Category Archives: Indonesia

Liberal and Tolerant Malaysia Heading Down the Islamist Path?

I sometimes struggle to understand why Malaysia should be moving steadily up the rankings in the Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith. In the 2016 list Malaysia is ranked at No. 30 – classified as moderate persecution – compared to No. 37 last year and No. 40 in 2014.

I live in Australia and have travelled to Malaysia several times – my wife and I took our three sons there on holiday some years ago when they were young – and have always found it pleasurable, open and extremely friendly.

We have many Malaysian migrants in Australia, and every church I have attended seems to have its quota of Malaysian worshippers (mainly of Chinese background). They sometimes travel back to their home country, and – as best as I can tell – attend church in Malaysia with complete freedom.

A young missionary friend found himself sent to do administrative work at one of his mission group’s regional offices. It was in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. He loved the vibrant life there. His wife’s parents, when they visited, used to take advantage of the excellent dentists to have major procedures done at less than half the Australian cost.

The former minister of a church I attended now has a roving ministry, teaching at seminaries around Asia. He bases himself in Kuala Lumpur. He sometimes preaches at the Anglican cathedral there.

Now aged in my sixties, I receive occasional newsletters aimed at retirees. Go and live in Malaysia, they sometimes urge. Enjoy an Aussie lifestyle at half the cost of Australia.

So it is hard for me to envisage Malaysia as a country where Christians experience moderate persecution. And certainly not on the scale of, say, the Central African Republic, China or Algeria, all of which Open Doors ranks similarly to Malaysia.

Indeed, even Open Doors concedes, “Malaysia is still known as probably the best role model of a liberal and tolerant Islamic country in the world.” But then it adds ominously that “this image is increasingly fading, especially given incidents that have occurred over the past year.”

What incidents? “One example of this is the effort to introduce Sharia penal law (hudud) in the federal state of Kelantan. Its implementation requires amendments to the federal law, so the introduction is still pending, but it clearly shows an increasing Islamic conservatism.”

So even in “liberal and tolerant” Malaysia we witness the spreading tentacles of radical Islamism. We have seen this already in neighboring Indonesia, where an aggressive fundamentalist movement increasingly pressures the authorities to place restrictions on Christian worship, with dire results.

Violence is one of the tactics that is used, and so it is little surprise to find this warning to travellers, on the website of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: “Terrorists may be planning attacks in and around Kuala Lumpur. Attacks could be indiscriminate and may target Western interests or locations frequented by Westerners.”

Last year, observing the escalating persecution of Christians in Indonesia I wrote: “This is exactly what Christians in Muslim countries fear – the growing belligerence of a violent and intolerant minority who intimidate the majority into passive silence. If ‘moderate’ Indonesia is unable to stand up to this minority, the outlook for Christians in much of the Muslim world is grim.”

It is nothing less than tragic that we can now see the same trends in liberal and tolerant Malaysia.

Islamic State a New Worry for Indonesia’s Beleaguered Christians

Fears that Islamic State supporters may be planning attacks in Indonesia are a further concern to the country’s Christian community, who are already suffering from the growing Islamist presence in their country.

According to a report in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald daily newspaper, Indonesian police have stepped up security at places of worship, along with embassies and shopping malls, in the wake of the Paris attacks.

The newspaper interviewed a terrorism expert, Sidney Jones, Director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, who said that the risk of violence in the country was rising, with Islamic State calling especially for more kidnappings.

Earlier, on November 18th, Ms Jones told a gathering of ambassadors at a special briefing at the Jakarta Police headquarters that anti-Western propaganda was increasing in Indonesia. She noted that videos celebrating the Paris attacks were widespread.

Indonesia has long been seen as a moderate Muslim nation, a place where the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and where Christians comprise more than 10 per cent of the population.

Yet, writing back in January, I quoted from the “Operation World” prayer guide: “Islam’s strength and influence in numbers and power allow it to exert itself on the religious scene, giving itself preferential treatment and limiting Christian activities and public presence.”

