A mob furiously made its way with sticks and torches towards their church building located right next to their home. It was 10 o’clock at night. All four children were already in bed sound asleep. Widya* could hear the commotion growing louder as some 20 to 30 people, mostly radicals from neighboring communities, shouted threats to break in and burn down the building.
She waited until the noise from the angry mob simmered down. Widya boldly stepped outside her home and confronted the mob with no trace of fear. Without mincing words, she firmly told them, “Come in! Destroy it! But only after you walk over my dead body!” Stunned by Widya’s sheer boldness and decisive resolve, the mob silently put down their torches and slowly left the premises one by one.
The sixth in a family of 11 siblings, Widya was born into a devoted Muslim family in Boyolali, Central Java. She grew up a good Muslim going to the mosque every day, observing all the Muslim rituals, and teaching the Qur’an to the children.
An Uncommon Preparation to Becoming a Believer
Widya suffered from near-constant attacks of vertigo. A concerned neighbor, an elder of a nearby church, knew about this and had compassion on her. He approached Widya one day and asked her, “How about you come to our church?” And she did. The pastor prayed for her and she was healed. Widya was 19 years old and was going to a vocational school.
She was glad and relieved to be healed but did not give much thought beyond that. She did not think about who God was, much less who the God was that her neighbor’s pastor had prayed to on her behalf. Yet, she kept going back to church without really understanding why she was doing it. That was the place she was healed and delivered from her debilitating condition, and that’s all that mattered.
The pastor noticed her frequent attendance. One day, he told her, “I’ll provide a scholarship for you to become a teacher in Christian religious education.” While she still did not know who the pastor’s God was, she said, “All right. I’ll take it.”
God Beckons Her
Widya availed herself of the scholarship in Salatiga, finished the one-year course, and became a teacher in Christian religious education for two years. She recalls, “But in my heart I didn’t know who Christ was. I didn’t know who the Savior was. I didn’t know at that time what it meant to be a Christian. I just taught it like any other subject.”
The whole time that she was studying and later working as a Christian religious education teacher, Widya was still a Muslim. She went to church, but she also went to the mosque and prayed five times a day. She thought nothing about it and even entertained the idea of going back to being “a full-time Muslim” later on.
Widya’s family observed that the pastor was giving her undue attention. This greatly disturbed them. They also noticed that she kept going back to church. Consequently, Widya’s family started harassing her, even though she still had no idea what being a Christian meant. Whenever she went home to Boyolali, they refused to let her step inside the house and she would spend the night outside on the porch.
The pastor was keenly aware that the family would try to snatch Widya back to Islam. In order to preempt this, the pastor advised her to go to Bible school. When her parents and siblings learned that the pastor was going to transfer her to West Java, they told her they were coming with her so they could see for themselves what it was all about.
Upon realizing that she was going to attend a Bible school, they told her, “Stay here, but don’t ever come home.”
After her first three months in Bible school Widya was finally confronted by the truth that there was no salvation outside of Christ. Deeply struck by this revelation, she gave her life to Christ.
A Bold Proposition
In Widya’s ninth month in the school, two missionaries, one American and the other Indonesian, came to visit. The American missionary taught while the Indonesian missionary translated. The Indonesian missionary, Tri Firmanda*, heard from some people in the school that there was a new student on campus.
One of them suggested to Tri, “Why don’t you meet her?” At four o’clock the next morning when the students gathered for prayer, he stood in front of the chapel.
When he saw her, he boldly asked, “Would you like to serve the Lord with me in the future?”
Widya, caught completely off guard, simply replied, “His will be done.”
She was hardly interested in developing any relationship with the visiting Indonesian missionary. She thought of him as fresh and reckless, unashamed to say what was on his mind.
On the other hand, the thought crossed her mind, “If I do not agree to his proposition, I may not have any other chance to marry a Christian man. In no time at all I may have to go back to my family and will likely revert to being a Muslim because there are no Christian men around.”
Tri pursued Widya for five months. Sometimes he would send her detergent and shampoo. Having gone to Bible school himself, he knew that it was hard to afford basic items.
