By Daniel Harris
04/18/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A few decades ago, Nisa and Daniel wanted to get married, but there was major problem: Daniel was a Christian. Nisa’s family was Muslim and they were against the marriage, but they eventually reached an agreement. They would let Nisa marry Daniel if she agreed to never leave her Islamic faith. Nisa and Daniel married and had four children who are now ages 12 to 26. Daniel worked on a cargo ship so he was gone much of the time. Because Daniel was gone so often, Nisa chose to stay at her parents’ house as their children grew up. For years, Nisa took her children to church on Sundays and dropped them off. Then she would return later to pick them up. However, while she was waiting for the service to end, she couldn’t help but hear the words of the sermon.
One day, Nisa joined a church service and listened to an entire sermon. Then, she began to attend the service more regularly. Finally, in 2007, she decided to become a Christian. She told International Christian Concern (ICC) that God touched her heart and that everything changed in her life. For the first time she felt real peace, joy, and God’s love. She told ICC, “It is hard conditions Muslims give to us to be qualified to be accepted in heaven. I see the difference in the Christian way. Jesus did it for us. Not by power and not by our effort, but by the cross.”
Others noticed the difference in her life too. Nisa’s pastor told ICC, “There are so many differences before and after she became a Jesus follower. She was a mother of four and full of anger. She spoke bad words to her children and hit them when she was angry.” Now, he said, “The Bible leads her to live in a new way.”
Nisa managed to hide her Christianity from her family for years, but eventually she was cornered into admitting that she was a Christian. When her mother found out, she asked Nisa to leave the house immediately. Then she called for a family meeting to discuss the situation. After a lengthy discussion, Nisa’s brother called her on the phone and told her that the family had decided that she and her family could not live with them anymore. Nisa told ICC, “I called my pastor and I started crying when I was telling him about it.”
This was in February. Nisa pleaded with her family and asked them to give her one year to find a house, move her small shop, and let her youngest child finish her school year. They consented.
Situations like this are not uncommon in Indonesia. Technically, once a person is considered a Muslim, they are never allowed to leave the faith. To leave the faith could mean alienating your family or even endangering your own life. In that regard, the reaction of Nisa’s family was much more lenient than others. Some former Muslims have even been killed by their own family members for leaving the faith.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Although most Muslims are considered moderate, conservatism is growing. Indonesia technically acknowledges six religions, including Christianity; however, the reality is that most non-Muslims often live in such fear that they practice their faith underground. Although legal protections exist, there is an overall lack of understanding of religious freedom at the local level. Because of this, many religious freedom violations are actually carried out by the local government, which are often headed up by Muslims. The situation, if anything, seems to be worsening.
An agency that monitors religious freedom issues found that the number of religious freedom abuses is increasing and the most common perpetrator of those violations is actually the local government. This comes at a time when political tension is rising along religious lines in Indonesia. The gap between Muslims and religious minorities seems to be widening and more Christians are living in fear of persecution from their Muslim neighbors. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that Nisa’s family reacted the way they did, although, it could not have come at a tenser time.
Now, Nisa is struggling with being alienated by her family. She is looking for a place to house her family and her small business. She owns a shop that sells household goods and makes juice. Her husband, Daniel, still works as a crew member for a ship, but has had difficulty finding work as he gets older. ICC is helping their family look for a place to live and supporting them during this difficult time of transition. To find out more about ICC’s projects and how you can support them, please visit www.persecution.org.