Today we hit the road for a visit to three schools run by The Salvation Army in the East Palu Division. Our trip took us along some pretty windy and rough roads into the mountains where our senses were overloaded with unfamiliar sights and smells of rural Central Sulawesi. Along the way we passed many other Salvation Army Corps and were amazed by the enormous presence of The Salvation Army as the main expression of Christianity in the region.
First contrast - The state of school facilities and availabiltiy of education to children in the villages compared to Palu was the first major contrast we saw. While the school in Palu, the primary focus of our mission trip, has many development needs, it is well equipped and staffed, providing a quality Christian education in Palu. The first two rural schools we visited offered modest, but acceptable facilities with equally committed staff, but showed signs of greater need and lesser resources. The third school at Dongi Dongi was very confronting! There were four completely inadequate classrooms for 180 students!! They are run down timber structures with dirt floors and make shift desks crammed into barely useable space.
Second contrast - It seemed the deeper we drove into the mountains the stronger the presence of The Salvation Army. Each rural Corps was far from a struggling country church community, instead large vibrant faith communities with a minimum congregation of 150, with most averaging 200-300 people and a larger Corps we saw having a congregation of 500+! The contrast for me was reflecting on the average size and location of worshipping Salvation Army communities in Australia. Every where we drove a Corps or Outpost was pointed out to us representing 80% of Christians in the region, a reality far removed from what I observe in my own cultural context. The Salvation Army in Central Sulawesi is having a profound impact advancing the gospel in this part of Indonesia.