AMBON CITY, Indonesia (BP)–The mournful horn echoes in the still air at 4 a.m. The call to prayer resounds off bullet-pocked walls and empty buildings. The Christian remnant in this Indonesian village awakens to cry out to God for peace.
The Christian call to prayer has been sounding every night since the conflict between Muslims and Christians erupted in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands in January 1999. More than 4,000 people have been killed and as many as 500,000 people displaced in this religious and political war.
Jim Brown, the human needs consultant for the International Mission Board, recently traveled to the Maluku Islands. While there, his team tried to assess how Southern Baptists can help refugees — and gather evidence that the fighting is being fueled by an outside group.
“Our ambassador said the only way the international community would do anything would be if they were able to prove outside influence with this jihad war,” he said.
A breakthrough for Christians came in late December when Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid acknowledged the influence of Islamic extremists and condemned the fighting.
“There is an effort by Islamic extremists to convert Christians to Islam in the Malukus,” Wahid said during a speech at a mosque in Jakarta. “This is not right.”
The Laskar Jihad paramilitary group has taken most of the responsibility for inciting the violence. They maintain a website designed to recruit Islamic extremists who are willing to force Muslim villages in the Malukus to attack Christians.
In areas where Christians and Muslims have peacefully lived side by side for decades, jihad warriors demand Muslim villages join in the fight or risk being attacked.
“This jihad is setting friends against friends and neighbors against neighbors,” Brown said. “Their whole philosophy is to eradicate Christians from Indonesia — to kill them all or get them to convert.”
More than 200 Christians on the island of Kasiui have been held captive in a mosque since Dec. 6. Military personnel and other Christians have been unable to win their release.
Prisoners in the mosque who do convert have been forced to participate in the Islamic washing, adopt a Muslim name and wear Muslim clothing. The men, and some women, then are circumcised.
The Indonesian military is present on the island of Ambon, and humanitarian groups like Mercy Corps and Doctors Without Borders are providing water and food for both Christians and Muslims.
The International Mission Board is partnering with other Great Commission Christians to begin construction of temporary housing for the thousands of refugees.
“I was real encouraged with the church community in Ambon and how they were tackling this problem of refugees,” Brown said. “They accepted the refugees as if they were part of their own family.”
The temporary housing will be constructed on Ceram Island, where 11,000 people have taken refuge. A team of volunteers from California will build barracks during the day and show the “Jesus” film in the evenings.
“Some churches won’t touch this project because the risk is too high,” said Chris Cole, the team leader, “but we go because the love of Christ compels us.”
The International Mission Board will underwrite the costs for the barracks using money from its general relief fund. The board also will use Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund resources to meet critical food needs and provide agricultural assistance.
Baptists are combining efforts to assist in every possible circumstance.
Stanley is a 27-year-old Indonesian Baptist who was innocently struck by mortar shrapnel when Muslims attacked his village. Pieces of the shrapnel became lodged in his brain, and Indonesian doctors gave him six months to live. But a Baptist surgeon in Singapore is reviewing Stanley’s case for treatment and possible surgery. If medical help cannot be secured in Singapore, an appeal will be made to the United States for a humanitarian visa.
Brown compares the religious cleansing taking place in the Malukus to the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Kosovo.
“In Kosovo, there was no outside influence pushing Serbian leaders to do this [cleansing],” Brown said. “And [in the Malukus] the U.S. Embassy keeps telling us we need to make sure it’s an outside influence that is initiating all this.
“I keep thinking, ‘Why? It’s taking place right now. It has been going on for at least two years. And evidence of it exists all throughout the Malukus.’
“It is only going to stop when either the international community says enough is enough, or when the Laskar Jihad finally accomplishes its main objective of ridding the Malukus of all Christians.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CRY OF THE PEOPLE. More (BP) photos posted at http://www.imb.org/Media/PhotoDownloads/ambonreport.htm. For more information about conditions in Indonesia, contact the International Mission Board’s Human Needs Office at (804) 219-1675. Financial contributions may be sent to International Mission Board, General Relief Fund – Ambon, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230. Concerned individuals also can: Contact your congressmen with the “Find Your Reps” feature at http://congress.org/; encourage media coverage of the atrocities by e-mailing [email protected]; encourage diplomats to act on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Maluku Islands by contacting the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, e-mail [email protected], fax 62-21-386-2259, and the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C., e-mail [email protected] Fax 202-775-5365