Indonesia is a land of islands—a thousand of them, spreading from the Malay peninsula in southeast Asia eastward toward Australia. It includes the tropical paradise of the legendary Bali; the island of Java, the most densely populated land on earth; and Borneo, where there are still tribes who have had virtually no contact with civilization. Indonesia used to be known as the “spice islands,” those lands of such fabled wealth that Columbus sailed west to reach them—and discovered America!
Yet even though the islands have been settled for centuries, Indonesia is a new nation, its independence not three decades old. And even newer than the nation is the Church in Indonesia: the first missionaries arrived in 1970, and the Book of Mormon is only now being printed in Bahasa Indonesia (which means, simply, “Indonesian Language”).
The ideal translator for the Indonesian Book of Mormon would be someone who speaks both English and Bahasa Indonesia as native languages, who is a trained and experienced translator, and who has a profound understanding of the scriptures and lives in close contact with the Spirit. However, even though no one has all these qualifications, a group of dedicated Latter-day Saints, Americans and Indonesians together, have, with the guidance of the Lord, translated the Book of Mormon into Bahasa Indonesia.
Along with Vietnamese, Greek, and Thai, Indonesian is the most recent language to have the Book of Mormon. Naturally, this is one of the most exciting events ever for the Saints in Indonesia—many members of the Church will now be able to read the Book of Mormon for the first time in their lives!
From the beginning, the translation was hampered by some unusual problems. Although Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of the Republic of Indonesia, is spoken by about seventy percent of the people, only a few speak it as their native language. Most Indonesians grow up speaking one of the hundreds of other languages in the islands, and only learn the official national language in school.
It is a simple and regular language. Meanings of words are changed by adding prefixes or suffixes. Plurals are formed by repeating the word—for example, orang means “man,” so “men” is orang-orang. But such simplicity does not make translating from English to Indonesian easy. Indonesian, like English, uses the roman alphabet, but there the similarity ends. There are few cognates—similar words that mean the same in both languages—and no similar sentence patterns. A word such as consecration causes problems. We use this one word to mean many things: ordaining someone, giving everything to the Lord, setting someone apart, and so on. There is no single Bahasa Indonesia word that means all these things—and for some of these meanings there is no word at all! Figures of speech such as “harrowing up” also cause this type of problem.
Another translation problem was the level of the language. Of course, it wouldn’t be appropriate for scripture to be translated into street slang. And yet the Book of Mormon should not be translated into such formal language that no one but the most highly educated can understand it. The translators worked to set the Book of Mormon in simple, understandable language that was literate enough to convey the power and beauty of the scripture.
And to top off these problems, right in the middle of the translation the Indonesian government changed the system of spelling! The entire manuscript had to be corrected.
Brother Budi Darmawan, language coordinator for the Church Translation Services Department in Indonesia, was responsible for preparing the first draft of the translation. In June 1975 he sent it to Church Translation in Salt Lake City, where Americans like returned missionary Arne Hallam and staff experts on the Book of Mormon went over the translation word by word to make sure that the Indonesian version conveyed the exact meaning of the scripture. Then the manuscript was returned to Indonesia, where Brother Darmawan and others used the corrections and polished the language so that it would read smoothly in Bahasa Indonesia.
The translation made several more trips between Indonesia and the United States before it was at last ready for the printer. And now the Indonesian Saints are receiving a book that is more than good literature, more than history, even more than true doctrine: they are receiving the book that has the power to change the life of anyone who reads it “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.” (Moro. 10:4.)
The Indonesian Saints have not been entirely without a Book of Mormon, of course. Since Indonesia was once a colony of the Netherlands, the Dutch Book of Mormon has often been helpful. Several Indonesian Saints have been able to read the English Book of Mormon, while the Chinese translation has been available to the sizable group of Chinese-speaking Indonesians.
In fact, the Church has had to work hard to keep up with the Saints in Indonesia. Not only have they “made do” with a patchwork of foreign-language scriptures, but also some of them found the gospel before the missionaries even came to their country!
Brother Wasito (“Bambang”) Kusumoyudo’s story began in 1962, seven years before the land was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. He dreamed he was visited by Jesus Christ, who told him that in nine years he would be led to the truth. Nine years later he dreamed once again that he was visited and was told that shortly messengers with the truth would come to him. Several days later the missionaries knocked on his door in Bandung.
