Christian church makes rapid gains in Indonesia, alarming Muslims

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A church in Indonesia

By Abby Aguilar –

A Muslim group has claimed in an online video that 2 million Indonesian Muslims convert to Christianity each year.

Azim Kidwai, who identifies himself as campaign manager for the so-called “Save Maryam online fundraiser, explained that they projected Indonesia would no longer be a Muslim nation by the year 2035, based on ground research and government policy papers in the world’s largest Muslim population nation.

Christians in Indonesia

Are the numbers conflated? Save Maryam, critics say, invoked alarmism in an effort to raise money; Save Maryam 11 years ago purported to raise $2M to fund an Islamic TV station and help phone service, according to videos still up on YouTube.

The Save Maryam website is now offline, but the YouTube video remains, as does the Save Maryam Facebook page. It appears the fundraising efforts desisted.

Other statistics point to significant progress of Christian in the world’s largest Muslim population. According to a research paper from Cornell University, only 1% of the nation was Christian in 1900, whereas today it is 10.5%.

But the growth of Christianity in Indonesia does not seem to be occuring at the expense of Islam but rather among Chinese Indonesians and native religions.

Ten years after 1961, Christianity approximately doubled in Jakarta (from 4.8% to 8.1% of the population), in Jogjakarta (from 2.8% to 4.6%), and in East Java (from 0.9% to 1.7%), Cornell’s Gavin Jones established.

In North Sumatra (excluding Tapanuli and Nias-Mentawai), Christianity grew 100 fold from 1933 to 1971 – from an estimated 8,200 to 891,800, Jones’ study found.

Indonesia calls itself the nation of “smiling Islam,” with a tolerance towards other religions. Its founders in 1945 rejected the radical Islam of Pakistan and wrote a constitution allowing for freedom for religions in the country.

Originally founded as a tolerant nation: Indonesia.

But in recent years, militant Islam has reared its head calling upon Muslims to burn and vandalize churches. The Islamic Defenders Front, founded in 1998, riled its supporters with incendiary speeches inciting vigilante violence until it was disbanded by the government in 2020.

Pastor Bernard Maukar, a pentecostal minister, says the Islamic Defenders Front invaded his church during service and smashed instruments and chairs. Even though the Indonesian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Pastor Bernard was arrested because the Muslim mob pressured police. Behind bars for three months, Pastor Bernard was still winning souls for Christ, CBN reported.

Islamists have arisen in Indonesia.

In many cases, churches apply for permits for a building and are neither denied nor granted, an official dragging of feet from officials to disfavor the minority religion. These are the realities local Christian workers toil under: threats from the outside and government indifference to persecution.

In a context of adversity, Christianity is progressing. Pastor Billy Njotorahardjo of Senayan City believes the census date (11% Christian) may be grossly understated. He thinks the nation is 30% Christian. Njotorahardjo saw his church explode from 400 to 6,000 in four years.

“We pray, ‘Open Heaven, God touch people,’” Njotorahardjo says. “People are getting healed even outside the church. They’re getting saved outside the church.We’re praying for the revival of Jakarta, and of Indonesia. We are thinking that the whole nation is getting transformed by God.”

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About the writer of this article: Abby Aguilar lives in the East Los Angeles and studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

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