Christian school teachers in Indonesia make trek to Sunnyside

Casey and Sharon Bernhardt never imagined their two-year commitment to teach at Mountainview International Christian School in Indonesia would turn into a nine-year adventure, but that's exactly what has happened.

"We believe it's where we're supposed to be, besides it also being 'home'," said Sharon. "We've both learned the language and built a lot of relationships there."

The Bernhardts aren't missionaries. In fact, Sharon said, they aren't allowed to openly evangelize, or they'll get kicked out of the country.

"It's acceptable to be a Christian. It's not acceptable to make other people Christians," she said.

It is OK for the two to discuss their faith, as long as they are asked about it. "You learn the way to interact with people appropriately," she said, adding that she relies on God's will to spread the message. Plus, she said, "I think you show people a lot of things by the way you live your life."

There's been some interesting natural disasters that have hit Indonesia. There was the tsunami, which happened one island over from Java Island, where the Bernhardts live. Sharon said that, prior to the tsunami, foreigners weren't allowed to travel to that island.

The Bernhardts were in the United States when the tsunami hit. But they were there in May 2006 when a tremendous earthquake hit just 30 miles away. When asked if she felt it, she said with a laugh, "Oh, yeah. It shook us out of bed!"

After the earthquake hit, she and her husband took blankets, water and food to the nearby town of Yogyakarta. Funds from her grandmother's memorial here in the United States were used to help rebuild a home that had been completely destroyed by the earthquake.

That same month, a volcano erupted a little closer to their home. The only thing separating them and the volcano was another mountain. To this day, she said, "It still belches a lot of ash, smoke and lava. We have gotten ash in the air, it just depends on which way the wind is blowing."

Fortunately, no natural disasters have hit the actual town the couple lives in, Salatiga. But one of the most scariest times while living there was post Sept. 11. Sharon said there were anti-American posters and people wearing Osama bin Laden shirts. "It makes you feel strange," she said.

One of the most unusual situations Sharon found herself in was when a Muslim couple wanted to give their baby up for adoption.

She explained that, in Indonesia, it's expected that when a couple marries, they are to have a child right away. If they don't they are considered a failure. "Consequently, it's hard to find adoptive parents. Even when people (there) are married five or six years, they don't want to give up hope and adopt."

Sharon found herself in quite a quandary when the couple wanted to adopt out their second child. "They wanted to leave that day and just leave the baby. I ended up on the phone trying to frantically find the baby a family."

Thankfully, Sharon had heard at the school that a relative of one of the teachers was considering adopting. Sharon was able to connect the baby with that family, a Christian family, that same day.

The Bernhardts and their two children, Ryan, 5, and Niko, 3, recently traveled to Sunnyside to visit Sharon's parents, Sunnyside Church of God Pastor Karen Helsel and her husband, Marvin. This was the first stop on a trip that will include treks to Indiana, Iowa and Maryland while it's summer vacation at the school in Indonesia.

One thing Sharon is enjoying while she's stateside is the food, especially Mexican food, which they don't have in Indonesia. And, she added, "We don't get good milk and cheese. We eat a lot of rice and veggies and the meat is not so great."

That doesn't mean there isn't a certain amount of culture shock when returning to the United States. Her children, she said, are in awe of all the Caucasians. "If they see an Asian person here, they immediately think they're Indonesian."

The Bernhardts have a two-year contract to continue teaching at the Christian school. But, she said, they'll be in Indonesia "for however long the Lord leads."


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