Bali´s “Ice Cream Preacher”

February 06, 2014

This Balinese believer uses his ice cream business as an opportunity to share the gospel with his Hindu neighbors.

Barely 9 a.m., the Balinese coastal town is clogged with traffic as Pendeta * straps a yellow styrofoam block onto the back of his motor scooter and sets off down the main thoroughfare to begin his rounds. Already he can feel the hot breath of the sun on his neck. It´s going to be a good day for business.

He turns onto a side street, easing through a residential neighborhood lined with modest houses and Hindu shrines. Pendeta rolls to a stop and knocks on the door of one home, but no one answers. He proceeds to the next house.

The woman who opens the door looks at him questioningly. Two boys sneak up behind her to catch a glimpse of the stranger.

“Es krim! Es krim!” he announces with a grin.

Pendeta lifts the lid of the yellow container and pulls out samples of his tasty merchandise. He displays an assortment of Campina and Hula Hula brand flavors: grape-orange, neopolitan, and the one that makes the boys suddenly squeal with delight—chocolate–covered green bean ice cream.

Smiling now, the mother disappears briefly from the doorway and returns with the Indonesian rupiah equivalent of $1.75. Pendeta hands each child a popsicle. At their mother´s prompting the children say thank you and wave goodbye.

“Jesus loves you. Have a blessed day,” Pendeta tells them as he heads next door.

Pendeta knows he has a cool job. Ice cream makes people smile. It makes them feel good. Adults in particular seem to let down their defenses and converse freely with him when they are enjoying the frozen treat.

He can´t complain much either about the tropical climate that graces Bali, the lush Indonesian island where tourists come and go, but summer lingers forever. In his quieter community outside of the city, Pendeta prefers the blessings of a simple life shared with his wife and three children. One might even presume that he truly does live in an earthly paradise.

But there is more to Bali than meets the eye of the average tourist, and Pendeta is not your average door-to-door ice cream salesman.

Many Hindu villages in Bali are resistant to Christianity. New converts face persecution and expulsion unless they ply a trade that is needed by the community.

He is a man on a mission. A merchant with a message.

While Bali´s climate is perfect for selling ice cream, its spiritual environment is anything but ideal when it comes to preaching the gospel. The island is basically an enclave for Hindus, who comprise 87 percent of the population. They find sanctuary here within a country that boasts the largest Muslim population in the world.

Christians are not welcome in many of the staunchly Hindu villages. If a Balinese villager becomes a believer, he or she is sometimes forced to leave their home and is considered accursed by their family members. One way they can receive acceptance is by providing a service or trade that the community values.

Christian Aid Mission assists an Indonesian church-planting ministry that is based in Bali. Since 1988, the ministry has trained and equipped believers from all over Indonesia and sent them back to their home communities to plant churches.

“If the ministry has a committed Christian operating a business in a village, within time that person can plant a church, even in resistant areas,” said Stephen Van Valkenburg, Christian Aid´s Southeast Asia director, who visited Bali in January. “They follow this strategy when they send a church planter to an unreached area, as they discover a Christian already living there, or if they lead a person to Christ from another village.”

The gospel worker receives three months of discipleship and ministry training, followed by another three months of vocational training in a trade that is of interest to him. Then he returns to his home village with funds from the ministry to set up his own small business. The ministry also provides him and his family $200 per month for the first six months for living expenses. This enables him to set up a business and begin to receive an income.

A ministry in Bali helps church planters start small business ventures like poultry farming.

“The purpose of the vocation is to support him, to keep him in the community, and to give him many natural opportunities to share the gospel as he interacts with the community,” said Van Valkenburg.

After five years the workers are expected to have planted a healthy church and be self-supporting.

Pendeta is one of the indigenous church planters who received missionary training and vocational assistance through the ministry. Recently Christian Aid gave him $200 to buy a new freezer in order to expand the ice cream business. The venture helps Pendeta earn an income, but even more importantly, it has literally opened doors for him to get to know people in the community and tell them about Jesus.

The pace of life is slower here, and it is not unusual for Pendeta to be invited into a home and spend an hour or more visiting with the family. When such opportunities present themselves, he eagerly takes his time sharing the gospel. After all, the goal of his vocation isn´t really to sell ice cream–it´s to win souls.

When he is not engaged in ice cream ministry, Pendeta is busy pastoring a church he started seven years ago. Some 40 people attend services there regularly.

Remarkably, he has baptized 33 people in the past two years because of the contacts he has made selling ice cream.

Some of the people he led to Christ have joined him in his ice cream venture. That means they can carry the gospel to additional communities and plant more churches.

Thus far the ministry has planted 23 churches in Bali. Its goal is to plant 500 churches among the 96 unreached people groups in Indonesia during the next six years.

During his January visit, Van Valkenburg met several church planters, like Pendeta, who are operating micro-enterprise projects through assistance from Christian Aid. One couple in Denpasar received $250 to buy a dryer for their laundry business. They already have a washing machine. Once the clothes are cleaned, they deliver the items to homes, sometimes spending two to three hours fellowshipping with a family and sharing the gospel.

In the Otabannan region, another couple was given financial assistance to sell meatballs in their village. They also hope to sell a tofu by-product for pig food and gas for motorcycles since there are no gas stations in the area.

Currently the ministry has 37 church planters, but there are 23 others who need support. The total cost for training, starting a new business, and discipleship is approximately $1,250 for each new Christian worker. The ministry would also like to purchase 1,000 gospel teaching materials at a cost of $7.50 each.

Please pray that God will protect these believers and use them as beacons of light in their villages.

*(name changed)