Nine churches in Aceh province were torn down from October 19 to 23, following religious violence on October 13 that left a church burned, a person dead and an estimated 8,000 Christians displaced. All refugees have been deported by the government.
Apart from the 10 unlicensed churches previously listed for closure, Muslim extremists demanded that two other churches, which were known for their big congregations, be demolished by October 23. “Or else, the radicals will deploy around 7,000 people [to attack],” said Rudy* (not his real name), a local church activist. The government gave in to the demand.
Church members wept as they watched in despair civil police officers hammering down their worship houses. Until now, around 1,000 churchless believers are prohibited from raising temporary tents to hold Sunday worship service. Instead, they were advised to go to churches in other villages.
Meanwhile, another 13 churches that were not in the closure list are given six months to apply for a permit. The government also promised a worship center for those whose churches have been destroyed, but many Christians are skeptical as permits are difficult to obtain and governmental promises for minorities are rarely delivered.
Please pray for the Body of Christ in the Aceh province to be strong throughout this trial. Most of them are still in deep trauma even after returning home. Tensions have subsided, but the presence of police and military personnel remains strong. “Seeing them makes us anxious. That’s why we gather more often to strengthen one another,” said Rudy. Pray also for all churches in Indonesia to be united and show solidarity in this crisis, and for the national government to uphold the rights of religious minority groups in the country.
Lastly, please pray for a recent, surprising development. A prominent Muslim leader in the Aceh province, the person who leads prayers in a mosque. Baihaqi a.k.a Abuya Batu Korong, passed away due to illness on October 24. Abuya is said to be the key person behind the church closures and had considerable influence over the government. Pray that his absence will help improve the religious situation in the region.