How a school partnership has grown in Indonesia

By Ruth Butler

“God is alive and leads every step I take. He is dynamic and flexible and always shows his love in many ways. He is simple but gorgeous, awesome and wonderful in the reality of my life.” Friska Pakpahan Friska Pakpahan is an English teacher at HKBP vocational high school in Sidikalang, North Sumatra (Indonesia). Sidikalang […]

“God is alive and leads every step I take. He is dynamic and flexible and always shows his love in many ways. He is simple but gorgeous, awesome and wonderful in the reality of my life.” Friska Pakpahan

Friska Pakpahan is an English teacher at HKBP vocational high school in Sidikalang, North Sumatra (Indonesia). Sidikalang is a partner school with Grace College (Queensland) and the relationship between the schools is now of long standing duration. Living Faith Lutheran Church (Murrumba Downs, Queensland) have supported this school partnership since 2006. When Friska visited Australia as part of a teacher exchange to Grace College she was able to share her story with the Living Faith congregation – what a blessing!

I met Friska in 2011 during a school partnership visit to Sidikalang. When Grace College visits Indonesia, Friska is key to the planning and organisation of the trips, graciously caring for her visitors. She serves as our interpreter and has since become a mentor, helper and dear friend. A few years ago, she married and has a precious son, Elbright. She also has a second teaching job in a private vocational college because teacher salaries in Lutheran schools in Sumatra are low.

Friska is a committed Christian with a deep, personal faith but she has been tested. When she was a university student in Medan (capital of Sumatra) she was injured in church bombings which were carried out in the city. She has not become bitter from that experience; on the contrary, she exudes grace.

Grace College’s partnership with Sidikalang has been extended and now includes the more remote and disadvantaged Lawe Sigalagala school in Tanah Alas, in neighbouring Aceh province. I credit Friska with this idea.

In 2011 I was invited by Pastor Noel and Meg Noack to visit Tanah Alas and see the needs of the area, first hand. When Friska said, “It’s good that you come from Australia to show care to poor people; we don’t even do that ourselves”, I realised that there was an opportunity to help more Indonesian schools, by engaging local schools who were already developed. I was able to negotiate a partnership between the two Sumatran schools, linked by their common connection with Grace College.

The Tanah Alas school has grown, increased its resources and improved academically in the years since then, while Sidikalang has continued to be a highly successful school in its region. The principal, Mr Lumban Gaol, has maintained this commitment and Friska has remained an important link between the schools, developing strong friendships with some of the teachers from Lawe Sigalagala.

In August 2019 Friska started her Masters in Education at Medan State University. She explained her motivation, “I really want to enlarge my capacity … if I have my post graduate degree, I can share knowledge and influence many people. I can become part of them and be a history maker”. She is not doing it to gain a higher salary but believes “if we do our work in sincerity, the blessings will follow”. Friska wants to keep teaching in a Lutheran school because it is a Christian school and “I can touch my students spiritually”.  She gave thanks to God when she passed the entrance exam, becoming one of 50 students out of the 1200 who applied for the course.

Undertaking the higher degree meant saving money for several years to pay the fees (40m rupiah for the two year course, about AU$4000). In addition to the financial cost, there is a considerable time cost for Friska. She is a full-time teacher and mother who must travel several hours each way by bus from Sidikalang to Medan every weekend, to attend lectures and tutorials.

This week Friska sent me this message on WhatsApp:

I got a compliment from my lecturer on my presentation today about ‘approaches to language and communication’.  She said, ‘You have something interesting inside you as you convey your presentation and materials.  I think it’s from God.’ Surprisingly, she is a Muslim lecturer.  Then she said, ‘I can see from your presentation that you have a passion in yourself and love what you do.’  All glory to Him.  Then, what really touched me is that she said, ‘From your presentation, we may find love…I hope the others can learn from your presentation today.’  I am blessed to be a blessing.  Praise the Lord.

After proofreading my version of her story, Friska wrote:

“God is great to shape me and more and more I am coming to understand why I should have been involved in the bombing…Now I begin to realize that all the unfairness has been made fair by God. Praise the Lord”.


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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