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Inge Ruth Lempp with Canossian Sisters College grads in East Timor

"Reflecting back on my journey, it is clear to me that my studies for social work, and my master of divinity at LSTC and the years of working as Director in the ISAO, were a time of preparation for my life and work in East Timor. It has helped me understand deeply who I am in my faith tradition and journey, know how to read and interpret scripture in the chromos-es and kairos-es of our lives."

Inge Ruth Lempp, M.Div. 1997

(pictured above with graduates of Canossian Sisters College in East Timor.)

Following Jesus . . .to East Timor

by Inge Ruth Lempp
(1997, M.Div.)

When I left LSTC in April 1999, I did not know what lay ahead. Following a call I felt in my heart.  I resigned from the position of director for international student affairs, work I loved and was passionate about, got up and left. Was this a crazy thing to do? It was scary for sure, and I prayed hard it was Jesus’ call that I was hearing.

I came to East Timor as part of an election observer team, the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), part of the International Federation for East Timor (IFET), a network of solidarity groups from around the world. We were an independent grass roots organization that received United Nations accreditation as election observers. 

On August 30, 1999, the vast majority (86.7%) of the people of East Timor voted for independence after 24 years of brutal military occupation by Indonesia. Before departing the country, Indonesia looted and burned, leaving up to 80% of all infrastructure destroyed, and hundreds of thousands as refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs).

After being deported (or “evacuated”) to Darwin, Australia, for three weeks, I returned to work for the World Council of Churches emergency relief program called Action by Churches Together (ACT). Partnering with the local Protestant Church of East Timor, the Igeja Protestante Timor-Leste (IPTL), we delivered emergency relief to remote communities.

I continued this work with the Timorese umbrella organization for national and international non-governmental organizations, the NGO Forum, trying to deliver and implement emergency relief and rehabilitation programs in those early years following Indonesia’s departure from East Timor.

On May 20, 2002, I had the extraordinary experience of a lifetime. I was present at East Timor’s celebration of independence – the birth of a new nation. The U.N. flag was replaced by the Timorese flag at midnight, out on a wide-open sandy space by the ocean. Over 200,000 people and 91 heads of state from all around the world gathered with the people of this emerging little nation. U.N. General Secretary Kofi Anan presided and handed over ruling authority to the first President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste. It was an awesome moment I will never forget.

From 2002 – 2005, the Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (Comição Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliação – CAVR), an independent statutory authority mandated by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor to undertake truth seeking for the period 1974-1999 to facilitate reconciliation for less serious crimes.

I had the privilege of working as coordinator of the translation department at CAVR. We translated peoples’ accounts of their traumatic experiences, providing a witness to the immense human suffering and pain of the ‘mate restu’ (‘they are what death left over,’ as the living Timorese call themselves). We also witnessed their awe-inspiring resilience in facing and rising from the genocide they had experienced. It was a sacred and daunting task. For the first time people were free to speak out in public hearings to various topics of the CAVR’s research (e.g., massacres, torture, political prisoners, women and conflict, children and conflict etc.) telling the nation and the world the truth about what they had experienced.

It is my great pleasure and joy now to be working at the Canossian Sisters College (Centro Treino Integral e Desenvolvimento – CTID) in Baucau, East Timor, empowering young rural Timorese women. I am happy to play a small part in building the future of this country, by the formation and education of young rural women. Annually, 60 women from all 13 Timorese districts attend an eleven-month live-in course. With a holistic approach, the women are given space to develop their hearts, hands and minds to grow in self-confidence, as well as become agents of change for their villages and communities.

My task from 2004 to 2010 was to develop the “follow-up” program and train a team of colleagues, looking at how the graduates can use the skills they have learned during the course to improve their lives and the lives of others when they return to their communities. This includes income-generating activities, small business development, product development, community development and civic participation.

Last year, I handed over this work to a competent team and am currently preparing to return to the same college with a new focus on organizational development and networking among colleges nationally. I will also assist with staff development, as CTID faces the beginning of the accreditation process with the government of Timor-Leste. 

Having the awesome opportunity of watching young women grow in self-confidence and blossoming as they take charge of their own lives, despite the obstacles and the challenges they face, is deeply rewarding. I see my work as a ministry of accompaniment and as a ministry of presence, with the goal of encouragement, using the model of leadership through stepping back.

Reflecting back on my journey, it is clear to me that my studies for social work, and my master of divinity at LSTC and the years of working as Director in the ISAO, were a time of preparation for my life and work in East Timor. It has helped me understand deeply who I am in my faith tradition and journey, know how to read and interpret scripture in the chromos-es and kairos-es of our lives.

At LSTC I was challenged to the core while I drank deeply from the theological disciplines, biblical roots, lectures, discussions, dialoging with other religious traditions. The models in faith and life that I encountered during my time at LSTC among the faculty, staff,  my co-students from around the world and within the consortium, , prepared me for the work I do today and give me the strength and hope to continue, by seeing the Gifts of the Spirit. Clearly the tapestry of my life was designed and is being woven by the Master Weaver.

I am getting older and greyer now. As attend a course in Europe to prepare for my next phase in East Timor, it is good to take time to lean back in memory and sort out the challenges in my life and work. To paraphrase Jon Nelson’s reflection in “A witness of thanksgiving” (1994), I am working on a dream, leaning forward towards a vision, moved by a treasure and story passed on to me.

One thing is clear: all tangible results seem pretty shaky. Oh yes, there is stuff to point at, but any illusions of what the future will bring seem elusive. We live amidst violent and shaky times, with wars continuing and being started, natural disasters seeming to increase, donor-world demands mandate local struggling realities.

So what has been the use of it all? The innumerable set-backs and crisis weathered, the strain trying to reach across wounds of centuries of colonialism, the scars of decades of military occupation, and the growing gap between the world of the “haves” and the world of the “have-nots”; the seeming futility and even foolishness of my trying to bridge the gap between western and indigenous cultures.  What has been the use of it all?

How then can it be that my husband, Constantino Pinto, and I know we are rich people? Not in material accumulations, but in things that really count: unbelievably vivid moments of the human touch, laughter and dancing in the depth of these times, and the treasure of the dream of that beloved community and harmony we long for. To know it is coming – to trust in the grace of God and to work for it. We are rich people. We can’t run as fast anymore, can’t multi-task as swiftly as we used to, and our hair is getting greyer. But there is a spring in our steps and we are going on for more because we have known the Gift of the Spirit.

“What no eye has seen no ear heard, nor the heart of anyone conceived, what God has prepared for those who love God, God has revealed to us through the Spirit. “ 1 Cor. 2:9-10

Learn more about community development work in East Timor at www. lafaekdiak.org.
Look for a link to a catalog of products made by graduates of CTID. Products include bags, bookmarks and friendship bands made of traditionally hand woven cloth (‘tais’); natural coconut soaps and other items. Contact Inge Lempp at ributil@gmx.de.

Page last modified Aug 12, 2014