Stricklands, Hoogstads dedicate new Palu Girls Home
BY JOE HOOGSTAD, MAJOR –
As I looked out the window and saw the carpet of velvet green islands of Indonesia scattered across the brilliant blue seas of the South Pacific, I wondered what the Creator of such beauty had in store for the Hoogstads as our visit to this tropical paradise was about to commence.
The idea of a paradise that included terrorist activities, economic instability and religious persecution all seemed to be a contradiction to the natural beauty of the Creator’s handiwork that was all around us.
Soon after landing at the international airport at Denpensar, Bali, we began to experience the warmth of both the Indonesian Salvationists and the climate. An immediate challenge was how to get the four large duffel bags of needed materials for Colonels Strickland through customs without huge entrance tax levies or having the materials confiscated. God provided the first of many affirmations that he had everything under control.
After many minutes of opening duffel bags, explaining all the new items and why we were bringing them for the children’s homes, Salvationist Raona, a Singapore Airlines employee, convinced the head customs agent everything was on the up and up and promised a detailed list and cost of all materials so he could explain our materials. All this was necessary due to the new security procedures after the bombing in Bali.
With that experience behind us and a few short hours of rest at the hotel managed by a local Salvationist, Madie Patina, we were off to the object of our visit: the community of Palu on the island of Sulawesi, home of The Salvation Army’s Girls Home. Skipping across the islands of Bali, Java and Sulawesi, we finally arrived in Palu, six miles from the equator. Salvationists including Eileen’s ICO session mate, Major Christine Dalentang, and a crew from the Girls Home were there to help us get to our home for the next five days.
Approaching the Girls Home
The sights, sounds and traffic between the Palu airport and the Girls Home where we would stay made Los Angeles freeways seem a drive in the country. Who has the right of way the ox cart? Or the small horse rickshaw, the multitude of small motorbikes and finally the mini van wagons used as busses and transportation vehicles? The excitement intensified as we approached the site of the new Girls Home, which we had spotted from the air during our landing in Palu. The girls were waiting to greet us and we were excited to see them.
Following the tragic loss of our granddaughter Angel Eileen, these girls and this project of building a new home for them had given purpose and peace of mind to our family during difficult days trying to make sense of such a hideous event.
A double line of 50 girls with smiles, flowers and songs quickly revealed once again God’s miracle in all that had happened. The girls were excited that soon they would no longer have to share their outdoor shower with the snakes and who knows what else. As they smiled and sang choruses led by Lt. Colonel April Strickland we were overwhelmed by the simple faith and joy we saw in their eyes and smiles. A quick tour of their temporary home revealed conditions beyond our comprehension.
As the girls had school the next morning (up at 5:00 a.m.) and we had only had 10 12 hours of sleep in three days, everyone was ready for some rest–but the excitement of answered prayers for all concerned, for financial provision realized, competent craftsman to plan and build, the “Dream Team” to keep the project alive–all set the stage for a weekend of thanksgiving and celebration.
Army work in Sulawesi’s mountains
Opportunity to visit the work of the Army in the mountains of Sulawesi followed the next day. The impact of the Army in the mountain villages is overwhelming as entire communities are Salvationists. Schools, clinics and corps dot the mountain sides where a visit by a DHQ officer may include two or three days of walking (really hiking) including camping out along the way in rugged jungle mountains. To see the difference the Army is making in providing education, medical assistance and spiritual formation confirms this is a miracle work of God.
Dedication day arrives
Events leading up to the day the Girls Home would be dedicated included Officers’ Councils with the three divisions that surround Palu. Lt. Colonels Charles and April Strickland were featured speakers as they met in council sessions for the first time with officers from central Sulawesi. The quality of music and fellowship was beyond words. Where the Spirit is words are not necessary and sometimes just get in the way. The day of Pentecost has a new meaning for the Hoogstads!
Finally Saturday arrived and excitement was in the air. The military had twice conducted bomb sweeps and completely closed down traffic through the area to add security for all attending this event. With colorful canopies erected to shade the intense sun, the girls, local government dignitaries, soldiers, officers and friends from the community began to arrive for the Thanksgiving Service. The joyous expressions of thanksgiving and the solemnity of intense awareness of God’s goodness made this service an unforgettable experience.
