One day, a local Christian pastor received a letter from a district office in East Java inviting him to a meeting. When he came to the district office on February 18, 2012, he was shocked to see members of the Forum Komunikasi Umat Beragama (FKUB), an Inter-religious Harmony Forum also at the meeting. The reason for the meeting was quickly revealed; in one official’s hand was a petition ordering his church to be closed because it was located in a Muslim-majority area.
Under Indonesia’s 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree on Houses of Worship, every regency and province must form an FKUB association composed of representatives from various religious groups. Part of FKUB’s responsibility is to facilitate dialogues to foster understanding and tolerance between them.
“In most provinces, though, the majority of the FKUB members are Muslim leaders since Islam is the majority religion in Indonesia,” according to a Christian worker in Jakarta. “As such, it’s a challenge for FKUB to be fair and equal.”
At the February meeting the pastor was told that a neighbor had petitioned for his church to be closed. The church had been established in 1984, twenty-two years before the ratification of the 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree. Although the church did not have building permit per this decree, its presence had never been challenged – until this meeting with the FKUB officials.
The past five years, the forty-year-old pastor had served his church of 60 members and never had any conflict with the locals. “I was confused. I was unprepared for this kind of situation,’ he said “I was speechless during the meeting.” A few days afterwards, “I went around and asked villagers their opinion about our church being there. I found out that less than five Muslim neighbors petitioned to close our church. “My Muslim friends advised me to get a building permit immediately. They, in turn, would help in the process,” the pastor added.
The church is now in the process of getting a building permit. They still need signatures from members of the church and from Muslims and other non-Christians in the village. For now, they only have an official recommendation for them to continue worshiping at their present location.
But the pastor says that he is hopeful, and that the chruch will persevere and remain strong through-out this ordeal. “I attended Standing Strong Through the Storm (SSTS) training in 2006 in East Java,” he recalled. “That time, we did not get any handbook, so I jotted down everything I learned. I instantly remembered the SSTS lessons during the [Feb. 18] meeting [with FKUB officials] which encouraged me. The materials have strengthened me and the 60 members of my church.
Thank you Open Doors for helping me,” he said. Of East Java’s 34 million people, 1.5 million are Christians (Protestants and Catholics), based on the 2006 statistics of the World Council of Churches. The province once held the spotlight for being the site of attacks against Christian churches between 1996 and 1997. Although such attacks have lessened, Christian pastors continue to contend with pressure concerning the presence of their churches in the villages of East Java.
Father, we pray for this pastor and his congregation as they seek to secure a building permit. Thank You for the support of their Muslim neighbors, for the good relationship they have with them, and we pray that he will be successful in obtaining all the signatures needed for the permit. Thank You for the Open Doors SSTS seminars as they prepare church leaders to live both wisely and boldly in the midst of persecution. We pray for all the pastors in East Java, that You will grant them wisdom as they respond to faithfully to the persecution set before them and that the testimony of their godly lives will draw many into the light of Christ. In the name of Jesus who loves and serves His church, Amen.