Antonius Gunawan was challenged to find a place for a grandmother rejected by the mental hospital. She was turned away by aged care centres, mental hospitals and her own family. He brought her in to Wisma Rela Bhakti, a home for poor and vulnerable women. She was loud, aggressive and unable to walk. Her unhygienic habits made the other residents uncomfortable. They told Antonius that they wanted her to leave. He knew that he had a mission to serve the poor so he trusted God and spoke to the other women.
“I’ve heard your complaints. Please give me one to two days to think of what to do.”
He knew he couldn’t abandon this grandmother but something had to change. He sat down with her and explained the situation. He was honest about the complaints and how her behaviour was making the other women uncomfortable. After their talk, she changed. She became more gentle and considerate. The difference made the staff and residents accept her as one of their own. She returned to her family after seven to eight months, proving that love works wonders
This is one of the stories of life at Wisma Rela Bhakti, in Semarang, Indonesia. Antonius was moved by seeing elderly people living on the streets. They were rejected by aged care facilities because they couldn’t meet the admittance criteria.
In 1987 he did something about it and rented a house. It started with eight residents including a blind person restrained for their own safety, a man living on a rubbish dump and a rubbish collector who had suffered a stroke. Today it has grown to two houses with 22 women in Gedangan and 18 in Ghenuk.
The original idea for the home was a rehabilitation centre, preparing people to live in formal aged care. The caregivers did not expected the residents to come running back to Wisma Rela Bhakti, even after they were healthy enough for the professional aged care.
They returned by choice to Rela Bhakti which felt more like a home to them, where they were always treated with love and dignity.
It was more than Antonius imagined when he first founded this house. He wanted to start a simple house for the poor but God’s plan was bigger. The experience has taught him a lesson he carries with him always:
“If you’re courageous in wanting to help others, God will help you.”
After establishing the initial house they struggled with funding, forcing them to look for a new house with no money. They found a miracle named Mak Poling, a generous woman who gave Rela Bhakti her money when she died. She left enough money for a house and now they could take in even more women. The funding problem wasn’t completely fixed. Caregivers at the Ghenuk house were being paid only two-thirds of the average salary of a housemaid. However, they happily agreed to continue their work and serve God through his people. They found another blessing in Rumah Sakit Elizabeth, a hospital run by religious sisters, who provide healthcare for Rela Bhakti residents for free.
The next dilemma came in the form of a woman sick with Hepatitis B. Management did not want Antonius to take her in but leaving her on the streets would be a death sentence. Her disease is contagious and easily spread. Taking care of an infected person must be done with the right procedure. Some of the nurses came to Antonius and said they would quit if he let the woman in. They had families at home who could become infected through their contact with her at work. Their reluctance did not stop him and he admitted the woman. In one night, four nurses who had worked there for three years left because the risk was too much.
Friends of Antonius heard the news and volunteered, taking care of the residents and the woman with Hepatitis.
Today Rela Bhakti also supports children of widows by giving their families staple food on the condition that they must want to go to school.
While Antonius is the face of the facility, he believes anyone can manage it as long as their motivation is to be God’s instrument.