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Stories: Teaching the Sihombings

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Teaching the Sihombings 03 Jun 2005
Teaching the Sihombings

For his last p-day as a missionary (Monday January 17, 1977) my mission office companion Elder Hardjiono Tjan wanted to go visit Taman Mini Indonesia—a Jakarta park that showcases all of the islands and cultures of Indonesia in a Polynesian Culture Center sort of way. As missionaries we had long been trained to always be on the look out for good fathers to approach and engage in conversation (apa kabar? mau kemana?) in hopes that they would then invite us to their homes to teach their families. While at Taman Mini, I noticed such a father. I approached him and asked him something. We visited a little and then he asked me what I was doing in Indonesia. I told him I was a representative of a church and asked if he would be interested in learning more. He said yes and so I asked for his address. Too bad it was in Surabaya at the other end of Java. Edi Kamagie was only in Jakarta for a few days for a church choir competition. I kept the address thinking I would forward it to the elders serving in that city. Five months later and before I got around to sending it on, I was transferred to Surabaya. I took the address with me and one of my first visits in the city was to Edi’s home. Elder Guinn and I arrived just before the start of a choir practice and so while waiting and listening to the choir practice for an upcoming performance on national TV, I noticed another nice father named Sihombing who was also waiting for the practice to end. I said hello, he replied, we visited, and soon he agreed to let us come to his home to teach him about a new church. (In a follow up visit to Edi he politely declined our invitation to teach him.)

Two days later (June 16, 1977) we dropped by to visit Bapak Sihombing. He was a leading elder in a Protestant church and a Batak (most of whom are Christian). He and his wife had eight children and lived in northernmost Surabaya near the port. It was long bike ride (30-40 minutes) from our home in the south. From our introductory visit we could tell that they were very interested. The father even bought a Book of Mormon and promised to read it in two weeks. For some reason we were unable to schedule a teaching appointment and so a week later we dropped by to invite the family to a special showing at the church of the movie (not the filmstrip) of Man’s Search for Happiness. We had an enjoyable visit and were hoping to see the family at the movie. Unfortunately they did not come. It took a few weeks to finally get back to visit the family again. When we did drop by Bapak Sihombing related to us that when another preacher had been critical of the Mormon Church, he “told him we were good guys too and then loaned the preacher his Kitab Mormon [Book of Mormon] and told him to read it first and then cast judgment” (Journal July 6, 1977). In that same conversation, Bapak Sihombing told us that he wanted to help our church even though he may never join. The next night we returned and taught them a “really good” first discussion about Joseph Smith and the restoration. The mother, who was a bit leery towards us during the first visits, started to warm up to us and our message. At the end of the discussion, Bapak Sihombing “congratulated us because our methods of teaching were very good.” He also told us that “he was extra happy to see that we do not force people, but rather just explain the way to know the truth and then let them choose for themselves” (Journal July 7, 1977).

The next few visits focused on the plan of salvation. Teaching the family the second discussion was one of the more memorable and enjoyable teaching experiences of my mission. “We taught them about the three degrees of glory, teaching of the gospel in the spirit world, baptism for the dead, and child baptisms. The father…was amazed at our simple plain explanations. The mother was extra impressed about little children not needing baptism. They all seemed excited to have us come back. The mother even asked us what the reading assignment was for next week” (Journal July 27, 1977).

At our next visit, while waiting for the father to take his evening mandi (dipper bath), we taught the kids how to play around-the-world ping pong. We then taught the whole family, including the son-in-law about continuing revelation. All listened intently. The father then told us that he wanted to buy another Book of Mormon because every time he tried to read it someone else in the family was reading it. He also bought an English Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. He then related that he had been asked to fill in for the regular preacher and deliver the sermon in the next Sunday service. He told us that his assigned topic was I Corinthians 15:20-34 which includes the verse about baptism for the dead—which we had talked about week before. Sihombing confessed that “the regular preacher didn’t know how to explain those difficult verses” and that prior to our visit, “neither did [he].” Both the father and mother told us that they “considered it a gift from heaven that we came and explained that concept [of baptism for the dead] to them.” In my journal entry that night I wrote: “now that the Mormon missionaries have enlightened the family, this week’s sermon will be Mormon doctrine preached in a Protestant church” (Journal August 4, 1977).

We were invited back the next Saturday night for a farewell dinner for me. After a delicious dinner and “a lot of problems getting set up and arranged” we showed the family three filmstrips with Man’s Search for Happiness being their favorite (Journal August 6, 1977). .

