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Let’s See if the Pen is Mightier than the Machete

Muslims are slaughtering Christians in the Molluccas–a region of Indonesia formerly known as the Spice Islands. Missions personnel and longtime observers believe prayers and letters from U.S. Christians can help stem the flood of blood.

Although Indonesia is overwhelmingly Islamic, the Moluccas, also known as the Maluku region, were predominantly Christian for many years. However, during the 30-year reign of dictator Gen. Suharto, Muslims from the densely populated island of Java were encouraged to relocate to the largely rural Moluccas.

Christians, Hindus and Muslims co-existed until after Suharto resigned in 1998. Then, in the scramble for power, Islamic parties and military leaders set out to destabilize democracy in order to secure military control and Islamic superiority, missionaries report.

This set the stage for religious violence in Ambon, the regional capital of the Moluccas, in 1999. During the following two years, up to 10,000 people were killed and 700,000 fled, and 400,000 still languish in refugee camps, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Although both sides have suffered, Christians, who are only 10 percent of Indonesia’s population, have borne the greater weight of persecution and suffering,” the Journal’s Doug Bandow reported.

A significant reason for that is the Laskar Jihad–“Holy Warrior”–Islamic militia, 6,000 fighters who have poured into the Moluccas, intent on ridding the islands of Christians. Some eyewitnesses believe the Laskar Jihad has been aided by the Indonesian military, but that assertion has not been confirmed.

The outlook for peace brightened in February, when the Indonesian government brought together 35 Christian and 35 Muslim leaders for talks. They affirmed the 11-point “Moluccas Agreement in Malino,” which outlined a plan for ending the bloodshed, banning and disarming illegal militias, returning refugees to their homes, preserving law and order, and seeking ethnic and religious reconciliation.

Unfortunately, the Laskar Jihad refused to attend the meeting and called the agreement “treason.” In April, Laskar Jihad leader Jaffar Umar Thalib–who reportedly scorns Osama bin Laden for being too soft on Christianity–spoke to 5,000 followers at a mosque in Ambon: “From today, we will no longer talk about reconciliation. Our … focus now must be preparing for war. Ready your guns, spears and daggers.”

Two nights later, masked militia members stormed the nearby village of Soya. Moving from house to house, they killed at least 14 and perhaps as many as 21 Christians, burned 30 homes and incinerated a church.
“The scene in Ambon right now is nothing short of a war zone,” an Australian Christian missionary e-mailed to colleagues around the world.

Surprisingly–since Thalib’s Islamic militia seemed to have the tacit support of the government–Indonesian police arrested him May 4, calling him “a provocateur of sectarian violence.” As expected, the Laskar Jihad responded with violence, killing and injuring more Christians, apparently upping the ante for the central government, which faces pressure both to prosecute and release Thalib.

Missionaries in Indonesia request prayer for:

  • “Justice according to God’s will, in relation to Thalib, the Laskar Jihad militia and any other group or individual who threatens the peace of Maluku, for the sake of God’s children and the witness of his church there.”
  • “Strong, wise Christian leadership in the churches and in the Christian communities, promoting peace and claiming hope.”
  • “God to encompass his people, protecting their bodies from harm and their spirits amidst doubt, anger or confusion. May Jesus be glorified among them in their trials and sufferings, thus strengthening hope and faith.”

A veteran missionary asked for an outpouring of letters to the Indonesian government, urging officials to support the Malino agreement, enforce the law and protect the people.

You can write to Embassy, Republic of Indonesia, 2020 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20036; fax (202) 775-5365; e-mail indonsia@dgs.dgsys.com.

Marv Knox is editor of the Baptist Standard, from which this column was reprinted with permission.