KBKK: From Nothing to Something

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THE story of KBKK’s birth and presence is closely related to a string of spiritual experiences of dr. Irene Setiadi, the co-founder and its current chairperson of this Catholic Humanitarian Group in Jakarta.

KBKK stands for Kelompok Bakti Kasih Kemanusiaan and it is a Catholic Humanitarian Group with its headquarter in Jakarta.

Year 2000

The long story of KBKK for most of 13 years of its presence dates back in the year of 2000. It was the moment when dr. Irene Setiadi was unexpectedly told by Father Terry Ponomban about the tragedy in Atambua Regency of West Timor in East Nusa Tenggara Province (NTT). Atambua was  strongly affected by the massive presence of thousands of political refugees seeking shelter in the Indonesian territory following a mayhem and arson sweeping across the former Indonesian province of East Timor after its  referendum in 1999.

Dr. Irene Setiadi spent almost 13 years in Germany, completing her medical studies in Berlin soon after she graduated from all-girl Sancta Ursula Senior High School in 1974. She lived and worked in Berlin with her husband who is also a German graduate medical practitioner along with their three children namely Melissa, Carlo and Timothy Jusuf.

At one time, they had a big plan to move to United States so that Dr Lukas could pursue a further career, but then the plan was overturned as Dr Irene’s application paperwork was not approved as expected. “All paperwork for me and our three kids were approved, but not for Irene,” recalled Dr. Lukas in May 2013 during our annual retreat in Bukit Talita of Cipanas.

KBKK 11 tahun di Kelapa Gading

The next decision was clear: the family returned home to Indonesia and decided to attend some extra course in University of Indonesia to accelerate their medical studies in Germany in accordance with special tropical diseases as commonly practiced by the Health Ministry for any medical doctor graduated from abroad. “After eight month course at the University of Indonesia, I was finally commissioned to be a medical doctor in Indonesia,” recalled dr. Irene Setiadi in sharing session at the Isi Cem 3 of Agats Diocese in Papua Province on 22 June 2013.

A bible was needed for any catholic medical doctor to be sworn. “That’s why, I bought a bible for that purpose and after the graduation ceremony, I soon put the bible on the desk without further touching or even reading it,” she said.

Soon along with the family, dr. Irene Setiadi moved to Surabaya where she and Dr. Lukas were officially assigned as civil servant employee of the state (PNS) in the Indonesian Navy’s Marines. After some years in service to the Indonesian Navy’s Marines Corps, dr. Irene Setiadi and Dr. Lukas decided to end their service and planned to make further studies in Singapore.

“It was not an easy choice to take. Officially, it was not recommended for any PNS to leave his or her post together with his/her partner at the same time at the same office. But, fortunately our decision to leave the Navy’s  Marines Corps was approved and for that reason we had to sell our property including clinics, pharmacy and other personal precious things in Surabaya. We finally left for Singapore and left behind Surabaya ever since,” recalled dr. Irene.

A fatal traffic accident that killed her eldest son has brought this family into a serious crisis in faith.

Misa Pengutusan KBKK di Gereja Santo Paskalis menjelang Baksih ke Sumba Timur Maret 2013

After three years in Singapore, the family decided to return home yet again to Indonesia and lived in Jakarta until this present time.


As a German-graduate medical doctor, confessed Irene Setiadi, she was used to thinking rationally and questions things critically. She would not be easily influenced or emotionally attached to something that cannot be rationally explained. So it was also about her faith.

As a student, she frequently travelled from Berlin to Rome with other Indonesian catholic students across Germany and other countries in Europe to have their annual retreat. The late Father J. Hadiwikarta Pr was at that time in Rome to complete his studies and was frequently requested to become their spiritual director if any annual retreat was finally performed. Years later, the priest was assigned to become Surabaya Bishop in East Java.

“But still, I was like other people who only enjoyed traveling and meeting with other Indonesian catholic students. Faith was something irrelevant to my life,” she recalled.

She said that secularism would be the perfect and exact word to say in describing her “spiritual” life during her years of studying medicines in Berlin. “I was baptized as catholic when I was in the second grade at Sancta Ursula High School in Jl. Pos, Jakarta. Due to this, Catholicism was pretty much something new to me when I was eventually sent by my parents to Germany to study,” she confessed.

