October 2014 – World-class surfing. Magnificent undersea diving. Ancient cultures and amazing architecture. All these things draw tourists to Nias, a small Indonesian island located just north of the equator in the Indian Ocean.
But Rev. Matthew Heise, LHF executive director, recently traveled to Nias for a very different reason: to bring Luther’s Small Catechism to the people in their Nias language.
“Indonesia is very much a Muslim country,” said Rev. Heise. “And yet, there are certain pockets that are strongly Protestant, and Nias Island is one of those places where roughly 90 percent of the people call themselves Christian.”
Lutheran missionaries first came to Nias in the late 1800s. But because so few Christian teaching materials are available in the Nias language, threats to the faith have emerged.
“A year or two ago, LHF held a seminar at a Nias seminary. There, one of the bishops shared with me that their church members need good basic teachings of the Christian faith, based on the Bible, because the people are confused by the teachings of the charismatics and some cults on the island,” said Rev. Ted NaThalang, LHF project coordinator for Southeast Asia.
To help, LHF agreed to translate and publish 5,000 copies of Luther’s Small Catechism, which had never before been printed in the Nias language.
At its release on Sept. 5, bishops from four different Indonesian Protestant synods attended the LHF event, where they received their own copies of the Nias catechism.
“The people were very excited by what they read in the catechism,” said Rev. NaThalang. “Most of them had never seen anything like it before. One of the bishops remarked that he wants each family in his synod to have their own catechism, too.”
Rev. Heise said that he was surprised by the reaction of the Nias people.
“I expected that we would simply come to this event and pass out the catechisms, and that would be it,” Rev. Heise said. “Instead, the people immediately sat down, opened their catechisms, and started asking questions about what they were reading: ‘Do you have to make the sign of the cross?’ they asked. ‘Is communion truly God’s body and blood?’ And so it turned into a real teaching opportunity as well. The Holy Spirit was at work!”
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