Outside agitators torch structures; Christians have waited years for building permits.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, January 29 (CDN) — Suspected Islamic extremists burned two church buildings under construction in a village in North Sumatra on Jan. 22.
The attackers came from outside the area to burn the partially constructed buildings of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church (HKBP) and the Pentecostal Church (GPdI) in Sibuhuan village, Padang Lawas Residency, during daylight hours, said the Rev. S. Lubis of the HKBP church.
“It was a quiet day when suddenly hundreds of people arrived on motorcycles and burned the empty church,” he said. “After that, the mob moved 200 meters down the road and burned the empty Pentecostal church.”
No people were hurt in the fires. Lubis said that those who burned the church buildings were not from the area.
“We didn’t know any of the mob who burned the church,” he said. “When we asked our neighbors, they didn’t know them either, and they did not help burn the church.”
Lubis said that his church had been worshipping at the site since 1970, and that in 1981 they had erected a simple structure. In 2009 – after local officials had held up an application for a permit to erect a permanent building for five years – the church began construction. Area Muslims stopped the construction before it was finished.
“All this time we never had problems with the local citizens,” Lubis told Compass by telephone. “Outside agitators provoked the local people to reject the church.”
The Rev. Marolop Sinaga, HKBP district pastor for south Tapanuli, told Compass that church officials held a meeting in December with the local Indonesian Muslim Leaders Council and the Padang Lawas government. The Muslim leaders demanded that construction stop because no building permit had been issued.
The church complied and stopped construction, even though the building permit had been in process for five years, Sinaga said. Later local Muslims demanded that church dismantle the parts that had been built, to which the church agreed.
The dismantling of the partial construction began on Jan. 13 but apparently did not proceed fast enough for the mob that gutted the two church buildings, Sinaga said.
The HKBP church in Sibuhuan has 272 members. Members of the congregation have been traumatized and many have fled fearing for their safety, church leaders said.
The Rev. Charles Hutabarat of the Pentecostal Church said his congregation began worshipping in homes in 1990. Having waited three years for their permit to be approved, they were in the middle of their building program, he said.
“Because the local citizens had approved the presence of the church, we were surprised that our church was burned like this,” Hutabarat told Compass.
The head of Padang Lawas Residency, Basyrah Lubis, told Compass that the government will facilitate the granting of building permits for houses of worship.
“We have met with other residency leaders such as the police chief, the military commander, the department of religion officials, and other Padang Lawas leaders, and we have decided to process the building permit applications quickly,” he said. “Also, the two churches will be moved; we are searching for a location which will be free of problems in the future.”
Lubis also said he would guarantee the safety of the congregations.
“In addition, we are going to form an Interfaith Harmony Forum for the residency, because we have never had one previously,” he said. “By Feb. 15, this forum will be established. In the meantime, the two congregations will hold services in member homes.”
Report from Compass Direct News