‘Marsialus-alusan’ – filling spaces in dialogue with teaching

By Ruth Butler

‘Marsialus-alusan’ is an expression from the Toba Batak language of Sumatra, Indonesia. It means ‘answering back and forth’ in a way that does not privilege a single response. It describes the space between answers, the dialectic by which responders draw close or keep their distance. A colleague of my daughter is an expert on Toba […]

Marsialus-alusan’ is an expression from the Toba Batak language of Sumatra, Indonesia. It means ‘answering back and forth’ in a way that does not privilege a single response. It describes the space between answers, the dialectic by which responders draw close or keep their distance. A colleague of my daughter is an expert on Toba Batak music. She likens ‘marsialus-alusan’ to an antiphon in a Renaissance church whereby two brass choirs face each other and answer back and forth across the space. In a Batak village, the phrase might refer to the mundane sound of chickens calling back and forth across the village at dawn.

Earlier this year, I was invited to participate in a conference for teachers of Christian Studies in Lutheran schools from Sumatra. This conference was the first of its kind for these practising teachers and was organised by Ridwin Purba who works on behalf of the Lutheran World Federation and is supported by LCA International Mission. Ridwin has the task of bringing together the many Lutheran schools of the 13 Lutheran Churches in Sumatra.

The conference focussed on supporting the Christian studies teachers to

  • Understand the foundations of Christian belief, based on Lutheran theology.
  • Develop methods of teaching Christian Studies in creative ways, so as to make students eager to study.
  • Develop media for teaching Christian Studies.
  • Help students apply Christian values in their daily lives.

An overarching goal was to enhance the sense of mission amongst the teachers and their capacity for learning by sharing. It was hoped that developing relationships would lead to sustained, longer-term benefits for everyone involved.

Marsialus-alusan was an excellent image for what I and my colleague, Anne Dohnt, sought to achieve at the conference. We wanted to make a meeting place where people from different backgrounds, ages and experience could listen and respond to each other, without privileging one person or idea over another. It was a great concept for my introductory workshop, encouraging participants to see how we might learn and teach through discussion and deduction, rather than authoritative didactism.

It seems to me that marsialus-alusan is a good metaphor for what should happen when we engage in school service-learning and ministry partnerships. It is an “answering back and forth” – where both sides listen and learn, and seek to find a place of meeting which is both peaceful and productive. It offers a process for recognition and respect for the sameness and difference of the other; a process that is not apathetic or idle, but alive with possibility.


If your school would like to know more about how they can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission service-learning and ministry partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email erin.kerber@lca.org.au. For more information, go to www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/service-learning/

Read more stories about school partnerships and school service-learning at www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/local-partners/schools/

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About the Author : Erin Kerber


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