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Nias Visit 2011

One of the main aims of BBJ is to bring Salvation Army music to the more remote parts of Indonesia rarely visited by foreign Christian musicians, especially Salvation Army bands. Thus it was that in July 2011 BBJ began its second tour of Nias. The first such tour was in 2004. Nias is a poverty stricken island off the west coast of North Sumatra where many band members have relatives.

The theme of our trip was Tantangan Menguatkan Iman (a challenge to make faith strong). It was a sentiment that, as band members quickly learned, was no mere slogan.

Our adventure began on the Friday lunchtime (July 1) flight from Medan to Nias, when our small two-engined propeller driven aircraft was unable to land because of a storm involving high winds and poor visibility. Band members prayed hard as we circled the small airport at Gunungsitoli (the island's administrative capital) for 20 minutes. Finally, the pilot attempted a landing, but it had to be aborted because of poor visibility. So we returned to Medan and sat in "transit" while the aircraft was refueled. God protected us, and we got there safely on the second attempt.

At Gunungsitoli we transferred all our equipment into a convoy of four small vans for the trip to the interior. The roads near Gunung Sitoli were OK, but they got worse as we travelled into the highlands. In some places the winding roads had been washed away completely for up to 100 yards. In others, we had to cross dangerous looking bridges. Handphone signal was either nonexistent or erratic. Fortunately, the drivers we hired were locals who knew the winding roads very well.

I tried to take some pictures, but with darkness falling it was difficult to get some good shots.



After three hours we arrived (very late) for our first performance atLolomatua. It was atthe village of Yudhykana Laia - one of the band members. We performed in a local pentecostal church that Yudhy had arranged for us. We got there at about 8.30pm, to find that about 300 people had been waiting for us since 6pm! So we quickly unloaded and unpacked while the crowd looked on. Together with a long sermon by the local preacher, the whole thing finished at around midnight. There was also a speech from the local village head, who asked for something to remember us by. We gave him one of our banners.

The local people were very friendly, but facilities were really basic. The band slept on the floor of the church near the jungle. I was lucky to be taken to the house of Yudhy's family (more like a shack) and given slightly better accomodation.

The next day we travelled south through winding roads heading for Teluk Dalam on the south coast. Nobody had had a shower or bath (there was very little water in the village, and band members were not used to the relatively low temperatures in the highlands) so we stopped along the way to take a dip in a local river - driving the vans right along the stony  river bed for better access.

BBJ members are a tough bunch. I thought that bathing in the river was a bit too much, but they managed to turn the whole thing into a wonderful adventure. It was as if I had taken them to a high class swimming pool!



The view was stunning. The stony river bed was at least 100 yards wide, with a view for a couple of kilometers in either direction. But the water only flowed in a small section near the middle. Overall, it was quite safe.

The only thing that upsets BBJ members is when they have to skip a meal. The younger ones especially have enormous appetites. On arrival in Nias we had to skip lunch because of the delays caused by the storm and the urgent need to make up time. Fortunately, when we arrived in Lolomatua for the first performance we found that our hosts had prepared a generous meal.

At Teluk Dalam, there was a blackout (a normal occurance), so there were no lights working or fans to take the edge off the tropical heat when we arrived. And band members quickly used up what little water that had been stored up trying to take a cool shower. But the corps officer was very helpful, and accomodation was much better than in the village. The food (mostly rice, of course!) was also good. Finally, the water and electricity supply came back on in time for our evening with local youth (Saturday night).



Sunday morning we travelled to a Salvation Army corps (church) located in Simandaolo, another village about an hour's drive from Teluk Dalam for the morning service. The small church (rebuilt after the disastrous earthquake in 2005) was packed, with people standing outside under special awnings. The band played well too. I was very proud of them. And the local people also surprised me. They had an excellent choir that sang several times to us in both Indonesian and the Nias language. Their enthusiasm for God was also infectious.

In all these services, there was simultaneous translation from Indonesian to the Nias language. Many older people in Nias cannot speak Indonesian well. When I introduced the band in Indonesian, for example, it all had to be translated into Nias.

On Saturday afternoon we took time off to visit Bawamataluo, a village located at the top of a mountain. Built in the 1930s, and consisting of very solid wooden houses built to a traditional design, it was unlike anything I have seen anywhere else. The wide streets made of flat stones were also a testament to the enormous effort that must have gone into its construction.

We met former BBJ members who wanted us to give them instruments.
While in Nias, BBJ members also met with several former band members. They included November, Sadarman, Delima and Yafao, many of whom now have families of their own. They begged me to give them some instruments so that they could form a band in Nias! But I had to refuse. If we had left some in Nias, there would not be enough for current BBJ members.

But I could not abandon former BBJ members either. So I promised to buy more instruments in Singapore and bring them over to Medan. The arrangement is for someone from Nias to come to Medan to collect the instruments.

Sunday evening (July 3) we gave another concert at Teluk Dalam in a larger church that the Salvation Army had rented for the purpose. The acoustics of the building were not good (too much echo), but we managed somehow. That night, band members were so excited it was difficult to get them to sleep before midnight. The next morning we got up at 3.30am, had a quick breakfast. We left Teluk Dalam at 4.30am to head back to the airport at Gunungsitoli. This time we took the coast road (which was much better). There were great views of the sea and beautiful beaches, but we didn't see much until the sun came up at about 7am.

Overall, the tour was a wonderful success. Band members returned to Medan exhausted but happy. We have also heard reports since from Nias that the people were very appreciative of the band.

Yudhy tells me that the people in his village now want to turn their church into a Salvation Army corps! Turning a pentacostal church into a Salvation Army corps would be quite a shock for everybody. Quite apart from clashing traditions and theological positions, I don't think they understand just how hard it is to form and train a band!

You can see more pictures of BBJ's tour of Nias in July 2011 by visiting the BBJ Photo Gallery.

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