Indonesian Christians still fighting for religious freedom
“We, the Indonesian people, hereby declare Indonesia's independence,” said Sukarno Hatta, in Jakarta, on 17 August 1945.
That long-awaited proclamation by the first President of Indonesia marked the beginning of diplomatic and armed resistance of the Indonesian National Revolution against Dutch troops and pro-Dutch civilians. It was not until 1949 that the Netherlands officially recognized Indonesia’s independence.
For 346 years Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch, who came to control the profitable spice trade of nutmeg, cloves and pepper - abundant in the hot and humid weather of Southeast Asia. The local Sultanates, being very much weaker in military might, were forced to submit to the colonizers. Hence, Indonesians lost their right to determine their own life and enjoy the richness of their own country.
In the midst of the horrors and the evil of Western colonization, Christianity arrived in Indonesia. A small community of Christians among the colonists began to take an interest in teaching the indigenous population about Christ. Despite coming from an oppressive colonial regime, God allowed these Gospel seeds to be planted. Christianity began to take root in Indonesia.
Hundreds of years later, Christianity still only forms a minority religion in Indonesia today. The most populous Muslim nation in the world, Christianity makes up about 10% of Indonesia.
Even so, Christianity (Protestant and Catholic) is the fastest growing religion in the country. Such growth, however, is currently seen as a “threat” to the status of Indonesia’s significant Islamic population. Many restrictions have been established to systematically inhibit the growth of Christianity, such as complicated regulations for church buildings, complex government bureaucracy for Christian applicants and continuous pressure from the majority Muslim community.
The Ministry of Open Doors in Indonesia
Brother Andrew’s heart for the Muslim world originally brought Open Doors to Indonesia. The first “Standing Strong through the Storm” seminar was conducted in Jogjakarta in 1993 to prepare the Indonesian churches to be ready for increased persecution.
And then, in 1996, upon the advice and recommendation from Brother Andrew, OD was established to partner with local churches and institutions. “The church should know that they are not alone in facing persecution and suffering. There is a body of Christ all over the world that lifts them up in prayer, supports them and stands with them, and it is represented by OD, who is there with them in times of need,” said OD’s local partner, Pak Jo*.
Soon several projects began to materialize to respond to the needs of the Christian community. These projects cover various needs such as biblical discipleship, leadership trainings, seminary education sponsorship, safe house, spiritual retreats, even livelihood grants for poor believers.
They were all executed in partnership with the local believers, mission institutions and prayer networks. Pak Jo believed that working in partnership with the locals helped to pave the way for a more fruitful and impactful results in the long term. Dr. Imam Santoso, the founder of Jaringan Doa Nasional (National Prayer Network), shared that its membership doubled since the ministry came into the picture.
The Church’s Fight for Religious Freedom
Article 29 paragraph (2) of the 1945 Constitution of Indonesia guarantees the independence of every citizen to embrace a religion. Sadly, the reality is that freedom for religious minorities, such as Christians, Hindus, Buddhist and Confucians, has unfortunately become an elusive dream that they need to fight for since the rise of religious intolerance.
That scourge started with the rise of Islamic extremist organizations in Indonesia, which saw massive religious conflicts in Ambon and Poso, from 1999-2003, where hundreds of people died and thousands more displaced. Since then, church persecution and harassment has become more frequent all over Indonesia. Incidents such as arson and destruction of churches have been increasing and churches has no legal standing to defend themselves.
So even as Indonesia celebrated its 75th Independence Day this year, the Church of Indonesia is still struggling for their own independence to freely worship and practice their faith in Christ.
One believer spoke of forgiveness and peacemaking in the midst of persecution: “It is the only way forward because hatred cannot triumph in the hearts of those who freely love and forgive. In them is the freedom they seek, the freedom in Christ.”
*name changed for security reasons