It has been more than seven years now since the outbreak of the much publicized revival in Indonesia (see July 7, 1967, issue, page 38 and December 22, 1967, issue, page 40). Record church growth is still taking place among the 128.7 million Indonesians spread out along the 2,000-mile-long archipelago. A Bible society source estimates the Christian population to be about seven million and the church-growth rate to be 12 to 15 per cent, “believed to be the highest in the world.”
But dispute has arisen over reports of the revival itself, especially the accounts by young evangelist Mel Tari of the island of Timor (population: one million), where the revival broke out September 26, 1965, a few days before an abortive Communist coup. In his taped lectures and 1971 book, Like a Mighty Wind (Creation House sales: 200,000), about Timor, Tari mentions miraculous healings, the resurrection of “ten to twenty persons” (including one man dead for two days, whose resurrection led to the conversion of 21,000), water turned into communion wine more than fifty times, Christians walking on water, food that mysteriously multiplied, ingested poison that did not poison, God speaking audibly, and light in the jungle at night. (Tari returned to Timor last fall after a speaking circuit in the United States—and marriage to the daughter of charismatic Presbyterian minister John Rea of Wheaton, Illinois, who helped arrange his American tour.)
Such accounts, combined with impressive—but unconfirmed—statistics (200,000 conversions on Timor during the revival, 80,000 the first three months alone), have led writers, anthropologists, missionaries, mission professors, and others to make the tortuous seventy-mile, eight-hour trip from the port city of Kupang to Soé, the town where it all began. Many have come away disillusioned.
Anthropologist Pearl Englund of Mankato (Minnesota) State College, a Lutheran, visited Timor for two weeks last summer, using a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) missionary as interpreter. “There were healings, but no resurrections,” she declares. Even Franz Selan, Tari’s brother-in-law, who is now a CMA missionary in neighboring West Irian but who was one of the revival’s early leaders, disputes some of Tari’s accounts, she claims. Tari speaks of tapioca cakes that multiplied to feed an evangelistic team, with large amounts left over. Not so, she quotes Selan: “God made each of us satisfied with a little piece.” Pastor Daniel, she reports, has been “hurt, bewildered, embarrassed, and humiliated by Tari’s book.” (Daniel is pastor of the Soé Dutch Reformed-affiliated church where the revival originated following the visit of a team from the Indonesia Evangelistic Institute at Batu, East Java. Tari was a teen-ager in the church at the time, and his sister was a member of one of the many outreach teams that subsequently traveled from Soé throughout Timor and to nearby islands.)
There was no walking on water, Dr. Englund says Daniel told her. Instead, a miraculous light enabled a team to locate a shallow river crossing. As for the woman responsible for turning water to wine, she is an animist, alleges Daniel, according to Dr. Englund. (Daniel says he has been excluded from every purported water-changing session.)
Missions professor George Peters of Dallas Seminary said he discovered on a visit that the woman added syrup to the water. (German author Kurt Koch insists in his book that the potion is genuinely “unfermented wine.” Others had said it had no taste, still others that it tasted like vinegar. Former mission educator Herbert Rohmann, a Bob Jones University graduate, after tasting it declared it to be real wine. He endorses Tari’s book.)
CMA missionary Marion Allen, a veteran of twenty years’ service on Timor, acknowledged in an interview during furlough that “many wonderful things happened; it’s unfortunate there were errors in reporting.” He said he had not heard of many of the miracles before reading Tari’s book. There is some evidence to support several resurrection accounts, he said. He discounted statistics, though. “Any figure of more than 20,000 conversions for the entire revival period is an exaggeration,” he contended. (Fuller Seminary professor C. Peter Wagner in a September Christian Life article said 600,000 have been swept into the Timorese church since 1965, but he now disavows that figure and says he has no idea where it came from.)
