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Around the world with the Luomas

Having survived the flu, I was more than ready to listen to a retired missionary who had spent 12 years in Indonesia, especially upon hearing he married a local girl. The missionary is Warner Luoma and he married Ramona Beving, daughter of Jack and Phyllis Beving. Jack is deceased and Phyllis lives in one of our neat loft apartments.

Warner and Ramona met when he was a student at Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary in Minneapolis. They were married in 1966. They have one daughter and one grandson. Ramona, who was a registered nurse, died in 2008.

Warner was born in Virginia, Minn. After becoming a pastor he served congregations in Palisade and McGregor, Minn. In 1971, when an opening for missionaries in Indonesia opened up, the Luomas accepted the call.

What with only five members of the 250,000 member denomination which had invited them able to speak in English, the Luomas' first stop was to a language school in Holland. There they began to learn the basics of the Indonesian language and then went on to Singapore for more studies. Since the language has no number, gender or tense and is written in the Latin alphabet, it was not as difficult as some other languages.

Indonesia is an independent nation with an elected president and an elected parliament. The Luomas lived in a city in the province of North Sumatra, Indonesia. The people they worked with belong to the Batak ethnic group, one of more than 350 ethnic groups in Indonesia. The Bataks are clan-based, and their communities and churches are strongly influenced by their vision of the extended clan families. For instance, if someone becomes homeless, they are welcomed into the homes of relatives. In the old days, the traditional wedding blessing was to pray that the new couple would have 17 sons and 16 daughters.

On average, each family in rural areas farms 2 1/2 hectares (about 5 acres) of land. The number of water buffalo and pigs a family has denotes wealth. A water buffalo is served at each wedding feast. Children are taught to honor age. The more grandchildren and great grandchildren a person has, the more he/she is respected.

In community/family/church matters only the opinion of the married can be expressed and count. Unmarried people can participate, but only as observers. In the 12 years Warner was there, only two marriages among the Bataks ended in divorce, and both were front page news in local papers. A couple's problems are considered clan business. They find the facts and give opinions, thus much is settled without breaking up a family.

When someone dies they are buried from the home in a grave plot. After 15 years whatever is left is put in a box. A monument is then erected, sometimes small and plain, sometimes large and fancy. Often it is erected in the front yard and the box put in it.

Indonesians are musical and the Batak Christians sing four-part harmony, a capella, at worship services. They favor choral music by Bach. Brass bands, heavy in drums, are enjoyed.

Indonesia was the third country to launch a telecommunications satellite. For many years the military-controlled Labor Party was in power. Full democracy began to bloom in 1998.

The Luomas left Indonesia in 1984 when Warner was called to New York to oversee the Middle East and South Asia mission work of their church. They retired in 1998 and moved to Wadena to a home across the road from where Ramona grew up. Ramona worked part-time as a home health care case manager. Warner served as an interim pastor for a while and then for several years as executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity program, headquartered in Wadena.

With a group of friends, Warner's own special interest now is a study of the cross cultural and communication implications of how the church grew from a handful of followers of Jesus which had no standing in society to a fellowship which spoke words of salvation to emperors and slaves.