The Closing of GPDI Kampung Bangun Sari – Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia
Living amongst 200 million Muslims, Christians in Indonesia have long been used to being the minority. But in the last year, the country has seen a growing list of churches forcibly shut down by the government after protests from Muslims in the community. Many of these churches existed for years without a problem, but it appears that radical Islamic groups have gained significant ground in a focused campaign to protest the very existence of Christian places of worship wherever possible. Behind each church closure is a unique story, and for the last several months a local ICC representative has been visiting those churches, collecting what would otherwise be the untold stories of Indonesia’s closing churches. Below is the second in a small series of these stories, shedding light on the plight of Christian’s in Indonesia that most in the English speaking world have never heard of.
The Kampung Bangun Sari Pentecostal Church in Indonesia (GPDI is its Indonesian acronym) was founded by Pastor Faragi Harita, and had been a vital part of the village since 1992. For more than a decade, the church lived harmoniously within the Muslim-majority community. Over the years, the congregation grew to nearly 300 members comprised of adults, youth and children who would meet regularly in their permanent church building, which they built in 1995.
Ten years later in 2005, a staunch and radical Muslim man moved into the area and started to build an Islamic boarding school and mosque right in front of GPDI church. Later on, this man became one of the leaders of a fast growing radical organization that has been responsible for the closing and burning of church buildings, and even the killing of many Christians. This organization is called Front Pembela Islam or the Islamic Defenders front, known by its acronym, FPI.
Using the influence as the leader of one of the most daring Islamic organizations, he began to stir and sow seeds of hatred toward the church and its members, while at the same time pushing the Islamic community and its leaders to reject the presence of the Christian church in their area. Sixteen years after the hard work of Pastor Faragi Harita had been planted, the church doors were sealed by the local government, thanks to pressure from the Islamic Defenders Front and local Muslim community.
Knowing that what they had done was not ethical, the local government has been facilitating the congregation by letting them use a room in a nearby hotel. The government has tried to move the church to a different area, with the hopes that they could resume their worship in peace, but the existing community there also rejected the presence of the Christian church. Hence the church members are still not sure when this situation will come to an end.
In spite of this situation, the pastor told ICC that church members are still faithful and are praying that one day they will be able to go back to their church building and worship there or possibly even build a new building in a new place. In order to this, the church will have to obtain proper licensing from the government and somehow get permission from the local community where they wish to build.
– ICC note: This process can be almost impossible in some parts of Indonesia, forcing churches to either meet in homes or operate illegally. Please keep the GPDI church and Pastor Faragi Harita in your prayers today.
A Christian’s right to build or repair a place of worship was the underline issue when the Egyptian government attacked protestors in Talbiya (see details of attack in April 12 post). While church leaders insisted they had the proper permits to build, government authorities disagreed. Throughout former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, the Egyptian government has made it virtually impossible to build or repair a church. Coptic patience hit its limits on November 24. Taking to the street in droves to form a mass demonstration, Copts demanded that they be granted the same religious freedoms that are offered to Egypt’s Muslims.
On Rebuilding Churches in Egypt:
“In 2005 President Mubarak issued a decree, which delegated authority to the country’s 26 governors to grant permits to Christians to expand or rebuild existing churches. Instead of making matters easier, many local officials intentionally delay or refuse to process applications without “supporting documents” that are virtually impossible to obtain. State Security often blocks them from using permits that have been issued due to ‘security concerns’,” reported Assyrian International News Agency.
“Central to this dispute is the distinction in Egyptian law between church property and a church building. Church leaders have a permit to expand property owned by the church, but not to erect a church building. The appearance of the community centre extension suggests that it will be used as a place of worship, which would require a separate permit. Because of the difficulty in obtaining church building permits, the extension of other church property to form places of worship is a practice that has been resorted to,” reported Middle East Concern.
“The Egyptian government [must] implement procedures to ensure that all places of worship are subject to the same transparent, non-discriminatory, and efficient regulations regarding construction and maintenance. If the Egyptian government would pass and implement such a law, it may help in stemming some of the violence targeting Christians who are forced to convert private homes and buildings into churches because they cannot get permission to build an appropriate place of worship,” said Felice D. Gaer, former chair of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.
Please pray that the law in Egypt will be changed to give equal treatment to places of worship for all faiths.
Makarios was fulfilling his service in the Egyptian army and trying to find a way to support his family. Unfortunately, his military earnings were not enough to provide for his two sisters, five brothers, and parents, yet Makarios was his family’s only source of income. Having three days leave from his military service, Makarios jumped at the chance to earn some extra cash. With nineteen young men from his village church, Makarios traveled ten hours to Cairo to find work. They had heard that they could find temporary employment by restructuring a community center into a church in Giza, located near the pyramids.
According to the Egyptian government, however, the church had not been granted the proper permits to build. Not understanding the debate over the church’s construction, Makarios and his friends found themselves caught in the middle of a dangerous situation. On November 24, riot police were dispatched to stop construction. Hundreds of Coptic Christian began protesting in response for their right to complete the church. The police took immediate action by opening fire with live ammunition on the crowd. Makarios – still inside the church structure – was shot dead. His friend Malak (pictured), who had traveled from the same village with him, was also killed.
The video and photo below show Makarios’ friends constructing the church prior to the attack.
According to reliable reports, four Coptic Christians were killed in the protests, including three young men and a four-year-old child who suffocated from tear gas. One hundred and sixty eight Copts were arrested, including more than 20 minors under the age of 18 who were sent to Al-Marg Juvenile Detention Center.
While most attacks against Egypt’s Coptic Christians are committed by Muslim mob violence, the Talbiya attack on unarmed protestors was the first incident in recent memory authorized by branches of the Egyptian government and carried out by Egyptian security forces. Anti-Christian persecution in Egypt reached a new level, as Copts were no longer merely discriminated against, but were in fact being targeted and murdered by the government.