Food parcels, mobile data sharing, and loving anyone who needs it – it's all happening at Hillsong Bali
Coronavirus rates are rising daily in Indonesia, yet the country’s government has refrained from imposing a strict lockdown on the country, instead promoting protocols like mask-wearing and sanitising hands to try to stem the spread.
But Englyn Mutty, who pastors Hillsong Church in Bali with her husband Eka, explains it’s really the only option in a country where people can’t afford to eat if they don’t work.
“Tourist areas like Seminyak are dead … deserted and the hotels and cafes there are all closed. It’s very sad,” she says. But that’s not the case away from tourist hotspots, where locals live.
“New local transmissions of coronavirus are happening, but then we’re not locking down the beaches, or the malls or anything else. In some areas, government schools are open for certain age-groups as well, because a lot of our people need to work so they can make some money to feed their families.”
“People have to go out and work, otherwise they won’t be able to eat.” – Englyn Mutty
Between them, Englyn and Eka have some form of contact with Australians, Americans or friends from other western countries almost every day. They each studied in Australia and, when COVID-19 doesn’t have the world’s national borders locked down, travel to Australia a few times a year to participate in staff events or conferences.
So Englyn is not, in any way, unaware of the different ways the pandemic is being handled based on geography.
On the one hand she knows it’s risky for any country to be operating as per usual when coronavirus infections are still increasing with new cases every day (although the rate has dropped to about 30 new cases a day, from the 100 new cases a day just a few weeks ago).
Yet on the other hand, she completely supports the Indonesian government’s decision to allow its citizens to do everything they can to maintain an income.
“There is government support but not like what you guys have in Australia. We have so many people in Indonesia and I’m sure the government is trying to help as many as they can. We’re praying for the government,” she explains.
“… but people have to go out and work, otherwise they won’t be able to eat today or tomorrow. In my neighbourhood, it looks so normal. It’s a new normal … we still have to wear masks and face shields and do all of those protocols. But it’s normal because people have to work; make some money so that their family can eat, you know? It’s been from March to July now, so almost five months. And people’s savings are really decreasing now.”
Her comments are a far cry from the lockdown complaints voiced by those privileged enough to be living in comparatively wealthy nations.
“People’s savings are really decreasing now.” – Englyn Mutty
“So I totally understand why the government did this, because otherwise, people won’t have work. This is the only option, really.”
Balinese people are also struggling with flow-on effects of the loss of tourism.
“We’ve already given out more than 2200 Kilo of Kindness bags to our community here in Bali and in Surabaya… (And counting)..,” she says. ‘Kilo of Kindness’ is the name given to the grocery packs Hillsongers all across the world donate, pack and distribute.
Although they have supported people in their Hillsong Bali congregation, she says most of the people receiving a Kilo of Kindness food parcel are from the wider community.
“Hindus, Muslims, you name it,” she says. “When I went into the church to office, people were walking in to get food, saying things like ‘We are Muslim, is OK if we take this food? And ‘You know we’re not Christian and we’re not part of your church?’”
“We’re like, ‘Yeah, take it. It’s for everybody.”
Englyn tells me a story she loves about an elderly Muslim woman who was given a Kilo of Kindness package right when she literally didn’t have anything to eat for that night.
“She was like what do you want me to do? Why are you doing this? I’m not Christian. I’m a Muslim. Can you tell, can you see that?’ and pointing to her head covering,” Englyn laughs. “We said, ‘Yeah, we can see, don’t worry about it. We just want to help you because we know you need help and we love you. And if you need more, we have it whenever you want.”
“So she brought it back to her family and we get to connect with the whole family.”
“We got some news that some people in Bali died of hunger because they are too shy to ask for help.” – Englyn Mutty
Despite having some great stories of being able to give food to Balinese people who need it, Englyn’s very aware that it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“People are not earning as much money, so they’re needing food. Some people are just really hungry – like poverty hungry. Some people are OK, but we got some news that some people in Bali died of hunger in a very small room because they are too shy to ask for help,” she says sadly. The story obviously weighs on her.
“Like, what do you do?” she says. “So we try our best to educate our people to just make sure to say hi to your neighbour and just make sure you tell them that if they need help, the church is there for them.”
Englyn explains that it is the norm in Bali for wages to be paid monthly, but so many people have lost their jobs between paydays. She says that usually, when people are having financial trouble, they will return to their home villages and islands to stay with their family.
“At least in the village you have your own food, you’re growing your own food,” she explains. “So that’s better. But this time, some people can’t even afford to go home or the family will lose everything.”
Whilst Englyn and Eka are consumed right now with the practical work of providing for the physical needs of their church and local community, they’re still hopefully looking forward to a time when the pandemic is over and the church can meet together again.
Despite their current pandemic challenges, Englyn and Eka say they are seeing some real breakthroughs with the church, especially when it comes to people finding hope in Christ.
A couple of weeks ago, the couple took part in a ceremony for a volunteer whose family had respectfully accepted her decision to become a Christian and love that their daughter found her own believe conviction in Christ. So the family did an official ceremony to commemorate her last birthday as a Hindu and the start of her new life as a Christian.
“So we went there in all these traditional Balinese outfits. And the Hindu father was there and Eka was there, my husband, and they said these things to each other and it was actually such a beautiful ceremony, showing how the Hindu religion values and respects unity,” she says.
During the current pandemic, church services and leadership meetings are proving a challenge for Englyn, Eka and their team of five other staff, because volunteers and church attendees alike simply can’t afford data to watch the service.
“Everything online is decreasing because people don’t have any more money to buy data for the internet. Sometimes they have to choose, you know, to use money for data or buy rice. Sometimes we have to send data to our volunteer leaders so they are able to connect and update us so we know people are looking after others in their connect groups.”
Despite the challenges, Englyn and Eka are seeing some real breakthroughs with the church and have even seen some local Balinese join.
A couple of weeks ago, the couple took part in a ceremony for a volunteer whose family had chosen to respect her decision to make her own faith journey in Christ and who wanted to do an official ceremony to commemorate her last birthday as a Hindu.
“So we went there with all this traditional Balinese traditional outfit. And the Hindu father was there and Eka was there, my husband, and they said these things to each other and it was actually such a beautiful ceremony,” she says.
Englyn describes how God has reached some people in miraculous ways.
“They come to church and when they go home, they have dreams where God visits them in their dreams and they come back and say they want to start their faith journey with Christ,” Englyn says, as though she’s discussing the most natural occurrence in the world.
“We have a lot of those kinds of stories in Bali. There are just out there. It’s the favour of God.”