By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Jakarta
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)– The leader of Indonesia’s main Pentecostal denomination urges church members to accept ongoing attacks by Muslim authorities and hardliners as the Biblical “crosses we must bear.” Secretary-General Johannis (‘John’) Hus Lumenta appealed to the faithful while speaking to BosNewsLife in Jakarta, where imams competed for attention with loudspeaker calls to prayer.
Lumenta said many of the nearly 3-million members of his Pentecostal Church in Indonesia or ‘Gereja Pantekosta di Indonesia’ (GPdI) face harassment due to their faith in Jesus Christ. Muslim hardliners have torched several buildings of GPdI’s 20,000 congregations, Lumenta noted.
“Churches are burned. But we thank God that we can still survive,” in what is the world’s largest Muslim nation, he explained in a wide-ranging interview. The 68-year-old church leader said the government of Indonesian President Joko Widodo seemed unable to control the ongoing anti-Christian violence in Indonesia. “The government shuts up and doesn’t intervene. Because they are also under pressure from Muslim groups, it’s like that every day.”
Indonesia’s re-elected president, popularly known as “Jokowi,” announced last year that he would consider banning the hardline and sometimes violent Islamic Defenders Front. He already halted operations of the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a smaller group than the Islamic Defenders Front, that campaigned for a global caliphate. But ending the front’s activities has proven difficult. Once seen as politically insignificant, the group increased its influence through humanitarian aid. Close to 90 percent of this nation of nearly 270 million people are Muslims.
Christians fear that the Islamic Defenders Front and similar organizations will realize their dream to introduce Shariah law throughout Indonesia. They also recall that the front successfully organized massive street protests in 2016 and 2017 against the Christian governor of Jakarta, a Widodo ally. The governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, was subsequently jailed for “blasphemy against Islam” before being released last year.
President Widodo has told international media he wants Indonesia to be known as a moderate nation. But undermining his message is hostility towards Christians and public canings in areas like Aceh province, which already practices Shariah law under a special autonomy deal. “Many of our people have been scattered,” added GPdI leader Lumenta.
“Everyday difficult things are taking place,” he said. GPdI congregations in mainly rural areas are facing protests from Muslim hardliners opposed to their Christian message, Lumenta stressed. “They try to do whatever they want, like burning the building. The government finds it difficult to take control to prevent these incidents.”
Lumenta said as many as dozens of church members were murdered in previous years for their faith in Christ. In 2018, some 18 Christians were reportedly killed and many more wounded in a coordinated suicide bomb attack on three churches in the city of Surabaya.
“No members of our churches were killed for their faith last year. But if you build a local church, violent protests can be expected,” Lumenta said. He spoke on the eve of an Indonesian visit by Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, who will discuss “interreligious dialogue” among other issues with religious and political leaders.
However, “To me personally talking about interreligious dialogue is nonsense,” Lumenta said. “It sounds like making a compromise. As a man of faith in Christ, I believe in the Truth. Interreligious dialogue is more about politics. It has nothing to do with growing our faith. Or making us more and more vibrant or victorious for Christ. That’s my view.”
The royal couple arrives after last year Indonesia celebrated its 70th anniversary of independence from Dutch colonial rule. During colonial time, the GPdI established with support from Dutch Christians. But back in The Netherlands and other Western countries, many churches are now closing, Lumenta noticed.
“Perhaps that’s because Christians there are living in very wealthy conditions. Since they have not much pressure, they have become easy-going people. That’s unlike us. Sometimes we don’t sleep well. We are aware all the time of the difficulties we face.”
Ironically, Lumenta links persecution to church growth. “The more the pressure, the more the blessing. Because it unites us in prayer and fasting.” He added: “Probably, it is a fact that churches in the comfortable West are not as strong now as those in the developing countries like Indonesia.”
That worries the Pentecostal leader. “From the Biblical point of view that is very dangerous,” Lumenta warned. Despite the pressure, his denomination continues “to see souls coming to Christ,” he noticed. Among those Christians are many ex-Muslims expressing displeasure with strict Islam.
Additionally, some seek Christ’s peace from “occult traditions” in many rural villages, church leaders and other Christians told BosNewsLife. “Many people are coming to faith in Christ. That is a joy for us. Despite all these difficulties, God is moving in such a way that sometimes you can not explain,” Lumenta said with a smile. “It is a miracle how God works with us.”
In total, at least hundreds of thousands of Muslims are becoming Christians annually through GPdI-linked activities, several church sources told BosNewsLife.
Lumenta, who uses a walking stick after suffering a stroke several years ago, says his walk with Christ has strengthened him. Christians in “well-to-do” Western nations could learn from the struggles of their brothers and sisters in Indonesia, he claimed.
“This persecution challenge is good for us because we are seeing people coming to Christ. In the West, people have become too comfortable. That’s why churches are empty there.”
But the married father-of-three says he remains thankful to Christians from The Netherlands and other Western countries who arrived in Indonesia as missionaries. “It all began here in Indonesia with Western outreaches for the Gospel. Without those efforts, we would not be talking here as we are talking now.”
Lumenta laughed when asked whether members of his church planned to travel to The Netherlands or other European countries to “re-evangelize” a continent in spiritual turmoil. “I am not yet saying that we Asians should come to Europe and start to evangelize,” he said.
He briefly paused. “But who knows? Maybe God will use some of our ministers who have compassion for the West. They can then re-evangelize those Christians who are no longer serious about their living for Christ.”