AMBS honors Harder, Krisetya and Nahar with Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition

Published: October 17, 2022

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

Recipients of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s 2022 Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition (l. to r.): Gary Harder, DMin, of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; Mesach Krisetya, DMin, of Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia; and Sarah Nahar, MDiv, of Elkhart, Indiana. (Images provided)

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Gary Harder, DMin, of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; Mesach Krisetya, DMin, of Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia; and Sarah Nahar, MDiv, of Elkhart, Indiana (traditional land of the Potawatomi and Miami peoples); are the 2022 recipients of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s (AMBS) Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition.

The annual award of the Elkhart seminary honors alumni who have made outstanding contributions in congregational ministry, teaching, mission or peace work, spiritual direction or other ministries. All three recipients earned Master of Divinity degrees from AMBS: Harder in 1972, Krisetya in 1973 and Nahar in 2011.

“Gary, Mesach and Sarah have touched so many lives through their ministries and involvements,” said Alumni Director Janeen Bertsche Johnson (MDiv 1989). “They embody effective, visionary leadership and a commitment to sharing the peace of Jesus Christ in contexts around the world. We hope their stories inspire others to see seminary education as vital preparation for a lifetime of service.”

Harder, Krisetya and Nahar will be honored during a Zoom reception on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, from 3 to 4 p.m. EST. (The link can be obtained by emailing [email protected].)

Gary Harder

Harder grew up on an irrigation farm in Rosemary, Alberta, Canada, where his family was actively involved at Rosemary Mennonite Church. He recalls being shaped by friendships with Japanese Buddhists, Mormons and Mennonites in his community.

Harder said he struggled to know whether God was calling him to be a musician or a pastor. He graduated from Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC, now Canadian Mennonite University) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, with majors in music and Christian education, and planned to study music at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas.

“It seemed to me that God intervened in the form of a visit by Menno Wiebe of the Mission Board of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, asking me to consider becoming the pastor of Waters Mennonite Church,” he said.

Harder enjoyed “two amazing and wonderful years” pastoring at Waters, near Sudbury, Ontario, but still felt unsettled. He and his wife, Lydia Neufeld Harder, enrolled at Goshen (Indiana) College to finish their bachelor’s degrees — Gary in Music and Lydia in German. They chose Goshen because it was close to AMBS — just in case.

“I was enamored by the excellent AMBS professors in the areas of Bible and theology whom I heard speak from time to time,” he continued. So, after graduating from Goshen in 1968, the Harders moved to Elkhart for him to attend seminary.

After a year at AMBS, Harder was invited to do pastoral work and conduct a joint choir in two Mennonite congregations in Leamington, Ontario, in the summer. He also attended a monthlong music seminar in Winnipeg that summer. As they drove back to Elkhart, Harder said he knew God was calling him to be a pastor.

One of Harder’s most formative experiences was participating in a yearlong Clinical Pastoral Education program — a new AMBS venture — in London, Ontario.

“I needed to pay attention to my inner emotional life and relational life and to integrate that with my academic striving,” he reflected. “This experience motivated me to begin a ‘summer supervised experience in ministry’ in 1976 for CMBC or Bible school students interested in exploring ministry. Altogether, 31 students spent their summer under my supervision, many of them becoming pastors.”

While at AMBS, Harder served for two years as an Assistant Pastor at Yellow Creek Mennonite Church in Goshen. Following his graduation, he was Pastor of First Mennonite Church in Edmonton, Alberta, from 1972 to 1987 and Pastor of Toronto (Ontario) United Mennonite Church from 1987 to 2007. After retiring from full-time ministry, he and Lydia served as Intentional Interim Pastors for two years each at Wideman Mennonite Church and Hagerman Mennonite Church, both in Markham, Ontario; and at the Mennonite Fellowship of Montreal (Québec). They currently attend St. Jacobs (Ontario) Mennonite Church.

Harder also taught at the Mennonite seminary in Paraguay, Centro Evangélico Menonita de Teología Asunción, from 1979 to 1980 and earned a Doctor of Ministry from St. Stephens College at the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 1986. Additionally, he served on the Commission on Higher Education of the General Conference; as Chair of CMBC; and as Chair of the Leadership Commission of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada.

Harder has written two books, Dancing Through Thistles in Bare Feet: A Pastoral Journey (Herald, 2008) and The Pastor-Congregation Duet (Friesen, 2018); several booklets; and articles in Canadian Mennonite, The Mennonite, Vision and Leader.

Two memories in particular stand out to Harder from his time at AMBS. One was the donation of a pipe organ for the seminary chapel.

“We General Conference background students welcomed this with open arms; the Old Mennonite background students resisted,” he remembers. “I was awed by the intense but very respectful and honest dialogue and discernment process that led to the pipe organ being installed.”

