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June 07 - CMS Everything but faith

That’s what thousands of Indonesian Christians have lost in the wake of intense persecution. What will it take to give them a future and a hope?

Inside what looks like an abandoned factory is a maze of roofless cardboard structures, each of them barely 10 feet square. There’s no running water, electricity or space to grow food, yet this warehouse has served as home to 200 Christian families – their third such ‘home’ since they fled for their lives.

Over the past decade, especially in 2000-2003, reports of fierce persecution of Christians in parts of Indonesia surfaced – and the details were grim. As many as 10,000 people have been driven from their homes, tortured and killed.

Hundreds of churches were destroyed and many followers of Jesus were forced to convert to Islam. The violence has been blamed on ‘outside mujahideen’ from Java and elsewhere. Recent arrests of suspected militants include fighters trained in Afghanistan and the Philippines.

Although the violence has eased within the past few years, there are still outbreaks of brutality, such as the beheading of three Christian schoolgirls in 2005. Christians who survived the violence by fleeing their cities seven years ago still cannot return home for fear of being brutalised for their faith.

The families residing in that disused factory in Ternate, the main town of north Maluku, have been told they have to get out, but they have no idea where to go next.

Rescuing, resettling, rebuilding, restoring

Thousands of Christians are still living as refugees in central Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia. One group most seriously affected by the violence is the Lata Lata people from Bacan, north Maluku.

In February, 2000, Muslim extremists raided the predominantly Christian Lata Lata village, trapping and terrorising the 1,700 people living there. The villagers tried to fight back, but they were outnumbered and so they fled into the jungle. 

The Lata Lata people were told they must convert to Islam or die. Over the next month, as many as 1,000 people were forcibly circumcised and converted to Islam. 

While much of the world remained unaware of the plight of these people, organisations like CMS partner Yayasan Berkati Indonesia (YBI) or ‘Bless Indonesia Today’ responded. YBI was instrumental in rescuing the Lata Lata people from their captors. Furthermore, they are committed to helping the Lata Lata people rebuild a self-sustaining community on the island of Sulawesi.

The boat project

YBI, which first linked up with CMS after the devastating tsunami, has supplied refugees in Indonesia with medical supplies and clinics, safe-water wells, new businesses, empowerment training, sanitation solutions as well as spiritual care through support groups, evangelism and Christian meetings. 

Traditionally, the Lata Lata are fishing people so along with these other efforts, CMS and YBI are providing boats so that Lata Lata fishermen can go back to work and support themselves and their families.  It’s a project designed to help give lasting hope to hundreds of people who have been through so much. 

Toward hope

YBI is also dedicated to helping Indonesian Christians grow in their faith even in such trying times through small group Bible studies, church services, prayer meetings and much-needed counselling.

In the Ternate area, Pastor Victor Donggala of Bethany Church, one of several churches that were destroyed, now leads a congregation of refugees. They meet in the dining room of a local hotel and they gather on various weeknights in house-based cells.

Reflecting on the past several years, he says: “It’s easy to let the pain and bitterness of persecution rob us of joy and energy.” He finds himself frequently speaking about perseverance.

Despite all they’ve endured, persecuted Christians in Indonesia are still clinging to their faith in Jesus. Though Christians have long been a minority in Indonesia, there has not always been this violence between them and their Muslim neighbours. YBI is hoping to begin helping Christians and Muslims reconcile to each other through interfaith forums.

Shin Yong Tang, from the CMS Singapore office, who is working with YBI on the boat project, comments: “The Lata Lata people have a moving story to tell of God’s care in terrible times. The boat project will mean real life changes for them. But this is only one instance  I’d like to call on Christians everywhere to pray for lasting peace here and that all this suffering will come to an end.”

For thousands of refugees, still living between rescue and resettlement, that end cannot come quickly enough.

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