A Good Friday meeting 30 years in the making

His impoverished childhood in Indonesia led to his sponsorship by Bob and JoAnne Cottone of Raleigh, N.C. through the Christian aid organization Compassion International about 30 years ago.

Now this week, on Good Friday, Toboliu and the Cottones will be united for the first time through technology as a remarkable step in their relationship, breaking two decades of unwanted silence.

Via the Web-based communications site Skype, the Cottones and Toboliu will see and speak to one another for the first time Friday. JoAnne Cottone said she hopes she can keep her emotions in check when the unexpected reunion takes place.

“This just came as a complete surprise,” Cottone said.

“We had heard Compassion International had re-opened their office in Indonesia and that had brought Wolly back to mind.

“I had figured the first time we would get to meet each other would be in heaven. It’s miraculous.”

The winding road to the reunion started when Toboliu, now 42, became the first of about 15 children the Cottones have sponsored during their 33-year marriage. They corresponded with Toboliu on a regular basis when he was young.

“We wrote back and forth and occasionally received updated photographs,” said Cottone, who works for Colorado Springs-based Community Bible Study. “It was more than just once a year. We really did feel we had good communication with him.”

The relationship was deeply appreciated by Toboliu, who responded to e-mailed questions from Everyday Christian at his home in Indonesia.

“As I recall, I received funds for my school fees and also spiritual guidance,” Toboliu said. “The spiritual guidance helped me become a diligent student and kept me going to church.

“(Starting) in 1980, I got one letter every month from them. They kept supporting me, they asked me to keep studying hard, to obey my mother and never give up. And they told me to keep my faith in Jesus. My father passed away in 1980. I look upon my sponsors as my new parents. That was the reason I called them Papa and Mama.”

During the sponsorship violence and political unrest prompted Compassion to close its Indonesian office. Neither the Cottones nor Toboliu forgot the bond which had been created.

“It was devastating,” JoAnne Cottone recalled about the end of the communication. “He was the first child we had ever sponsored and we were very attached to him. We’re more reserved about it now because we know it’s a possibility that you lose contact with a child. At the time we had two young sons and we thought of him like our third child.”

The feeling was mutual, even if the Cottones didn’t see it reflected in letters.

“At that time, I had great experiences with God,” Toboliu said. “I felt better because I kept my father’s and mother’s (the Cottones) words in my mind. My activities were running well.

“Every day, I went to school and completed my education. We felt how great the Lord Jesus was to me and my mother. We don’t know how, but many times miracles happened in our lives. I believe if my Papa and Mama didn’t give motivation and support to me, I would have been desperate.”

Toboliu wrote to the Cottones again during law school in 1989. Not knowing that Compassion had moved its headquarters from Chicago to Colorado Springs, the letter was returned to Indonesia unopened.

“I felt disappointed at that time,” Toboliu said. “But I had faith that someday I would meet with them and I kept their letter. And now, it will happen. I will meet my father and mother. I don’t know how Lord Jesus worked on this matter, I just can say, how great is the Lord.”

Toboliu sells eggs and rice and owns a pepper plantation.

He said the video reunion is an answered prayer and that his relationship with the Cottones gave him life lessons that have guided his parenting skills with his wife Ike Ingkiriwang, son Winston, 9, and daughter Kezia, 7.

He added he would like to meet the Cottones in person someday, something that would not be unprecedented for them. In recent years they traveled to meet people they sponsored as children in Mexico and Uganda.

“We’re very excited to know how the Lord has provided for him,” JoAnne Cottone said. “We don’t know if this will be an ongoing relationship. To go someday to Indonesia to see him would be so fantastic. I’m hoping just to be able to speak intelligently, and not start just crying.”

That is a face-to-face meeting Toboliu, too, seems anxious to see realized as a further extension of his faith.

“I had nothing before,” Toboliu said, “but praise the Lord, now I have my business and employees. I always tell them, ‘Do not seek the blessing, but seek the source of blessing, Lord Jesus.’ I share it based on my life experience.

“Lord Jesus helped me through my hard times when I had to live without funds from Compassion. It’s not stopped my life because Lord Jesus provides everything that I need. Now I am married with two children. I do make an effort to keep the holiness of our marriage. When I was a child, I almost died because an accident. I was fishing in the sea and almost drowned. My mother worried, but God has saved me.

“I hope before I die, I can meet my father and mother (the Cottones).”


Compassion International: http://www.compassion.com/


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