The second was his and Lydia’s experience of participating in a small group at AMBS along with Professor Jake Enz. Harder noted that Lydia took an AMBS course at that time, while caring for their two children, and later completed a Doctor of Theology at Toronto School of Theology. The Harders have two sons, one daughter and nine grandchildren.

Mesach Krisetya

A church leader, counselor, educator and administrator, Krisetya passed away on Sept. 30, 2022, at age 83. He had learned in June that he was to receive AMBS’s alumni award.

Andios Santoso, a 2022 AMBS graduate who nominated Krisetya, named his impact on the church globally and locally through his leadership, teaching and trailblazing scholarship in pastoral care. He learned to know Krisetya around 10 years ago in Surabaya, East Java, when Krisetya attended GKMI Koinonia, the congregation Santoso was pastoring. (GKMI, or Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia [Muria Christian Church of Indonesia], is an Anabaptist-Mennonite church conference affiliated with Mennonite World Conference [MWC].) Krisetya was a visiting professor at Pelita Harapan University in Surabaya at the time.

“He was a simple and humble pastoral professor-theologian-church leader-father-husband who loved to encourage people, asking a lot of questions about us and listening to us,” reflected Santoso, now Regional Administrator for Asia/Middle East with Mennonite Mission Network. “We sensed that he was a deep, wise, gentle encourager with a strong pastoral heart and care.”

Krisetya was born in Jepara, Central Java. As a young adult, he earned a Bachelor of Theology from Indonesia Baptist Theological Seminary in Semarang (1961–65) and then began serving as pastor at GKMI Jepara.

Around this time, Krisetya chose a new name for himself to mean “fireproof man, loyal to Christ.” Markus Krisetya, one of Krisetya’s and his wife Miriam’s two sons, explained that after a failed communist coup in 1965, the Indonesian government had mandated that all Indonesians of Chinese descent adopt an Indonesian-style name. His father then came up with the last name “Krisetya,” a combination of two Indonesian words: “Kris,” “Kristus,” or “Christ”; and “Setya,” meaning “faithful to.” “Mesach” came from the story of the Hebrew men who were not consumed by fire in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace.

“My dad essentially took an event that stripped him of his cultural identity and made it an opportunity to define who he was to become,” said Markus Krisetya.

Markus Krisetya noted that while pastoring, his father also taught part time at Wiyata Wacana Christian Academy (AKWW) in Pati, Central Java.

“My father had always aspired to become a teacher,” Markus Krisetya said, drawing from his father’s biography by Paul Gunawan, Menyibak Misteri Rencana Allah (“Unveiling the Mystery of God’s Plans”). “During his time at AKWW, the Mennonite Central Committee expatriate teachers there saw my dad’s potential align with their goal of bringing more Indonesian instructors to the academy. Through the efforts of these teachers and the encouragement of the senior pastor at GKMI Jepara, my dad agreed to attend AMBS.”

Following the Krisetyas’ time at AMBS (1970–73), they returned to Indonesia, where Krisetya served as AKWW Director from 1973 to 1979. He then invested many years in service to Satya Wacana Christian University (UKSW) in Salatiga, holding various pastoral and academic leadership roles between 1981 and 2008. He also taught courses there on pastoral counseling and the sociology of religion.

Throughout his career, Krisetya sought out opportunities to continue learning, earning a Diploma of Counseling Psychology from the Christian Counseling Centre in Vellore, India; a Master of Theology from United Theological College in Bangalore, India; and a Doctor of Ministry from Claremont (California) School of Theology (1986–90). He also completed an Advanced Clinical Pastoral Education practicum at Prairie View in Newton, Kansas.

According to Matius Krisetya, the Krisetyas’ other son, in October 2007, the Indonesian Department of Education conferred upon Krisetya the title of Professor of Theology and Pastoral Counseling — the first of its kind in this field — in recognition of his pioneering work and contributions to pastoral counseling in Indonesia.

Krisetya freely offered his gifts to the church, serving as Chair of the GKMI Synod for multiple terms between 1975 and 1999. He was an Executive Member of the Asia Mennonite Conference in Hong Kong (1986–92) and a member and then Vice President of the International Council on Pastoral Care and Counseling (1991–99). He also founded and was Chair of the Indonesia Pastoral Association (2005–09).

He may be best known internationally for his leadership in MWC, first as an Executive Member (1990–97) and then as President (1997–2003).

“My relationship with Mesach was one of the most precious gifts I received during my 22 years with MWC,” said Larry Miller, MWC General Secretary from 1990 to 2011. “He became a big brother to me after the death of my biological brother and was a source of inspiration to ‘keep the faith’ to the end as I watched him incarnate the meaning of his name.”

Miller referenced a speech that Krisetya prepared for a 1993 meeting of the MWC General Council in Zimbabwe, “From Dependence to Interdependence in the Global Church”: “From my point of view, it is arguably the most important speech he gave in MWC: it helped to set MWC on the trajectory from ‘conference’ to ‘communion.’”

