‘It’s our right to have Sunday service’—police halt church worship in Indonesia

September 11, 2019 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

“Please wait until the service is done, then we can discuss.”

On Sunday, August 7, during one of their regular church services (pictured above), congregation members in the Indonesian city of Riau watched in confusion as government officers interrupted their worship.

Paying no attention to Pastor Ganda Damianus Sinaga’s plea, the officers stopped the service and sent away church members, saying the church didn’t possess a building permit.

“It is our right to have Sunday service, why can’t you let us be?” Pastor Sinaga’s wife cried.

When the officers arrived, the congregation was worshiping in a makeshift tent in the church yard; the church’s building had been sealed. Pastor Sinaga says he has applied for an official permit, but like many other churches in Indonesia, the church knows a church building permit is difficult to come by.

A pattern of persecution

As violations against religious freedoms increase in Indonesia (#30 on the 2019 World Watch List), since July alone, three churches in the Muslim-majority country have been forced to close, including Pastor Sinaga’s.

The first was a church in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Their building permit was revoked by the local government for failure to meet the requirement to frequently use the building. The pastor, Tigor Yunus Sitorus, applied for the church building permit in 2017, which was approved in January 2019.

But during that time, the church was torn down. And weeks before the permit was revoked, local residents intimidated the church by putting up posters with negative messaging throughout the area.

The second was a Baptist Church in Semarang. Local residents stopped the construction of the church building a few weeks ago because the 1998 building permit date had expired. Due to financial issues, its construction was intermittent. The Semarang City Mayor led a meeting where it was decided that the church must renew the building permit. Only then would they welcome the church.

Top image is a screenshot from a video capturing the incident.

Please pray with churches in Indonesia

  • Pray with churches that have been closed—for leaders and members to find other ways to meet together for worship.
  • Ask God to give leaders wisdom to deal with the Muslim community and government officers.
  • Pray that the church would be a blessing to the community—a light that shines in the darkness. Pray they will not retaliate and instead will look for ways to be a source of community and compassion to those around them.
  • Pray that building permits would become readily available for leaders wanting to start gospel-centered churches.
  • Pray for those leaders who are still waiting for approval. Ask God to give them both discernment to know how to proceed and boldness to act on that wisdom.

The building permit excuse

To justify closing churches, Islamic religious authorities have widely used failure to obtain a building permit as an excuse in Indonesia, as well as in other countries throughout the world where Christians are not allowed to worship freely.

According to Indonesia’s Joint Ministers Decree on Religious Building Permits established in 2006,  every religious group must seek approval from the local community through signatures to build a “worship house.”

But for minorities, like Christians, it’s difficult to gather sufficient numbers of signatures from the Muslim majority population (Christians in Indonesia number just 32 million out of an overall population of 226 million). Even if they succeed in obtaining enough signatures, government approval may take years, even decades. In Indonesia, conservative Muslim political parties and radical Islamic groups exert significant influence, resulting in Sharia-inspired policies and public opinion that opposes Christianity.

Once a church is seen to be proselytizing, as many evangelical and Pentecostal churches do, they soon run into problems with radical Islamic groups. Typically, non-traditional church groups also experience difficulties securing permissions to build churches. Even if they manage to fulfill all legal requirements—including winning court cases—local authorities still ignore them. Today, many churches are still waiting for approval to gather and worship.

Stand with your Christian family

We believe Christian persecution is the issue of our time. Today, millions of believers around the world are suffering for our faith. They often feel alone and isolated. You can stand with them by providing Bibles, rebuilding churches and homes, emergency relief, trauma counseling, discipleship and so much more. If God is laying your persecuted brothers and sisters on your heart, we invite you to give a gift today.

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