At first he assumed they were representatives of another proselyting church. They introduced themselves, the Church, and the Book of Mormon, and Brother Kusumoyudo was immediately interested. He borrowed a Book of Mormon from them, since he didn’t have enough money to buy one. He was so overwhelmed by it that he read it in only a few days.
One night, after reading part of the Book of Mormon, he knelt and asked the Lord if the book was true and if Joseph Smith was a prophet. He was overcome with a clean, pure feeling, one that he had never experienced before. Later that night he dreamed that a messenger testified to him that the book was the word of God and that Joseph Smith was a prophet.
He continued with the discussions and was baptized at the age of forty on December 19, 1971. His son Dody is now serving as one of the first full-time Indonesian missionaries.
Most Saints, however, had no contact with the gospel until after 1969, when Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Bruce R. McConkie, then of the First Council of the Seventy, visited Indonesia. On a small hill in western Java, Elder Benson dedicated the land for the preaching of the gospel. The first six missionaries arrived in 1970 and began teaching in three cities: Jakarta (the capital), Bogor, and Bandung.
Soon strong branches were established in each city, and missionary efforts expanded to other cities. Now there are branches in the cities of Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Semarang, Surabaya, and most recently in Malang. So far, missionary work has been confined to the island of Java. When proselyting began on Java, Indonesia was a part of the Southeast Asia Mission, later named the Singapore Mission. Missionaries sent there learned Bahasa Indonesia in the field. Not until 1974 was Indonesian taught in the Language Training Mission.
The Saints in Indonesia, as everywhere, love the gospel. Although of devout Javanese-Islam stock, Sister Oemi was introduced early to Christianity in the local Christian school. She was impressed by the Catholic nuns, both Indonesian and European, who so unselfishly dedicated their lives in service to mankind and their God. She finally resolved to lead such a life herself.
However, her father wanted her to study economics. In deference to her father’s wishes, Sister Oemi went on to a university and received a bachelor’s degree in economics. But her degree proved to be of little worth: all the jobs were being offered to fluent speakers of English, which Sister Oemi was not. And she could not afford to enroll in any of the several English courses.
One morning her dilemma was solved when two young Americans came to her door and invited her to attend a free English class at the newly opened church house around the corner. She eagerly accepted the offer and began attending the twice-weekly classes.
Then one night several months later Sister Oemi dreamed that one of the “elders” who taught English was very insistently requesting something of her, which could only be satisfied with a reply of “yes, all right.” She was quite upset by the vivid dream, and she became frightened the next morning when that very elder and his companion came to her home for a visit. After several minutes of friendly conversation, the missionaries asked if they might present a lesson on their church. Remembering her dream and not wishing to offend these American visitors, she consented. But her consent turned to enthusiasm, and she was ready for baptism within a month.
Excerpts from the diary of Brother Effian Kadarusman, president of the Malang Branch, tell of his conversion: “March 21, 1974: It’s hard for me to know the mysteries of God because of so many different and conflicting opinions about the gospel and the scriptures.
“April 11, 1974: For a few weeks my wife and I have been taught by two elders of the Mormon Church. They’ve been saying that we are created as God and also that Jesus Christ created the world. Well, I’m not too sure about these things yet because right or wrong these things can invite arguments. I wonder how they dare speak about those things the way they do; they haven’t seen them with their eyes! But they do believe that their Church, with its ideals, precepts and teachings is right, more right than all other churches in the world.
“I don’t know. How can I be sure that this Church is the right church to join?
“April 23, 1974: I have good news. I’m going to be the good Christian I wanted to be. I’m going to be baptized a member of the LDS Church. I feel very sure about that Church. In fact, my decision about that Church makes me more happy, and convinced that my baptism will be a success.”
Aischa Meyer, president of an Osmonds Fan Club in Indonesia, became curious about Mormonism, and has now been baptized along with her mother and brother. Aischa’s mother did not approve at first. She came to the first discussion with two packs of cigarettes and two cups of coffee, ready to make trouble. She remembers now, “After the lesson the elders got down on their knees and thanked the Lord for the opportunity they had to teach me. Nothing ever affected me like that in my whole life. I thought to myself, if there are such people, there must be more.” The cigarettes and coffee soon disappeared—along with the antagonism.
