One evening Noto was on night patrol duty in his community with eight of his neighbors. The local authorities of Java Island had imposed stringent social restrictions on communities because of the coronavirus pandemic. They ordered small groups of less than ten men to take turns doing community watch every night. The group provides security to the community from 11:00 p.m. until dawn and makes sure that people are observing local safety and curfew guidelines.
Out of the blue, one of Noto’s neighbors quizzically asked him, “You don’t seem to be worried at all by this pandemic. These are hard times. Many people are getting sick every day, and many are dying. Yet, it does not seem to scare you. Why are you so calm?”
“I know my final destination. I’m sure where I’m going when I die. I have absolute certainty because Jesus has saved me,” Noto calmly addressed all his eight neighbors. His peaceful manner quieted them down.
Noto grew up poor. He and his extended family worked at a rubber plantation in Lampung, Sumatra Island. They were so poor that sometimes nightfall would catch him still at work. He would end up spending the night away from home, cold and hungry.
When their family’s fortune improved, his father, a devoted Muslim, built the local mosque and gained respect in the community. He married twice. Noto had a large number of half-siblings. Through the years, their family’s economic status continued to advance. But their family remained dysfunctional, and Noto did not feel loved despite their economic prosperity.
Before going to high school, Noto left his hometown to seek his fortune in Yogyakarta, the royal capital of Indonesia, on Java Island. He was a hothead and frequently got into brawls. Noto also started dealing drugs.
One day Noto’s girlfriend, a believer, asked him to go to church with her. He only agreed to go just to please her. The pastor spoke on sin and its forgiveness through trusting in Jesus Christ. Convicted by the message, 18-year-old Noto realized how sinful his life was and ran sobbing to the front of the church seeking God’s forgiveness. His father despised him when this news reached him, and Noto consequently lost his inheritance.
What could have been a turning point in Noto’s life did not come about as he had hoped. It was a classic case of seed sown by a sower that fell on rocky ground with sparse soil. The seed of faith sown in Noto’s heart and the hope engendered by it failed to grow. With no one to guide him, disciple him, and nurture his emerging faith, he was easily lured back into the ways of the world. He became involved in violent activities and drug dealing and eventually ended up in jail. The charges filed against him warranted a prison sentence of at least four to five years. But Noto was in jail for only 20 days.
Feeling desperate while in prison, Noto remembered his faith and tearfully prayed, “Lord Jesus, please help me.”
“I will deliver you tomorrow,” Jesus said to him in a vision.
And it was so. The next day, Noto was released on bail posted by his stepfather.
After serving that brief time in jail, Noto became a taxi driver and met a well-known Indonesian missionary leader Tri. He became Tri’s regular driver for both ministry and family needs. Noto loved driving for him despite the small amount the missionary could afford to pay for his services.
“I love Pak* Tri because he has been so caring towards me. He would always buy rice and food for me. I was always blessed spiritually every time I drove him around doing ministry in different places,” Noto lovingly recounts.
The love Noto did not receive from his family, he experienced while serving Pak Tri and his family. “That’s why I served Pak Tri for 20 years with joy in the midst of struggles and difficulties I went through. I saw Jesus in Pak Tri’s life.”
Tri constantly encouraged Noto by teaching him to hope in Jesus Christ. Noto would find joy and peace every time he heard Tri share about life, family, and ministry. When missionaries from other countries would come to visit Tri, Noto acted as their official driver. One of them was my husband, Bo Barredo, of Advancing Native Missions. Four years ago, Bo and I were visiting Tri. In our previous visits, Bo had taken notice of this gentle, smiling, and very respectful Indonesian driver. That particular night, we took Tri and his family to a restaurant. After dinner, Bo took Noto aside and shared the gospel with him.
One more time, God took hold of Noto’s heart, and this once tough and fearless man finally rendered himself vulnerable and recommitted his life to God. According to his closest friend, Daniel, Tri’s son, “Yes, I remember that night in the small oval room. That night was so significant because it was the first time after many years being with us that Brother Noto showed his vulnerability. He also remembers that night, and amid his ongoing terrible life and with temptations coming at him to no end, he became more eager to follow the Lord wholeheartedly ever since. It’s been two years now that Brother Noto [has been] in our discipleship group, boldly witnessing to men from other trades. He has become quite an eloquent preacher of the gospel!”
