Protestant Churches Sustain Attacks

Monday, January 26, 2004

Muslim mob forces halt to approved renovation project.
by Samuel Rionaldo

JAKARTA, January 26 (Compass) -- Muslim protestors have attacked at least five Protestant churches over the past three weeks in the regions of East Java, West Java and North Sumatra.

A crowd of approximately 100 people attacked the Gereja Protestan Indonesia (GPI) church in East Bekasi on January 9. Two other churches reported attacks in the closing days of December 2003.

In an incident occurring January 4, a pastor in Surabaya received death threats from a mob armed with knives who threatened to burn down the church. Finally, a bomb was discovered in a church in Medan, North Sumatra.

The GPI church in Bulak Kapal, East Bekasi, meets in a house formerly owned by Air Force staff. A church member told Compass that the GPI Barat (a Dutch reformed church) has used the house as a church building since 1975. The house is in a residential area near the local Air Force base.

Recently the church applied for and received permission to renovate the building into a more “normal looking” church building for worship services. However local Muslims opposed the move and arrived outside the church on January 9 after Friday prayers in the local Amar Ma’aruf mosque.

Members of the crowd broke into the church, carried seats and other church equipment outside and proceeded to destroy the items. Others used construction tools to damage the walls of the building.

Johanis Suripatty, general secretary of the church, was threatened with a crowbar and a large knife. “They wanted to hit me when I came and tried to explain our situation to them,” said Suripatty.

The mob demanded that the church cease renovation and stop all worship services in the building.

Church members said many of the protestors were not locals. The protestors were eventually picked up and taken away in a truck, which was later seen parked in the grounds of the Amar Ma’aruf mosque.

Rev. Tris Nugrahaputra explained to Compass that the church was in serious need of renovation. “We have wanted to renovate this church for a long time, but we couldn’t because of protests from local people who didn’t know the history of the church,” Nugrahaputra said.

Apparently the Indonesian Air Force gave the property to the church in August 1975. At that time, the site measured a mere nine by five meters. In 1994, the land area was increased to 18 x 10 meters by official order.

When the church applied for permission to renovate the small building on the site, the Mosque Prosperity Council (MPC) of the Amar Ma’aruf mosque asked local members to protest against the renovation. However, permission to renovate was granted on November 12, 2003, with support from local government officials and a commander at the Air Force base.

A large crowd assembled outside the church on November 28 after renovations began, shouting loudly and demanding that the church be closed. Police quickly arrived and dispersed the crowd.

Nugrahaputra received several phone calls warning that the church would be destroyed if renovation continued. Dorce Tangkilisan, a senior church leader, said they decided to continue with renovation since they had a government permit. “We also collected 168 signatures and identity numbers from local people who agreed with the church,” said Dorce.

On January 12, church members met with the MPC and local government officials. As a result of that meeting, the church has temporarily suspended all work on the building. They now meet in a large tent on the property.

Meanwhile, four other churches suffered attacks in late December and early January. A bomb -- which turned out to be harmless -- was found at the Gereja Kristen Protestan Indonesia (GKPI) church in Medan, North Sumatra, on January 6. Rev. Andreas Simanungkalit reported the discovery to local police, who removed the bomb and searched the church grounds for more explosives.

The remaining attacks took place in Surabaya, East Java. Muslim protestors pressured a Gereja Bethel Indonesia (GBI) church in Ora et Labora, Gresik, to close on December 31, and forced the closing of the Gereja Kristen Abdiel (GKA) church in Anugrah, Kedoyo, Tulung Agung, on January 4.

Rev. Latip of the GKA church explained that a mob of several hundred surrounded the church and demanded that the members suspend services. “They pushed me to sign a letter of agreement that said the church would be closed and we would not worship anywhere in that area,” said Latip.

Rev. Onisimus Moelyono of the GBI Ora et Labora church received death threats. The members of his congregation are said to be still traumatized by the attack.