I Have Led a Most Rewarding Life
As told by Herawati Neuhardt
I was born in Cirebon, Indonesia, a city famous for its ornate batik cloth, which is dyed with vivid, hand-drawn motifs. In some ways my life as a missionary has been like that batik—rich in colorful encounters with diverse cultures in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Let me explain.
IN 1962, when I was ten years old, my mother started studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. In time, she and my father, who are both Indonesian-born Chinese, as well as five of their children, including me, became Witnesses.
Our home was always open to missionaries and traveling overseers, who visited our congregation to give spiritual encouragement. Their fine example and upbuilding conversation made a big impression on me. When I was 19, I decided to take up the full-time Christian ministry. About a year later, I married Josef Neuhardt, a German missionary who had arrived in Indonesia in 1968. After our honeymoon, we moved to Sumatra, the second largest of Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands. There I joined Josef in his work as a traveling overseer, which involved visiting congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Preaching in Sumatra
Our circuit, or assigned area, stretched from the hot, bustling city of Padang, in West Sumatra, to beautiful Lake Toba, a large volcanic lake nestled in the highlands of North Sumatra. Later we covered the south of the island. We were continually on the move in our old Volkswagen Beetle, bumping along potholed jungle roads, crossing rickety bridges made of coconut trees, and skirting by towering volcanoes—some dormant, others active. At night we slept on the floor in simple bush houses that had no electricity, plumbing, or bathrooms. We washed in lakes and rivers. It was a simple life, and we loved the people. They warmly welcomed us and fed us, and many showed an interest in the Bible.
Around Padang, the Minangkabau people, mostly Muslims, were surprised and pleased when we showed them from the Bible that God is one—not a Trinity, as the churches of Christendom claim. (Deuteronomy 6:4) Many people happily accepted the Watchtower and Awake! magazines, and some interested ones later made fine spiritual progress. At Lake Toba, the Batak people, most of whom profess Christianity, knew God’s name, Jehovah, because of seeing it in their Batak Bible. (Psalm 83:18) Yet, they needed a clearer understanding of God and his purpose for mankind. Many of them accepted a Bible study and became zealous Christian evangelizers.
Opening Hearts in Java
In 1973, Josef and I were assigned to Java, an island half the size of Great Britain, with over 80 million inhabitants. * We shared the good news with the Javanese, Sundanese, and Chinese ethnic groups.
As a result of my Chinese-Indonesian upbringing, I spoke a number of languages, including Javanese, Sundanese, and Indonesian, as well as English. Consequently, I enjoyed many interesting Bible discussions with people in their native language.
In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, located on Java, I shared the hope of everlasting life in Paradise on earth with a dejected-looking 19-year-old girl. As I read from the Bible, she burst into tears. “Thank you, Auntie, for telling me these things,” she said, using a term of affection and respect. She added: “By tomorrow, I will need another 1.5 million rupiah [$160, U.S.] to pay for my university fees, and I was thinking of selling my virginity to get the money. Before you came I was praying for direction. Now I have the answer. I am determined to postpone my studies and stay morally clean.” This girl was delighted to receive further spiritual help.
Since that encounter, many more Javanese, including Sundanese and Chinese, have brought their lives into harmony with the wholesome standards in God’s Word. This, in turn, has brought them genuine inner peace and happiness, just as God promised.—Isaiah 48:17, 18.
Kalimantan—Home of the Dayak
From Java, Josef and I moved to Kalimantan, an Indonesian province of Borneo, the third-largest island in the world (after Greenland and New Guinea). A land of thick jungles, rugged mountains, and mighty rivers, Borneo is home to Chinese, Muslim Malays, and the indigenous Dayak—a largely river-dwelling people who were at one time fierce headhunters.
To reach remote Dayak communities, we typically traveled by boat or canoe along unspoiled, jungle-lined rivers. Huge crocodiles basked on the banks, monkeys stared down at us from the trees, and birds flaunted their colorful plumage. Yes, missionary service there was an adventure!
Most Dayak families lived in stilt houses built with bush materials. Some dwellings were small; others were longhouses that accommodated a number of families. Many people had never seen a European, so Josef proved to be quite a celebrity. Children would run through the village shouting, “Pastor! Pastor!” Everyone then flocked to hear what the white minister had to say. Josef would speak through local Witness interpreters, who would then arrange to conduct Bible studies with the many interested ones.
Off to Papua New Guinea
Because of mounting pressure from religious opposers, the government of Indonesia banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in December 1976. As a result, Josef and I were assigned to Papua New Guinea.
After arriving in Port Moresby, the capital, we completed a two-month language course in Hiri Motu, a local trade language. Then we moved to Daru, a tiny island in a remote western province. There I met Eunice, a big, strong, lovable woman, whose teeth were stained red-black from years of chewing betel nut. When Eunice learned that God wants his servants to be clean physically as well as morally and spiritually, she gave up her addictive habit and became a faithful Christian. (2 Corinthians 7:1) Each time we saw such humble individuals apply Bible truth, we grew to appreciate all the more the words of Psalm 34:8: “Taste and see that Jehovah is good.”
In time, Josef was made a traveling overseer once again, and we visited almost every part of Papua New Guinea, a nation of some 820 languages. So that we could speak to more people, we added another of those languages to our repertoire—Tok Pisin, the local lingua franca. To get to the various towns and villages, we traveled by foot, car, boat, canoe, and light aircraft and endured stifling heat, mosquitoes, and regular bouts of malaria.
Then, in 1985, we accepted yet another missionary assignment—to the Solomon Islands, east of Papua New Guinea. There we worked at the local branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses and also traveled throughout the archipelago to encourage congregations and attend Christian assemblies. Again, we had to tackle a new language—this time Solomon Islands Pidgin. But what a joy it was to converse with Bible-loving Solomon Islanders!
My Most Difficult Journey
In 2001, the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Indonesia was lifted, and Josef and I returned to Jakarta. Soon afterward, however, my dear husband was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. We traveled to Josef’s homeland, Germany, for treatment. But sadly, in 2005, on our 33rd wedding anniversary, he fell asleep in death, awaiting a resurrection to life in the Paradise new world. (John 11:11-14) He was 62 years old and had spent 40 years in the full-time ministry.
I remained in Jakarta, where I continue to serve as a missionary. I miss my husband dearly. But teaching others the precious truths found in God’s Word helps me to cope, for the ministry gives me a feeling of deep satisfaction and purpose in life. Yes, I can say without a doubt that Jehovah has granted me a most colorful and rewarding life.
^ par. 10 The population of Java today exceeds 120 million.
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PAPUA NEW GUINEA
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Herawati with Bible students in the Solomon Islands
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With Josef in Holland, just before his death in 2005