Dr Irene Setiadi__Learning the Bible

No sooner than she returned home from Singapore after three-year long stay there, dr. Irene Setiadi was suddenly interested in learning the Holy Scriptures. For that reason, she attended some courses with Father L. Sugiri van den Heuvel SJ to materialize her ambition to learn more about the Bible. The course was popularly known as “Kursus Evangelisasi Pribadi” or KEP.

“Don’t ever think that you will have the opportunity to deliver the Words of God in the altar,” she recalled on the Jesuit priest’s early warning that any graduates from “Kursus Evangelisasi Pribadi” would not be officially commissioned to become preacher.

Later on, she attended a three year-long course on Holy Scriptures at Lembaga Biblika Indonesia (LBI), widely known as KPKS. It was the last day of the enrollment when Irene Setiadi decided to make a call to LBI to inform that she would join the KPKS.

Officially, she would not be allowed to enroll the KPKS at the last minute of enrollment. However, she finally managed to do so but was told she would undergo both written and oral test with Mr. Hadiwijata, a Holy Scriptures expert in LBI.

“When he found out that I am a medical practitioner, Pak Hadi strongly suggested that I reconsider my intention,” said dr. Irene Setiadi. “His reason made sense as he told me that not any single medical doctor had successfully completed the three-year long KPKS for a cause,” she added.

As widely practiced by most Indonesian medical doctors across the country, Pak Hadiwijata explained, they regularly used their late afternoon time for “praktik pribadi”. “Making money is done after their office hours and this makes sense for me,” replied Irene Setiadi.

Misa Pengutusan KBKK di Gereja Sukasari2 email

“But I wanted to complete my studies as expected within the scheduled time: three years of KPKS. And I finally completed it, taken from 1997 to 2000,” she continued.

Annum Jubelium 2000

The graduation ceremony took place at St. Theresia Church. She, undoubtedly, was filled with both strong enthusiasm and motivation to commit herself for service to others. “My heart was touched by a phrase on Jeremiah 1:4 which reads ‘Go to anywhere you will be sent!”

However, not even a year earlier, she had also been motivated by the same spirit but with different “taste”.

She had the idea of going to the Holy Land and asked her class-mates in KPKS to join. The plan had coincidentally its momentum when Pope John Paul II officially declared the year 2000 to be the Annum Jubelium, a year with special blessings that if anybody who happened to pass the “holy gates” both in Jerusalem and Rome would be very much blessed by the Church.

Awkwardly, when the story was shared with Father Terry Ponomban Pr in the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference Office (KWI), the answer was not as stimulating as she expected. Father Terry was the director of Karya Kepausan in KWI and responsible for any activities related to gestures and actions “to proclaim the Words of God” in the country.

“I was very upset when Father Terry told me that I should not go to Jerusalem or Rome to seek the Church’s special blessings in Annum Jubelium 2000,” she said.

“Portai Fidei would not be found either in the Holy Land or Rome, but would be in Atambua of Indonesian West Timor,” said Father Terry.

KBKK Konas di Bali

To her Father Terry’s comment did not make any sense at all initially. But yet, the word “Atambua” had always occupied dr. Irene Setiadi’s mind and heart. “I had no idea at all about where Atambua was and what activities expected to be done there. But, I soon bought a map to fulfill my curiosity about the city,” she recalled.


The more she thought about Atambua, the stronger she felt her restlessness. Further to this, her anxiety had been emotionally escalated when Atambua became an international headline in 2000 following a bloody killing of UNHCR’s staffs by pro-Indonesia rioters. There were also at least thousands of political refugees from East Timor seeking life and shelter in the Indonesian territory of Atambua Diocese.

Romo Terry Ponomban Pr emailThe mission trip to Atambua was finally organized and was warmly welcomed by the Atambua’s bishop. But again, Irene Setiadi was emotionally stunned when the entourage was told by the diocese’s PSE commission – if possible— was also to provide food and other basic necessities to the East Timor refugees.

“How can I address such urgency? It was beyond my knowledge and I had no experience in raising funds,” dr. Irene Setiadi recalled.

First things first

It was really a first thing first theory to be materialized on the ground.

