Views From Kennewick

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Christians in a Muslim Land
In some countries Muslims have demonstrated a strategy. They have infiltrated the country until their population numbers about half, and then they make war, or "Jihad."

Many of you may have heard about the persecution of Christians in Indonesia. But before I tell you about the persecution in my country I should let you know that Indonesia is quite a large country and it has the fourth largest population in the world. We have 230,000,000 people living in Indonesia and about 80 percent of the population is Muslim (both moderate and radical Muslim). Indonesia is an archipelago, with 17,000 islands and more than 600 languages/dialects. This division easily opens the way for war and the persecution that comes with it.

There are lots of kinds of persecution that happen in Indonesia but I would like to focus on just the places that have had the most persecution, including my home province. Those places are Java, Ambon, Celebes and Timor (East and West).


Java is one of the five biggest islands in Indonesia and home to the country's capital city Jakarta. There we have all kinds of Muslims both radical extremist and moderate. There are some Christians but only as a minority, thus it is easy for them to be persecuted — many churches in Java have been bombed and destroyed by radical Muslims. It is interesting that after the bombing in Bali in October 2002 many of the captured terrorists were found to be the same ones who bombed churches in Java and on other islands. I've also heard about some of these radical Muslims who had been trained to be leaders, and who had destroyed some churches. These Muslims suddenly repented and became Christians. In their speeches they said that they were the ones who bombed this or that church.

Still today churches in Java (both Christian and Catholic) are the targets of radical Muslims. In 1992 there were about 12 churches bombed and in those congregations some members and ministers died with their whole families. However we also heard that after this a few of the people who did this bombing repented and became Christian. They gave witness that they were the ones who went to destroy this or that church. Isn't that amazing? Sometimes, when we hear things like this, we remember that what Tertulianus said — The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church — is very true.

Celebes and Ambon

In the past four years 900 churches have been bombed in Indonesia with most of the bombings taking place in Poso, Celebes and in Ambon. We have some refugees from Ambon living nearby, who have been coming to our churches very faithfully since 2001. But they are still refugees. We are trying to help them materially but also spiritually. When we see this we remember what happened to the people of Israel in biblical times, when they were forced out of the promised land and sent in exile to a strange land to live there as refugees.

If you go on the Internet and type in "Poso persecution" or "Ambon persecution" then you can see and read how terrible the persecution was. We get some information in the newspapers here about it, but seeing it on the Internet was quite something; people were being slaughtered and pregnant women were being cut open and also a baby was, in front of the father; burned up by fire.

When the brothers and sisters from Ambon arrived in West Timor we asked them to come to church and we let them speak in front of the congregation. They told us about how they were being persecuted. All their churches were bombed and burned up. Whoever was found in their houses would either be killed or raped. Some were raped in front of their husbands or parents. Some were so scared they climbed up into the ceiling to hide themselves, but then forgot about their wives and children and then saw it from above when their families were killed. Students in the university were also targets for persecution.

When they were in Timor, these brothers and sisters from Ambon also told us about how their families were hanged and were burned and how the survivors saw it happen from far away. Many of these people fled to the forests to hide themselves and try and save their lives. We heard from brothers and sisters from Saparua/Ambon that when they ran out, there were some enemies trying to help them who told them to go to a big factory. Thus there were about 250 people who went there, but it was a trap. When they went in some of the men were asked to go out one by one, being told that somebody outside needed them. When they went out they never came back. Some tried to hide themselves in the ceiling and were able to escape. The others could not. When there weren't many captured men left in the factory the enemies came in and raped the girls and women in front of their husbands or parents and then killed them off after that.

Some of the Ambon refugees in Timor could not go home anymore because their land was not theirs anymore. The government tried to make peace but it is always hard for Christians in Ambon to live in that province, to live there in their homeland.

We had heard that Ambon was a Christian province, so we in Timor were surprised to hear about all this persecution. How could it be happening there? Finally we got an answer to this question. Brothers and sisters from Ambon noted that yes, it was a very strongly Christian island but the number of Christians has been decreasing. Slowly Muslims came from Java and Celebes for trading, but this is actually a strategy of theirs. Once they see in a Christian district that the Muslim population has grown to 20 percent and Christian 80 percent, then they try and get their Muslim friends, brothers and sisters to come to the specific district to equalize the population — make it 50-50, or at least 40 percent Muslim and 60 percent Christian. Once they achieve this level then they make war or what they call "Jihad" or holy war.

