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PERSECUTION WATCH

Preparing for Persecution in Indonesia

By Jerry Dykstra
Assist News Service

CBN.com -- SANTA ANA, CA (ANS) -- In the heart of Indonesia, the worlds most populous Muslim country, and a few miles from a training camp of the Muslim extremist fighting force, Laskar Jihad, Open Doors recently held its third Preparing for Persecution seminar of 2003 in Madiun, East Java. More than 150 pastors attended the gathering, which was advertised by word-of-mouth only with less than two weeks notice.

The seminar has been very beneficial for equipping us pastors to face suffering. In Indonesia we feel that more and more pressure will come in the future, said Pastor Nathan Sandjaja. Thirty percent of his 1,500-member church in Madiun is composed of Christians from a Muslim background. Before the seminar, we were a bit afraid, but afterwards we are more bold, and more prepared to see God work no matter what may come.

Entitled Standing Strong Through the Storm, the seminar is a ministry of Open Doors specifically designed to prepare churches for persecution. Taught by Open Doors co-workers, it shares the lessons of the Persecuted Church worldwide, giving a solid biblical perspective on persecution, practical advice on how to avoid unnecessary persecution and instruction on how to fight persecution when it happens. The material also contains inspirational examples of how many churches grow even in the midst of severe persecution. Nine more seminars are planned throughout Indonesia in 2003.

Jerry Kitchel, Director of Development & Communications at Open Doors USA, states: "Nearly 50 years experience in ministry with the Persecuted Church has given Open Doors a unique perspective on what it means for Christians to face and live under religious persecution. Our Standing Strong Through the Storm seminars share the experiences of others who have undergone similar conditions, and have survived. The Bible has much to say about suffering. Biblical principles combined with real-life stories of contemporary believers bring a great deal of encouragement to Christians facing persecution for the first time.

One of the attendees at the Madiun seminar, Pastor You Yong, was kidnapped in December 2001 by Muslim extremists from Laskar Jihad. He started a church in Magetan, outside Madiun, in 1996, and it grew to 100 members in 2001. The members were mainly from a Muslim background, and soon some extremists complained to the government that he was causing religious disharmony. When the government failed to act, the Laskar Jihad army was called in, and they came to burn down the church.

They surrounded the church one Sunday. I was alone praying in it, recalled Pastor You. They said they wanted to dialogue. So I was taken away with a hood over my head. I met the leaders, and they beat me and put a knife to my throat. They tried to provoke me so I would fight, but I got a great peace from the Lord.

Pastor You was released but told he must not hold any more services. At that point the government stepped in and said they would relocate the congregation, but that has yet to happen.

The seminar has helped us pastors to see further into the future, for the long term may be very rough indeed, Rev. You added. But we see that persecution is not something we should dread. We are stimulated to pray more and see God work even in the midst of trouble.

Christians in Indonesia form about 12 percent of the 220 million population, which is 85 percent Muslim. But some Christians claim the church is growing rapidly and is actually 23 percent of the population a figure that unfortunately has been used by Muslim extremists to claim that the Christians are growing too fast and must be resisted with force.

These exaggerated figures just bring us more problems. Its better to get persecuted for what is really happening, than for what is just wishful thinking, said a pastor in Madiun.

Nevertheless, Muslim-Christian relations have improved recently. Two extremist groups -- Laskar Jihad and Jemaah Islamiyah -- both disbanded shortly after the Bali bombing on October 12, 2002. Laskar Jihad had maintained a fighting force in Ambon, in the Maluku Islands, since April 2000, and over 10,000 Christians and Muslims were killed in the civil war there. But the Muslim fighters left last October, although many think their disbandment is only a ruse to stop the government from officially closing them down.

And although some regions like Aceh and Tasikmalayah have locally imposed Islamic (sharia) law to the dismay of Christians in the area, a move to extend sharia to the entire country was opposed even by the leaders of the leading Islamic organizations last July.

The leaders of Indonesias two largest Muslim organizations, the Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, invited Christian leaders in January 2002 to form the National Coalition for Internal Peace, a forum where Christians and Muslims dialogue to create more understanding between the two communities.

But problems remain.

The same leaders of the Islamic organizations privately warned, We will tolerate you Christians if you ensure you do not try to convert Muslims.

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Assist News Service is brought to you in part by Open Doors USA, a ministry that has served the Suffering Church around the world for nearly 50 years.

An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide suffer persecution for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination for being Christian. Open Doors, founded in 1955 by Brother Andrew, author of the best-selling book, Gods Smuggler, seeks to serve and strengthen the Persecuted Church in the worlds most difficult areas through training, literature distribution, community development and personal encouragement. To partner with Open Doors call 949-752-6600, go to its USA web site at www.opendoorsusa.org or write Open Doors with Brother Andrew, PO Box 27001, Santa Ana, CA 92799.

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