Subject: ND Pastor visits country in turmoil

The Bismark Tribune 07-28-2006: news-update

Pastor visits country in turmoil By KAREN HERZOG/Bismarck Tribune

When Jim Moos left Bismarck for East Timor in early July, he knew getting into that East Asian country might be difficult. Several years after winning its independence from Indonesia in a bloody struggle, the East Timorese have been teetering on the edge of civil war, with its accompanying turmoil and violence.

Moos, pastor of Bismarck’s United Church of Christ, got into the country all right ­ with the strange sensation of carrying nearly $10,000 in cash with him ­ but found when it was time to go that it was hard to leave.

“The people are scared,” he said. And these people have become his friends over the years in which Moos’ church has partnered with East Timorese Christians to help build a school there.

Around 130,000 to 140,000 people have become refugees during the internal fighting; of those, 80,000 are in refugee camps. Others live elsewhere, including many with extended family, he said.

As a Westerner, Moos never felt personally threatened, he said; it’s his East Timorese friends, including Francisco de Vasconcelos, president of the Protestant Church of East Timor, who are in jeopardy, he said.

The $10,000 he carried ­ the legal limit one can take out of the country ­ was taken in cash because of the uncertainty of the country’s banking system, and was raised in something like two weeks, mainly as an outpouring from the local church and others, Moos said.

Those dollars were able to help places such as a church-run orphanage, which had become part of the refugee population. Though the children were safe and fed, they had no blankets or sleeping mats, not even a soccer ball. Cash also bought a truckload of rice, was distributed to all, without consideration of religion.

“Rice does not have religion,” de Vasconcelos said to Moos.

Moos was also able to visit the school being built in a East Timor village through this U.S. partnership.

“We need to continue with the school project,” Moos said. “It needs to happen.”

Many relief supplies and agencies arrive in crisis mode for the short term; education will be vital to create long-term improvement in people’s lives, he said.

East Timor is one of the poorest countries in Asia and getting poorer, he said, at the mercy of political elites and international entities interested in its oil. Fifteen percent of its people are refugees, including one member of Parliament who met with Moos, left after his home was burned with one shirt and pair of pants, who goes to Parliament on a motorbike and returns home to a refugee camp.

The trip went well in the midst of a difficult context, Moos said, a complex situation that defies easy categorization, he said.

Why go?

First and most important, “to show up,” Moos said.

“Somebody has to show up. God didn’t drop notes saying, ‘hope everything is going well.’ God came in flesh and blood,” he said.

“Then, these are my friends.”

He also went to respond to relief efforts and help keep long-term efforts like the village school going. And he went to be an advocate on behalf of the larger church.

“The church has an obligation to be a voice for the voiceless,” he said.

When it came time to leave, Moos considered extending his visit, but wasn’t able to make travel arrangements.

Eventually, he and his friends agreed that he would come down next year in July. But he also told them “if you need me before then, I’ll come,” he said.

“We don’t come in as saviors,” he said. “This is an equal partnership. We need to learn to receive what they have to offer,” he said, including their example of faith and hope in planting and tending their gardens, even as refugees.

“Morning and evening in the tropics they gather to work in the gardens,” he said. “It’s good for healing of the soul, they say.” 

Back to July menu 
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu