Yogyakarta, INDONESIA (BP)–In an impromptu meeting, Paige Patterson, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, encouraged the president of Indonesia, Abdurahman Wahid, to continue his efforts of establishing a state in Asia dedicated to absolute religious freedom, June 23.
“We had the opportunity to express to him our appreciation on behalf of American evangelicals for his significant efforts in fostering religious liberty in Indonesia,” said Patterson, who traveled to the country, with his wife, Dorothy, for six days to meet with other evangelicals at the International Evangelical Seminary in Yogyakarta.
With the realization that there was a large conference of evangelicals at the seminary, President Wahid invited Patterson and the seminary’s president, Chris Marantika, to meet with him.
“President Wahid is a very religious Muslim and is considered by the people there to be a theologian of the Koran,” Patterson said. “However, he has bent over backwards to be as fair and as judicious as he possibly could be to all members of other faiths in Indonesia.”
Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., said the very fact Wahid asked to speak to a group of evangelicals indicates the president’s interest in religious liberty.
“President Wahid expressed deep appreciation for the prayers of American Christians and asked that we continue to pray for him,” Patterson said.
Wahid also thanked the men for acknowledging his efforts toward religious liberty, mentioning his desire to host a large conference in Indonesia designed to study comparative religions with the hope of creating understanding and tolerance among different religious groups.
Patterson reported feeling an instant rapport with President Wahid, who had just returned from visiting the United States, and said “it was obvious that Wahid held America in high esteem and indicated a keen interest in the upcoming presidential election of America.”
“We also promised to pray for him,” Patterson said. “And we did pray for him before we left, asking God’s guidance and wisdom for him as he pursued these efforts.”
Patterson further assured President Wahid that Americans were aware of the various troubled areas such as Ambon and the Moluccas, and ended their conversation encouraging the president to continue protecting the religious liberties of all people.
With a population of 190 million people and 336 different ethnic groups, Indonesia is the fifth most populated nation in the world. Indonesia is 87 percent Muslim, 6 percent Protestant, 3 percent Roman Catholic, 2 percent Hindu and 1 percent Buddhist. Consisting of 17,508 islands, Indonesia’s motto is “Unity in Diversity.”
Michael Clifton contributed to this article.