Pastor Michael Litha had a dream to grow his father’s church. Amber Tan heard the call to serve the people in Indonesia. They share with City News their journey from being School of Theology graduates to leading their congregation at Cimahi, a city near Bandung, Indonesia.
In 2009, Pastor Michael Litha from GPdI Bukit Hermon traveled from his small city of Cimahi to Singapore to attend City Harvest’s School of Theology. That was the start of an incredible journey.
His father, Anthon Litha founded GPdI Bukit Hermon in 1981. The church grew to and remained at a congregation of 250 people for a number of years. In 2004, Pastor Michael’s mother, Herjani Jusuf, attended a Pastors’ Course conducted by City Harvest Church and was greatly inspired by what she saw and learned. She brought home the concept of discipleship and the cell group system, but the church was not receptive to the new way of doing church.
Pastor Michael enrolled in SOT in 2009 in the hope of learning different skills sets to help his parents in ministry. He joined a cell group and leaders’ meetings to observe the ins and outs of how CHC operated.
“I realized that just having a cell group structure is not enough; we need to make disciples and raise leaders who can lead cell groups and serve the members. Everything in life rises and falls on leadership,” he told the congregation at The Harvest Network’s conference last year (Oct 13-14, 2019).
GDpI Bukit Hermon is a church in THN. THN brings together like-minded churches and ministries to pursue a fresh revival of the Holy Spirit. The network provides support to the pastors and key leaders of these churches and ministries through discipleship, training and consistent spiritual guidance.
Upon graduation, Pastor Michael went home and began training 20 junior high school students. He met them twice a month for discipleship. “I would give them the vision to see that they can be leaders; they can be salt and light, and they can serve people,” he said. “I believe that every member is a minister.”
He taught them using CHC’s Bible study materials, from Getting Started to Christian Lifestyle to Victorious Living to Foundation Truths and eventually Home Cell Group Leadership.
A MATCH MADE IN SOT
The next best thing that came out of SOT for Pastor Michael was meeting Amber Tan, who later became Mrs Litha. At the time, Amber was working as an administrator in SOT. Their courtship survived three years of long-distance romancing, and they were married in 2012.
It was a big decision for Amber, a true blue Singaporean to move to Indonesia, but she believed that—more than simply a necessity because she married an Indonesian—she was called by God to serve the people in that nation.
“I think all along I’ve been someone who believes that we need to live according to God’s will in our lives,” she told City News. “Before I came here [to Indonesia], I prayed and told God that if I come, it must not only be because I married Michael, but it must be because I’m called here,” she shared. “Now I see that from the beginning, it was God who has called me here. He told me the reason He found me a husband from Indonesia is so that I don’t run away from His calling.”
After marrying Pastor Michael, it became natural for Amber to take on the role of a pastor’s wife. “Because I felt that I’m called, I helped Michael willingly,” she said.
As she stepped into her new role, she found that it was not hard to earn their congregation’s respect. “But I knew I still had to build a relationship with them. I think respect and the relationship are different,” she explained. “Being a leader, you need to be someone they want to come to when they need help. I want them to cry when they want to cry and not hide their tears. But you would not cry with a stranger, you would not share your things with a stranger. There are many people we respect, but we may not share our lives with them. So I need that kind of relationship with my church members; I want to be someone they trust. And I want them to know that I’m here to not just be their leader, but also their friend. Someone who will support them and believe in their dreams and visions.”
Having been a youth cell group leader in Pastor Edmund Tay’s pastoral zone for seven years before she was married, mentoring youths was nothing new to Amber. “The youths in Indonesia are the same in some ways but different in others. Humans are all made the same way: we have the same needs, the same insecurities and problems,” she noted.
“The difference is the culture. In Singapore, we’re all educated the same way. But in Indonesia, some of the members are not so educated. I thought that I could bring them up to my level, where we could have the same thinking and mindset. But God spoke to me through an incident. A young girl wanted to go to the toilet and asked me for help. I brought her there and turned around so she could have some privacy. When she was done, there was yellow liquid on the floor! That was when I realized that she had never seen a toilet bowl before and didn’t know how to use it—in Indonesia they are more used to squatting toilets. God said, ‘Amber, it’s not about bringing them to your level, but you need to go to their level, to understand them first.’”
