I had the pleasure to speak with Fr. Aleksander Kobesi about the St. Nicholas of Myra mission that he serves at in Bali. He is a quiet, soft spoken man. He took the time to answer each question I asked. I was fascinated to learn more about Orthodoxy in Bali and Fr. Aleksander's experiences there. I hope you find it to be so as well!
What makes your mission unique from other missions and the Russian Church?
One uniqueness of this mission is that we’re on the island of Bali, the place and destination for world tourism. Many Orthodox tourists go to Bali, their destination is for vacation; they only go to church at Christmas and Easter. This mission is among the majority of Hindus.
The second unique thing is that after I was ordained, I didn't have some money to start the mission. I had to sell wedding rings, bracelets and necklaces of my Matushka, as our first fund for this mission.
The third unique thing is since the beginning of my mission work, I walk on foot.
Please share more of the history of the mission, how did it start? How many people are you serving?
Mission History; this mission began on 10 July 2009 in Singaraja - Northern Bali. My family and I began this mission. In the first Liturgy there were only 3 people, Matushka and 2 of my daughters. After 2 months I baptized 4 people. The place for Liturgy was my home, using one of the rooms. One year later (2010) we were not allowed to continue by the local government because of violated rules. We are not allowed us to use home as places of worship.
Because my residence was not permitted for Liturgy, I then moved to the home of one of the faithful (the newly baptized) for the Liturgy, 10 km from my house. This went on for one year (2011) but then again we were not permitted by the local government to perform Liturgy in the homes of our faithful. I was confused and thought, “where else would we have Liturgical services for the week?”
In the end I and my small community decided to make a small house for church; because we don't have the funds to buy building materials, we use second-hand bricks and second-hand door frames and windows to build foundation and walls. In June 2012 the building was finished and we use it for services every Sunday until now.
Up till now I have baptized 34 people, adults and children or 7 families; 3 families live spread out in Singaraja - North Bali and 4 families in Denpasar - South Bali and one family lives on the island of Lombok.
How did I bring them to Orthodoxy? First, I introduced myself as an Orthodox priest, then introduced the Orthodox church. Some were interested and then they were taught and baptized.
What drew the people interested in Orthodoxy?
They were interested after they learned that the Orthodox Church was the early church. Also, they are interested because worship is so solemn and calm. We do not use noisy music instruments. Most of them are from Roman Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. They feel brotherhood in the Church. For example, after the service people do not immediately go home, but sit and drink a cup of coffee or tea, tell stories to each other, and share experiences.
Tell us more about where you serve?
Every Sunday I serve at Singaraja. The distance between my home and the church in Singaraja is 10 km; we use motorbikes and rental vehicles.
While, to be able to serve routinely for those far away in Denpasar- South Bali, I serve Liturgy services once per month; in Denpasar, we rent rooms for services; so in Bali we have two communities. Singaraja Community and Denpasar Community.
How does living in a Hindu majority country affect your service?
I am grateful that the Orthodox church may be present among the majority of Hindu in Bali. They accepted us as kind, friendly, and didn't mind if we served every Sunday. We are also generous with them. For example, before Christmas, we distributed cakes to our Hindu neighbors. After 10 years in Bali, we have no obstacles from the majority of Hindus.
Tell me more about mission work on foot. What kind of people did you meet? Do they ask you any questions?
On June 28, 2009 I became ROCOR priest by His Eminence Vladyka Hilarion (Kapral), the first hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia. On July 10, 2009, I start this mission at Singaraja Bali. Because we don't have much money, we sell our wedding rings. With this little money, we use it to buy food. Little by little the money runs out too, where do we get the money from again? We sell Matushka Viktoria’s bracelets and necklaces. This is the first fund of the mission in Bali. Because we don't have motorbikes, all mission work is on foot.
When I first went began walking and sharing about Orthodoxy on foot, many experiences were very interesting; my neighbor looked at me in surprise and was rather cynical. They asked me why I go on foot, I answered that I didn't have a motorcycle.
Some wanted to rent out their motorbikes to me, but I refused because I have no money. There are people who think that I am a gold seller. Some even suspected me of being a detective of the local police and asked for my identity. These are the various kinds of experiences I had.
The people you baptized in the Orthodox faith, tell me more about some of them. Who are they? How old are they?
Two months after starting the mission, I walked into the village, the first family I met was a couple and their two sons, they were a Hindu family. They were builders. Their education is low, only elementary school.
Because I often visit this family, I introduce myself as an Orthodox priest. Because I often drink coffee with them, then slowly I introduce the teachings of Orthodox to them. One method that I used to introduce Orthodox teachings to them was by I saying that the Orthodox Church uses incense in worship, just as Hindus use incense in their worship. This was the beginning interest in Orthodoxy of this family. The entire family was then baptized with Orthodox names. This is the first Orthodox family in Bali.
Other families I met with and then baptized were from a Protestant background; and another from Islam background, their origin is from Flores island, one of the islands in the eastern of Bali. Their daily work is maintaining Balinese-owned gardens, their job is like security in the forest; they live about 25 km from central of Singaraja city. When I first met them, they asked me where the nearest church was for worship every Sunday.
I introduce myself as an Orthodox priest, then I ask them, if you want you can worship in the church I serve. At first they were not interested, but four months later they were interested and asked to be baptized. I baptized them. The family lives very simple economically.
What do they do for a living?
One family does not have their own house, but they rent a house. The daily job is garden keeper. From the garden can produce corn, sweet potatoes and vegetables. The wife was a laundry worker (not using a washing machine) but using her own hands. Their income is enough to live a monthly. Then there is the family of builders. Other families are truck drivers.
Tell us a little about your family.
Before being ordained to become an Orthodox priest, I chose to marry. We received the Holy Sacrament of marriage on November 2, 2002, in an Orthodox church. My Matushka, Maria Viktoria, works at home as a housewife. We have 2 daughters. Mary Grace is 16 years old and is in high school. She chose to specialize in tourism. Crescent Myra is 12 years old and in junior high school.
I married when I was 40 years old. I was from a Roman Catholic priest background; that's why I don't have worldly jobs like other Orthodox priests, because when I looked for work in a company, I was turned down because I was considered old. My work right now is focusing on serving the Church.
Why do you need this financial support? Why is it important to you and the Bali mission?
Seeing our mission activities in Bali, I really need some funds, because some funding is important to facilitate our services, especially Liturgical equipment, such as church wine, lamp oil, flour for prosphora. We also need some money for food, electricity, water and telephone.
Why do you think the donors should support you?
You support us in Bali because we are one of the Mystical Body of Christ. We need your help because you are part of a universal Orthodox church. Financially we are not yet independent. Our people have not been able to finance the church and priests. Also, the Indonesian government cannot help our church.
Where do you see your mission in 5 years?
Five years into the future, I see this mission will develop well if it is supported by sufficient funds, because I have zeal/spirit to serve; and the Hindus around the church are very friendly and willing to accept the presence of the Orthodox church.
If you could tell our donors one thing, what would you tell them?
Dear donors in Christ, one thing I want to tell you, that you are part of us, you are our family, we cannot move without you. There is only one way that I can repay your kindness, through OUR PRAYER. I believe you will receive blessings from God. Every day we pray, I call your name on the altar, before the Lord Jesus and Theotokos.