In 2010, soon after Gracie Schrock-Hurst graduated with a major in “culture, religion and mission” at Eastern Mennonite University, she settled in the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, as a volunteer with Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor.
Like others in this organization, she lived and worked among the poor of urban areas, “participating” with them “to bring hope and justice through Jesus Christ.”
While visiting her home community of Harrisonburg during the summer of 2013, Gracie gave talks in which she described the deplorable conditions in which her neighbors found themselves living, dealing with lice, scabies, rats and trash, plus diseases like tuberculosis and dengue fever.
Some of the summer visit was celebratory: she and her new husband, Yugo Prasetyo, gathered with Gracie’s friends, family and members of her home church, Early Church, to commemorate their marriage seven months previously in Indonesia. Gracie met Yugo at his Mennonite church in Indonesia, located in a middle-class area of Jakarta.
Yugo, a college graduate who had majored in economics and was heading toward a promising career, decided to help Gracie as a volunteer in the slums and got smitten himself, deciding to live out his love of Jesus by embracing both Gracie and life among the poorest of the poor in his home country.
“I had a vision to serve poor people,” he said during his Harrisonburg visit. “But [before meeting Gracie] I was not brave enough to try to serve them by myself.”
Running a school for 100 children
Now Gracie and Yugo are clearly a team, starting their married life in a small house that they built in the slums, which they then opened to dozens of neighborhood children each day for pre-school and post-school teachings and activities.
More children kept coming – up to 100 per day now – prompting the newlyweds to attach a schoolroom to their home. The children learn basic but valuable things, like how to brush their teeth (and they get a toothbrush to do it with), and the importance of washing their hands. School-aged children get help with their lessons. It helps that Gracie is now fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, the language commonly spoken by the children.
The children’s parents often spend long days away from home, working as trash collectors, cleaners, beggars, and recyclers to earn $3 or $4 a day, said Gracie.
In a talk given at Park View Mennonite, Gracie was frank about the difficulty of maintaining hope amid seemingly overwhelming odds in the slums. The first slum in which Gracie settled was devastated by a fire, after which 300 families rebuilt their homes with whatever materials they could obtain, only to see them demolished by developers’ bulldozers three months later.
Gracie says 3,000 families were displaced in order to make way for a luxury apartment complex. Gracie and Yugo followed some of the families to a more recent slum, being created on the outskirts of Jakarta.
On transforming slums, home to billions
One billion people worldwide live in slums, including about a quarter of the population of Jakarta, said Gracie. “We have to believe that Jesus can transform these slums,” she added.
Physically, Gracie has not been immune from the illnesses that afflict other slum dwellers. She has come down successively with rubella (German measles), walking pneumonia, and dengue fever. She has felt debilitated for months.
In low moments, Gracie has cried into Yugo’s arms, saying: “I want them [their neighbors] to have better lives, but all I have to offer is love. Their needs are so overwhelming. I’ve seen suffering I could never have imagined before coming here.”
Together, though, they regain strength from prayer and their faith in God. “We desire to be a loving witness and reminder to the Church that Jesus identifies himself with the hungry, naked, imprisoned, poor, widows and orphans,” said a newsletter that they put out in July 2013.
To Park View Mennonite Church, Gracie said: “Through these hard times the Lord was forming and teaching me to rely on him.”
Gracie and Yugo also find sustenance in their neighbors in the slum, who constantly want to share what little that they have and who often display a joy in living that seems to escape more wealthy people.
For more information about Gracie and Yugo’s work, email firstname.lastname@example.org