“Please pray for my wife,” Ranga asked his neighbor Ari not long ago. “It seems she is finding it hard to see clearly these past few days. She says she’s afraid she might be going blind.”
Ari noted Ranga’s sad countenance and the deep concern in his voice. “I’ll pray, my friend, and I’ll ask the others to join me,” Ari replied.
Ranga, once a strong and zealous Aceh Muslim, had been through a crushing personal loss many years back. His first wife and their young son tragically drowned during the tsunami that hit Indonesia on December 26, 2004. With its epicenter off the west coast of northern Sumatra island, it claimed the lives of more than 200,000 in the country, particularly in northern Sumatra’s Aceh province.
Ari began renting the house of Ranga’s deceased younger brother in 2006. When Ari moved into the community, Ranga made him feel welcome. The house is located in the same compound where Ranga lives.
An Aceh native and a former Islamic university lecturer, Ari had at one time made it his personal mission in life to discredit the Bible and expose its errors and inconsistencies. But Jesus’ words in John 14:6a — “I am the way and the truth, and the life” — confounded him, setting him on a serious and resolute quest for the truth that eventually led to his conversion.
The Aceh People — a Tough Mission Field
Ari’s passion for the souls of his Aceh people consumes him. “If I [can] witness a group or community of [Aceh] Christians together in fellowship brave enough to say they’re Christian, it will be a joy for me. Even if I die for that, it doesn’t matter.”
He plants chili trees on a rented piece of land to help support himself and as cover for his evangelism and discipleship work. Workers from other villages come to help on his farm. Anyone who works must be willing to gather at Ari’s rented house in the dark of night for prayer and Bible study.
The province of Aceh is the only one among Indonesia’s 34 provinces where Islamic Sharia law is officially practiced and enforced. The Aceh people are among the toughest people groups to reach for Christ. They are radical Muslims strongly antagonistic towards Christians. To leave Islam and embrace Christianity is highly taboo for an Aceh. One Indonesian missionary remarked, “Hearing of an Aceh forsaking the Islamic faith and turning to Jesus is almost like hearing of someone assassinating the president of the country.” The news of an Islamic convert in the community is so shocking and terrible that he becomes the target of public scorn and disdain. In the eyes of the Aceh, the convert’s sin is so grave that it deserves the death penalty.
Deep Friendship Forged
Ari gradually formed a special bond of friendship with Ranga. When they first met, he was able to relate to Ranga’s pain and grief over the premature death of his wife and son. Ari, too, had endured hard times and heart-wrenching personal losses — the brutal murder of his 24-year-old missionary daughter, the imprisonment of his wife for sharing the gospel while he was away from home, and the subsequent deaths of his wife, eight-year-old son, and twelve-year-old daughter from cholera when they were forced to live in the slums of another city. Once he suffered a severe beating at the hands of hard-nosed Muslims, which almost cost him his life. The Lord had made a tender spot in Ari’s heart for Ranga.
After becoming fast friends, Ari, burdened for Ranga’s soul, started sharing the gospel with him week after week. Ranga joined the farm workers at Ari’s nightly prayer and Bible study. Finally, after several regular weekly encounters in the chili garden, he accepted Christ in 2007. Ranga and his second wife, whom he married a year later, are now believers and part of the underground church, along with their family, thanks to Ari’s witness and testimony.
The condition of Ranga’s wife continued to deteriorate. Several days after his prayer request, Ranga went back to Ari and told him he desperately needed money now for her eye surgery. “And I’ve decided to sell this rental house to pay for the cost,” he added.
Caught by surprise at this sudden announcement and seeing that he would consequently have to vacate the house, Ari took a few seconds to respond. Then, nodding his head, he replied sadly, “We will pray for a buyer.” Ari knew it would be a challenge to find another house for rent in the area.
Ranga stopped him. “You don’t understand. I want to sell it only to you and for $3,000 only, just enough to cover the cost of my wife’s surgery.” His decision was a testament of his deep gratitude to Ari for caring enough about his soul to meet with him persistently and share the gospel.
Ari was taken aback by Ranga’s generous offer. But even though $3,000 was a low price, to Ari the amount seemed huge. “We will surely take this to the Lord in prayer,” he responded softly, trusting God for an answer.
A Providential Opportunity to Demonstrate God’s Love and Faithfulness
Aside from being his shelter, Ari’s rented house serves as his major ministry post for his mission among the Aceh plantation workers. Since 2006, Ari has patiently led almost two hundred Aceh Muslims to Christ and baptized them all. His home has been his base for training and discipling Islamic converts — teaching them Bible lessons and principles of Christian living — before they return to their home villages and share their new-found faith with others.
When several of Ari’s disciples learned about Ranga’s dilemma, they expressed their desire to help in whatever way they could. Because of the COVID-19 health crisis, the local markets in the area have been closed, so the workers have not been able to sell their produce. However, they have found other part-time jobs helping with construction work and clearing land. Whatever meager income they can earn, they want to give it towards Ranga’s wife’s eye surgery. Ari has been quite touched by their sacrificial spirit.
Thinking of his friend, Ari gratefully remembers how Ranga had welcomed him into the community on his arrival. “And he has defended me many times whenever outsiders became suspicious of the night meetings in the field,” Ari mused. He knows Ranga needs help, and he earnestly wants to be there for him in his time of need. The love of Christ compels him.
Ari realizes he does not have the money on hand, but he is trusting the God from Whom every good and perfect gift comes. This is such a providential opportunity to showcase God’s overwhelming love and amazing faithfulness to Ranga, Ari, and the Islamic converts as well as to further His work among the hard-to-reach Aceh people. Will you help?
*Featured image: Ari (pictured right) with landlord and landlord’s wife and son.