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What is God Doing in West Papua? Interview with Shamow’el Rama Surya

John Lathrop interviews award-winning photographer Shamow’el Rama Surya for about his art and what he has seen God doing in remote places in West Papua.

John Lathrop: You are a photographer. How long have you been doing photography?

Shamow’el Rama Surya: My career in photography has already spanned more than 25 years. Starting in 1990, I studied photography in Bandung, West Java after I graduated from High School in my hometown in West Sumatra, Indonesia.


Lathrop: I know that you are also a Christian. Please tell our readers how you became a believer in Jesus.

Surya: I became a Christian on May 10, 2012. On that day, there was an event by a church in Jakarta who was doing a mass baptism service, about 500 people registered. I came there to take photographs of them. It was colossal to see so many people being baptized in this ceremony in the water. And it looked great on camera.

But, when I was there, God’s Spirit touched me and I felt a strong desire that I wanted to get saved as well. So, I spoke with an old lady beside me, telling her that I wanted to be baptized also, like others in this place. The lady’s response was to go quickly and register me. And she asked me, “Have you ‘new born’?”

I replied, “What’s that?”

The lady answered, “Okay, just follow my every word and at the end say Amen.”

So, I followed her instructions, I repeated the words and I said Amen.

I received a Bible as a gift from the lady’s friend, and since that day I started reading the Word of God.

God’s truth has set me free!

Shamow’el Rama Surya with students at Junior School.

Lathrop: In 2014, you made a trip to West Papua. What was the purpose of that trip?

Surya: A Christian ministry called Pelangi, “rainbow,” sent me to West Papua as a teacher. Pelangi ministers to street children from scavengers’ families in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Because the school has no English teacher, they requested that I teach English for the students there.

Before they sent me to Papua, I worked in Jakarta for five months.

After I came back from Papua, I worked with a publisher to produce a book named A Certain Grace.

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Category: Church History, Spring 2016

About the Author: Shamow'el Rama Surya is a Sumatran with over 25 years of experience in documentary photography. The Jakarta Post named him one of the most significant photographers of Indonesia and he was awarded “Photographer of The Year” by German Fotomagazin in 1997. He has exhibited his work in galleries worldwide including Museum der Kulturen (Basel, Switzerland), Taksu Gallery (Jakarta, Indonesia), and Richard Meyer Culture Gallery (Petitenget, Bali). His work has been featured in numerous newspapers, magazines, and performance art exhibits. His photobooks include Yang Kuat Yang Kalah (“The Strong Ones Are The Beaten Ones,” Fotomedia Magazine, 1996) and A Certain Grace (Afterhours Books Publishing, 2015). Shamow'el Rama Surya

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