Michael Angel Bastiaans, Beloved Indonesian Teacher, Dies at 31


This obituary is part of a series about people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

After he graduated from teachers’ college, Michael Angel Bastiaans was sent to teach for two years on the remote Indonesian island of Siberut. The wooden schoolhouse there was built on stilts, and small earthquakes shook it daily. Power outages lasted for days, and food was sometimes in short supply.

But the hardships didn’t trouble him. He gave his lunch to a student who had no breakfast. He cracked jokes while fetching water and joined in singing during blackouts. He taught his students how to play basketball even though they had no court.

“He always knew how to lift people up, making sure everyone felt loved and accepted,” said his fiancée, Devina Christi Setiawan.

Mr. Bastiaans died of complications of the coronavirus at a hospital in the greater Jakarta area on April 4 after falling ill in mid-March, said his brother, Gabriel Joshua Bastiaans. He was 31.

Family, friends and former students remembered Mr. Bastiaans as an inspirational and generous teacher.

“He gave all his time and all his heart to the kids in his class,” said Korryzon Akikalamu, who taught with him on Siberut, in the remote Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra.

Mr. Bastiaans grew up in Bali, the fourth of six children. The family fell on hard times when he was about 13, and he went door to door with his mother to help her sell bedsheets, Gabriel Bastiaans recalled.

As a teenager, Michael expected to go into the hospitality business, like many young people in Bali. But he received a scholarship to study teaching at the Universitas Pelita Harapan, in Tangerang, outside Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and that is where he found his calling.

In his senior year, he was elected president of the student executive board, the first student from the teachers’ college to receive that post.

He didn’t question his assignment to teach on Siberut. “He never complained whatever the situation he faced,” said Anace Watilete, who also taught there.

Mr. Bastiaans, a devout Christian, later taught Indonesian language at Sekolah Pelita Harapan, a Christian school in Lippo Karawaci, also near Jakarta.

Known to his students as Pak Mike, or Mr. Mike, he worked there on and off from 2013 until last year. Last week, the school held a celebration to honor his memory.

“Pak Mike wasn’t just a great teacher; he was a friend and made a family out of our class,” said one student, Wilson Sugeng, reading a tribute that he and his former classmates wrote. “He was a mentor, a role model, a friend who was older and wiser and someone we could come to for advice.”

Although he didn’t have much money of his own, friends recalled, he would step forward to pay their way home when family emergencies arose.

But he was restless and looking for something more. He became passionate about improving Indonesia’s educational system and believed he could be more effective if he had money. He intermittently left teaching to try ventures in investment and financial planning.

“One of his big dreams was to change education in Indonesia,” said Lea Setyaningrum Surjantoro, a friend and fellow Indonesian language teacher at Sekolah Pelita Harapan.

It was unclear how he had contracted the virus. He last taught at the school in October.

His loved ones were crushed that they could not be with him in his final days.

“He taught me to smile brighter, to love more fiercely, to dare to be vulnerable, to forgive freely and, above all, to let down my guard and live more genuinely,” said Ms. Setiawan, his fiancée. “I wish I got to say thank you to him one last time.”

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