In that moment, Amber realized that she needed to understand her church members at their level before she could teach them anything. “I have many dreams and big hopes for them, but I now know that there are many things I needed to teach them first,” she said.
The biggest hindrance to her ministry was the fact she couldn’t speak Bahasa Indonesia. “When I first came to Indonesia, I didn’t know the language, so naturally I started connecting with those who spoke English,” Amber recalled.
She started a cell group with a few English-speaking members and preached to them in English. She would also bring along an interpreter whenever she had to speak with other members of the church.
“Eventually, learning Bahasa Indonesia became a necessity,” she admitted. Her family and church members would accommodate her by speaking English, “but I soon realized that I don’t understand their jokes and certain jargon they use. They accepted me but I always feel like I’m out of it.”
Moreover, she felt it hard to connect with the members without the language. “Some of the youths wanted to share their problems with me, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and so I couldn’t understand their problem. Even if I had a solution for them, I could not communicate it,” she said.
Having an interpreter was not effective either. “Some counselling cases are more personal and have to be done without the interpreter,” Amber added. “That’s not convenient. I love my members and I want to be there for them. In the end, I forced myself to learn Bahasa.”
Language was Amber’s my worst subject in school, she confessed. “But because I love them, I have to show them.”
Amber started taking lessons to learn the basics of the language. But one month into the lessons, she fell pregnant and had very severe morning sickness. She stopped taking the classes and had to learn the language through conversing with others and by watching movies.
“When I watch an English movie, I try to look at the Bahasa Indonesia subtitles. Or if I watch Indonesian movies, I will leave the English subtitles out. When I don’t understand (the show), I would ask rather than relying on the subtitles.”
Amber has come a long way since then. Not only can she converse well in Bahasa Indonesia now, but she can also preach at cell group in the language. Last Christmas, she took the stage at service for the first time, preaching a sermon in Bahasa. She now preaches in the youth services.
THE BUILDING MIRACLE
With Amber by his side, Pastor Michael implemented the cell group system successfully.
“In 2010, we started one youth cell group with five people. Today, we have 50 cell groups, with 60, 70 leaders and helpers taking care of the members. As a result, church attendance grew from 250 to 800 people. We became the largest and fastest-growing GPdI church in West Java.”
With growth came the problem of space. “We needed to tear down the old building and rebuild a bigger one,” said Pastor Michael. “In 2016, our church launched the biggest building fund campaign by far. Renovation is very costly and burdensome for us because 70 percent of our church members are mainly factory workers, earning a middle or low income. Nonetheless, everyone united together to raise the building fund. As we learned in CHC: unequal amounts, equal sacrifice.”
But the biggest challenge to the building project was the permit they needed. “Our country requires us to get 90 signatures from the community as proof of their approval for us to build the new church. But this was almost impossible because the majority of the community is antagonistic towards Christianity. Nonetheless, we kept building a relationship with them through local activities and community work.”
The church’s efforts paid off when the local headman came to Pastor Michael telling him that he would collect all the signatures he needed.
“God is truly a miracle-working God. Since 2016, when the building project started, we’ve been able to pay for the building materials and workers’ costs. We have never had to beg,” marveled Pastor Michael. “There were many weeks when our bank account was totally reduced to zero and we did not know how to go on. Then suddenly, strangers would drive past our church, stop, and hand us a cheque for our building and we were able to pay for expenses that week. God is Jehovah Jireh our Provider!”
GPdI Bukit Hermon dedicated their new church building to God last November. The building has six levels that hold a 1,200-seater main hall, 12 smaller rooms and office space.
“Since we moved in, the members have risen up to serve in ways they haven’t done before. They may not know how to do it but they are willing to learn,” Amber shared. “We also have new friends coming to join us every week, and we are praying for a revival among the young people!”