Feature

A Place to Call Home

After nearly 60 years, a school in Bali thrives

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The day starts early for nine-year old Wayan, a resident at the Bethel Children’s Home in Klungkung, Bali. Along with the 20 other girls in her large dorm room, she gets up at 5 a.m. to take a bath and attend morning devotions. She dashes to breakfast in the noisy dining hall. Today it’s fried noodles. Grabbing her school bag, she rushes off to the local government school, with her first class at seven.

Wayan’s family ekes out a living on Penida, a dry and impoverished limestone island several miles off Bali. With minimal income and rising educational costs, her parents decided to send their daughter to the Bethel Children’s Home to help secure her future. The same is true for the other children, who come not only from the Bali Hindu enclave of Indonesia but also from neighboring islands. Some have come from Christian families in these strongholds of Indonesia’s majority religion.

The Bethel Children’s Home had its beginning in the late 1950s, when Rodger and Lelia Lewis, international workers supported by the U.S. Alliance family, were stationed in Klungkung. “When we arrived, we settled in an area where there was no Christian witness at all,” Lelia, now retired, recalls. “But up in the mountains there was a small group of believers that had held on through much persecution.” 

These Christian families, living in a remote mountain village of Bali, were finding that primary education for their children was uncertain and inadequate. Those whose parents could afford the high government fees had to walk nearly two miles to school, and sometimes, when they got there, the teachers were absent.

The Lewises were spurred to action after a young Christian boy was killed when taunting schoolmates pushed him into a ravine. The couple started a residential program where 10–12 children were housed, fed, nurtured—and sent to better-staffed and equipped schools in Klungkung. 

When the Lewises arrived in Bali, only four churches remained from the initial Alliance work headed by Dr. Robert A. Jaffray. In time, as more churches were planted and then organized as GKII/C&MA churches, the national leaders, many of whom were mentored by the Lewises, established a foundation for “holistic” outreach. The Bethel Christian Children’s Home is presently run by a humanitarian foundation established as an outreach ministry of the national church partnering with The Alliance.
 
Since its official organization in the 1960s, the home has provided love and care for hundreds of children. Some are orphans or abandoned, but most of the residents are from needy families who cannot afford the fees at government schools. Christians on the neighboring island of Lombok also send their children to Bethel. Several were from a fanatical region in Sumbawa where they were not allowed to take final exams and graduate unless they renounced their faith. All have done well, and three of them, who attended Jaffray Theological Seminary after high school, are now serving as pastors and evangelists on their home or neighboring islands.

With the home’s excellent reputation, graduates have little difficulty in finding jobs or continuing with higher education. These alumni can be found throughout Bali and elsewhere. They have established successful careers in business, in the hotel industry, in agriculture, in education and as homemakers raising happy families. Many have high ranks in the government and the armed forces. More than 50 have finished seminary and now serve the Lord in evangelistic posts and churches in Bali and in islands to the east. Of the 14 staff, the present director and three others were part of that first group of children from the mountain congregation.

With a peak enrollment of more than 200 children, Bethel Home now houses 117, from play school to high school. The youngest is a five-year-old girl named Oming, who was brought parentless to the Bethel Home when she was a baby, traumatized and abused. With love and care, she recovered and is now a well-adjusted, happy child.

Many of the children return home during the holidays, bringing with them their growing and vibrant faith. Through their witness, their families have come to know the Savior. Children of other faiths are in the home as well, and through daily devotional sessions and Sunday services they become acquainted with the gospel and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

School is out at noon, and Wayan returns home for a lunch of rice, fresh fish and spicy watercress, a great favorite. Today she is on dish-washing duty. When she is finished there, she goes to the computer lab to continue working on her computer skills. Tomorrow, it will be her turn at the home’s fish-raising project, a serious business spiced with a bit of water-splashing fun. Others will work in the vegetable gardens. Older boys and girls learn dressmaking and tailoring skills. Then it’s time for play and recreation, evening quiet time, dinner, study and bed. Another full day. Wayan falls asleep, eager for tomorrow.

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