Under the enthusiastic leadership of Commissioners Johannes and Augustina Watilete, territorial leaders, with the wistful sounds of a bamboo band and the clear ringing voices of the Girls Home Chorus providing a joyous accompaniment, Thanksgiving was the mood of all who gathered to celebrate the new home.
Lt. Colonel Charles Strickland gave a brief history of how this dream became reality–how God orchestrated friendships, visits, soldiers and friends on other sides of the world, a family tragedy, people’s generosity, a dream team, the Western Territory, the Del Oro Division steering committee and corps groups, the Del Oro Quilters Guild, the Homer Corps in Alaska, the Reading Early Corps in England, and two Army officers, Major Christine Dalantang and Major Eileen Hoogstad — to accomplish way beyond what we could ever have thought possible. God is good!
Civic dedication ceremony
The Thanksgiving Celebration was followed by the civic Dedication Ceremony which was attended by many governmental leaders including the Lt. Governor of Sulawesi. The Social Services Secretary gave challenges and expressions of appreciation to The Salvation Army from the government of Sulawesi. The Lt. Governor spoke to the issues that the future leaders of Indonesia could come from this very home. He challenged all present to be good stewards of this new home so that its life might touch and impact many girls for many years to come. Following the signing of the dedication plaque, Lt. Colonel Strickland unveiled the building name above the front door, the Lt Governor’s wife cut the ribbon, and Commissioner Augustina Watilete unlocked the door for tours for all in attendance. Lunch was served to all in the Cades Cove, a playground area provided by the Kevin, Kelly and Cade Coventon Family.
Sunday started with Holiness meeting at 6 a.m. at the Woodward Corps where I preached the earliest Holiness sermon in my life. The corps was full to overflowing with kids, couples, officers and the friendly face of Lt. Colonel April Strickland. She thanked me for preaching in English but really that was all I could do!
Sunday evening was an area-wide meeting with over 900 in attendance. In the Palu # 1 Corps this happy crowd of Salvationists raised the roof. The local Muslim call to prayers was lost in the din of the joyful singing of the Salvationists. The variety of vocal music ranged from 5 to 6 year olds, singing companies, a women’s chorus, a songster brigade of excellent quality, and a contemporary group of young adults singing in close harmonies that could have been Manhattan Transfer.
The hit of the evening seemed to be “Jesus Loves Me,” adlibbed on the cornet by Lt. Colonel Charles Strickland as brass instruments from Australia were dedicated to the music ministry of the Palu # 1 Band. What a way to wind up a Lord’s Day. A real hallelujah windup!
Commissioner Augustina Watilete led a moving altar service where people lined three and four deep as they sought a deeper walk with the Lord. What happens after every meeting? It is hand-shaking time. Everyone wants to shake the visitor’s hand! That is very important in this culture. This meant shaking hands with 900 people on their way out! What a problem for a CO to have. Finally rest and air conditioning!!! God is good!
Early Monday morning our girls started coming to say goodbye, to thank us, to ask us not to forget them, to be sure and write (mail is a big thrill), to send a birthday card, a picture, some token of love. One by one, they said good by to Papa Joe and Mama Eileen, and many, many tears flowed as hugs were exchanged and we stood in a big fellowship circle holding hands and thanking God for all his blessings, for Jesus, his goodness and for the new home in which the girls had spent their first night.
You could see thankfulness in each tear-stained face. We will never forget those five days, the faces of those 60 girls or the miracle that God manifested in a country where persecution for Christians is real, where the political situation is very tenuous, where financial resources are very scarce but where God is very good and his blessings to his faithful people are reason for rejoicing and thanksgiving.
Do dreams come true? Only if you have the faith and courage to dream them in the first place. The dream God placed in two hearts that was shared and prayed over resulted in a miracle in Palu–a new Girls Home with “Angel’s Wing” for 24 teenage girls in twelve two-bed rooms.
Is God good? You bet, all the time. Especially for 112 of his very special girls at home…in the home he made possible.