Laut Tribe of Riau Islands, Indonesia
While traveling and preaching in churches on Riau Islands in Indonesia, my friend Pak Elia told me about a certain least reached tribe called Suku Laut translated as sea people. A few months later we went on a special trip to seek out this tribe in the islands. After a short flight, I met up with Pak Elia and team and we had to change a few boats before we could get to a secluded island where the sea people live.
While there we visited many families from in their houses and shared the gospel in two outreach events. They loved watching movies so we showed them all the Christian films we brought with us. The place where we stayed had no electricity and running water. But thankfully they had a generator. We bathed from a well that contained water which looked like tea. This is because of the rich crude oil deposits in the soil there. And I don’t even want to talk about the wash room conditions. We held it for up to five days but a few of us did not make it till the end. The joke that was going around was whoever makes a deposit will end up returning. Well, I did end up returning again in a few months.
There were also a few Chinese families that lived on the island. A certain Buddhist elder women was brought into one of our service by her grandchildren. She has had an eye condition for a long time and later I was told by her grandson that she had said if Jesus can heal her eye, she will let all her grandchildren become Christians. Well she got healed that day and everyone specially the grandchildren went home rejoicing.
During one of our house visits, we met an elderly women sitting under a tree. After talking a bit with her, we found out she was an animist. She said she has heard of Jesus before but didn’t know much about Him. We proceeded to tell the gospel story in the simplest way we knew how. She had no concept of heaven or hell so it made it that much more interesting trying to explain all these things to her. It was my first encounter with an animist in Indonesia. Somehow she understood us and was able to make a decision for Jesus. Praise God for His wisdom and grace that day.
A couple of years later I went back to Riau Islands for another unforgettable trip. This time, we went even further away from the main Island to a place called Lingga. Here is the report I wrote about it on December 2008.
A group of us from Canada, Bandung and from Pak. Elia’s Church in Tanjung Uban did another missions trip reach the sea people of Riau Islands. We took a speed boat for hours followed by a ‘pompom’ (a wooden boat with a single engine) to reach Mentengah village on Lingga Island. Mentengah is tucked in by a river which is a source of live for the Laut tribe. There were about 30 families in Mentengah. The tiny village was founded by a Chinese immigrant a couple of generations ago. His grandson is the chief of the village today. He is Buddhist but I believe the Lord touched his heart during our trip. He even raised his hand to receive Jesus during one of our outreaches there.
We learnt a few interesting things about the Laut people. Most of them don’t claim a religion. They do not travel far from their homes especially at night because they are afraid of ghosts in the woods. It is common for the men to take more than one wife and even exchange wives. They love to eat pork and dog meat. In fact a couple of the men killed a dog in our honor. It was the most disturbing thing I have ever witnessed. They buried the head because they believe the spirit of the animal is in the head. And no we did not eat the dog. There is no hospital or a doctor there so most women give birth at home which explains the very high infant mortality rate among them. Most of the women we talked to have lost 4 or 5 children.
The sea people are very open to the Gospel. During our time there we shared Jesus with the families in their homes, conducted movie nights for kids, and held an outdoor healing crusade, a Christmas service. There were about 80 people present as my friend Kyle shared during our Christmas service. What a joy it was to see them raise their hands and receive Jesus in their hearts. I felt that we truly celebrated Jesus this past Christmas.
Most of the houses in the village are built on wooden stilts above the river. This is mainly because the people are afraid to go deep into the woods. We had to walk on planks to get from house to houses. At times it would be just one plank on which you have to balance yourself on to go across. If you slip it’s about a ten meter fall when there is low tide. We also learnt that there are crocodiles in the river even though we failed to spot one. They swim into the village at night looking for food. So you can imagine how nervous I was while walking on those shaky ‘bridges’. I am not good with heights. But thank God I did not fall in. We spotted a few exotic birds, a flying fish, and get this: a carnivores plant with teeth and all. That was cool. We also had lots of fun playing volleyball and Frisbee with the kids.
After this trip, Pak. Elia adopted one of the kids from Mentenga and he is putting him through school in the city. He also has started a ministry training the people from this tribe to read and write.
Thank you for making these trips a possibility through your generous giving. I would not have gone if you were not helping me. You are reaching people you will probably never meet. God bless you.