, and Christianity, off.

But they were not so easily disposed of. They saw it as a new Exodus, with the swamp as the Promised Land. They carved the village out of the swamp, built it in the shape of a cross, and flourished.

So when the annual celebration is held, Blimbingsari is the centre, and people come from all over the island to attend a week of celebrations.

There are actually two villages, Blimbingsari and Ambyarsari, very close together, and it is in Ambyarsari (also in the shape of a cross) that the main celebrations are held.

Although there was activity, with meetings, church services and sports days, from Saturday, November 5, the main celebrations were Friday through to Sunday, November 11 to 13.

Theme for the celebrations was almost defiant, given the religious intolerance current in Bali at present—“The Living Church”, with the sub theme “Growing in the care of God.”

The symbol adopted for the celebration was a hand holding the roots of a three-leaf tree, and bear in mind many people see the Protestant Church in Bali as a “mango tree church”, spreading its branches to provide food and shelter to all who seek it.

Thursday night there was a youth concert, which I attended, in a large park beside the church, with bands and singers from all over the island singing religious pop songs.

Friday morning in Ambyarsari there was an impressive ceremony inducting three new ministers, which opened with the gamelan orchestra and dancing, and included Holy Communion, the attendance of ministers from all over the island, and choirs.

Both the churches were beautifully decorated for the occasion, with huge vases of flowers and decorative weavings done in palm leaf fronds. A candle burned during all the services, and as the peak of both roofs are of glass, we had sunshine moving across the floor the whole time.

The ministers in Bali wear long flowing white robes on formal occasions, and long scarves beautifully embroidered with Balinese and Christian symbols, particularly using the flaming bush.

Then there was lunch, done in the typical Balinese style, with small boxes containing rice, various meats and vegetables, and a glass of water. (Water is the standard drink in Bali for every occasion, no matter how important.

There was a sports afternoon to follow, and at night what is literally translated as “a service to refresh the faith” but everyone insisted was a revival meeting. It certainly was, with songs, quite lengthy prayers (they believe in long prayers in Bali), and a speaker.

The band, all children, was fascinating. They had drums, some extraordinary instruments which were actually xylophones carried upright (imagine an ancient Greek lyre with xylophone keys instead of strings), and several Balinese flutes/recorders—long thin flute-like pipes that are possibly closer to recorders than flutes.

Sunday morning saw an absolutely jam-packed church, the gamelan orchestra and the Balinese dancers, who danced, led the procession into the church, and at one stage emerged to scatter rose petals on the altar steps, and the formal service of thanksgiving for the 74th anniversary.

I thought a very nice touch was the attendance of local Hindu and (I think) Muslim leaders as well.

The architecture of the two churches, one in each village is magnificent.  Imagine a building with a conical roof rising up a couple of hundred metres, a back wall, half a front wall, and open spaces between soaring pillars.

The Church through its social work department provided a free medical clinic for the whole week in case anyone got sick, or, as in my case, got a nasty bite inside my ear. We woke them up at 6.30am to have a look at my ear; eardrops provided, lots of advice, and all at no cost. Of course I gave them a donation, but imagine the cost to the Church to provide two trained nurses for a week and the medicines, etc, just on a “just in case” basis.

That’s what the church is like in Bali. It’s there for everyone.

Photo : Blimbingsari, the “Jerusalem” of the Bali Church