BACKGROUND: Most Indonesians live below the poverty line. The economy is still largely agricultural, and many urban Indonesians work in factories. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, comprising 13 percent of the world’s Muslims. This Southeast Asian archipelago is three times the size of Texas and is made up of more than 13,000 islands, though only 922 are permanently inhabited.
MAJOR RELIGIONS: Indonesia is a majority Muslim country where many are proud to be Muslim, but few actually attend mosque or otherwise practice the religion. There are small Hindu, Buddhist and Christian minorities.
PERSECUTOR: The main persecutors in Indonesia are extremist groups and hardline Muslims, who in turn influence moderate Muslims. These groups shut down existing churches and make it impossible for new churches to open. In order to start a new church, churches must obtain signatures of approval from 60 neighbors. Unfortunately, the number and influence of extremist groups are growing. While the government does not persecute Christians, neither does it consistently defend their rights.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN IN INDONESIA: It is legal to convert to Christianity in Indonesia. There is more openness to Christianity than in other Southeast Asian Muslim countries because Indonesians value harmony. There are five officially recognized faith categories in Indonesia: Islam, Hinduism, Catholic Christianity, Protestant Christianity and Buddhism. Confucianism/Daoism is also recognized. Christians living in the city can worship openly. In rural areas, churches that actively share their faith face persecution from Muslims, local governments and the community. In some areas, larger house churches of about 12 people might be tolerated and allowed to meet openly. Muslims cannot openly convert to Christianity, and even in cities most Christian converts from Islam choose to attend churches outside their community. Those who openly share their faith face pressure from family members because conversion to Christianity reflects on the family’s social standing. Muslim families sometimes conduct “funerals” for children who convert to Christianity, effectively disowning them. It is illegal to proselytize or share your faith. Foreigners who openly preach are asked to leave the country. One Indonesian province, Aceh, has implemented Sharia law. There is one known prisoner of faith, Basuki Purnama, who was sentenced to two years in prison in May.
ACCESS TO BIBLES: Bibles are available in every city, but not in rural locations. It is not illegal to own a Bible, and the Indonesia Bible Society prints Bibles inside the country. However, many live in remote areas where Bibles are unavailable, and others can’t afford to purchase one.
VOM WORK: VOM trains believers, assists with church planting efforts and provides a safe house for front-line workers under threat.