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In Indonesia, Lunar New Year an old practice for young Christians

ICC Note:

A movement of Chinese-Indonesians turning from the cultural religion of their parents (usually Buddhism) and to Christianity has older generations concerned about the survival of the older culture.

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2/7/08 Indonesia (AFP) Chinese-Indonesian Anatasha Eka will happily accept a red envelope stuffed with “good luck” cash from her grandmother and visit a temple for Lunar New Year — despite being among a swelling number of young evangelical Christians here shrugging off Chinese tradition.

Eka, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, sits on a bench at the Jakarta Praise Community Church, or JPCC, where she converted to Christianity three years ago.

“My grandmother is still upset, so I didn’t get baptised until a year ago. She is very concerned about Chinese culture dying out,” said Eka, who has a non-practising Christian mother and strictly Buddhist father.

Both Christians and Buddhists are minorities in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. This Chinese New Year will be only the fifth time it will be celebrated as a national holiday after it was suppressed under ex-president Suharto, who ruled for more than three decades until 1998.

Like many ethnic Chinese communities abroad, a respect of tradition is the main bond connecting the group and distinguishing it from others regardless of religion.

No official statistics exist to support it, but anecdotal evidence suggests that more Buddhist Chinese have become Christians as they increased their standards of education, Anata said.

“Christianity is often associated with ‘modernity’ and Western education. Buddhism is associated with Chinese traditional ways,” he says.

It was during his college education in the United States that Joe Sentoso, 27, now a minister at JPCC, finally abandoned the devout Buddhism of his parents for Christianity.

“It’s hard for my parents to understand what I’m doing, but I keep telling them it’s not just about Christianity. I’m investing my time for this new generation, so it can be awesome,” he said.

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