The gifts and prayers of Christians worldwide made quite a difference for Indonesian Christians under attack by Laskar Jihad extremists, says Jeff Hammond, Australian missionary directing a relief effort among 54,000 displaced believers in Sulawesi and Halmahera islands.
"You have helped make a significant difference," he wrote on Christmas Day. "Ten days ago I was in [villages that had been attacked by Laskar Jihad] and the remaining walls of the destroyed houses and churches were littered with writings such as: 'Destroy Tentena!!! Kill all the Christians!!!'" [exclamation points included].
"Clearly, the 50,000 Christians in the immediate vicinity of Tentena, and as many as 63,000 when taking into account a slightly larger area, "were indeed in danger of being massacred. They had nowhere to run."
Hammond says that only three things could have spared them: (1) divine intervention, (2) immediate response of the Indonesian army, or (3) mass conversion to Islam. He considers that the government's decision to send nearly 4000 troops to the area to instill order within 24 hours of being sent an emergency message by pastors in Tentena was an answer to prayer.
But the danger is not over. Four churches were bombed over the New Year holiday--an Adventist church, a Presbyterian church, and two Pentecostal churches. The Ekklesia Church (GPdI) pastored by Rev. Yohanes Moniaga in Palu was nearly full when a bomb went off at 7 minutes to midnight New Year's Eve. The congregation was kneeling around the altar in prayer when the bomb exploded, lifting some of them into the air, but no one was killed.
Two hours later, a policeman was killed while trying to remove a bomb from another Pentecostal church building.
Hammond says he believes the Laskar Jihad is trying to stir up a reaction from the Christians to justify a renewed attack against them.
Ian Freestone, chairman of the Maluku Support Project in Sydney, told Missions Insider that Christians still suffer from attacks in Ambon. In a report sent out December 19, Pastor Freestone said that a bomb blast ripped through a passenger boat filled with Christians on December 11, leaving at least 20 dead. A statement from the Crisis Centre Diocese of Abmoina dated December 20 and forwarded to Christian Aid today said that as Christians lay wounded in the water, they saw speedboats coming towards them, presumably to rescue them. The rescuers turned out to be attackers who "stabbed those swimming in the water with knives and bayonets, lashed out at them with anchors or turned their speedboats around in order to hit the victims with their propellers."
In a separate incident nine passengers were killed as they traveled across the harbor. First they were shot at from the shore; then a speedboat launched an attack on them killing nine of the 11 people on board. Most of the victims were women taking their produce and merchandise to market. All of the victims were shot in the head by bullets fired from military standard-issue rifles.
The Vice Secretary of the Synod of the Protestant Church in Maluku said recently that the "rioters and terrorists" who claim to be members of the Laskar Jihad would be willing to leave Maluku in good for peace if certain conditions were met. Among them: Christians would have to admit they started the conflict, and that all properties confiscated by the Laskar Jihad would not be returned to their rightful owners.
Returning to towns controlled by Laskar Jihad can prove deadly. According to Hammond, 12 of the Christians who had escaped from Lata-Lata, an island in the Moluccas conquered by Laskar Jihad in 2000, returned to resettle and were summarily killed. Six displaced persons who returned to the village of Galala on the island of Bacan were similarly murdered ten days ago.
Another group returning to their former home sites on Bacan Island were told that they could not re-enter their old homes, if still standing, nor rebuild on their own property, because it had been lost in war. They were also told that since they were (now) a minority, they would not be allowed to rebuild their churches nor have Ambonese pastors. So they went to Bitung, a refugee center in North Sulawesi.
"The IDPs [internally displaced persons] would love to return home," Freestone said. "Sadly, many never will. They place continued pressure on places like Manado and Bitung that have to cope with thousands of IDPs from Maluku."