The Evangelical Christian Church in Timor - Gereja Masehi Injili di Timor (GMIT) - is the second largest protestant church in Indonesia with 1,072 ministers in 2,104 congregations serving around 1.5 million members.
Despite its name, members and congregations are not confined to West Timor but, with the exception of Sumba, are to be found scattered throughout the islands of the Eastern Indonesian Province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) - East Nusa Tenggara.
Even though GMIT is a large denomination, its people are among the poorest in Indonesia with the vast majority living in rural areas.
GMIT follows a Presbyterial–Synodal model of church governance with a Synod Council leadership team elected every four years by the church’s General Assembly. This administrative team, which consists of five full-time members headed by the Moderator, oversees the implementation of a four-year strategic plan through the various commissions of the church.
GMIT may be described as Reformed in its theology with a special emphasis on the authority of Scripture and a desire to be both contextual and holistic in its mission.
The beginnings of an indigenous church in the region may be traced back to around 1730 when three local kings (chieftans) from the island of Rote (to the southwest of Timor) received a Christian education in Jakarta (known then as Batavia). After converting to Christianity, they returned to Rote to establish a Christian school there. Beginning in Rote, Indigenous Protestant Christianity took root very slowly across the region and in many areas today its presence dates back to less than a hundred years.
The twentieth century saw the fastest rate of church growth. The Dutch missionary, Pieter Middelkoop, played a significant role in the 1920's. Living in the mountains of Central Timor, he worked hard to understand the locals' traditions and worldview, while at the same time translating the Bible into the language of Timor. Consequently the church in this area grew rapidly through the training of local church workers.
The influences of a spiritual revival in the same region of South Central Timor during the 1960's can still be seen in the life of GMIT congregations today.
The ending of Dutch colonial rule after the Second World War coincided with independence for the Reformed Church in Indonesia. Consequently, and largely due to geographical reasons, a number of independent synods came into being under the umbrella of the Protestant Church in Indonesia (GPI) one of which was the Gereja Masehi Injili di Timor (GMIT).
Today, many GMIT congregations continue to grow and thrive in different parts of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province and in Sumbawa. This is in spite of the recent arrival of many new Evangelical denominations in the area and a rapidly changing social environment.
The area in which GMIT ministers is culturally and linguistically diverse. Although Indonesian is widely spoken there are around 60 local languages in use throughout the region.
The island province of NTT is one of the driest region of Indonesia. The short rainy season, and poor soil quality in some areas, presents agricultural challenges for the people of this area, who are mostly subsistance farmers and fishermen.
Christians make up some 89% of the province's population (Catholic 54.7 %, Protestant 34.2%). Islam accounts for 8.25 % of the total population. There is also a small percentage of Balinese Hindus and Buddhists; while in some areas of the province, traditional belief systems are still adhered to.
The bustling provincial capital of East Nusa Tenggara is Kupang situated at the south-western end of Timor island. Kupang is now very well served by flights to and from the larger cities in Indonesia and connecting air and sea links to the province’s other islands are improving all the time. There is also a growing number number of good hotels, guest houses and restaurants. The Sasando Hotel, and Kristal Hotel are of International Standard.
Vision - GMIT is the family of God and the people of the Exodus, sent out into the world for the purpose of bringing God’s Shalom. Every member of GMIT functions as a ‘Living Letter of Christ’ in bringing the Good News of the Gospel to the world in accordance with the example of Christ (the Great Deacon). In so doing each member of GMIT should work with obedience, faithfulness, and fruitfulness in struggling for truth, equality and justice, (ie equality, freedom from oppression, and an appropriate balancing of rights and responsibilities as well as making use of God’s creation in a responsible and renewable way.
GMIT’s Synod Council leadership team, along with various commissions, is responsible for implementing a wide range of ministry programmes covering all aspects of church life and witness.
Partnership with other churches, local government and NGO’s is key to developing skills and resources at congregational level.
Many congregations are without a minister because they simply don’t have the means to provide even a basic salary. In other cases,ministers are content to serve their congregations and be ‘paid’ through gifts in kind.
GMIT has 13 Commissions (similar to Boards appointed by the General Assembly within PCI), which are as follows:
An increasing number of GMIT members are being recruited as migrant workers to Malaysia, the Middle East, and Hong Kong (mostly housemaids). Most are legal migrants and not all experiences are negative but there are many stories of mistreatment. After arriving in their host country most have no contact with a church, and this is a growing concern for GMIT.
