Pastor Yoanes Kristianus from the Impact Community Indonesia Church never thought that the religious pilgrimage he carried out this time would have such deep meaning and seemed to strengthen his belief in the power of prayer. He has led several religious pilgrimages to Egypt, Israel and Jordan, which took between 10-12 days.
But this was the first time he brought a very large congregation and unexpectedly in the middle of a service being held in Jerusalem, he and his congregation became direct eyewitnesses to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.
“When we made the pilgrimage in the morning, I was informed by the guide (pemandu.ed)… Pak Jojo, he calls me that, there is an unsafe situation in the southern part of Israel, near Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, there are missiles . But the others are safe,” said Pastor Yoanes, opening an interview with VOA, Thursday (12/10) early morning Washington, DC time.
Pastor Yoanes Kristianus. (Photo: Personal documents)
“We went at 7.30 am Israeli time for a pilgrimage to the holy sites, but the participants didn’t know that there were rockets in the south, so all activities were still according to the itinerary. Uh, around 9 am when we were at David’s Tomb, we heard a very loud siren. Our guide immediately asked us to hide in a cave, or stick to a wall. ‘Come on, hurry up, it’s dangerous,’ he said. “There were lots of missiles, and there was a “boom” sound which indicated that the missiles were repelled by Israel’s Iron Dome,” he explained.
This attack occurred several times, including when five buses carrying 231 members of the Indonesian Impact Community Church slowly moved away from holy sites in Jerusalem. After learning of orders from the Israeli government asking everyone to take shelter and hide in bunkers, the congregation decided to return to the hotel. On VOA, Pastor Yoanes showed excerpts of video he had taken with his cell phone when the congregation hid in a bunker made of steel and concrete, while continuing to pray together.
Religious pilgrimages continued
The next day, Sunday (8/10), Yoanes said the atmosphere had calmed down so he decided to continue his religious pilgrimage according to schedule. Five buses left Jerusalem and headed to Tel Aviv, and then to Haifa – the third largest city in Israel – all the way to Tiberias.
“It’s actually safe there, there are absolutely no missiles, so we can carry out all the worship activities according to the itinerary on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It was only on Tuesday (10/11) that we attempted to cross into Jordan after Israel publicly stated that the country was in a state of war. “At that time the border was quite busy because people who wanted to cross were not only groups from Indonesia, but also from the Netherlands, Europe and other Asian countries,” said Yoanes.
View of Lake Tiberias in northern Israel which borders Jordan in this photo taken on January 23, 2023. (Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
There are three border gates between Israel-Jordan, namely: Yitzak Rabin Terminal/Wadi Araba Border, King Hussein Bridge or Allenby Terminal and the Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein Border. But at that time, according to Yoanes, only one border gate was opened.
“Two border crossings – Wadi Araba and Allenby – are closed. So we, and many groups from other countries, all headed to the Sheikh Hussein border gate, the only one open for us to leave Israel. “Everything is fine, safely under control until we arrive in Jordan,” he added.
Indonesian Ambassador to Jordan Ade Padmo Sarwono told VOA, on Tuesday (10/10), confirmed the arrival of the congregation group led by Pastor Yoanes through the northern region.
“Thank God, 230 of our Indonesian citizens who were previously on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee in the city of Tiberias have arrived in Jordan tonight. They had been at the Israel-Jordan west bank border since morning, but had to wait four to five hours to cross. “Now everyone has arrived in Jordan,” said Ade.
The power of pray
When interviewed via video call on Thursday, Pastor Yoanes appeared very calm and articulate, but his tone changed when he told how his congregation, most of whom were women, were worried about seeing and hearing missile strikes, both from Hamas and retaliatory attacks from Israel.
“There are so many family and friends in the country who are asking to get out quickly. We didn’t try but all the hotels in Jordan were all full. So I say to the congregation, calm down, let’s pray. “I have repeatedly said that God will definitely protect us and God will definitely open a way if it is time for us to leave Israel,” said Pastor Yoanes in a suppressed voice.
The feeling of relief and joy cannot be expressed when the group finally arrived in Irbid City, Jordan, after crossing the border via the Sheikh Hussein Bridge. According to Yoanes, the first thing that kept him calm during the religious pilgrimage and attempts to cross the border was prayer.
“Whenever doubts, worries and so on arise, we pray. We tried to comfort those who were also scared with songs and prayers. “Things that are positive and noble, so calming,” he said.
The second factor that is also calming, added Yoanes, is the belief that the Indonesian government will continue to monitor them and will protect them.
“I am very grateful to be an Indonesian citizen because we are constantly being monitored. As soon as we arrived in Jordan, we were called by the Defense Attaché and the Indonesian Embassy in Amman, whether they were out, safe, everyone, did anyone fall ill? So we are always under government monitoring. I am very proud and salute to be an Indonesian citizen because the government really cares about us, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity. But love us as Indonesian people who continue to be monitored and cared for.”
Religious pilgrimages are trips to visit the Promised Land and pilgrimages to various holy sites written in the Bible. Travel is usually done in October and November, when the air is most comfortable for Indonesians who are used to living in the tropics. Participants can choose a trip starting in Egypt, then on to Israel and Jordan. Or vice versa, from Jordan, then to Israel and Egypt.
Religious pilgrimage managers will provide an itinerary or schedule that usually follows events written in the Bible, and other best destinations in the three countries, such as Mount Nebo which can make the congregation look towards the beautiful Promised Land, or see up close the wonders of the world that famous, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, spanning the River Nile and the Sea of Galilee. This religious pilgrimage tour takes between 10-12 days.
Prayer for Peace
Before leaving for his homeland Thursday evening, Pastor Yoanes invited the Impact Community Indonesia Church congregation to pray for peace in the region.
“I and all the participants pray that Israel and Hamas will both act wisely and be willing to carry out a ceasefire so that this conflict does not escalate and cause other countries to join in, which has the potential to cause bloodshed and increase the number of victims. Let us pray together, the whole nation humbles itself, God will definitely help, God will definitely prevent and God will definitely mobilize them all to make a ceasefire. We must not be provoked, especially the people who live in Indonesia, let us not become emotional and anarchic. I really agree with what our President said to call for a ceasefire and peace.”
A total of 231 members of the Indonesian Impact Community Church congregation left Amman, Jordan, to return to their homeland on three flights, between six in the afternoon and twelve at night. It is estimated that the plane carrying them arrived in Jakarta on Friday (13/10).
Until this report was submitted there were still 54 religious pilgrimage congregations from other groups who were in Israel and were trying to cross to Jordan or Egypt, considering the situation was more conducive. (em/rs)