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Called to Lead: Once Shy and Fearful Indonesian Christian Now Leads 200 Churches

March 20, 2020 |  By Marlou Barredo


Once Shy and Fearful

Daniel lay semi-conscious in his hospital bed.

The accident happened so fast. He and his friend had just finished repainting their motorbikes. Leaving the detailing and repainting shop in a hurry, they raced to the university to make it to class on time. His friend overtook him. Not wanting to be beaten — and to show off his skill — he stepped on the gas, accelerating his bike, and furiously turned the oncoming corner. Unfortunately, he turned too fast and hit the wall. He was thrown off his bike and was unconscious for about a minute. His friend, in panic, tried waking him up. 

As Daniel slowly regained consciousness, he thought to himself, “I need to get up and push my bike away from the road.” But he had no strength, and pain slowly set in, disabling him. He then noticed a big dark purple color on his abdomen. The pain was now intense.

Blood kept oozing from his mouth, and a piece of his helmet stuck into his face. His friend frantically stopped a passing car and took him to the nearest hospital, a military health center.

The military hospital did not have adequate facilities to treat his injuries. He was transferred to a bigger hospital, but all the rooms in the ER were occupied. The only available space was in the storage room. 

The room had no air-conditioning and it was extremely hot at 91 degrees fahrenheit!  Daniel felt utterly miserable! His throat was parched and dry. He needed something to drink, but he could not drink at all as it hurt badly. The nurses inserted a small tube in his nose and another one in his mouth. It was agonizing!

Daniel had to endure the heat in the sweltering storage room for six hours. Finally, at one o’clock the next morning, a room opened up in the intensive care unit. It was fully air-conditioned. He remembered how blissful it was and softly uttered, “Praise God for the cool and refreshing breeze of this room!”

As he lay in bed, he reflected on his past and wondered where God was taking him.

A Challenging Upbringing

Daniel grew up in a Christian home. His father was a pastor and a highly respected leader in Christian circles throughout Indonesia, the largest majority Muslim country in the world. His mother was actively involved in the women’s ministry.

Their home, though, was in a predominantly Muslim community. School was a daily challenge — not academically, as Daniel was an excellent student — but because of his religious background. As the only Christian in school, Daniel faced constant antagonism from other students. “Mocking and bullying were my daily fare. I would confine myself in the corner of my dark room crying.”

At the height of Indonesia’s religious conflict in 1998, the community showed strong opposition to his family’s church. Daniel, then 14, felt persecuted by the young residents. Every time he walked past the mosque, a group of young men, older and taller than he was, bullied and mocked him. He had to take a detour of about a half mile just to avoid them. When friends of his found out that his father had built a church, they started ignoring him in the playground. He felt alone and forsaken.

Foreign friends of his father would speak nice and encouraging words to him whenever they came to visit. But those words rang hollow in his ears and he could not remember them. 

“A hardened, bitter, and anxious young man”

Growing up in such an environment, he became insecure, fearful, and anxious. He shirked leadership opportunities from high school up to the university level. Whenever asked to lead, he always declined, saying, “I just want to work in the background.” 

His response frustrated many people who tried to encourage him by telling him, “You are a kind and thoughtful man. You’ll be a beloved leader.” But these did not resonate with him. He shut his heart tightly to messages of this nature.

When the accident happened, many of Daniel’s close friends thought it would harden him even more. They were wrong, for deep in his heart he called out to God, “Lord, if what the Bible says about you is true, I want to see you.” Through his tears and physical pain, Daniel knew the Lord heard him. “God already heard me long before I called. I just knew. But I kept it in my heart.”

His dad always wanted him to go to seminary and follow in his footsteps. As the son of a pastor and church planter, he would always notice congregations and people looking at him, scrutinizing him from head to foot. “I hated church. I hated people. I hated those radical elements. I hated my life.” 

Not knowing what to do, he decided to go to Jakarta to pursue a career in journalism. There he spent the next five years studying and doing part-time writing and translation work.

Unexpectedly, Daniel received a scholarship to study at a Christian residential training center in Australia leading to a Certificate and then a Diploma in Youth and Community Work. He gladly welcomed it as another way out of seminary. “I didn’t want to go to seminary. I was a hardened, bitter, and anxious young man.”

God redirects Daniel

Five years had passed since his motorbike accident when Daniel packed his bags and left home to go to Tasmania, about an hour and a half away by plane from Sydney. He left his parents worried and disappointed. One good thing, he tried to console himself, was that at least he could not be forced to be someone he did not want to be.

But in Tasmania, God confronted Daniel. 

Daniel stayed in a community that he knew nothing about. About 23 families with 15 to 20 young people made up his new community. He went there thinking that he was the most pitiable member of the group. Little did he know that others had been through a lot worse than he had. He stayed in a home with a young man who, witnessing his father beat his mother every day, had contemplated suicide. He was in one work team with a man who, at three months old, was thrown on top of a garbage heap. Another work team had him do some washing chores with a young lady who suffered from severe pain and chronic illness. Yet they had evidently grown in their confidence and leadership. 

Gradually, Daniel learned that this was a Christian community that accepted troubled young men and women from around Australia. God opened Daniel’s eyes: if He could work in the lives of people whose life experiences were much worse than his, He could certainly work in his own life.

In his second year of training, Daniel enrolled himself in the Youth Work Course. 

Indonesian preacher speaking to children

The registrar asked him one question, “What do you want to do in life?” 

Daniel was quiet for a moment and finally muttered something under his breath to break the silence. 

Not understanding him, the registrar asked, “What area do you want to grow in life?” 

Daniel surprised himself with his own response, “Leadership.” 

The registrar quickly remarked, “What you want to do and grow in is what you fear most!” The training that Daniel undertook for the next three years helped him overcome his fear and discover himself and the gift God has given him.

Embracing leadership

Fast forward ten years after he began his training, and Daniel, now 34, is the National Chairman of the Congregational Christ Church of Indonesia, with more than 10,000 members and 200 churches nationwide. He also serves as the Indonesia National Field Coordinator for both International Cooperating Ministries and Advancing Native Missions, supporting and networking with pastors and churches throughout Indonesia. He has led more than 100 people and volunteers from Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Sumba in short-term missions work, starting a year after he left Tasmania.

Back in Tasmania, Daniel knelt and cried as he realized that God had always been with him and walked with him to face the things he dreaded most. “Praise God! He did not pity me. He loved me and chiseled out the hardness from my heart. It was painful then. But I am thankful now.”