Krisetya also was a key leader in conversations that MWC held with the Catholic Church (Vatican) and Lutheran World Federation in the early 2000s to restore peace among these traditions, Miller said. In 2002, Krisetya joined other global religious leaders in Italy for a “World Day of Prayer for Peace” convened by Pope John Paul II.

Krisetya is survived by his wife, Miriam; two adult children and their spouses; and four grandchildren. Funeral services were held Sept. 30 – Oct. 2 in Semarang and Jepara.

Sarah (Thompson) Nahar

Nahar grew up in Elkhart, attending Prairie Street Mennonite Church in south central Elkhart and graduating from Bethany Christian High School in Goshen, Indiana, in 2002. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2006, majoring in International Studies and Comparative Women’s Studies.

In 2007, she attended the Cono Sur Mennonite meetings in Argentina as the North American Representative to MWC’s Youth and Young Adult Executive Committee. At the gathering, youth from around the world shared perspectives on faith, theology and pressing social questions. Nahar, who had envisioned the conversations bringing people together, was surprised and confused by angry reactions from some more conservative youth to concerns shared from other parts of the world.

“I realized I couldn’t continue in this global church work if I didn’t understand what was going on contextually and why — if we all professed a similar faith — there was so much controversy,” she said. “I needed more information about how culture, history, tradition, patriarchy, etc., played into how we understood the gospel. I needed to go to seminary because it was untenable for me to deal with the emotion, sadness and confusion that was coming up for young adults. I needed support to develop an analysis and deeper spiritual grounding, in order to continue to serve.”

In choosing a seminary, Nahar remembered how people from AMBS had enriched her congregation at Prairie Street when she was younger. She also yearned to be back in her hometown and to join in creative responses to the economic recession happening at that time.

“I wanted to think simultaneously about theology in global context and theology in my home context of Elkhart,” she said. “And so I came to AMBS in particular, but truly the whole City of Elkhart was my campus.”

While in Elkhart, Nahar helped restart a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit connected with both Prairie Street and Mennonite Mission Network and volunteered part time at the Elkhart County Women’s Shelter. She noted the interconnectedness of her seminary experiences, from her coursework and internships to time spent with others in spiritual formation, anti-racism work and community engagement.

Nahar expressed appreciation to AMBS’s Teaching and Administrative Faculty for having helped her create customized cross-cultural learning opportunities, including an internship at MWC headquarters in Strasbourg, France, where she helped prepare for the 2009 Global Youth Summit in Paraguay.

“Working with Larry Miller [MWC General Secretary] and the team in church administration was a really meaningful time of understanding how caring for the whole through theologically inspired logistics helps create space for people to truly meet each other, while holding the complexities that exist in our home contexts,” she said.

Two semesters of independent study in Ghana also allowed her to learn from the Ghana Mennonite Church. There, Nahar grappled with inequities in resources between the Global South and the Global North, thinking about possibilities for redistribution. As a way of sharing resources, she created and taught a course at Good News Theological Seminary in Oyibi that was modeled off of AMBS’s Foundations of Worship and Preaching course (taught by former professors Marlene Kropf, Rebecca Slough and June Alliman Yoder).

Following graduation, Nahar participated in Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together program at Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem (2011–12). She then served Christian (now Community) Peacemaker Teams (2012–17), first as Outreach Coordinator and then as Executive Director. She has worked as an organizational consultant for the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta and the revitalized Tolson Center for Community Excellence in south central Elkhart.

Nahar frequently writes and presents on religion and ecology; nonviolent global liberation; environmental justice; and the human right to sanitation. Her articles have appeared in publications such as Mennonite Quarterly Review, vol. 94, no. 1 (2020); Becoming Like Creoles: Living and Leading at the Intersections of Injustice, Culture, and Religion (Fortress, 2019); and Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice (Wipf and Stock, 2016). In 2019, she was a Rotary International Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, focusing on ecological sanitation, climate justice and peace. Upcoming work for Nahar includes interrogating settler-colonialism from the perspectives of non-White, non-Indigenous people.

Since 2019, she’s been pursuing doctoral studies at Syracuse (New York) University in the Religion Department and in Environmental Studies at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“It is a humbling honor to study in the unceded territory of the Onondaga Nation, central firekeepers of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy,” she said. “It’s my hope that the work integrating Religion and Environmental Studies supports the necessary values shifts needed for collective survival.”

Nahar is married to Jonathan (Brenneman) Nahar, and they have one child.

Located in Elkhart, Indiana, on ancestral land of the Potawatomi and Miami peoples, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, offering theological education for learners both on campus and at a distance as well as a wide array of lifelong learning programs — all with the goal of educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world.

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