Benjamin Gunawan Yonas: Dialogue with an Adventist engineer in Indonesia
Benjamin Gunawan Yonas, also known as Yo Bu Gwan, is an engineer and building contractor. He was born in Bandung, Indonesia, and graduated from the largest Catholic university in Indonesia with a degree in civil engineering.
Benjamin is actively involved in his local congregation and supports the Seventh-dayAdventist Church in Indonesia. He has served as Adventist youth leader, Sabbath school superintendent, and church elder. He has also served in various capacities such as conference executive committee member and academy board member. Currently he is on the Bandung Adventist Hospital board.
Benjamin, tell us about your background and how you joined the Adventist Church.
I grew up in a non-religious family. My father is a free thinker, and my mother is a follower of Confucius. Of the six children in the family, only I was sent to an Adventist high school, for two and one half years. There I began to learn about the Bible and the doctrines of the Adventist Church. I felt spiritually moved during a week of prayer. Though I was convinced of the truth, I was not ready to become an Adventist. I left the school, without being baptized. But when I was experiencing a painful personal problem, a former Adventist classmate comforted me and invited me to visit the Adventist Chinese Church. The pastor prayed for me, and I began to attend church regularly. In 1982, the pastor who conducted the week of prayer was holding a series of evangelistic meetings. I went regularly to the meetings, and at the end I was baptized–you may not remember now–by you. Not long after that, I married a lovely Adventist lady, Juniar Jacob, and the Lord has blessed us with two children. We are enjoying God's blessings every moment of every day.
You are a graduate of a well-known Catholic university. Did you have any problem with Sabbath observance while studying there?
Yes, many lectures were scheduled on Saturday, and so were the examinations. Those were difficult times for me. Parahiangan University has 7,000 students, of whom about 2,000 are freshmen, so the institution has a very strict, inflexible schedule. I needed to be wise in choosing subjects so that there would be no Sabbath problem; so much so that I had to take a first-semester course during my ninth semester of stay. Once I asked an Adventist pastor for a special letter so that I could get a special permission for Sabbath observance, but the letter created more problems. The dean of the School of Engineering rejected in writing the request and sent a copy of his letter to all professors. As a result, a few of them refused to give any special examination to me.
What made you to stand firm in your convictions despite the challenges you faced with Sabbath observance?
Perhaps three factors: my Christian friends who faced the same situation, my commitment to be faithful to God, and the fellowship and support I received from the members of Bandung Adventist Students Association (IMAB). As a new Adventist, the writings of Ellen G. White also encouraged me much to be faithful. God gave me the power to do His will. With His blessings, the program of 10 semesters could be completed in 12 semesters. This was faster than I expected, considering the many Sabbath problems I experienced.
Can you share a little of the history of IMAB and the benefits of Adventist university student associations?
IMAB was established in 1979, and it was my privilege to serve as president of the student association for two years. Its main purpose was to foster fellowship among Adventist students, to intervene with Sabbath problems, and to make a positive contribution to the church and community.
IMAB also helped us through many other activities. We learned to encourage and serve one another. Our group Bible study helped our spiritual development and prepared us to witness for our faith. We learned to work together and develop leadership skills. On behalf of the church we got involved in several community projects such as digging wells, building toilets, and establishing business cooperatives to provide financial assistance. We also placed Ellen White books in several college and university libraries so that others could learn more about our faith. These initiatives helped us grow socially, spiritually, and intellectually, and we were able to create a positive image for Christians in general and Adventists in particular.
As the only Adventist in your family, how do you relate to other members?
I want to help my family members to know the truth of the gospel, to believe what I believe, and to join the Adventist Church. They respect me and seek my counsel about the problems they face. I am happy because my parents, brothers, and sisters have visited our church, but more follow-up is needed. With God's guidance, my grandmother is now baptized.
What kind of business are you involved in?
The Lord has blessed us with several business initiatives. We have construction and building consultant businesses, and own a printing press and three music schools. We also have a company to manage apartments in two high-rise buildings in Bandung.
What is the main challenge you face in your work? Do you have any opportunities to witness at work?
I always face Sabbath problems. It is a real challenge to meet building schedules without working on Saturdays. We have to convince customers that we can meet the target date without working on Sabbath. So often people ask me why I don't like to do business on Saturday. This gives me an opportunity to share what I believe.
Can you use your talents in support of the progress of our church in Indonesia?
The Lord has allowed us to help with various construction projects at Bandung Adventist Hospital. I have also designed and constructed several Adventist school buildings, a conference office building, the girls' dormitory of an Adventist university, the Manado Adventist Hospital building, and other projects. It was my privilege to design many Adventist churches and help with the calculations to make them more economical.
You seem to have a busy life. How do you maintain a balance between your profession, family, and church?
It is hard to budget time, but I thank God for the Sabbath. I have also learned to delegate some business tasks to others. I take time for regular exercise. We also make time for family vacations during the holiday season.
Have you heard about Dialogue in which this interview will be published?
Oh, yes. I learned about Dialogue when I was a university student and found it very interesting, full of inspiration, and meeting the needs of Adventist students. We hope its distribution will continue and expand.
What counsel would you give to Adventist students attending non-Adventist colleges and universities?
Join the local Adventist university student association. If there isn't one, start one. It will help you to remain faithful, grow spiritually, and serve others. As a member of IMAB, we helped to start several students associations in other cities and organized a meeting of Adventist university students for the whole island of Java.
Any advice to Adventist church leaders?
Our church will be much stronger if we would provide more support to the thousands of Adventist studying in public universities. Frequently, they have to move away from their congregation to study and, as a result, become almost invisible in the new location. Make an effort to locate them and to listen to the challenges they face. Appoint a chaplain for them. If we give attention to those students, they will be faithful, and they will become witnesses for the church on the secular campuses. Later, they will be the strong leaders that our church and the community need.
Jonathan Kuntaraf (D.Min., Andrews University) is Director of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland. His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Benjamin Gunawan Yonas' email address: email@example.com. He has two websites: www.bandungvaluestay.com and www.allegria-music.com.