When Marlene Pluckenhahn was a little girl, she wanted to be a missionary in Africa.
Marlene Plueckhahn had a dream. When she was a little girl, she wanted to be a missionary in Africa. She stuck to this dream – or this dream stuck to her – even when the adults in her life were lukewarm about it.
Marlene still has a dream, the same dream, but recently God rearranged the details.
In earlier years Marlene studied at the Lutheran Teachers College/Lay Training Centre (formerly LTC) in Adelaide and, more recently, with guidance from the Lutheran Church of Australia, she undertook a number of courses, including ‘Mission in Short-term Training’ (MIST) and ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’ (TEFL).
After all this hard work, her dreams of serving overseas became reality. She spent a fulfilling month as a volunteer in Indonesia in July 2012, teaching English at the Sekolah Tinggi Theologi Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (STT HKBP) Seminary, in Pematang Siantar, Northern Sumatra. But this experience wasn’t her first in Indonesia: she’d visited the area one year earlier and had returned home with a powerful tale to tell.
In 2011, Marlene joined an ‘Introduction to Indonesia’ tour group, organised by Marion and Mark Schubert. She wanted to learn about Indonesia and to test her ‘usefulness’ as a volunteer. Little did she know that her faith would also be tested.
At dusk on their first day in Pematang Siantar, it was raining, and visibility was poor. The tour group was guided across a busy road by four STT HKBP seminary students. Out of the blue, a motorcycle slammed into Marlene. The handlebars crashed into her ribcage and the front tyre hit her right leg. The collision threw her into the air and she landed on the road in such a way that the others thought she was dead.
The motorbike rider was thrown onto the road, unconscious for a short time, but then he staggered to his feet and ran off into the night, despite efforts of those around to help him.
‘I remember looking down on this young man [who was] lying on the road, as I was being carried by David, a seminary student’, recalled Marlene. ‘At that stage, I thought I had died and gone to heaven, but was wondering why my head hurt. Then I saw the young man and I clearly remember thinking and praying that he was alright.’
Marlene was taken to a private hospital where she received amazing care from the attentive staff and four seminary students, who stayed constantly with her.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian police began their investigation of the accident by identifying the motorcyclist through his bike, which had remained at the accident site.
He was a 30-year-old Muslim who’d been drinking alcohol during Ramadan, when he should have been fasting. He’d fled the scene of an earlier accident with a car and had brought shame to his family through his actions that day. The police were prepared to jail the young man, but Marlene had other ideas.
‘What do you solve? Is that the Christian way to deal with this situation?’ she wondered.
Marlene wanted to forgive her assailant and she informed the Indonesian police, who proceeded to organise a reconciliation ceremony with the help of Mungkap Siahaan (administrative assistant to the principal of STT HKBP Seminary) and his wife, Lastri.
Attending the ceremony were the young motorcyclist, his parents and other family members, three members of Marlene’s tour group, the four seminary students, Mungkap and Lastri. The police were video-recording in the background. As this was an unusual situation, the police were thorough in their efforts to ensure that Marlene was not being coerced.
The young man said he was sorry and Marlene believed him. ‘Despite being affected by alcohol, he did not set out to run me down and cause me harm’, she said.
Marlene was able to forgive readily, from the deepest part of her being. By doing it publicly, in order to protect the offender, she demonstrated to everyone involved the power of the gospel, which reveals the compassion, love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
‘Forgiveness cost me nothing; I gained from it’, Marlene said. ‘I have a clear conscience and can sleep at night … it was important for me to look to the future and get on with living and with serving God.’
She also commented on how lucky it was that she sustained no internal injuries or infections, but one can’t help wondering if that was all part of a greater plan.
Marlene Pluckenhahn continues her inspiring work in mission on a daily basis in roles such as chaplain at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, as a ‘granny nanny’ (regularly minding her grandchildren) and at the Lutheran Sewing Group (supporting African refugees) at Good News Lutheran Church, Albert Park in Adelaide.
If you would like to consider the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in mission, serving in practical ways, teaching English, teaching in the seminaries and institutions of our partner churches, or in local churches, you are invited to phone Nevin on (08) 8267 7300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to https://www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/volunteer/
Read more stories about volunteering at https://www.lcamission.org.au/category/join-gods-mission/volunteers/