It is often difficult for Indonesian Christians to determine who is for them or against them. The country's president, Abdurrahman Wahid--a Muslim scholar known for his message of tolerance--said in a Dec. 22 speech in the capital, Jakarta: "There is an effort by Islamic extremists to convert Christians to Islam. This is not right."
Though his statement is encouraging, the national military seems divided. Some soldiers protect Christian villages from attacks, but others join the Laskars in massacring Christians.
Many believers who have fled to the jungles have been coaxed out of hiding by the military, who promise them safety but leave them to be captured or killed by waiting jihad warriors. The greatest sympathizers the Christians have are local police, Indonesian animists and Muslim moderates.
Convert or Die!
Pastors are the most hunted of all because there is a $5,000 (U.S.) bounty paid for each one killed. One pastor, who asked to be identified only as "Yohannen," actively works to help rescue Indonesian Christians. He narrowly escaped jihad machetes during a pastors meeting last year.
When Laskar warriors suddenly appeared at the meeting shouting, "Convert to Islam or die!" he and three other pastors quickly escaped through the back door. Those pastors who weren't able to get away faced two choices--death or denying Christ. Three of them converted to Islam, and four were brutally murdered.
Thousands of other believers have converted to Islam in word only, fearing for their lives and for their children's lives.
According to an eyewitness report by an Indonesian believer who wished only to be identified as "Andrew," on Feb. 5 of last year the village of Lata-Lata was attacked by 6,000 Laskars. Andrew was one of more than 1,000 Christians who tried to defend their families, fighting attackers from 6 a.m. until noon. When the Christians could no longer hold off the attack, they fled to the jungle, where jihad leaders found them and commanded all pastors to give themselves up.
After Andrew's pastor surrendered, he was told that he was being taken by boat to another location where he would be protected. Later, Andrew learned that his pastor was killed on the beach at Chinga Chinga.
The remaining Christians were told they would have to convert to Islam. Although not all of the villagers agreed to do so, the head of the village signed an agreement stating that all would become Muslims.
Over the next month, the entire village of men, women and children were forcibly circumcised without pain medication. Thirty-seven suffered serious infections from the surgeries. They were forced to build a mosque and participate in a festival of circumcision and must say Muslim prayers and chant verses of the Quran daily.
Andrew escaped on Sept. 16, and on Feb. 21 Andrew's wife told the soldiers she needed to go to Ternate to sell fruit and made her escape with three of their children. A daughter is still in Lata-Lata with Andrew's parents and in-laws.
There has been at least one confirmed report of what is presumed to be a divine intervention. According to Yohannen, when jihad warriors attempted last fall to land their boats several times to attack an island village of Christians, a figure dressed in white with a white beard and riding a white horse appeared on the shore and repelled the attackers. Several of them were reported killed after confusion ensued among their ranks and they turned on one another.
Yohannen stated that investigative teams from the Indonesian military had come to the island to question Christians about the man and said that they were looking for "a white man" who was fighting for the Christians. Believers on the island--who had heard nothing about the incidents--immediately told officials upon hearing their description of the figure that it was Jesus.
At least one human-rights organization is currently involved in trying to rescue Indonesian Christians trapped in the fighting. Steve Snyder, president of the Washington, D.C.-based International Christian Concern (ICC), visited the refugee camps last February during a fact-finding mission.
Snyder, three Australian missionaries and two Indonesian pastors were arrested and detained by security forces on Ternate, a Laskar stronghold. After being interrogated and released, Snyder returned to the United States to inform government officials of his findings and to hold press conferences in an attempt to raise political support and more than $1.2 million to free Christians and resettle them in safe locations. Christian Aid has since joined the effort, raising $50,000 to assist ICC with the project.
Networking with Yohannen and other pastors and leaders in Indonesia, Snyder's organization later hired boats and with an Indonesian Navy escort rescued 1,500 Christians. Snyder continues to raise support to rescue the nearly 6,000 Christians who remain trapped in Indonesia's jihad strongholds.
C. Hope Flinchbaugh is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania.
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