To understand her congregation, Veny explains, she must understand farming. “I was pastoring in the rural area and 90% of the people were farmers, so I liked to work with them. After I finished my duties in the church, I visited them in their fields, especially in the rice paddies. I liked to help them harvest, transplant, and then through those experiences I came to know about their difficulties as farmers.” One of the greatest hardships she saw in their lives was that of spiraling debt due to borrowing money for fertilizer. In the saddest cases farmers end up losing their land to creditors and then need to rent the very same land they once owned. “I just preach, you know, and say, ‘Peace be with you,’ but their minds really are not at peace. Their minds just think how to repay the loan. So what should I do? For me it’s not enough to just preach, just pray, but something I want to help them.”
After three and a half years, Veny was sent to build up the church in Malaysia where there are thousands of Indonesian migrant workers, including many from HKBP. It was a shock for her to suddenly enter an urban environment and she struggled at first to find her purpose. However, in time, she came to understand that the reason people go abroad to work is that they feel there is nothing for them in the village at home – no money. Through this experience she gained more courage and confidence to serve those villages back home, to create opportunity in the rural communities.
Veny and her husband Kengo with a plate full of pineapple pancakes
In 2012 Veny returned to ARI as a Training Assistant, where she met Kengo, a Japanese participant, and they were married at the end of the year. Veny and her new husband then went back to North Sumatra and the church provided them a place to live and a plot of land where they have started a small farm with pigs, chickens, ducks and many, many vegetables using all the organic techniques they got from ARI such as Bokashi and fermented chicken feed. They receive WWOOFers (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and have conducted some training sessions.
Rice husk is saved after each rice harvest to use in making bokashi and rice husk charcoal
According to Veny most pastors seek well-paid positions in urban settings. To be posted to village churches was seen as a punishment. However she is of the opposite opinion and has taken it as her challenge to show that what others consider a curse, is in fact a blessing. “We are really crazy people," she explains when people ask her why she request this assignment. "ARI is crazy people and I like to be crazy.” Veny’s dream is to help farmers reduce their dependence on costly fertilizers by using materials that are available locally such as compost and Bokashi. Working together with other ARI graduates, they recently started an organization called Semasta and have already conducted a three-month training program for 12 people in leadership and sustainable agriculture. “I don’t want to solve all the problems. Only one – reducing buying fertilizer. Enough. That is my dream.”
Kengo studied Social Science and International Development at university and then spent some time in Canada. When he returned to Japan he took temporary jobs teaching English and working in a company that produces tomatoes by conventional farming techniques. This latter experience led him to be interested in learning about organic farming at ARI because, “I didn’t like to use chemical pesticides. After using it, if some portion remains then I needed to dump on the ground. I struggled each time I did that.”
While at ARI he met Veny, a pastor from Indonesia, and at the end of the program the two of them were married and settled in North Sumatra. At ARI, they spoke frequently about the future they wanted to build and created a dream of having a field together in a village where they could raise produce and livestock naturally, using integrated organic farming methods. They would call it Kenny’s field – from Kengo and Veny. But more than just a farm, they wanted this to be an environment that brings community together, where they can teach farming techniques, share about the gospel, offer free English lessons, and of course share food together. But, “a dream is just dream if you cannot do anything,” points out Veny, “so little by little we do.”
They have already started a farm where they raise ducks, pigs, chickens and a large variety of vegetables and fruits. They use their animal manure and rice husk to make Bokashi and mix their own livestock feed. They share produce with their neighbors and have hosted WWOOFers (Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms) from abroad. This farm, however, is merely a trial because the land on which it is situated is not theirs, but belongs to the church. They have purchased their own plot of land as well, and begun developing a permanent home and farm.
Together with other ARI graduates in the area, they have started an organization called Semasta and in the spring of 2015 conducted a two-month course on organic farming. Both Kengo and Veny attest that it is because of their shared experience at ARI, with its unique approach and value system of caring for the earth and building community, that they have been able to create and pursue this dream together.