First, she personally asked Father Terry’s permission to provide her with his book entitled “Itu Salib, Aku tidak Takut” and his video book. I used Fr. Terry’s two materials for a door-to-door direct selling business. But this was definitely not an easy matter to dr. Irene Setiadi.

“As a medical practitioner, I was very embarrassed to do the job: going to any catholic gathering community to sell the book and the video. I was very upset, when so many people ignored my proposal or even critically questioned my activity. After so many blaming words, I was becoming more upset to learn that some of these rich people had no intention to buy,” she said.

Another emotional struggle also occupied her. “I was used to earning money easily. I just put my sign board in public on my scheduled time of “praktik” and many people would come to see me and pay my service,” she argued.

But after years on, Irene Setiadi believed, that in this matter, God has His own agenda to “change” her from a high profile doctor to become a useful “tool” for others. “What I could learn from this story is that I was spiritually brought up by God to become his effective messenger of God’s Words,” she said.

German Mission

Just like the parable of multiplying fish and bread, the fund-raising program performed by dr. Irene Setiadi through a book-cum-video direct selling had finally come into effect and to be fruitful. The first week of the fund-raising had successfully collected some 10 million rupiahs. Another 2nd week fetched 50 million rupiahs and in the third week, unexpectedly, she managed to raise more than 200 million rupiahs.

 “I was spiritually uplifted to learn that our first mission to Atambua could provide at least 5.000 packages of “sembako” for the East Timor Refugees,” said dr. Irene Setiadi.

Before things were fixed and well under preparation, there was still something extraordinary happened in KWI.

Atambua 6-00#OK

As a fresh graduate from KPKS, dr. Irene Setiadi had no confidence to go on a charity mission to Atambua. Despite full support from her husband Dr. Lukas Jusuf, who had provided her with some 20 million rupiahs for her return airfares and other needs, dr. Irene Setiadi personally asked Father Terry’s guarantee that things would run well as widely expected by the 9 members in the mission.

Under the title of “the Indonesian Service to Atambua”, Father Terry finally issued an official letter to the Diocese of Atambua informing the objective of the charity mission to East Timor refugees in some shelters in Atambua.

“What made me very emotionally touched was the fact that the seal of the KWI’s letter was signed under the German Mission,” said Irene Setiadi.

“I was very touched as this very German Mission had financed me during my study in Berlin for the first four months,” she continued.

God has since changed her life in His unique way.

God has been very patiently waiting for 26 years until Irene Setiadi has become a messenger of God’s words.

“I was sent to Germany in 1974 after graduating from Sancta Ursula High School and received financial aid from the German Mission. In 2000, I was once again supported by the German Mission through KWI to commence our first humanitarian project in Atambua,” she added.

No name, no insignia

KBKK’s first charity mission to Atambua was performed without its official name or even insignia. Their mission was completed under the name of Komisi Kepausan KWI. “Pelayanan Kemanusiaan was made for a cause, but without specific or particular meaning. Name makes no difference in this matter,” she said.

logo KBKKOne year after their first mission to Atambua, KBKK was finally officiated to adopt a name on 15 February 2001.

After more than 10 years in service to others, KBKK has changed dr. Irene Setiadi and successfully transformed her to become an effective messenger of God’s words. And she has personally committed to this charity mission by performing scores of humanitarian activities and service to more than 24 dioceses across Indonesia.

To date, it is only the diocese of Sintang, Palembang, Lampung and Makassar that KBKK has never showed up to perform its charity works yet.

For dr. Irene Setiadi, such a call has also automatically changed her daily life. “I now only serve 20% of my time to open my room for personal health care. The rest is for God’s and the Church,” she closed the conversations.

Photo credit:

  • Suasana pesta ulang tahun ke-11 KBKK di Aula Gereja St. Yakobus Kelapa Gading; suasana Konferensi Nasional I KBKK di Bali bersama 9 uskup dari beberapa diosis di Indonesia; misa pengutusan di Gereja Santo Fransiskus Bogor menjelang bakti kasih ke Bangka (Mathias Hariyadi);
  • Romo Terry Ponombang Pr dari Keuskupan Manado (Megawati Lie);
  • Suasana pelayanan perdana KBKK di Atambua bersama Karya Kepausan Indonesia KWI tahun 2000 (Ist)

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