To briefly recap that story…
In 1999, militia forces were roaming the countryside, causing havoc. Their purpose was intimidation by theft, murder, rape and destruction. News came that some militia groups were heading towards the remote parts of the district of Aileu where Manuel is the evangelist. He gathered about 600 people into the church building, where they met in fear and prayer. This tiny man (who is probably less than five feet tall) stood in the doorway. When the militia arrived, he told them that if they wanted to come in, they would have to kill him first, and his people would bury him right there, and that they were answerable to God for whatever decision they should come to.
Incredibly, the militia men backed down and went away.
Yesterday, Sunday 1st April, saw a new landmark in the life of this congregation, and Alex Ralston and I (Rob Duncanson) were privileged to be a part of it.
In planning our trip to TL, we did not know of the celebrations which were going to happen, so this was a real bonus blessing for us.
We started out from Dili at around 8am, having several detours around the streets due to Palm Sunday parades blocking our way, and eventually wound and bounced our way up to Dare (“Darrrr – ay”). From there, we turned onto a smaller road at an intersection marked by a couple of pot-holes which were the size of some small European countries. (OK – I suppose they were only about 5m x 3m and 0.5m deep, but there wasn’t much road left on this tight corner). The road had continued to deteriorate in the 18 months since I last travelled it, and the next 12km took us an hour to traverse.
Our arrival was marked by a last slosh, slip and slide through a mud hole before powering up the short “driveway” to the church building where there were crowds of people awaiting our arrival. (40km took us 2 hours, and went from sea level up to over 1400m ASL before descending slightly to the church)
The church building had been in poor condition, and when they had started to make renovations to it, they found that the walls themselves were crumbling and that repair was not an economical option so that they had to demolish it and start again. Fortunately the government has money set aside for the rebuilding of community infrastructure, and negotiations were entered into which lead to a government grant covering the entire cost of re-building.
Today was the day for handing over the keys, and for the people to worship together in this building for the first time.
I estimate that there were over 200 people who gathered to give thanks to God, and commit themselves to living as His people under His provision. We heard a rousing sermon from Pastor Daniel Marcal, the Moderator of the Igreja Evangelica Presbyteriana iha Timor Leste from Romans 12:9ff in which we were urged to love the Lord Jesus, to love each other, and persevere when times are difficult.
After many prayers, songs and speeches, we were ushered into the “manse” for lunch.
This small house with its dirt floors and palm-stem and corrugated iron walls used to have three rooms, but to accommodate church meetings while the building project was in process they had knocked out one room and put a small lean-to onto the side of the house. It didn’t matter to them that the floor was uneven and the lean-to part sloped down the hill – they are used to that. Without their second room, Evangelist Manuel, his wife and seven children had one bedroom of about 4m x 3m to share.
The entire furnishings of this humble home were; some chairs, one table, a clock (!), a calendar, a small framed picture, and on the wall there was pinned a copy of the Mission Partner’s Magazine, Partnership!
The church builder had lived in New Zealand for four years so he had good English language skills (a rarity in TL). He said that while he was in NZ he went to a school to speak about Timor Leste. The children asked him about the differences between the two countries, and he replied that one big difference is that in TL, the children are very skinny without much to eat, and in NZ you spend a lot of money trying to lose weight. A telling comment!
After a wonderful day we mounted our vehicles again to travel back through the magnificently beautiful and rugged mountains down to Dili.
In Dili we stopped for a moment to see the block of land which the local church hopes to buy so that they can build a church building in Dili …. but that is a story for another post on another day.