Father Josep Ferry Susanto has launched a successful YouTube channel to bring the Bible and its messages to a wider audience. (Photo supplied)
An Indonesian priest says he has a gathering of Jakarta Archdiocese’s diocesan priests in February 2019 to thank for introducing him to YouTube.
There he met a former student who told him of the opportunities the online video-sharing platform had to offer.
“He told me to use it for evangelization as it would be necessary for the future. But I told him nearly all my time was spent teaching the Bible,” Father Josep Ferry Susanto says.
The 43-year-old priest, who was ordained in 2006, began teaching the Bible at the Jesuit-run Driyarkara School of Philosophy in 2012 after finishing biblical studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Italy.
He later left for the Philippines in 2014 to continue his studies and returned to Indonesia in 2017. Since then, he has resumed teaching the Bible at the school as well as several courses in local institutes and parishes.
“In only three minutes, my former student created a YouTube channel for me and told me to name it. So, I thought of having an evangelization channel which I could use to teach the Bible,” Father Josep says.
He finally named his YouTube channel “Bible Learning with Father Josep.”
“I wanted to invite people to learn the Bible with me and to show them that learning the Bible, how to properly read the Word of God and how to capture the hidden message of its writers, can be fun,” he says.
Following the gathering, Father Josep went back to the retreat house where he had been staying since his return from studying abroad and made his first video titled: “Lima Kekuatan Emak-Emak Dalam Kitab Suci” (The Five Strengths of Mothers According to the Bible).
He admits it wasn’t great as he lacked experience in making videos and did not have the equipment to make his effort better.
“I used my phone and a pile of songbooks as a tripod. I made the video near a fish pond with a fountain. I edited it by using an application on my phone,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, his first attempt received negative comments, mostly about technical matters.
“Yes, I failed. But I did not give up and re-edited the video. I was lucky as I started to receive more positive responses,” he says.
Father Josep’s video-making skills improved over time. And with money he earned from teaching, he bought some much-needed equipment such as a camera, tripod, microphone and lighting kit.
“Then I started making evangelization videos on a regular basis,” he says.
To his surprise, his YouTube channel received thousands of subscribers within a few weeks.
“I already had a group of people who received daily Bible reflections I sent to them via a messenger application while I was still studying in Rome. That’s probably why it did not take long for me to get so many subscribers,” he says.
Simple but qualified
Father Josep, who is also chairman of the archdiocese’s Commission for the Bible, has made at least 300 videos. Each one is no more than 10 minutes long.
“Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta told me when I was named the commission chairman that if I could make Catholics love and read the Bible, it would be more than enough,” he says.
“I have always kept that in mind. That is why I make evangelization videos in a simple but qualified way. I do not want to make my Bible learning complicated.”
He says the inspiration comes from his life struggle: how he deals with conflicts and how he solves problems.
The whole process — choosing the concept, preparing the material, making the video and publishing it on his YouTube channel — he does alone in a room at the retreat house.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit this country, I went to teach the Bible at the school in the morning and made a video there before my students came,” he says. “But now I have to make them after attending daily Mass at the retreat house.”
On average, Father Josep produces three videos a week. “I want to do it every day. But I need time to read and understand the Bible messages before making a video.”
Cash for charity
Father Josep now has more than 130,000 subscribers and recently received the Silver Button Award, a prize given to a YouTuber with more than 100,000 subscribers. “It is nothing. It is more like a gimmick,” he says.
However, having many subscribers means he now receives cash from YouTube. “I began to receive money in October last year. I do not want to disclose the amount, but for a priest like me it is quite a lot.”
He says he puts the money to good use and not for his own interests. “It would be unfair. God gives me the gifts, and the faithful play a big part. I do not want people to think that I sell the Word of God,” he says.
The money goes to good causes like helping poor patients at a Catholic-run hospital and providing food for the needy.
“I want my videos to become a blessing for others. I want them to not only help the faithful find strength from the Bible but also to become a blessing for those in need,” he says.
Lily Selvia Lim, an Indonesian subscriber living in Singapore, says she appreciates the priest’s videos.
“I like the way he teaches. It is not easy for me to understand Bible messages. But he helps me by delivering Bible messages in a very simple way. He helps me find inspiration from the Bible,” she says.
For Father Josep, his only purpose is to make God’s glory known.
“I hope people do not think this is a cliche but I make these videos not to make myself famous. Being known by so many people is only a bonus,” he says.
“God develops my skills in understanding the Bible and wants me to share this with others. This is how God leads me to evangelization.”