Thursday, May 30, 2024

In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Martin Gunawan shares about his cultural heritage through his childhood in Indonesia and adult life in the United States.

This blog post is in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, which runs through the month of May.

Martin Gunawan is the senior executive of Operations for Mennonite Mission Network, where he provides leadership for the human resources, information technology and finance departments. He grew up in Pati, Java, Indonesia, and moved to the United States to pursue a degree from Hesston College. He and his spouse have three children and currently reside in Goshen, Indiana.

In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) blog editor Jessica Griggs interviewed Martin Gunawan about his life and faith.

This interview was originally published to the MC USA website on May 30.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your cultural heritage: Where are you from? What is it like there?

Martin Gunawan: My name is Martin Gunawan. I was born and raised in a small town called Pati in Central Java, Indonesia. I was 17 years old when I made the decision to go for higher education in the U.S. at Hesston College after graduating high school. After graduating from Hesston College, I continued my studies at Tabor College and Indiana University of South Bend. I am now very blessed to be able to serve at Mennonite Mission Network and live with my lovely wife and three amazing kiddos.

Growing up in Java, Indonesia, I was surrounded not only with the rich Indonesian culture, but also with Mennonite culture from my family. My grandfather was a Mennonite pastor in the GKMI (Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia) church in Pati, for over 30 years before he retired. My parents are still very active with the work at GKMI Ebenhaezer, in Pati, which is the church I attended before moving to the U.S. This strong family background has significantly influenced my values and perspective and shaped who I am today.

Q: What are some similarities and differences between GKMI and Mennonite Church USA?

Martin: First, let me tell you a little bit more about GKMI. The Mennonite presence in Indonesia represents only a small fraction of the overall population. Christianity is a minority religion in Indonesia, where most of the population identifies as Muslim. As Indonesians, we are, by law, required to choose a religion, even if we do not actively practice it. Approximately 7% of Indonesians identify as Christian, and within this group, a fraction are Mennonites. Within the Mennonite realm in Indonesia, we are divided into three different denominations: GKMI, which was the largest by number when I lived in Indonesia*; GITJ (Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa), which is the oldest; and JKI (Jemaat Kristen Indonesia), the youngest and growing, due to its appeal to younger generations.

In terms of similarities and differences between GKMI and MC USA, there are a few things to consider. Both GKMI and MC USA share similar core Anabaptist values, such as a strong commitment to peace and justice, worship style and community practices. On the other hand, one of the most significant differences is the cultural context, which is dependent upon where the denomination operates. GKMI, and Indonesian Mennonites in general, are deeply influenced by Indonesian culture; the same way MC USA is shaped by the cultural dynamics of the United States. Some of the issues/concerns that Indonesian Mennonites are discerning may not even be topics that are being discussed in the U.S. and vice versa.

Q: If a lot of people identify as Muslim in Indonesia, were you treated differently for being Christian?

Martin: Indonesian culture is generally very peaceful and welcoming. We traditionally value and respect one another and are accepting the different religious beliefs. That’s not to say that our culture is immune to discrimination. Growing up, I did have my share of discrimination, not only for being Christian, but also because I am of Chinese descent.

Despite those experiences, I’d rather look at it from the positive aspects. Indonesia embraces this concept of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which is  written in one of the ancient Indonesian languages and simply means “Unity in Diversity.” This principle is stated in our government’s mission statement and government policies which reflect our recognition that, while we have a diverse community — religion, race, culture, language, etc. — we have a strong underlying sense of unity as one country.

There is something to be said there, and I think that’s something that we can learn from as a society as we continue to learn to not let diversity be a cause for division but to use that diversity, respect one another and continue to grow better as a society.

Q: What are some things from your culture that you cherish?

Martin: There are many things from Indonesian culture that I cherish, but one of the things I cherished and miss most is the food. Indonesian cuisine is very dear to my heart, and it’s second to none, in my opinion. It’s kind of like a combination of Vietnamese food, in its freshness, and Indian food, with a little bit of that curry taste to it. Dishes like nasi goreng (fried rice), rendang (beef stew), satay (grilled meat), gado gado (salad with peanut sauce) are not only delicious, but also enhanced our cultural tradition. Just thinking about these meals reminds me of fond memories in Indonesia and made me very hungry.

Q: How has your cultural heritage informed your faith?

Martin: I grapple with this question a little bit, because my cultural heritage is somewhat of a blend. I spent my early teenage years in Indonesia, surrounded with Indonesian culture as a Chinese descendent. Additionally, my cultural heritage is shaped by the U.S. culture, as I have lived in the U.S. for the past 24 years. I don’t necessarily have one culture that helped me develop my faith. It’s really that intermix of all the cultures that I have lived in. It’s both what I learned at a young age, from my family and with my grandpa being my pastor and seeing him pastoring every Sunday, and from coming to the United States and finding my way by myself and, again, trying to develop my own faith formation in that journey.

*Editor's Note, May 31: An earlier version of this article identified GKMI as being the largest Mennonite denomination in Indonesia, which was true when Martin Gunawan was living in Indonesia, but it is no longer the case. We apologize for the inaccurate information and have corrected it in text with Gunawan's approval.

 

 

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