It was warm and humid. One may say almost too hot for a Swede. But the story that emerged was more than cool.
I listened to the mayor of a small Muslim village. We sat outside his house, drank tea and nibbled on fruit, nuts and sweets. He was enthusiastic and composed. As a devout Muslim he had come to appreciate Christian business people in a way that surprised him. There is a long and sometimes violent history of severe distrust and tension between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia.
The village used to be quite poor. Rats ate 40 percent of the crops every year. These creatures also spread disease. Collaboration for irrigation was non-existent. There was a lack of entrepreneurial spirit and seemingly no-one thought about praying for a difference.
But some good friends and colleagues of mine visited the mayor and his village. They are Christian business people, they wanted to help and they wanted to build bridges across a religious divide.
At first the mayor declined. Why did business people come, and not charity workers or government people? On top of that, these people were Christians – not Muslims. But one Christian businesswoman suggested that they at least could pray. She said that prayers make a difference; yes God can make a difference. It was agreed. Something happened and it became a turning point. The mayor invited them to come back and they did.
The mayor could see me sweating profusely and he kindly turned on a fan and turned it towards me. But he didn’t stop telling the story, a story of transformation.
The team of Christian business people did research and explored ways to kill the rats in an environmentally friendly way. They also researched how one could increase the agricultural production and start profitable businesses.
They found an owl called tyto alba that eats rats, but is very hard to breed. Some told them it was impossible. But they prayed, researched and it worked. I could see birdhouses everywhere on the fields. The loss of crops has decreased from 40 to 2 percent per year. Through new wells and irrigation the annual yield of rice has doubled.
I asked the mayor why they didn’t dig wells and develop irrigation before the business people came. He said that the Christians changed their mindset regarding work and working together, and first and foremost taught them the importance of prayer, to always start with prayer.
“Now we are open to change and we take action. But we always start with prayer”, said the mayor.
My Indonesian business friends have started business training courses in the village – based on Biblical principles. They have also helped start small manufacturing businesses, helped with marketing and sales, and local infrastructure.
This small village with 2320 people has now become a model village in Indonesia. National television has portrayed this as a model on how to build bridges between Muslims and Christians, and on how to develop transformational businesses. The village is now a national learning center on how to breed owls that kills rats.
I heard several testimonies on how concrete prayers had led to concrete answers, related to rain, a paved road, a job, a motorcycle, and so forth.
As we left the village I was encouraged and felt privileged. I had witnessed significant indicators of economic, social, environmental and spiritual transformation. I asked myself: What were some of the key contributing factors? Prayers, Christian business people and owls.