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My Personal History

Becoming a Christian in my 60s: Mochtar Riady's Story (29)

My faith, friends and business partners are all important parts of my life

| Indonesia

As this series of essays approaches its conclusion, let me talk about some more personal aspects of my life, such as my faith and my close friends.

I became a Christian in my 60s.

As a child, I often wondered why there was poverty and inequality in the world. The principal of my primary school in Indonesia was a staunch leftist and blamed these problems on Dutch colonial rule. As a child, I believed what my principal said and as a result harbored hostile feelings toward the Dutch.

It was impossible for me to have any favorable feelings toward Christianity because it was the religion of the Dutch. But my sentiment toward the Christian faith changed after I turned 60.

My children were educated in Australia and the U.S. and returned home as Protestants. Once, one of my children invited me to a Christian gathering. I reluctantly went along and found that the attendees were top corporate executives.

The pastor gave a sermon in which he preached that all humans were born with a sinful nature. This made me indignant. I had done many good deeds. I had contributed money to help build Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches. As a banker, I had given jobs to many people.

The questions the pastor posed to us, however, unsettled my mind. First, he asked if there was anyone in the audience who had never cheated the government. I found that I could not swear that I had never done so.

His second question shook my soul. "Who among you has never lied to your wife at some point?"

I had done something inexcusable to my wife. Tears flooded my eyes. I realized that I was indeed a sinful person.

Christian teachings showed me how to repent of sinful behavior, but I still resisted accepting Christianity. It took me a long time to embrace the faith. Eventually, however, I became a Christian and started attending church, even during trips.

Let me now touch on some of the people who have become my friends and partners.

Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing has generously supported me in business many times. When Lippo developed land in Karawaci, west of Jakarta, Li helped us by becoming a shareholder of the development company. I still have no idea why he has been so kind to me. Perhaps it is because Li's forebears came from Putian, in China's Fujian Province, which was also my father's hometown. He may feel this created a bond between us.

Another business partner I can never forget is Jackson Stephens, the American investment banker who led me to start investing in U.S. businesses. He was a legendary investor based in Arkansas, which then had a population of less than 3 million.

Stephens focused on discovering promising businesses in the state and helping them expand nationwide. Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt are all headquartered in Arkansas and Stephens helped them go public and raise funds.

Although Stephens died in 2005, our families have maintained our ties of friendship. The eldest son of my second son James, John Riady, lived in Arkansas for a year and a half and cultivated personal ties with the grandchildren of Stephens.

I also have a new friend in the business world, Jack Ma Yun, executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding, the Chinese internet behemoth.

In 2016, I visited Ma in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. We had such a lively conversation that our meeting, originally scheduled for 8:30 to 11 a.m., actually continued until 5 p.m.

Ma then invited me to his home to continue our discussion, and we ended up chatting until 9:30 at night. We talked for a total of 13 hours, mainly about the future of the information technology industry.

It seems that I am good at cultivating relationships with people who are either much older or much younger than myself.

When I was young, I formed friendships with people older than me, such as the leader of a guerrilla group fighting in Indonesia's war for independence. Now, as an old man, I have many young friends like Ma.


Mochtar Riady is the founder of Lippo Group.

Click here to read Mochtar Riady's full "My personal history" series.

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