Before he retired, the head of a village in Indonesia spent a lot of time driving out people who had left Hinduism to become Christians.
To prohibit Christians from living in the village violated religious freedom laws in Indonesia, whose national motto is “Unity in Diversity,” and his own Hindu religion was practiced by only a small fraction of the country’s majority-Muslim population. But the village head, Gilang*, felt conversions to Christianity would only cause conflict in the predominantly Hindu area.
The director of a local ministry recalled how Gilang would come to evangelistic events to surveil suspicious activities and identify villagers at risk of abandoning Hinduism.
“He used to come many times, listening time and again to me talk about, ‘Who is Jesus? What is sin, and how can we make our sin gone?’” the ministry leader said.
Gilang had an uncle who had become Christian, but the headman would not expel his relative after seeing him singing and praying at Christian events. After Gilang retired, he accepted his uncle’s invitation to visit a service at a house church.
The ministry leader was visiting the village to deliver a message at the house church that day.
“Gilang was very touched when I spoke in his native language and delivered the truth of the gospel and in the context of his local culture,” the ministry leader said. “I had a chance to meet with him later. He became a follower of Jesus and was baptized.”
Opportunity and Opposition
The head of another village who had the opportunity to hear the ministry leader speak did not wait to retire to put his faith in Christ – but he feels pressure to balance his enthusiasm for the Lord with discretion about being too public about his faith.
The headman had received a Bible and an audio Bible in his native language from the ministry leader before he asked for prayer and told the leader he believed that Jesus is God.
“He wants to be baptized, but he hesitates because he is also a big leader in the village,” the ministry leader said.
While the headman has weighed the potential effects on both him and the village of being publicly baptized, he has given the ministry leader the virtually unheard-of opportunity to speak about Christ at the Hindu temple. The ministry leader’s messages have been warmly received.
“The people that we are preaching to listen to the message, bring the message to their families and bring the families to listen to the message,” he said. “They are gathering in the temple and inviting me to preach, and the people are very excited to listen more.”
Indonesia’s population is only 1.8 percent Hindu, but in such a large country that amounts to 4.4 million people, the fourth-highest Hindu community in the world. After gaining independence from the Dutch in 1945, Islamists in Indonesia’s ministry of religion denied citizenship to those who did not belong to a monotheistic religion, so many Hindus began practicing a monotheistic form of Hinduism, according to Worldpopulationreview.com. Still, Hinduism in Indonesia incorporates animism, ancestor worship and reverence for Buddhist saints.
Besides Islam and Hinduism, Indonesia recognizes Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism and Confucianism as legal religions. Muslims make up 82.2 percent of the population and Christians 12.7, though only 3.1 percent of the country’s peoples are evangelicals, according to the Joshua Project.
In the fishbowl reality of village life, community pressures against leaving the ancestral religion are intense.
A 49-year-old widower in one village put his faith in Christ two years ago, but he realized there would be nowhere to hide if he got baptized.
“He doesn’t want anybody to know he came to Jesus for salvation,” the leader said. “He doesn’t want to be baptized, because he is afraid the local leader will hate him, and no one will say hello to him.”
The ministry leader said he has continued meeting with him, and the former animist is closer to revealing his faith.
While Christians may be regarded as suspect in many villages, local missionaries build good will through various community services, such as help with education. Impoverished parents often keep their children out of school in order to work, and native missionaries teach them to read and write and provide computer training, the leader said.
“Their parents are very happy to see the kids are enjoying the time with our volunteer and our team worker,” he said. “The question comes to us, ‘Why do you teach my kids? How much money should I pay?’ The questions make good conversations, and this is the chance for us to share the gospel with them.”
Christians also build good will by other means. When a 17-year-old seeker who had attended a local missionary’s church brought her father to visit the ministry base, she was impressed to see how Christians cared for the poor, and her father was pleased to see the Christians’ positive influence on her.
The ministry leader requested prayer for her, as she has put her faith in Christ and, against her family’s wishes, aspires to leave home, attend seminary and be sent to her people as a native missionary.
The light of Christ is shining through local missionaries in these and other ways throughout Indonesia. Please consider a donation today to equip and send them for gospel work in difficult conditions.
*Name changed for security reasons