40th Anniversary: Supporting services from afar

03 March 2021|Demetrius Vembri Turanto, National Accounting Officer of JRS Indonesia

Being involved in Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), one of the Jesuit social works, I feel grateful to get an opportunity to find God and share good deeds, no matter how small and only from far away they are. I find this in line with the Jesuits’ signature spirituality: “find God in all things.” With JRS, I encounter God in forcibly displaced people and many good people who support JRS’s work through their ways.

Around the first week of March 2005, I got a phone call from my friend, Susi, the finance manager of JRS Indonesia. She asked, “Vem, you live in Jogja, don’t you? Where do you work? JRS is looking for a new finance job candidate. Do you want to work with JRS?”

I knew little about JRS, a Jesuit organization serving refugees. With a desire to share good deeds and help others, I decided to take the job. However, as I still worked for another company, I could not join immediately. Anyway, I was invited for an interview at the JRS Country Office in Pringwulung, Yogyakarta, with Pak Dedy, the program manager of JRS Indonesia, and Susi. On another day, I met with Father Yusup Edi Mulyono SJ, the then Country Director of JRS Indonesia. For more than a week after the interview, there was no news from JRS. I thought that JRS accepted another candidate but not me as they need it urgently. In the third week of March 2005, Susi called and asked me to meet her at the office. That’s when Susi informed me that I could join JRS and start working on April 1, 2005. Without thinking further, I agreed.

I started by joining orientation sessions about JRS and its services, studying proposals and financial documents. Afterward, I got a new assignment to support financial matters in Medan, which then was still related to the Tsunami response. Later on, I returned to the Country Office after about two months in Medan. I was grateful that I was well received and able to get involved with the Medan team.

During a JRS Indonesia meeting held in Studio Audio Visual Puskat, Sinduharjo, in September 2005, I got an opportunity to meet all my friends from all service areas of JRS Indonesia. All friends from Maluku Project, Aceh Area 1, Aceh Area 2 Projects, and Country Office joined this event.

On November 14, 2005, I joined the celebration of JRS’s 25th anniversary, and I am very thankful that I can still take part and celebrate the JRS 40th anniversary gratefully on November 14, 2020. Each JRS anniversary becomes a reminder to always give thanks for His guidance and look back on encounters with refugees through the years.

In May 2006, an earthquake struck some districts within Yogyakarta Province and Central Java Province, severely damaging housing and infrastructure. After the emergency response period, JRS Indonesia continued with building temporary bamboo houses. I could feel the warm cooperation of the JRS team and the local people. The scorching sun and the hot weather did not reduce the spirit of our collaboration and laughter. After we worked together hand in hand and completed the bamboo houses, we performed some feasts in several places as a sign of gratitude. Thanksgiving frames from several areas still also adorned the walls of the JRS Country Office.

From 2008 to early 2010, I returned to Medan. I was involved in South Aceh DRR project, in the repair project of earthquake-resistant housing in Aceh, and the refugee advocacy project in South Tapanuli. I stayed mostly in the inter-project coordination office in Medan and occasionally went to South Aceh or Banda Aceh.

Returning to the Country Office in 2010, JRS Indonesia provided services in responding to the 2009 earthquake that struck Takokak in Cianjur, West Java. In that year also, it started to respond to refugees and asylum seekers. Father Adrianus Suyadi SJ, the then Country Director of JRS Indonesia, Indrayanto Prasetiyawan, the National Finance Manager of JRS Indonesia, and I visited the JRS team in Takokak. We tried to look for three male Sri Lankan refugees in Cisarua who previously called Father Suyadi. On that morning, we departed from Cianjur to Cisarua to meet the refugees who called a few days earlier. The trip was very uncertain as Father Suyadi tried to make several calls yet unanswered. Finally, around 12:30, we contacted and met them at a supermarket parking lot. We had lunch together.

Indrayanto and I had a duty to find a lodging for them. Unexpectedly, the doors of villas, boarding houses, and rented houses were not open to foreigners. After being rejected several times, at around 6 pm, we found a place to rent for three months. After they entered the house safely, a sense of relief replaced our tiredness. It was indeed a relief when they got temporary accommodation for three months and were able to take rest properly. At around 9 pm, we bid farewell and continued our trip back to Jogja. “What a journey! Our mission was successful!” Uncertainty, rejection, and traffic jams had colored our day, and it was tiring.

In 2010, JRS Indonesia was involved in the emergency response to the waves of displacement driven by the Mount Merapi eruption. The eruption blanketed parts of the border between Yogyakarta Province and Central Java Province in ashen darkness.

When I supported the Bogor Befriend Project team for two weeks in 2013, I encountered Afghan refugees. One day I bought medicine for one of the persons we served and delivered it to his house in Cisarua. “Oh, okay, sir, you are from JRS. Come on in.” That was the warm welcome I received from a 9-year-old girl, who initially hesitated when I arrived at her house. This family consists of a father, mother, and two children. JRS helped this family by supporting the father, who had heart disease and was undergoing drug therapy. During the more or less twenty-minute encounter, the girl did most of the talking and mediated the conversation. “Terima kasih, sir, JRS beli obat buat my father,” (thank you, sir, JRS bought medicine for my father) she said in a mixture of English and Indonesian. Childhood should be the time for schooling and playing, yet she had to follow her parents fleeing to another country and experienced an inappropriate period as a child. Thankfully she was able to enjoy a little while joining the JRS center to learn English. She showed the courage of a child who took refuge with his parents and helped taking care of his father, who was on medication.

The Country Office’s daily routine with notes, reports, and administrative matters once made me feel bored and felt like I did nothing. Reading stories and listening to other friends’ accompaniment, service, and advocacy experiences in the field was an inspiration. Yet, it made me feel discouraged because I am far away as if I don’t contribute anything. When I shared this feeling in an orientation session, Father Andreas Sugijopranoto SJ, the facilitator, gave me a simple example.

Let's imagine that JRS is a series of machines. Even if only one bolt is loose, it may cause a leak, which might damage or stop the engine.

JRS works in the Country Office and the project fields are a series of things that support one another. We are not supposed to be discouraged, for the tasks we do will undoubtedly benefit and help, even though we do not everyday experience direct encounters.

I do not experience many encounters with refugees. Every time I can meet them in person, I am grateful because there are always good things and experiences that I can get from those we serve and the JRS team.

On its 40th anniversary this year, JRS Indonesia carried out accompaniment, services, and advocacy in the Covid-19 pandemic. Friends in the field are a significant part of the series of JRS services. Although they are tired and fear, they still try their best to think innovatively to continue their service. The presence of the JRS team (Bogor, Jakarta, Aceh, and Country Office) to refugees and asylum seekers in different ways is an expression of extraordinary love and commitment to actualize the support of JRS work. We are also grateful for God’s incredible grace and His protection for us in our being with and doing for de facto refugees during this crisis.

I hope that they can feel my involvement from far away, and I can also complement and support the series of JRS Indonesia services. I convey sincere gratitude to all friends for sharing their stories and experiences, even for the encounter opportunity that I have experienced so far. Each of us can find God in all things through our involvement with JRS.

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