The next evening Elder Gabriel and I made the long bike ride across town to the evening services at the Sihombing family’s Protestant church. Mormon doctrine was indeed preached. In his sermon on I Corinthians 15, Bapak Sihombing “told them that we came from a pra-kehidupan (pre-existence) [or more appropriately pre-earth life]. We came to earth and when we die we’ll go to the Dunia Roh (Spirit World) to prepare ourselves for a resurrection and judgment. He explained about where did we come from? why are we here? and where are we going? Just like we taught them during the discussions. He also threw in a pitch about the importance of having the family meet together once a week so we can make our home like heaven and prepare ourselves to live in heaven. I think he even threw in a quote from Man’s Search for Happiness about gaining happiness for a moment from worldly pleasures or else eternal happiness. It was a pretty good sermon in my opinion” (Journal August 7, 1977).

The next Sunday Bapak and Ibu Sihombing and their daughter Sandra came to our sacrament meeting. The sparsely attended Surabaya Branch which met in a house turned chapel on Jalan Irian Barat was quite a contrast to their large, well attended Protestant Church. Based on so many positive teaching and learning experiences, I had high hopes for the Sihombing family’s first visit to The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints. And so throughout the meeting I hoped, prayed and worried that everything would go smoothly. Nothing terrible happened, but for some reason, few members attended church that day, including one of the assigned speakers. The person conducting went ahead and announced the speaker’s name (even though all 30 people in attendance could be easily seen from the front of the room). When she didn’t turn up at the podium he then turned to me (sitting up front so I could play the organ) and asked me to be the next speaker. I told the story about Parley P. Pratt gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon and then offered my own testimony about the Book of Mormon.

At our next mid-week appointment we had hoped to challenge the family to baptism, but the father was tied up at a church meeting which Ibu Sihombing explained was to try and resolve on-going contention among church leaders. While waiting we visited with the mother and kids hoping the father would return in time to teach. However he was delayed too long. When he did come home he looked worn out. He told us without elaborating that he felt like Joseph Smith—I guess in reference to religious problems and persecutions. I hoped that all of these problems might help to prepare the family to join the church.

At our next Sunday night discussion Ibu Sihombing honored us with her delicious lumpia (spring rolls) for our threesome—she even confessed to staying home from church services to make them. We taught the family about repentance, baptism and the Holy Ghost. Elder Banta taught the concept on repentance. With the help of the flip chart he taught that we must first have Recognition (Pengenalan) that we have sinned. Then we must feel Remorse (Penyesalan). As Elder Banta kept turning the pages in the flip chart to reveal each additional step of repentance (Pengakuan, Pengampunan, Pembaryaran kembali, Meninggalkan dosa), the father quickly asked for a sheet of paper and a pencil to write them all down. He excitedly explained that he planned to use these steps in his next sermon. The spirit was very strong and so we challenged the family to baptism. In response the father never said no or yes. Instead he told us about the contention in his church. And then he said that he felt like Joseph Smith not knowing which church was right. He said he wanted to continue to study and pray until he knew this church was true so he could join as an active member who would stay active. “He said he thinks the Lord sent us to him to help him find the truth and that since we have been coming to his home he has felt really good and happy” (Journal August 21, 1977).

Three days later and on my final night in Surabaya we joined the Sihombings for a Family Home Evening. “The prayers and singing were definitely Protestant, but we had a good time. We played cut the flour game. It fell on Elder Banta so he had to push the coin out with his nose. The second time it fell on Benny the four year old boy. He tried to push it out with his nose but then he started to cry. I taught a short lesson on families and then the father gave some advice on how they all need to help around the home and conserve money. After we had refreshments and watched TV. It was the 15th anniversary of television in Indonesia so they had a good program with some of my favorite singers singing my favorite songs” (Journal August 24, 1977). It was fun evening with a wonderful family.

The next afternoon the Sihombing family and the other elders escorted to the train station as I began my journey home. I had high hopes that I would soon receive a letter telling me of their baptism. Unfortunately that letter never came. Elders Gabriel and Banta continued to teach this “golden” family, but over time the father decided that he just couldn’t make the break from his traditional church. Pride was definitely a factor in the decision. Obviously it would have been quite a change to go from being a leading and respected elder accustomed to giving sermons in a well established church to being a new member in a small church that meets in a home on the other side of town. A frustrating end to a delightful teaching experience.

by Chad F. Emmett
Indonesia Jakarta Mission 75-77

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