The Indonesian-born minister, who was recently a guest of Poland Presbyterian Church, has traveled the world since her ordination delivering a message that goes beyond the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The message is often surprising, and sometimes uncomfortable, but it is also filled with hope for the redemption of humanity - not unlike like the gospel itself.
Rev. Perangin-Angin speaks very fondly of her native Indonesia, which is 92 percent Muslim. Indeed, it has the largest Islamic population in the world. Given the negative spotlight that Islam has occupied since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, this sentiment tends to surprise many in her American audiences.
Good Islamic-Christian relations are a personal matter for Perangin-Angin, with a family that is part Christian and part Muslim through intermarriage. But to her, it’s an attitude that extends far beyond the confines of family relations. She feels herself to be a citizen of the world, an attitude that is partly a result of her rigorous travel schedule lecturing, researching an upcoming book, and serving with several international organizations, including the Churches Council of Asia and on the central committee of the World Council of Churches. She also was part of a 2001 council organized by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation attempting theological reconciliation between the Catholic and Protestant denominations.
Such an itinerary has enriched Perangin-Angin’s sense of mission.
“You don’t belong to anywhere, because you become an advocate for the goodness of the world.”
She said that the only agenda she carries is to further understanding and foster peace.
“I’m not Indonesian, I’m a world citizen. I’m not Christian. I’m everything, and I’m nothing.”
This profound sense of worldliness began following her seminary studies, when she won a scholarship in 1988 to study in America. Eventually she earned a master’s degree from Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University in New York City and a doctorate in Hebrew Bible studies from Drew University in Madison, N.J., after which she was officially ordained.
Perangin-Angin’s time in the United States has given her a great affection for its people and allowed her to see things from the first-world perspective of an American, as well as the viewpoint from her homeland and other, poorer nations of the world. She said that being able to compare the two first-hand has made her more concerned about inequality.
Encouraging people in the wealth and comfort of America to live more simply and share more of their abundance with the needy of the world is a core part of her message.
In this manner, her international outlook yields important ideas that can be uncomfortable for some to hear. Perangin-Angin realizes this, but feels the implications are too important to not share.
“Americans consider themselves heroes after fighting in Iraq. They don’t know that in other parts of the world, you are seen as a thief, not a hero.”
She said these feelings of injustice can be strengthened by radical clerics amongst a population that has no power to strike back against the U.S. military. Some will plan terrorist attacks against American citizens, legitimized in their minds by Muslim civilians killed in U.S. military action.
At home in Indonesia, Perangin-Angin says that she has been adamant about telling people that the Iraq War has been controversial amongst Americans, with many opposing it publicly, a fact that surprises many of her countrymen. It is the action of a government that represents the people, but doesn’t always act on their behalf. She compares it to explaining to Americans that the terrorist attacks of Islamic radicals don’t represent all Muslims.
According to Sally Walker, an elder at Poland Presbyterian Church, Perangin-Angin’s message has been very well received.
“She doesn’t come on and tell us that we’re bad, saying ‘Oh, America is terrible.’ She’s giving us the perception.”
Though it was considered taboo following Sept. 11, Perangin-Angin feels that we must ask why terrorists carry out their attacks. It’s not about making excuses for them, she said. Their actions are based upon their understanding, or misunderstanding, of America. When you discover the how and why of these beliefs, you can then go about changing minds, she said.
Perangin-Angin and Walker both cite religious and government institutions as the usual suspects, with Walker pointing out that good and evil can be found in all societies.
“People get along; we’re the same,” she said. “Mothers are mothers, dads are dads.” Such realizations are the core of Perangin-Angin’s mission. “That’s my goal: try to make people understand each other and see each other from another point of view,” she said.
Though her faith is obviously important to her, Perangin-Angin said she never tries to convert those who aren’t Christians. She says that her upcoming book will explore the life of Jesus before his ministry, explore His relationship to the Holy Spirit, and, inspired by His example, “ask people to live peacefully with each other.”
According to Walker, it’s a mission that Perangin-Angin is ideally suited for, saying that she’s equally at ease addressing an international conference or speaking to a four-year-old.
“She can talk to anybody,” Walker said. “She’s so ecumenical, so worldly. We’ve learned an awful lot from her.”
Such education can never begin too early, Perangin-Angin says. Though she’s more frequently in contact with seminary and graduate students, she said that it can be easier bringing this message of understanding and peace to young children whose opinions have not yet hardened. As children are indeed the future, she hopes this fostering of greater understanding will lead to a more peaceful world.
As to her own children, Perangin-Angin says that her daughter Maria, 27, and son Billy, 9, have grown accustomed to her travels over the years. In fact, she laughed and said that when she’s home for three months or longer, they begin to ask when her next trip is. Her recent stay, which was part of the Mission to the USA program, sponsored by the Presbyterian Church’s Synod of the Covenant, was longer than usual, beginning in Sept. 21.
From Poland, it’s on to an engagement in Detroit, followed by another conference in San Francisco, finally returning home on Dec. 12. Perangin-Angin said she will be very glad to see her husband and children again. But if her most recent travels have been successful, the seeds of greater understanding that she has sowed will make her human family that much larger. For a citizen of the world, that’s exactly as it should be.
Photo by Richard Sberna, Town Crier
The Rev. Dr. Mindawati Perangin-Angin, of Indonesia, was recently a guest of Poland Presbyterian Church.