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Medan, Indonesia – a city of churches

interesting article written by a Singaporean pastor on

I’ve just returned from a trip to Medan, Indonesia. It was my first trip to this city – the fourth largest city in Indonesia. As I’m a regular visitor to Indonesia, I expected Medan to be like the other cities that I’ve been to – namely, a Muslim dominated one. But I was surprised to find so many Christians and churches in this city.

Medan is on the island of Sumatra. It is near Aceh – which is the “heart” of Islam in Indonesia. I was therefore expecting to see a city dominated by Islam. But as my place was making its approach to the city airport, I saw at least 4 large churches, with steeples topped by crosses, in the vicinity of the airport. On my short drive from the airport to the home of my host I lost count of the number of large churches that I passed. They all seemed to have the features of typical “Western” church buildings, ie, steeple (or bell-tower) topped by a cross.

I discovered that many of the churches were traditional Batak churches. The Batak people (comprising several different tribes of Bataks) had been evangelized by a German Lutheran missionary called Pastor Nommensen about 150 years ago. When Pastor Nommensen died after his long ministry among the Bataks, there were 180,000 members in the church that he had planted! He is regarded as one of the most successful missionaries of all time. (More on his remarkable ministry in the next blog).

Today, the largest Christian denomination in Indonesia is a Batak church called Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (or HKBP) which is Indonesian for “Batak Christian Protestant Church,” with over 4 million members. There are several other large Batak denominations. I’m not sure what is the percentage of Bataks that are Christians, but my guess is that the majority of Bataks are identified as Christians.

In my travels through Indonesia, I have met Bataks in almost every part of Indonesia. I am impressed by their spirit of adventure, their diligence and their superior level of education. I am sure Pastor Nommensen’s ministry was a major factor that shaped many Batak lives.