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Breath Becomes the Wind: Old and New in Karo Religion.

Simon Rae, now principal of Knox Theological College in New Zealand, lived first among Karo Batak who had gone to Java, then for two years in Karo country in northern Sumatra. Here he tells the story of the Karo, their primal religion (called perbegu for its focus on the begu, the spirits of the dead), and the planting and growth of the church. While Dutch missions began among the Karo in 1890, twenty-seven years after Nommensen went to the neighboring Toba Batak, Christianity, like Islam, was largely rejected as foreign. There were still only 5,000 baptized Karo Christians in 1940, and the work revolved around missionaries and teacher-evange-lists.

A providential visit by Hendrik Kraemer prodded the establishment of the church as an independent Karo institution, the Karo Batak Protestant Church, or GBKP, with the first synod held in 1941 and the first two Karonese sent off to seminary. During the Second World War and the war for independence that followed, the church became truly Karo and grew rapidly under Karo leadership. Lay leaders were trained in evangelism by an English OMF couple, and Karo music, earlier rejected by missionaries and the church, began to be used in the seventy-fifth anniversary celebrations. By 1970 the church had a membership of 85,000, out of a population of 300,000, though adherents of the primal religion still outnumbered Christians. Today, the GBKP church is "the first real Karonese institution seeking to work throughout Karoland and in the Karo dispersion" (p. 225).

Rae tells the tale well. He is weak in making sense of the kinship ties that are the fabric of the society but recommends Karonese anthropologist Singarimbun, who describes them elsewhere brilliantly. And the Choice of the title, Breath Becomes the Wind, taken from a list of changes the Karo believe to occur at death, is never explained.

H. Myron Bromley, retired missionary translator, served with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the Lower Grand Valley Dani area of the Baliem Valley in highlands Irian Jaya, Indonesia, from 1954 to 1992.
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Author:Bromley, H. Myron
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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