GMIT has the following charitable foundations:
Christian Education remains one of the greatest challenges for GMIT. There are 456 schools ranging from kindergarten to seniour High School level managed by 13 local foundations under the name of YAPENKRIS. These foundations are divided up according to geographical area and local government administrative regions. Each one manages their own assets and finances independently.
YPT ARTHA WACANA KUPANG
This foundation oversees the running of Artha Wacana Christian University in Kupang. The university has five faculties; Economics, Law, Education, Agriculture and Theology.
YAYASAN ALFA OMEGA
Alfa Omega is a community develoment organisation which specialises in the provision of training and support for small business enterprise projects. Their primary focus is training in agricultural techniques. Alfa Omega is still closely involved in helping former refugee communities from East Timor.
YAYASAN TANA’OBA LAIS MANEKAT (TLM)
TLM (Meaning ‘Love in Action’) is a microcredit organisation providing small scale loans for business start up. It has recently opened its own bank/credit union (TLM–BPR). Alongside microcredit the organisation runs both cattle fattening and seaweed cultivation schemes, as a means of helping to generate income for GMIT members.
UME MANEKAN HOSPITAL AND ORPHANAGE, SOE.
This foundation oversees the running of a hospital in the town of Soe, in Central Timor, and a nearby orphanage. The hospital currently functions as a child-birth centre and also as a feeding centre for under-nourished children. This work is partly sponsored by CWS and USAID.
PARAMA ASIH HOSPITAL, ALOR
This foundation runs a small hospital on the island of Alor which functions as a clinic and childbirth centre.
RADIO GEMA INTI
Radio Gema Inti is a licenced company run under the auspices of GMIT. It provides a public information service, Christian teaching on various aspects of life, daily Bible reflections, Christian music and news.
UNIVERSITAS TRI BUANA ALOR
GMIT works in partnership with the following churches and mission organisations:
In additions, GMIT is a member of the following church alliances:
At the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) held in June 1970, it was resolved:
“To authorise the Board of Missions to respond to requests from Reformed Churches in Indonesia by calling men and women to serve with them ... and, in general, to do our utmost to forward the Kingdom of Christ in Indonesia, in partnership with the Churches and missions concerned.”
In June 1972, Ken and Valerie Newell and family arrived in East Indonesia to begin a period of service in TIMOR. This was the beginnings of our partnership with the Evangelical Christian Church in Timor (GMIT). The Newells served four years in Kupang, returning home in 1976. They were followed in 1991 by John and Joan Hanna and family, who had previously served in Singapore (1982-84 and 1986-88). The Hanna family returned home in 1995.
In September 2000, GMIT minister, Rev Elsye Niap, arrived in Belfast to begin what was to be four years of postgraduate study. During that time Barry McCroskery was also studying at Union Theological College, where Elsye was living. Their friendship blossomed, leading to their marriage in 2004, in Atambua in Timor. Following Barry's ordination as a PCI minister, the McCroskery family left for Timor in 2005, where both Barry and Elsye serve within GMIT.
Currently, Barry is a member of staff in GMIT’s 'Kantor Sinode' (Synod or Church House) in Kupang, where he assists with partner church relations and diaconal work (social witness). He also teaches part-time at the Faculty of Theology at Universitas Kristen Artha Wacana (UKAW), where Elsye is lecturer in New Testament Studies.
We were delighted to welcome four members of GMIT's Synod Council to our General Assembly in Belfast in June 2009. This was the first official visit by GMIT leaders to PCI for some years and proved to be an encouraging and helpful time, enabling us to get to know one another better and to identify areas where we can work together.
In Presbyterian Mission Overseas, we continue to support GMIT through the provision of annual grants, which are largely used in the area of Leadership Development.
Additionally, Presbyterian Women, through their Birthday Project (2008-09), have provided funds to support the work of Women's Empowerment within GMIT; while congregations in the Ballymena Presbytery have raised funds to help further the development of Radio Gema Inti, a local radio station run by GMIT which provides a public information service, Christian teaching on various aspects of life, daily Bible reflections, Christian music and news.
The Faculty of Theology is shared between GMIT and the Christian Church of Sumba (GKS), where around 500 students are being taught theology by 14 full-time lecturers. Facilities are very basic, but thanks to help from two PCI congregations some significant improvements have been made.