Indonesian Christians celebrating Christmas Cautiously

Christian churches now celebrating holidays in undisclosed locations out of fear for terrorist attacks.
( [email protected] ) Dec 23, 2004 05:05 PM EST

This Christmas season, many Indonesian churches have taken precautionary measures to ensure a relatively safe and peaceful Christmas. Instead of holding services at church, many church leaders have opted to lead service in office buildings, hotels, and even movie theaters.

“It puts us at a lower risk for being a target for religious persecution,” says Pastor Steve Lunn. “People tell me they feel safer. Steve Lunn is currently pastoring the International English Service, which congregates in an office building located in central Jakarta.

So far, the government has shown much interest in protecting the churches by offering much needed security and protection in the form of police officers. This year, the Indonesian government dispatched no less than 140,000 police officers, to watch over churches, shopping centers, and hotels. In Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, the local police chief promised to provide armed police escort for priests and pastors going to and from Christmas services. This display of deterrence has been unprecedented, as past Indonesian administrations have in prior times simply turned a blind to violence directed at Christians.

Nonetheless, despite the large police presence, many church leaders continue to hold reservations that such governmental measures will do little to stop terrorists determined to start Christmas with a bang. In Christmas 2000, terrorists linked to Al-Queda bombed 11 churches in one day – killing 19 people. Fears from prior attacks that have followed since then have prompted many churches to secretly hold service in undisclosed locations.

“We have a church, but it's empty. It's not fair,” says Reverend Ruyandi Hutasoit, whose Church of the Shining Christian will conduct Christmas services at a hotel this year. Hutasoit has seen his fair share of anti-Christian violence, after having to close down a church in Jakarta following protests launched by ultraconservative Muslims. In 1999, a Muslim mob burned to the ground a seminary and a drug-rehabilitation clinic that Hutasoit had started.

According to Malaysian law, religious center can only be built by consent of the local community approval Many Muslim mobs have taken advantage of this law to ransack, loot, vandalize, and burn down churches over the past year. Many individual Christians continue to feel threatened.

"People are still afraid," said Hengki Ompi, the pastor of on a church in the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Ompi himself was attacked this month allegedly by a ‘Muslim gunmen.’ “We hope the attacks stop so we can celebrate Christmas without fear.”

Currently, Indonesian Christians make up only 8% of the nations’ population. The dominant religious group in Indonesia to this date are Muslims. Both groups have reportedly coexisted relatively peacefully. But for places where the Muslim and Christian population ratio is almost equal, there have been much tension. Since 1999, Indonesian churches have continually come under attack mainly in central and southern Indonesia.