The brothers and sisters from Ambon told us that they already tried to go back to their homeland, but they could not stay there anymore because their houses had been burned down and the land was not theirs anymore. Or if the house was still there they could not stay because it just was not safe.

When they left their homeland the enemies came and picked up all the goods and valuables and stole them away.

East Timor

In Timor we have not gone through the same turmoil as our brothers and sisters in Ambon. However, we have had some trouble in East Timor. In East Timor we heard that it was not the Muslims persecuting Christians but instead it was the Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholics did it because they thought they were a majority and they did not like the Protestants growing there in East Timor. However this persecution is not as severe as what is going on in Ambon, Celebes or in Java.

West Timor

I live in West Timor and here we suffer a different sort of persecution. Here our Reformed churches are not recognized by the government as legal churches. We were recognized in 1992, but in 1995 we lost that recognition. In 2002 we applied for the name "Calvinist Churches" and have been trying to be registered ever since. At every turn we are asked for "bribes." This is the way things are done in Indonesia.

Interestingly West Timor could be called a Christian province since Christians are in the majority, but the state church makes things difficult for Christians in other denominations. We have a hard time getting permission to build a school or a church but it is not too hard for the state church to get permission for these things. All the positions in the government are in their members' hands: the head of the village, head of the district, and head of the province are all in the hands of this state church. Thus it is not easy for us to deal with the government.

In addition some of our ministers have been beaten up and had to go to the hospital and one lost a couple of his teeth. But these difficulties are not caused by the state church but rather by people in other churches. Our former federation, the Pilgrim Christian Church, split into two in 1995 with one part interested in becoming more liberal, while we wanted to stay Reformed. After the split the liberal side claimed the assets saying they belonged to them. They have used intimidation to try and get them, beating up and even trying to kill our members. This physical intimidation is still happening today.

One fortunate thing is that radical Muslims in our province are not able to do bad things here. Why? Because they are a minority — only about 20 percent. Thus if the Muslims do something bad they will probably have a hard time of it here in West Timor.

However, in this last decade we have seen many strangers come to our hometown and to our villages. Most of these strangers are from the Java and Celebes islands which are very strongly Muslim. They come and they build little stores or small "warung" or simple restaurants, some of them selling fruits, clothes, etc. in the city of Kupang and or in the outskirts of the city. Some travel from village to village knocking on our doors and coming to our houses to sell clothes and other goods. After what happened in Ambon this inflow of Muslim businessmen has many of us worrying and wondering.

Looking to God during persecution

In the face of all this persecution we have concluded that there is only one way to face the problem. Scripture tells us to face it:

  • With faith in the Lord and His Word (see Philippians 1:29; Revelation 1-3);

  • With patience in love and hope in the Lord (see James 5:10);

  • With prayer (see Ephesians 6:17-18; James 5:16-18);

  • By singing praise to God (see Romans 5:3-5; Colossians 3:16).

We believe that nothing happens by chance, and this includes persecution. We know that this was allowed by the Lord with a specific purpose for us, as Romans 8:28 says: "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose."

We believe that through this persecution comes blessing from the Lord, even a double blessing. For through it we believers are being tested or purified so that we may be built up for the glorification of God's name. Persecution reminds us of the Word of God in Philippians 1:29, that we are granted not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for Him. 2 Timothy 3:12 also comes to mind: "Every one who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."

Thus we conclude that persecution is good for testing our faith, for purification, for building us up and for the glorification of God's name. As it says in Romans:

"But we also rejoice in our suffering because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us be-cause God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us … For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen" (Romans 5:3-4 and 11:36).


1) The name of the author has been withheld for security purposes.

In the past four years 900 churches have been bombed in Indonesia with most of the bombings taking place in Poso, Celebes and in Ambon. We have some refugees from Ambon living nearby, who have been coming to our churches very faithfully since 2001. But they are still refugees. We are trying to help them materially but also spiritually. When we see this we remember what happened to the people of Israel in biblical times, when they were forced out of the promised land and sent in exile to a strange land to live there as refugees.


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