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World ignoring plight of Christians on Indonesian island, visitors say

JAKARTA, Indonesia (BP)–Persecuted Christians on Indonesia’s Ambon island face desperate conditions and the world is largely ignoring their plight, said two Americans who recently returned from a visit to the island.

As many as 500,000 Christians have been driven from their homes and more than 2,500 have been killed by Muslim “jihad” warriors who have publicly declared they will push all Christians off the island or kill them.

Christians are fleeing into the mountains, flooding into refugee camps and clogging ports to wait for the few ships ferrying refugees off the island. Meanwhile, an Indonesian government reluctant to confront the extremists is refusing to allow international intervention. Elements of the Indonesian army reportedly are assisting the jihad warriors.

Drew Stephens and Brett Ferguson, members of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver were in a refugee camp on Ambon Aug. 1 just after Muslim fighters attacked the village of Waai, killing two dozen people.

“Villagers were coming into the camp after walking 10 hours on a trail through the mountains,” said Ferguson, a broadcasting major at Metro State University in Denver and son of Riverside’s pastor, Rick Ferguson. “Many of them were malnourished. There were lots of children whose parents had been killed. One baby we saw died of exposure from the long night of walking in the rain over the hills.”

Ferguson and Stephens, Riverside Baptist Church’s media minister, traveled to Indonesia with Imam Sugianto, a member of Riverside’s Indonesian mission congregation, to videotape the persecution Ambonese Christians are enduring.

Members of that mission congregation — many of whom have friends and family in Indonesia — are extremely distressed that U.S. media aren’t telling the story of what is happening in Ambon, Stephens said. The Ambon atrocities are not receiving nearly as much media attention as those that happened in Bosnia or Kosovo.

“It’s so very difficult for our Indonesian friends to know the kind of persecution happening to their friends and family members,” Stephens said. “I really felt compelled that we needed to go so we could tell the story of what’s happening there, not just for those people, but also for the church in America.”

The team videotaped churches that had been burned out and people who had been hospitalized because of injuries inflicted by jihad warriors. They interviewed Christians in refugee camps while the sound of mortars and automatic weapons fire echoed in the distance.

An evangelical missionary reported his amazement at the faithfulness of Christians in the town of Ponegoro who were under attack by jihad forces.

“The Christians sing some of the most beautiful worship hymns of history to praise and glorify Jesus Christ even as they are under siege,” he wrote. “I wept every time I heard them singing — so worshipful and yet in some ways it was like a surrender to an inevitable death and the consequent mourning.”

In Passo, a Christian town flooded with refugees, the missionary received letters written by local schoolchildren to Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations. One letter read: “We children of Ambon are very frightened of the jihad soldiers and the army. They murder, loot, burn our homes, and chase us away. They also rape the women they catch. The Lord has touched our hearts to beg the UN to come to Ambon. Help us, we are suffering terribly.”

Tension between Muslims and Christians on Ambon and other of the Maluku Islands dates at least as far back as 1945, when Muslim villages were razed by pro-Western separatists, according to Jubilee Campaign, a Christian human rights organization. Recent Muslim immigration into Maluku has pushed the Christian population into a minority status. The problem is complicated by powerful men who hope that by funding and arming Muslim insurgents they can topple the moderate government of Indonesia and gain power for themselves.

The current violence began in January 1999, when a dispute over bus fare between a Muslim and a Christian escalated into riots. More recently, trained fighters of the “Laskar Jihad” (Banner of Holy War) have entered Ambon to eliminate the Christian population and establish a Muslim state on the island. In 20 months, 455 churches have been destroyed and 2,500 Christians killed. Muslim homes, businesses and mosques also have been destroyed in retaliation.

Well-armed Muslim fighters, assisted by soldiers, continue to overrun Christian towns, forcing people into refugee camps that themselves are threatened, Ferguson said. The fighting has forced aid organizations to leave the island, and food, clothing and medical care are in short supply.

Catholic, Protestant and evangelical leaders in Ambon have expressed concern to the United States and the European Union, saying they feel the world is ignoring the crisis. Human rights organizations are calling for military intervention to stop the violence and open an emergency humanitarian aid corridor. They also are urging the Indonesian government to allow an impartial investigation of the crisis by United Nations human rights observers.

Christian groups are calling believers worldwide to pray not only for the refugees but also for the persecutors.

“The situation remains deadly dangerous, and our prayers are critical,” said Randy Sprinkle, director of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s prayer strategy office. “Please join me in pleading [God’s] mercy and praying his perfect will be done among the Christians of Ambon.

“Pray also for the Muslims there, that God’s love in Christ might be so powerfully evident that they would throw down their guns and turn to the Savior in repentance and saving faith.”
To contact the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, e-mail [email protected] or fax 62-21-386-2259. To contact the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, e-mail [email protected] or fax (202) 775-5365. For information on a postcard drive conducted by Jubilee Campaign (https://www.jubileecampaign.demon.co.uk/) on behalf of Ambonese Christians, e-mail [email protected] or write Jubilee Campaign, Wilfred Wong c/o Ian Bruce MP, Room 201, Norman Shaw South, Victoria Embankment, London SW1A 2HZ, United Kingdom.

(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: FIRES OF PERSECUTION.

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  • Mark Kelly