Since that time, conditions have certainly worsened. For example, last month, as reported by BosNewsLife (October 30th), authorities in Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province began tearing down church buildings.

This followed complaints from Islamists that the churches lacked the necessary building permits, even though it is notoriously difficult in Indonesia for Christian groups to obtain permits for new churches.

In fact, this month the Christianity Today magazine reported that more than 1,000 churches have been closed in the past nine years, and others have never been built, as a consequence of the building permit regulations. America’s Gatestone Institute has described it as an “Indonesian jihad” on Christian churches.

In January I wrote that increasingly it appeared that a violent and intolerant Islamist minority was intimidating the majority of Indonesians into passive silence. Now it is the government as well that, too often, is bowing to the Islamist threat.

Add to this the growing menace of Islamic State, which appears to be exerting a growing influence on certain sections of the population, and the outlook for Indonesia’s large Christian community does not appear reassuring.

The Executioner’s Hymn – 10,000 Reasons to Praise the Lord

Matt Redman (pictured) is one of the giants of today’s Christian praise and worship song writing movement. Numbers like “Heart of Worship,” “Let Everything That Has Breath” and “Better Is One Day” have inspired believers around the world.

Matt RedmanBut no one could ever have imagined that, one day, one of his greatest songs – the Grammy-winning hit “10,000 Reasons” – would be sung exuberantly by a group of convicted drug runners as they were cut down by an Indonesian firing squad.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were two unsettled young Australians, angry at the world and deeply involved with drugs. In 2005 they were arrested and convicted in Indonesia as the ringleaders of a gang that was smuggling heroin back to Australia. The sentence: death.

Initially they were unrepentant and full of bravado. But once in prison, awaiting execution, they underwent an amazing transformation. In particular, they both found the Lord. Chan, especially, became an absolutely devout Christian, pursuing studies that would lead to him qualifying as a pastor.

In the harsh and often corrupt Indonesian prison environment they became leaders. They counseled the other prisoners, many of whom had drug problems. They introduced new programs to keep the inmates active and productive. In the midst of much tension they acted as peacemakers.

Over ten years they launched several appeals against their sentences. At one hearing a surprise witness appeared on their behalf – their prison governor, who spoke of their numerous good deeds and urged they be spared.

Matt Redman 10,000 ReasonsBut to no avail. In April the pair, together with six other convicted drug felons, were shackled to posts and shortly after midnight were executed by a twelve-man firing squad.

Less than forty-eight hours before his death, Chan had married his sweetheart Febyanti Herewila, herself an Indonesian pastor. She spoke at the funeral service for him last month at Sydney’s Hillsong Church, noting sadly that she had spent more time preparing for the funeral than for the marriage.

A newspaper report takes up the story:

“No-one could ever face death like him,” said Febyanti, revealing Chan had poor eyesight and hated wearing his glasses but did so on the night he died “because he wanted to look them in the eyes.”

As he was led to the execution fields, she said, he asked God to forgive his executioners, and then prayed for Indonesia, a country and people he grew to love. Entering the execution ground, Chan and the seven other condemned men sang “Amazing Grace.” After they were tied to a stake, with Chan urging each to sing louder, they sang “10,000 Reasons.”

They all managed to finish the first verse of the song, she said. But, halfway through the second, the firing squad let loose their weapons. It was, said Febyanti, “The song that we sang on our engagement day, the song we all sang on our wedding day.”

The song reminds us that there are 10,000 reasons (at least) to praise God. And without doubt one of those reasons is the remarkable work of transformation He did in the hearts of those two troubled young men, now together with Him in Paradise.

Fighting Back – Must We Always Turn the Other Cheek?

When do Christians fight back? Many are asking that question after the horrific beheading of 21 Christians in Libya, followed by the kidnapping of more than 200 Christians in Syria.

Some continue to believe that Jesus enjoined us not to fight at all. That we must always turn the other cheek.

I prefer to listen to Andrew Grills, formerly an Anglican chaplain with the Australian Defence Force, who witnessed monstrous atrocities by the Indonesian military against Christians in East Timor.

