An Indonesian Church’s Quest to Obtain a Building Permit
By ICC’s Indonesia Correspondent
04/03/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In the primarily Muslim nation of Indonesia, it is never an easy task for any church to successfully obtain a building permit (IMB). Christians typically have to jump through hoops to complete the process. Yet, there is no guarantee that their churches will be built, since local authorities or radical Muslim groups often stand in the way, as shown in the case of GKI (The Indonesian Christian Church) Ampana.
Ampana, a town situated in central Sulawesi, is mainly inhabited by Muslims. It is no surprise that GKI Ampana, a church with 135 members, has been having difficulties securing IMB. On February 5, 2020, the Islamic Defenders Alliance (ABI) came to the church and questioned the status of their IMB, which the church lacks. The reason for their visit was caused by an incident that happened in nearby Manado, where a mosque was raided and ordered to close by Christians due to the missing IMB. As a result, ABI wanted the same thing to happen to GKI Ampana. They demanded that the church obtain the permit immediately and gave a one-month deadline for them to work on the process.
ABI threatened that they would dismantle the church if their request is not fulfilled. Evangelist Magdalena from GKI Ampana told ICC, “We also insisted in our position and asked them, ‘Where will we have our service if the building is demolished? It is impossible for us to worship in an open space where our voice can be heard everywhere, making the situation even worse.’”
She shared with ICC her church’s history in obtaining the permit. Since 2017, GKI Ampana has tried to file for an IMB as requested by the government. Yet, the authorities always gave various excuses and rejected their application. They even asked the church to restart the process from the beginning. The church knows very well that if they were to start all over again, success will not be attainable, since they have to collect a large number of signatures from unfriendly Muslim neighbors who are opposed to their church.
Once, they received a recommendation letter from the previous Regent for the IMB, only for the government to nullify it, stating the reason that the Regent has been replaced. “We know this was a made-up reason,” Magdalena said.
In 2018, when the former Jakarta governor, Ahok, an ethnic Chinese Christian politician, was in the midst of his blasphemy trial, it just so happened that The Gideons were visiting Ampana and distributed Bibles. GKI Ampana was then accused of blasphemy, although it was not the church that led the distribution. The authorities stopped their service for about two years, forcing the church to conduct their service in different places around Ampana.
Magdalena added, “In September 2018, we went to the Regent to request our IMB. We brought photos of our church in the hope that by seeing our church’s conditions, they will grant us permit to build our church. Whenever it rains, the building leaks. We also couldn’t do service in the morning at the time given the church’s location to nearby traditional market, since it was very messy and noisy. We could only worship at night.”
The church brought a letter to this meeting, requesting to return to their building and the approval of IMB, so that they can build their church. This letter was signed by the village head, but the subdistrict head would not sign it, giving the reason that there are three churches already in the area while there is only one mosque.
While they were able to return to their place of worship after the meeting, since no one from the government was present (only the church and representatives from the community), some people questioned why they were allowed to worship again in that venue.
Consequently, for a while the protesters would throw rocks at them during every service. They only stopped after an earthquake hit nearby Palu. This time around, the attack against them, caused by the Manado incident, only subsided due to COVID-19.
GKI Ampana hopes that the government will stand by their side, but to no avail. Some church officials from GKI came to the Regent’s office and begged him to help GKI Ampana. Magdalena and a few women who were there as well, cried and pleaded for the IMB approval.
Yet when a negotiation meeting between religious leaders, government officials, and the church took place, the Regent was absent, rendering such effort useless, since he is the only person who has the authority to make a decision. In addition, the chairman of FKUB (Religious Unity Forum), who was present, was asked to sign the agreement for IMB, which he did not, for fear that he would be blamed by the community.
In order for an IMB to move forward, the church needs to obtain the FKUB signature, the signature from the Ministry of Religion, and the recommendation letter from the Regent. Yet each step of the way has been difficult given their reluctance to assist.
Magdalena told ICC, “Please pray for us. We know only God can change a man’s heart.”