In a sobering turn of events, the government of Indonesia has announced it will deploy nearly 1,500 officers to guard Christian churches this coming Christmas season due to the increased number of ISIS terror attacks in the region.
According to a report from the Sydney Morning Herald, the officers have been dispatched across Indonesia's North Sumatra province, seeking to protect churches, embassies and shopping malls during the upcoming holiday celebrations.
"The security operation has already started at every church," said Commissioner Hamam Wahyudi of the Medan Police. "We're also coordinating with the Mobile Brigade (riot police unit)."
Terrorism expert Sidney Jones, Director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, announced that the decision to deploy officers came amid escalating violence in the region, with the Islamic State calling especially for more kidnappings.
Over the past year, the predominantly Muslim country has seen growing support for the extremist group: Thousands of Indonesians are believed to have taken the oath of devotion to IS, while between 300 and 700 Indonesians have travelled to Syria to join jihadists and the self-proclaimed caliphate, according to Reuters.
In August, an Indonesian fighter in Syria - who goes by the name Abu Karimah Indonesia - released a video urging supporters of radical Islam to target "non-believers" and "followers of the cross" living in the country.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that in an exchange with a fellow jihadist apparently frustrated by his inability to travel to Syria, Abu Karimah gave advice on "jihad made easy".
Asked by an Indonesian-based jihadist if weapons are needed, he replied: "Our leader makes jihad easy for you. Kill any salibis (followers of the cross) you can find. Salibis can be easily found."
He added, "Process your target. The bigger the better. But if it's difficult, it's more important in jihad to simplify and do it sooner...You can use anything. For example, a car. Video the process ... run them over while passing."
Open Doors placed Indonesia in 47th place on its 2015 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience severe persecution, noting that believers are targeted both from radical Islamic groups, and in government church closings.
In October, Islamic leaders tore down a number of churches, warning that Christians are "Allah's enemies," while local authorities have failed to bring the attackers to justice, according to a report from the Gatestone Institute.
Additionally, in the Indonesian province of West Java, 29 Christian churches were forcibly closed even after meeting the requirements needed to operate legally as a church.
Speaking to CBN, church pastor Bernard Maukar explained that Muslim extremists are pressuring the local government not to grant licenses to these churches.
"It's been more than a year since I passed all requirements to obtain a legal permit for our church, but the local government did not pay attention to it," he said. "And because I was holding Sunday Service without a permit, they put me in jail for three months."
"My arrest was illegal, but the police arrested me because the angry Muslims were waiting outside the church," he said.
Pastor Kaleb Manurung, another pastor in the region, said that despite the continued persecution of believers at the hands of Islamic extremists, the number of Christians in Indonesia has significantly increased.
"Indonesia is now 20 percent Christian," he said. "There can be more, but in their IDs they are still Muslim. There are also the underground churches."
Speaking to the Mission News Network, Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry urged Christians around the world to unite in prayer for those persecuted in Indonesia: "We're asking people to know what's happening in Indonesia to support persecuted Christians there," he said. "Christianity is opposed in Indonesia. It is a very difficult place to work, but we need to be praying, we need to be going, we need to be interacting with and loving Muslims in that culture. I think we keep pressing forward, but we know what we're dealing with."