A Missionary Life:
Rev. J. Wesley Day
China, Malaysia, Indonesia

Chapter 9. Palembang, Indonesia

One day a letter came from Bishop Archer proposing that we move to Indonesia, to South Sumatra, to Palembang, where I would be principal of the Methodist English School, and pastor of the English Protestant Church. The Bishop ended his letter with "I hope you will see this Macedonian opportunity."

May 20, 1955, our ship arrived at Palembang, capital city of the Province of South Sumatra, in 800 AD capital of the Sriwijaya Empire, now a seaport (fifty miles up the Musi River) which exports oil and other products of South Sumatra.

The Methodist English School was begun in 1908 and was a leading school in the area, Over a thousand students from Grade 1 to Senior High School thronged a building built in 1932 for several hundred in downtown Palembang. In the evenings adults came to learn English. There was no playground except the school courtyard. Three miles from the center of town on the road to the airport was a hilltop called by the mayor the "Pearl of Palembang" bought by the Methodists some years before. There were squatters on the land. The local government promised to get them off, but the squatters were there when our furlough was due in 1957.

I spent the year of home assignment studying school administration.

Returning in early 1958, as we drove from the airport past our hilltop, squatters were removing their houses, brick by brick. Building genius Dr. Charles Shumaker, our Medan, North Sumatra principal, who had built a beautiful school in Malacca, Malaya, then one in Medan, had gotten action on the squatters. Under his direction, Athay, the contractor who built the Medan School came to Palembang and built the Palembang School (and residences). It is named in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1975) among the landmarks of Palembang.

In 1958 1 was appointed by Bishop Archer's successor, Bishop Hobart B. Amstutz, as Superintendent of the North Sumatra Chinese District, while continuing as principal of the Palembang MES and pastor of the English Protestant Church. The arrival of Rev. and Mrs. Kenneth Vetters of Indiana in 1956 helped to make this possible.

I made a spring and fall trip to my district, 800 miles away. The spring trip was interrupted by a rebellion in North Sumatra. The fall trip Ruthlydia went with me, and we had a very happy time visiting our Chinese co-workers. Bishop Amstutz officially organized the Wesley Methodist Church, Medan, while I was their DS.

The English Protestant church refers to the English speaking congregation which met at the Stanvac (Standard Oil) refinery village at Sungei Gerong Sunday afternoons, and the Methodist Church, Palembang, some Sunday mornings. The nearest available missionary served the congregation. At Sungei Gerong the company built the church. Three congregations used it, the English Protestant, the Dutch Protestant, and the Roman Catholic. A committee from the three congregations planned its use. In 1955, the Methodists had the only English speaking missionary, who served as pastor. Later Baptist missionaries came and we shared this leadership. Stanvac had oil fields at Pendopo and Lirik. We held monthly meetings there when possible.

In 1955 beside the Methodist English School and the English Protestant Church connection, the Methodists had a church in Palembang in which two congregations met. In one, Indonesian was spoken, in the other, Chinese. In towns and villages in South Sumatra there were unorganized groups of Methodists, which met in homes.

In Palembang, besides the Methodists, there was a Roman Catholic church, school and hospital, a Dutch Reformed Church, a Pentecostal Church, and after the Baptist missionaries came, a Baptist Church.

While we were there the Dutch pastor was married in a "glove" ceremony. He was in Indonesia. His fiancee was in Holland. In a legal ceremony in Holland, a friend of his, wearing a glove, took the vows in his place. Then his legal wife proceeded to Indonesia where they had a church wedding.

At this time, positions of leadership in our Indonesian church and our two major schools had usually been held by missionaries. This changed in 1958.

February 7, 1958, the day after I returned from furlough, a meeting was called in Palembang of foreign school principals and addressed by a representative from Jakarta of the National Govemment. We were notified that from May 18 no foreigner could be principal of an Indonesian school in South Sumatra, and no Indonesian citizen could attend a foreign school.

The MES carried out the government order. Before May 18 our seniors who should be graduated in July were graduated, and the school took a two week vacation. Then the students returned for a new school year. Nine tenths of our students were Indonesian citizens. They were enrolled in the Sekolah Methodist, in which the language of instruction and the curriculum was Indonesian, their teachers were Indonesian citizens, and their principal (their former vice-principal) was Indonesian. One tenth of our students were foreigners (mostly stateless Chinese). They continued to study in the Methodist English School and I was their principal.

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Updated June 13, 2005