Perseverance yields fruit
Just before this decision point in his life, Noto used to have an angry disposition that erupted into constant fights with his wife. His daughter, Nita, a nominal Christian, was disillusioned by the unhappy and tense atmosphere in their home. She was mad at her father and became vulnerable in her faith. So when three Muslim neighbors enticed her to go to the nearby mosque, she agreed.
Nita then became a Muslim in late 2015 and left home the next year over her father’s stern objection. The Muslim community knew about this and mocked Noto and his family, and their Christian faith became a laughingstock for some time. But when the three neighbors died one after another shortly afterward due to fatal accidents and incurable sickness, a sober hush came upon the community. The gossiping and mocking subsided.
In 2018 Nita came to her father’s house together with her husband, a fanatic and aggressive Sundanese Muslim (the Sunda are the largest unreached people group in Indonesia, and most live in West Java), and their small son. Noto, having renewed his relationship with the Lord by this time, forgave them, but the family continued in their Islamic beliefs.
Noto did not give up. He persevered, gently and patiently sharing the gospel with his daughter and son-in-law every time he saw them. For one whole year, Noto prayed, shared, and invited her to go to church with him. At first, Nita was irritated by her father’s continual sharing about Jesus. However, she noted a significant change in her father’s disposition and in how he handled problems. One day in 2019, she came to her father’s house with her two sons and told him honestly and sincerely, “I want to go to church with you.” Joy bubbled up in Noto’s heart.
Nita’s husband was enraged. But one night he had an unusual dream — he was in church and his father-in-law, Noto, was personally and humbly serving him bread and wine. He had no concept what it was as he had never been in a church. But it deeply moved him. He didn’t realize that what he saw in his dream was the holy ordinance of communion. He woke up, totally amazed by it. The very next day, he went to his father-in-law, and candidly said, “I want to believe in your Jesus.”
God heard Noto’s earnest prayers. He changed the hearts of his daughter and son-in-law. Nita, her husband, and their two sons have been going to church of their own accord ever since.
COVID-19 crisis turns into a blessing
Noto set up his own van rental company in 2013. He has seven drivers who work for him on rotation. He still gladly and readily drove Tri or Tri’s son Daniel for free before the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the government-imposed travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic have crippled Noto’s business. For the past months, he has had no customers, and his drivers have been out of work.
The day after his community night watch duty when his companions queried him, his seven drivers, all Muslim, came to see him. They needed some money to help tide their families over. They asked Noto to lend them at least $20 each. Sadly, he told them, “I’m sorry I cannot lend you money. But I will pray to my God, the Lord Jesus, and I will pray for you all.”
Feeling sad because he could not help his needy drivers, Noto prayed for them as he had promised. After two days, he received a surprise call from a long-time customer, asking him, “How are you, Noto? What can I do for you?”
“I’m doing okay,” Noto replied. “I’m just sad, though, because I cannot support the seven people who work for me.”
“Don’t you worry. I’m going to send you money for them,” the voice on the other line assured him.
Joy filled Noto’s heart upon hearing this. The money came from his friend—exactly $140 or $20 for the seven drivers. Noto praised and thanked God for such a huge, exact, and timely answer to his prayer!
He immediately called all his seven drivers and gave them $20 each. He amplified their rejoicing when he handed them small bags of food that he was able to buy for their families.
The heart of a soul-winner
Noto writes, “Please pray for my spiritual growth. I only want to do that which pleases God, and may He be pleased with me. Without His grace, I am nothing.”
Even if his transport business has had no income due to the pandemic, he continues to reflect, “My Lord Jesus has been faithful in difficult times in the past, and He never changes. I can rely on Him all the time.”
A grateful man, Noto even told Daniel, “I learned a lot from Pak Bo, how his love for Jesus compels him to love people so much… I actually wanted to hug Pak Bo.” Then he shyly added, “But maybe it’s inappropriate.”
On the morning of January 20, 2020, Noto shelved his reluctance at the Yogyakarta airport. Before his visitors went inside the terminal, he asked them, “Pak Bo and Ibu** Marlou, could I please have a selfie with you?” And they had one (photo seen above).
Noto, the erstwhile Muslim tough guy, turned zealous soul-winner, constantly shares the gospel with others, especially with his workers. He prays that God in His time will let the seed fall on the fertile soil of their hearts, and not on the wayside, rocky soil, or among thorns.
*Indonesian address of respect meaning “Sir”
**Indonesian address of respect meaning “Madam”