Indonesia Closing Churches, Yet Faith Still Grows
WEST JAVA, Indonesia - Radical Muslims are pressuring officials to close churches and jail pastors in Indonesia. And that's not all.
The extremists stir up violent mobs to destroy the buildings and threaten believers. But that's not stopping the Church from growing in the world's largest Muslim-populated nation.
Recently, a group of Muslim protesters shouting "bongkar," which means tear down, demanded a Christian church be shut down. Such scenes are common in some Muslim-dominated areas in Indonesia.
In a city in the province of West Java, all of its 29 Christian churches have been forcibly closed even after meeting the requirements needed to operate legally as a church.
The pastors are saying that the main reason is because Muslim extremists are pressuring the local government not to grant licenses to these churches.
Indonesia's most radical Islamic group, the Islamic Defenders Front, is the driving force behind the church closures.
Many times, it turns violent as was the case when radical Muslims stormed Surabaya Pentecostal Church.
"Angry members of the Islamic Defender's Front barged into our church and destroyed our musical instruments, chairs, everything," the church's pastor, Bernard Maukar, told CBN News.
"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 continued. "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.
But even behind bars, Pastor Maukar continued to share God's message.
"Christians inside the prison invited me to give the sermon," he said. "I preached that God never leaves us and He is present in each of our situation."
"This blessed the prisoners, including the Muslims," he shared. "They asked me to pray for them Christian style and when I laid hands on the sick they got well."
For several months, Pastor Bernard's church held services in an open field. Today, they are worshipping in private homes.
Pastor Kaleb Manurung's church has not been targeted by the radical Muslims. That's because a Muslim leader who is his friend protects them from the Islamic Defenders' Front.
"I have a good relationship with this Muslim imam," he explained. "I shared with him that Jesus is not only a prophet, that he is also God."
"We respect each other's beliefs, but he also reads the gospels, which is part of the Koran and I heard him preach about God's love in the mosque," he said.
Despite the persecution of Christians, Pastor Manurung said reliable research shows the number of Christians in Indonesia has significantly increased.
"Indonesia is now 20 percent Christian. There can be more, but in their IDs they are still Muslim. There are also the underground churches," he said.
Indonesia still has more Muslims than any other nation in the world, but Manurung believes that the rise of Christianity will bring a spiritual and societal transformation.