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Locked down but uplifted

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YAMENers Enosh Rupamajhi, Olicky Muchindu and Jeu Song take a group photo in Salatiga, Indonesia. Due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, they were temporarily unable to return to their home countries of India, Zambia and Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) respectively from their placements in Indonesia. For a few months, they lived together to wait out the pandemic and learned, laughed and worshipped together.

“The love from Indonesia” for YAMENers (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network) Enosh Rupamajhi, Jeu Song and Olicky Muchindu, the warmth of relationship—from their hosts and each other—is a hallmark of their year.

YAMEN offers young adults from around the world an opportunity to leave what they know for a year to serve, grow and learn in an international placement. YAMEN is a joint program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite World Conference (MWC). In Indonesia, YAMEN is a joint program with Indomenno, an association of the three Indonesian Mennonite synods and MWC.

Andrea Geiser, YAMEN co-ordinator, says “The benefits [of exchange programs] for individuals, church, host families, host community, workplace are huge.”

In Indonesia, Song (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) visited parishioners alongside the pastor and worked on the multimedia team at Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Kasih Allah church in Semarang. 

Muchindu (Zambia) served in the kindergarten class at Gereja Injili di Tana Jawa (GITJ) Tompomulyi Juwana. He frequently practiced his newly learned Indonesian with people in town. “I’m kind of a social person,” he says.

Rupamajhi (India) was an assistant English teacher at GITJ Ketanggan Pati. He enjoyed learning about the business of beekeeping from his host father. 

From March 2020, these YAMEN participants serving Mennonite churches in Indonesia were unable to serve in their placements due to COVID-19 lockdown yet unable to go home due to travel restrictions. Until July – when they returned home one by one—the young men endured lockdown together in an office in Salatiga.

‘The Boys’ became like family. 

At times, they “just needed to breathe,” says Muchindu. Confined to the office, they missed their hosts, were sad about events and opportunities they missed and worried about their families. 

To pass the time, they sang songs together, wrote stories about their placements and commiserated about language mishaps, taught each other to cook their home cuisine and prayed together every night. “Now I can cook chicken curry,” says Song.

“Getting them home was tricky,” says Anielle Santoso, Indomenno liaison. “But ‘the Boys’ helped each other.” Two of them worked with their governments to get seats on repatriation flights, showing the value of co-operation in ecumenical settings as well as personal relationships.

“If we work together [across differences],” says Song, “We will know each other, and we can help each other when we go through something difficult.”

“When it became clear that COVID-19 was a global pandemic, MCC had to make decisions regarding service workers,” says Geiser. Area directors, program co-ordinators and participants discerned the options available as programs curtailed their activities. Facing travel restrictions, many YAMENers, like ‘the Boys,’ remained in their host countries for months. Three YAMEN participants from 2019/20 continue their pandemic-affected terms until December. 

As COVID-19 continues to impact travel and health and safety guidelines, service opportunities are limited, with only two YAMEN participants starting in October 2020.

Under lockdown, ‘the Boys’ in Salatiga continued their cross-cultural experience, using both Indonesian and English as a common language.

“Every morning, we sang worship songs in Bahasa Indonesia,” says Rupamajhi. “I feel that here is the presence of the Lord; terima kasih, Tuhan! [‘thank you, God’ in Indonesian].” 

A Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee joint release by Karla Braun, a writer for Mennonite World Conference who lives in Winnipeg.

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