Missionary work is not easy on Java. The government prohibits tracting, so the missionaries must find other ways to contact people about the gospel. The Setiawans remember their attitude before conversion, which caused problems for the missionaries.
“We never thought of becoming Mormons or Latter-day Saints,” says Y. A. Setiawan on behalf of his family. “Actually, we resented people who changed religions. We kind of blamed them and accused them of having no firm foundation and opinion at all. So, changing religion ourselves would just be ridiculous and absurd—it would be totally out of the question! However, the Lord has his own ways.
“One Tuesday afternoon in January 1973 when I returned home from work, my wife told me about an English study class she had attended that morning at the church, not far from our home. She went into great detail as she told me about the extremely enjoyable lesson given by two young American missionaries working there.
“‘They are most impressive, much more impressive than any missionary of other churches I have ever met before,’ she said. ‘I wonder what made them so. They are still so very young. However, that certain glow of strength, power, and knowing things for sure has really challenged me to know them better.
“‘Let’s go to their church next Sunday,’ she pleaded.
“Finally, to please my wife and satisfy my own curiosity I agreed to go to the meeting that following Sunday. Just investigating wouldn’t harm anything, I reasoned.
“That Sunday morning there were about twenty people present, all just investigators like us. We crowded together, smiled shyly at each other, waited, and looked expectantly at the elders. The singing was kind of funny because the people, not familiar with the tune, sang it in their own way. The elder leading the singing perspired much. I looked at my wife and we both smiled, thinking, ‘Real funny, isn’t it?’ However, we both did our best not to seem too amused because we felt some kind of sympathy for the elders; from the very first moment we noticed their sincerity and total dedication to their cause, whatever cause or calling it was.”
But their attitude soon changed: “After studying the Church a while, sometimes we just didn’t know what to do. We often considered quitting our regular Sunday visits there. Every time the Sabbath rolled around we struggled with the momentous decision of whether to go or not. Yet we always would end up going—but with the firm reservation that we were only investigators.
“This weekly ritual lasted until sometime in March, when my wife and I were both baptized. Now, as members, we are deeply touched when we remember back to all of these events. We know we have received many blessings. And our love for our family continues to grow.”
There are now twelve hundred members in Indonesia. Instead of six missionaries, fifty elders work on the island of Java, along with two sisters who serve as health missionaries. There are also four Indonesians who have responded to President Kimball’s call for missionaries from every country.
In 1975 Indonesia became a separate mission, and Brother Hendrik Gout, a Dutch Saint whose ancestors were colonists in Indonesia, was called as mission president.
Standard tracts, filmstrips, missionary discussions, and flip charts have been translated and printed. In 1975 the mission’s translation service in Bandung, under the direction of Brother Budi Darmawan, translated and published the Family Home Evening Manual and teaching manuals for a number of classes. And culminating these efforts is the new Kitab Mormon, the Book of Mormon in Bahasa Indonesia.
In addition to the printing of the Book of Mormon, other important events have occurred recently in Indonesia. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley’s visit to Java in February 1975 will long be remembered by the Saints. This was the first opportunity for most Indonesian Saints to meet an apostle, and many Saints traveled miles on crowded buses and trains to attend the special conference where Elder Hinckley was speaking.
Another exciting event took place on June 3, 1976, when Brother and Sister Prodjomoertjito were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. They were the first Indonesian couple to receive this ordinance. They tried to sell their home to get the money to come to the United States, but then they were unexpectedly given tickets to Canada. From Canada they could get to Salt Lake City without selling their house.
“It is a miracle to us,” they say joyfully. The Saints in Indonesia are delighted for the Prodjomoertjitos, and they are praying that someday they too may be sealed to their families in the temple.
The gospel message has now changed the lives of many Indonesians. As Brother Edison Perman Siregar says, “We have found a truly positive purpose for life as we have followed the teachings of the Church. It used to be that my wife and I often argued and my children associated with the wrong crowds. Now our lives are centered upon Church duties such as home teaching and family home evening. I know the Church is led by a living prophet and our family is blessed through his words.”
In dozens of nations and dozens of languages the words may be different, but the message and the spirit are the same. As Brother Siregar says, “Truly a wonderful thing has come into our lives.”