Author Don Crawford and research director Frank L. Cooley of the Indonesian Council of Churches agree that the revival on Timor peaked between 1967 and 1969, and that little activity is now taking place. Much of the initial influx of church members was politically inspired, says Cooley, as people sought to identify with religion and thus escape revenge after the attempted coup. Cooley, who speaks the language, spent six weeks in research on Timor last year and found that the spiritual movement has left the Timor Evangelical Church badly divided, with one segment paying allegiance to the Batu group. A number of revival-team members have fallen before fleshly temptations, he asserts in his findings, and have been discredited by the church. As for the miracles Tari mentions: “Information given me regarding certain specific cases makes it impossible for me to believe they actually took place as reported,” says Cooley. Nevertheless, he adds, the movement brought renewal to some churches. (Peters, who points out that the 1965 revival was the third this century for Timor, claims there are fewer Timorese church members today than in 1967.)
World Vision’s Stanley Mooneyham recently took issue with Tari in print, pointing out “spiritual dangers” and cautioning against sign-seeking.
Rea, Tari’s father-in-law, and Creation House’s Cliff Dudley are convinced Tari is telling the truth, and they question the motives of critics who do not share Tari’s charismatic faith.
That something spiritually significant happened on Timor is undeniable. The details may, however, never be known, because of the difficulty of discerning between actual miracle and myth, in which truth has become embedded over the years. Tari may have the best counsel: “I have told you many things about miracles. But don’t put too much emphasis on [them]. Instead, put your eyes on Jesus.”
ONE VOTE SHORT
The California Board of Education came within one vote last month of reversing itself and placing creationism in the state’s science textbooks after all. The vote was 5–2 for it, but six votes are needed for action by the ten-member board. Board member David Hubbard, Fuller Seminary president, again voted against the move, citing the lack of time to make the necessary textbook revisions. At its previous meeting the board decreed that evolution must be clearly tagged as theory, not fact (see January 5 issue, page 48).
Pows: With God’S Help
Millions of Americans listened as Air Force information officer Richard Abel, a Conservative Baptist, closed the first press conference held after American prisoners of war from North Viet Nam landed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. Abel chose the quote of “a senior officer” aboard one plane as a “good note” on which to end the briefing: “I couldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ, and being able to look up and see him in some of the trying times.”
Abel wasn’t simply seizing an opportunity to witness to the world, insists a colleague: “he was accurately reflecting the spirit of the men.”
The senior officer alluded to may have been Colonel Robinson Risner, 48, a fighter pilot shot down in 1966. Risner, who made that well publicized telephone call of thanks to President Nixon on behalf of the POWs, is a member of an Oklahoma City area Assembly of God church. He helped to organize religious services at the “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp. The men chose George McNight, a black Methodist, as Hanoi Hilton’s unofficial chaplain. (McNight was not in the first batch of prisoners released.) A spiritual movement swept through the ranks as, in the words of one POW, “everything else was stripped from us, and we were left with only our faith in God.”
Was it only a case of foxhole religion? Not so, according to a military source at Clark in a telephone interview. He said he found that many of the POWs had come back with a “deep sense of gratitude to God” and were reserving time for personal devotions. Asked if God had helped him, one officer replied: “Not merely helped; I could not have made it without him.” Some of the men said God had miraculously answered prayers while they were being tortured by North Vietnamese officials. Common descriptions: “God numbed the pain,” “God provided relief,” “He enabled me to go on when I couldn’t endure any longer on my own.” The Christians ministered to one another and to their fellow POWs, and a number of men prayed to receive Christ during the ordeal, said the source.
When they arrived at Clark, some of the POWs were wearing hand-made crosses around their necks. “God bless you,” they repeated over and over. The phrase had become a standard form of hail and farewell in the spiritual movement at the Hanoi Hilton.
EDWARD E. PLOWMAN
Preserving The Cause
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D. C., adopted a resolution calling for ordination of women to the priesthood. If approval is voted by the Episcopal Church this year, it will cause schism, predicts the conservative American Church Union element within the denomination, and to that end the ACU is reportedly drafting plans to assure a “continuing” Episcopal Church.
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