Manado is the main city on the island of Sulawesi. In many ways, it is a surprising city within Indonesia, where there are more Christians than Muslims, more Churches than Mosques. The whole place has a large village feel, although nearly 2 million people are still located in the city. Manado is surrounded by fishing waters, numerous islands offshore, and shadowed by large volcanoes on every side. I had been invited to Manado to join the SGMLifewords training of 300+ mission workers who were being equipped with The Visible Story and numerous Bible booklets. These workers were all part of the GMIM synod, who have over 100 churches in Sulawesi.
Before my trip, I did some research into the interesting sights and local attractions around Manado that I could add to the beginning or end of my work trip. After all, this may be my only opportunity to ever be in Manado, so I wanted to see some sights. There are 3 famous things about Manado, all “B” words:
- Bubur (a delicious local dish),
- Bibir (meaning “lips” – they always kiss to greet in Manado), and
- Bunaken, a dive paradise that very few tourists ever reach. As an ocean lover, this was my target.
When I arrived in Manado, it was late in the evening and I was greeted by one of the most extroverted people I had ever met. I was the only Bule (white guy) at the airport, so it was not hard for Pak Ferdinand to recognise me. Arms raised high, he calls out, “Pak Dan!” He grabs my bag without asking, and together with Pak Frans, they lead me to the car. “Nama saya Ferdinand, I’m an SGM volunteer for many years.”
Monday was my day to visit Bunaken Island. I would normally add some sight seeing at the end of a trip after we are exhausted and need time out, but this time, it was the very first thing. Pak Ferdinand had kindly offered to accompany me on the trip, taking me on a local fishing boat on the 1hr trek across to the almost-famous Island. Pak Frans instructed me to give him a “love gift” for his time, and so we made our way to the shipping port.
The Manado port reminded me that I was firmly in Indonesia. Crowded, noisy, dirty, friendly. Different smells would hit me – an open rubbish truck struggled past, durian fruit being unloaded from a small truck, and the usual scents of fish and street cooking. The waterway was filthy, filled with discarded plastics, food scraps and even building materials. But that didn’t stop children playing by the waters’ edge, or elderly chefs from cleaning utensils in the wash of boats passing. It would be a miracle if I didn’t get a tummy bug on this trip, as we just ate the local food with the locals.
As we approached our boat, I noticed Pak Ferdinand was carrying a box. “What’s in the box, Pak?
He just laughed and his big huskyvoice breaks into the laughter, saying,
“It’s a gift”.
I wasn’t surprised that we waited another 90 minutes after “boarding time” before we were pushing off. We were aboard an old timber transport boat with about 30 locals scattered throughout; shirtless men smoking on the roof, children up the front, and about a dozeninside. Our boat is the daily supplies carrier for the village. It transports fish, coconuts, avocado and high school students to the city each morning, and returns early afternoon with fuel, bottled water, bags of rice and even the odd motorcycle. I imagine that when the wind and waves are up, this rickety old boat would be a little scary to travel on. But there were no waves on our day.
We were the only guests checking in to the MC Cottages. It was A$25 for the room, which included all 3 meals in the day. Yay, I could afford that! The owners were the cooks, cleaners, maintenance and managers all-in-one.
I quickly got my snorkel gear together, put on some suncream and was ready for Pak Ferdinand to lead me to the tiny fishing boat which would take us to the edge of the reef. He can’t really swim, so he was going to watch from the boat. As he came from his room, this random box was under his arm again. What for?
“I hope its ok with you, we have slight detour before diving. Are you ok to come with me to the school?”
Pak Ferdinand was an opportunist. For him, a trip to Bunaken Island meant that he could bring scriptures across to the island and give them to school students and the village church. He had brought a few hundred scripture resources, some booklets from SGM Lifewords, and others I did not recognise. Our stop was to be an unannounced visit to the local school where he would just introduce himself and hope that they would receive him and his “gifts”.
The principal and teachers came to greet us as if we were royalty. They stopped their classes, showed us around and announced our names. I was a white foreigner rarely seen in these parts, and here I was standing in front of perfectly uniformed students and teachers in Billabong boardshorts and a singlet. I felt almost disrespectful. But they didn’t care.
Soon they called all 120 students to attention so that Pak Ferdinand could speak. He was funny, passionate and kind. Everyone was attentive, even the female Muslim teacher. And then he opened up his box and the teachers gave all students “You Matter” and “Little book of help” in their own language. They took 15 minutes to read individually, while Ferdinand sat to explain further to some students who had questions. It was a pretty special moment, watching as he shared the gospel with students on this distant, rural island. And they loved it.
After an hour, we were off again, Pak Ferdinand smiling broadly as he finished what he came to do. Now it was my turn to do what I came to do, although I felt a little ashamed that my desires weren’t nearly as noble as his!
What I saw as a site seeing dive trip was viewed by a mission-hearted man as an opportunity to share the gospel.
PS. The dive was awesome.