Eventually, Widya relented, and they married in Boyolali.
Determined and Fearless
After their wedding Widya and Tri moved to Bandung, West Java and lived there for the next seven years. They had a hard life. In 1978 Tri started a ministry and a new denomination, Christ Congregational Church, which now has 10,000 members and 200 churches nationwide. Tri traveled extensively, preaching in churches and mobilizing them to pray for reaching the unreached villages and people groups. He started a Bible study among those who wanted to learn more about Christ. When they moved to Yogyakarta, East Java in 1982, some of them followed Tri and Widya.
In Yogyakarta they rented a small house and Widya started a small church. The people in the community were against it. Tri continued traveling around the country, helping seminary students plant new churches in villages. Concerned for his family’s safety, especially when he was away, he advised Widya to close down the church. But she was determined to keep it open.
Several years after they moved to their present location in 1986, they started constructing a church building. There was even stronger opposition this time, particularly from the neighboring communities. When the mob came that night to burn the church down, Tri was away on travel. Nevertheless, God protected Widya and honored her courage.
Tried, Tested, and Thankful
One fateful day some years back, Widya learned that her eldest daughter had started dating a Muslim young man. Her heart sank. It was unthinkable that her own daughter, reared in a Christian home by parents serving the Lord, would fall in love with a Muslim. It was simply unacceptable to her. To make matters worse, her daughter ultimately married her Muslim boyfriend, in total disregard of her parents’ vigorous objection. It brought such deep pain and anguish to her mother’s heart.
To add to Widya’s struggles, her husband’s trusted right-hand person in the church began circulating rumors and lies about him. That man eventually left the church. Around this time, too, her eldest son, Daniel, was badly injured in a motorbike accident.
Widya was so hurt by her eldest daughter’s rebellion and disobedience that reconciliation seemed far-fetched. When her second daughter was about to get married, she told Widya, “I will only marry if you forgive my older sister.” That bold ultimatum paved the way for reconciliation between mother and daughter. Shortly after the eldest daughter’s second son was born, around Christmas time, the daughter came to Widya, fell on her knees before her mother, and asked for forgiveness. They cried in each other’s arms.
Widya admits that to this day her daughter’s marriage to a Muslim (he has since given his heart to Christ) continues to have repercussions. At times believers and even pastors would look askance at them from a distance and say, “Oh! Tri and Widya! Their daughter married a Muslim.”
But, through it all, while at times despairing almost to the point of losing hope, Widya stood firm and steadfast in her faith and found encouragement in God’s faithfulness. She often went home to Boyolali to see her mother, remembering how her mother had also stood strong and had come through her own personal struggle when Widya herself turned against her parents’ religion and left Islam. She looked up to her mother as a strong woman. By the time Widya’s heart was broken due to her own daughter’s willful disobedience, her mother had already become a believer. So have several other members of Widya’s family. Her trips home to Boyolali to be with her mother helped strengthen and encourage Widya during this extremely challenging time.
“God has really been faithful to me. Whatever challenges I may have at present, they cannot compare to the heartache I had when my daughter fell for a Muslim. Any problem, difficulty, or challenge that comes is very small compared to that.”
Respected and Esteemed
About three years ago, a radical Muslim group from neighboring communities again had a meeting with the Muslims in Widya and Tri’s neighborhood. The radical group’s purpose was to attack the church. Amazingly, the Muslim residents in their neighborhood objected, saying, “Don’t do it! Don’t touch Tri and Widya’s church as Tri is a good man and Widya is a good woman. They’ve been helpful to the people in our community. We will defend them.”
Widya’s unsullied character and caring ways have earned her the respect and trust of the women in the community. They chose her to be the treasurer of their community association. She keeps her house open to Muslim ladies who want to come and talk to her or seek counsel from her. She also meets regularly with Christian women in the neighborhood twice a month. She continues to hold monthly fellowship meetings with the wives of pastors, church planters, and missionaries. She has been serving the Lord with all her heart, together with her husband Tri, for more than 40 years. She strongly testifies to God’s faithfulness in her life, and for this she is most thankful.
*Names changed for security reasons