On Sept 27, in the megacity of Jakarta, at the heart of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, a church held its 100th open-air service Sunday morning.
Bogor City, 37 miles south of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, is reportedly one of the world’s most densely populated areas. In April 2010, Bogor’s Taman Yasmin Indonesia Christian Church (GKI Yasmin) was sealed and padlocked by order of the mayor of Bogor and the city government. According to a national paper, he claimed that the previous sub-village head had falsified community signatures and that the church brought trouble with local Muslim neighbors. He later declared that the church should not be built on a street with an Islamic name.
In December 2010, the Indonesian Supreme Court affirmed the church’s constitutional right to freedom of worship; the mayor, however, refused to reopen the church. The Indonesian Ombudsman’s Office also urged the Bogor city administration to withdraw its subsequent 2011 decree annulling the church’s construction permit, but even now, five years later, its building in the Jakarta suburbs of Bogor city remains sealed in defiance of the Supreme Court order, as the mayor of Bogor continues to comply with pressure from Islamist groups to restrict the congregation from using their place of worship.
For more than two years after the church was closed, GKI Yasmin’s congregation resorted to conducting services on the pavement in front of their former church. They faced constant harassment from groups of protesters, including Islamist extremist groups such as FORKAMI (Indonesian Muslim Communication Forum), GARIS (Reformed Islamic Movement) and the FPI (Islamic Defenders’ Front).
Fearing further aggravation, members of the Protestant church then held clandestine services at the houses of the congregation’s members. But in 2012, they began conducting Sunday services in front of the State Palace to bring their case to the attention of the government. They have been meeting outside the president’s office every two weeks since then regardless of searing heat or torrential downpours. On the other Sundays, the congregation meets in a variety of places. On Sept 27, it held its 100th worship service on the street in front of the Palace.
While the Bogor City Government has reportedly allocated land for a replacement church four or five miles from its previous location, the lack of funds for a new church building and need to repeat the extensive process of obtaining a permit, including the 60 signatures (verified by local ID cards) from local residents, makes it highly unlikely that the new building will be built.
World Watch Monitor reporter, Vishal Arora, visited the Sunday morning service outside the Presidential Palace. Church member Adhi Nugroho told Arora, “I’m worshiping here in front of our presidential palace because the GKI Yasmin church in Bogor cannot worship [in its own building] on Sundays.”
“It’s very hard to be a minority in Indonesia, and we have to fight for our rights,” said Dwiati Novita Rini, a lay leader of the church. “It’s not easy, but it will not affect my faith.”
While they are holding on to their faith in God, church members are beginning to lose their confidence in the influence of President Jokowi. “I think the problem remains because the president did not dare to take action,” Chandra Juliar, the pastor of the church, said. “The leader should have the courage to take action and enforce the law. We can’t afford, as a nation, to let this problem remain if we want peace in Indonesia.”
Despite waning confidence in the influence of President Jokowi, who will complete one year in office in October, Christians acknowledge that he has brought at least some change in the religious atmosphere of the country. For example, extremist groups like FPI and GARIS now appear to be less active.
Meanwhile, the GKI Yasmin church says it will continue to hold worship services on the street as long as it takes to regain their right to use their church building. “We are often asked how long we will struggle,” said Pastor Juliar. “We have to carry on until we get justice. Yes, we are very tired and our hope at times starts to fade, but as believers, we won’t give up. Our struggle is not only for our needs, but also for others who deserve peace. So we will achieve our goal to build our beloved Indonesia to be a peaceful country.”
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, Your servant Solomon said in Ecclesiastes that “there is a time for everything … a time to tear down and a time to build … a time to search and a time to give up … a time to tear and a time to mend … a time to be silent and a time to speak … ” We pray for this congregation in Bogor that You will grant them wisdom in their struggle with their city’s authorities as they traverse over that fine line between godly respect and resolve. Encourage them in this long battle of wills that their church might prevail and set the tone of justice and peace for all Christian churches in Indonesia, as well as for other minorities. We pray that You will empower President Jokowi in enforcing the ruling of the Supreme Court of Indonesia, and we pray that You will strengthen the mayor and other authorities in Bogor City to stand resolutely for justice in the face of pressure from extremist groups. And, in the midst of this stand-off, we pray that Your gospel will continue to go forth in much power throughout the many islands in the nation of Indonesia. In the Name of Jesus, who even now is preparing a permanent place for us all in heaven, Amen.