“There was a house only 30 meters from the fort where I worked for seven months,” he wrote. “It was called the kissing house. Timorese Christian girls would be taken from their homes by Indonesian militia, raped, then taken out and shot.

“If you are a Christian pacifist, you will not lift a finger directly to help people who suffer like this. And if you do encourage a peace-keeping force to help them then you are asking others to do your dirty work, work that you believe is immoral. Which is the greater evil?”

Another Australian, Desmond Ball, a professor at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, was a witness to atrocities against the minority Karen ethnic people in Myanmar (Burma). He actually acted on his principles. (Note that Professor Ball did not respond to my request for an interview, and I do not know if he is Christian.)

“A couple of particular guys were involved in taking large numbers of girls,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last year. “[They were] raping them, mutilating them, and, when they’d finished with them, putting them in the bark and thatch huts and then burning the huts – burning the girls alive or just machine-gunning them.

“I was very uncomfortable with all of that and thought, ‘I just can’t go home and forget about this. I should be doing something.’ So I took my contacts with the armed groups another step forward in terms of working out operational techniques for in fact tracking down and getting rid of these guys.”

For many years he secretly made regular trips to the jungles of Myanmar to advise members of the Karen National Liberation Army – many of whom are Christians – on guerrilla warfare tactics, including the interception of enemy radio transmissions. He also instructed them on how to initiate ambushes that would inflict maximum damage on the Burmese army, while minimizing their own losses.

Now we are witnessing genocide against Christians in parts of the Middle East. Surely it is time to fight back.

Minority Rules – Is It Too Late For Indonesia?

Indonesia is supposed to be one of the more moderate of all the Muslim countries. Christians comprise more than 10 per cent of the population, and the country’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

Two months ago a Christian became governor of the capital city Jakarta and Christians are prominent elsewhere, particularly in business. The country’s largest mosque in Jakarta was designed by a Christian architect. It stands next to the Catholic cathedral.

Yet living in Australia, not far from Indonesia, I see clearly the truth in the statement of the “Operation World” prayer guide: “Islam’s strength and influence in numbers and power allow it to exert itself on the religious scene, giving itself preferential treatment and limiting Christian activities and public presence.”

Prophets and LossWhen the Christian enclave of East Timor was struggling for independence in the 1980s and 1990s, the Indonesian military responded with a virulent campaign of genocide that wiped out a third of the population. (I was so appalled that the murder, rape and torture of that time became the theme of my first novel, “Prophets and Loss.”)

Since then radical Islam has been making further inroads. The province of Aceh has enacted sharia law – extended last year to include non-Muslims – and has closed down churches.

Church burnings have occurred in many places, and Christians have been attacked. Some local governments place onerous restrictions on freedom of worship.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide issued a report last year. The title and sub-title told the story: “Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril – The rise of religious intolerance across the archipelago.”

Presidential elections were held in July with both candidates endorsing religious freedom and promising to crack down on religion-inspired violence. Yet since then, conditions seem to have worsened.

Just last week the Jakarta Post newspaper published an article about the new president, Joko Widodo (known popularly as Jokowi) with the headline, “Jokowi ‘not doing enough’ to promote religious pluralism.”

It quoted a spokesman for an Indonesian organization devoted to interfaith dialogue as stating that, “Jokowi has become just another government official who promises one thing but doesn’t deliver, even though he was very outspoken during his campaign.”

The spokesman called on the government to do more to combat growing fundamentalism, including new regulations criminalizing violent acts against minority groups and monitoring their implementation.

“Jokowi and his administration must be firm against these violators and remind people that we are a pluralist nation, or else the trend will continue,” he told the newspaper.

But is it already too late?

The article also quoted the secretary-general of the Indonesian Communion of Churches, who warned ominously that “the government was at times caught between doing what the majority wanted and listening to the demands of the minority.”

This is exactly what Christians in Muslim countries fear – the growing belligerence of a violent and intolerant minority who intimidate the majority into passive silence.

If “moderate” Indonesia is unable to stand up to this minority, the outlook for Christians in much of the Muslim world is grim.