By Chin Soon & Jessie

It began with an invitation from Rev. Ria to our 14-year-old daughter to celebrate Christmas with CHALIS on Pulau Nias, Indonesia, in 2023. CHALIS stands for Channel of Love Sowers, or Yayasan Dela Penabur Kasih. This foundation was founded by Rev. Ria Zebua, a former OMF missionary who served among the Manobo people of the Philippines for 17 years until 2014. She runs it with Modesta Telaumbanua, or simply Ms Desta, who is Challis Chairwoman. And that was how we ended up spending Christmas 2023 at CHALIS, but without our daughter who was not keen on flights in a small aircraft. 

Getting to know Nias

We made it to Pulau Nias on Dec. 23  and were warmly greeted by Rev. Ria and Ms Desta who treated us to a delicious traditional meal where many of the dishes were pork as around 90% of the inhabitants of Pulau Nias are Christians. 

We spent three nights staying with the CHALIS team, many of whom stayed on at the centre through Christmas to be with us instead of returning to their kampungs to spend Christmas with their families.

On Pulau Nias we learned a new word in their language: Ya’ahowu. It is an all-encompassing welcome greeting. It’s perhaps the equivalent of Shalom. We hear it everywhere, and in church, the host may greet the audience thus: “Shalom. Ya’ahowu. Selamat petang…”

Rev. Ria brought us on walk through her village where CHALIS is located and we were impressed by the beauty of the village and the amazing architecture of traditional houses – built without a single nail or screw. These sturdy houses withstood the massive 2005 earthquake, which destroyed many brick houses. This brought to mind Jesus’ parable about the type of foundation on which we should build our houses, and the parallel meaning for our lives – hearing Jesus’ words, and then doing them.

For the Christmas Eve dinner, Jessie wanted to treat the CHALIS team to her home style of chicken rice, so we went with them to the pasar where we learnt that they still maintain the practice of selling live chickens at the market – you pick your live chicken and they will slaughter it for you. Already-dead chickens have no market here as the locals want their chickens as fresh as possible.

Time with the CHALIS team

Mealtimes with the CHALIS team were a highlight for us. As it was holiday time, there were no usual work-day routines, such as preparing lessons for the children, hence we could have long mealtimes. Our meals would start only when most were seated. The meals were simple but nutritious, usually a small piece of fish, one vegetable dish, rice and the special green-sambal-in-oil for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After the meal would be a time of sharing stories, testimonies, and happy banter. What stood out was the full attention given by everyone whenever someone had something to say. The experience of having so many young people listening with 100% attention is almost spellbinding – so different from the device-driven divided-attention-pandemic that is prevalent in our city life.

There is a certain lightness, brightness, joy and unity in the CHALIS team, despite their challenges and struggles. They are organized, work well cohesively and everyone knows his/her role. Perhaps it is like the verse that Elder Chee Yan referred to in his 2023 New Year’s Eve Sunday message on spiritual-stocktaking:

1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (ESV)

When the team members love one another, the light of God shines through and they become a radiant testimony to others around them. 

We had duties too while we were there – Chin Soon was asked to share a short Christmas Day message for Rev. Ria’s mother who was unable to attend church due to her health, so the whole CHALIS team had a mini-service at her house. Chin Soon picked John 1:1-14 with the topic Kedatangan Terang Manusia (coming of the light of men). 

He also shared his testimony with the CHALIS team during dinner – about how he came to faith in Christ as a boy from reading the gospel pamphlets lying around the house (his parents were non-Christians then), and the ensuing faith journey that had its ups and downs. In the process, the topic of finding a life partner came up. It seems that none of the young people at CHALIS has ever paired up although they are of marriageable age. This had puzzled Rev. Ria, who was told the reason for this is that “mereka semua sudah lihat sidaian di luar” i.e. everyone has already seen everyone else’s laundry hung out to dry!

Rev. Ria told us that our visit was the first one by a married couple, and it was a blessing to them to see how a husband and wife should relate to each other. 

A singing people 

On Christmas Day, we attended a church that was by the seaside. Adults and children alike were adorned in their colourful “Sunday best”. We heard much beautiful singing – from the children’s choir to many, many adult groups. It was like attending a singing contest except without the prizes. Singing and music were obviously deeply embedded in the culture of Pulau Nias.

The CHALIS team also love singing – our dinners would usually be followed by a spirited karaoke session that would go on until Rev. Ria (whom they call “Bunda”) signalled them to stop. 

Our final day with the CHALIS team came too soon and we were sad to leave. Such was the joy of being with them. They did what came naturally and spontaneously to them – they sent us off with touching songs of farewell and blessing:

🎶 Sampai bertemu, bertemu, sampai lagi kita bertemu; 
Sampai bertemu,  bertemu, Tuhan Allah beserta engkau! 🎶

Get Involved

🙏 Pray for Rev. Ria and Ms Desta as they continue to lead the CHALIS team.

💻 Hear Rev. Ria’s sharing of God’s love and calling in her life here.