More than a year after a sudden outburst of persecution drove them from their village, a group of 14 Christians in West Bengal, India, still can’t go home, reports Gospel for Asia.
In July 2008, the Christians agreed to meet with a group of other villagers for what they thought was a routine gathering. However, the villagers turned out to be violent anti-Christians who immediately attacked the believers, threatening to murder them if they didn’t leave.
The beaten-up men and women made it to safety in a nearby village, where they found shelter with two Gospel for Asia–supported missionaries. Since then, the missionaries and their GFA leaders have been trying to work out the situation with village leaders and police. A local political party tried to help negotiate for the displaced believers to be allowed to return home.
Finally, on December 20, the Christians thought it was safe to return. So they cautiously went back, only to be called that very night for another village meeting. The memory of their last meeting was vivid, and the Christians approached hoping that this time, it would be different.
But just as before, the villagers waited to harm them. They beat the Christians mercilessly, forcing them to run once more for their lives.
Currently, the political party that tried to help the persecuted group is providing shelter for them and trying to find a permanent solution.
The GFA-supported missionaries and the believers urgently ask for prayer that God will work in this situation, and that His love will soften the hearts of the anti-Christians.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Government stops paying rent for site where students were driven more than a year ago.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 20 (CDN) — Approximately 700 students from Arastamar Evangelical Theological Seminary (SETIA) are facing eviction at the end of the month from a campground where Muslim protestors drove them last year.
Education will end for students who have been living in 11 large tents and studying in the open air at Bumi Perkemahan Cibubur (BUPERTA) campground, many of them for more than a year. Hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [“God is greater]” and brandishing machetes forced the evacuation of staff and students from the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo village on July 26-27, 2008.
Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor” following a misunderstanding between students and local residents, the protestors also had sharpened bamboo and acid and injured at least 20 students, some seriously.
The Jakarta provincial government has ceased paying the rental fee of the campsite in East Jakarta, a bill that now totals 2.7 billion rupiahs (US$280,000), which camp officials said will result in the eviction of the students and the end of their studies at the end of the month.
At the beginning of the month, camp officials cut off electricity and water; as a result, the students have had to go 1,500 meters to bathe and use the toilet in the Cibubur marketplace. Additionally, several of the student tents were taken down. In spite of the conditions, sources said, the students have maintained their enthusiasm and no one has quit the school.
SETIA officials said camp management rejected their request for an extension.
“The electricity and the water were cut off after the Cibubur campground managers rejected Arastamar’s request,” said Yusuf Lifire, SETIA administrator.
Other students at the seminary have taken temporary shelter in the other parts of greater Jakarta. Those living quarters, however, are so overcrowded that some of the students have become ill.
Umar Lubis, head of BUPERTA campground, said camp officials have provided the students great leeway and shown great tolerance in the year that rent has not been paid.
“We have provided water, electricity, and other facilities,” Lubis told Compass. “However, Jakarta Province has not paid us campground rental since October 2008. The government did pay 700 million rupiahs [US$75,000], but that only covered the rental fees through September 2008.”
Muhayat, area secretary of Jakarta Province who goes by a single name, told Compass that beginning in October 2008, the provincial government was no longer responsible for campsite rental for the SETIA students. The provincial government made this decision, he said, because the seminary refused to move to Jonggol, Bogor, West Java, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the old campus.
“We offered to move them to Jonggol, but Arastamar took a hard line and wanted to be in Jakarta,” Muhayat said.
The Rev. Matheus Mangentang, rector of SETIA, said that they refused to move to Jonggol because their school permit was for Jakarta.
“If we moved to Jonggol, we would have to get a new permit,” Mangentang told Compass. “We suspect that this would be an extremely difficult process.”
Many students are suffering from respiratory and other illnesses, and some have breast cancer. The sick are being cared for at the Christian University of Indonesia hospital.
One of the students living at the BUPERTA campground told Compass that many of the students had fever from mosquito bites.
“When it rains here, we sleep on water and mud,” said a 21-year-old student who identified herself only as Siska. Her statements were echoed by a Christian education major named Ahasyweros.
“We struggle daily in a place like this – especially after our request was turned down,” the student said. “We don’t know where we are going to go. We hope that the Jakarta provincial government will have the heart to help us.”
The staff and students were forced from their campus by a mob that claimed to be acting for the local citizens of Pulo Kampung, Makasar District, East Jakarta last year. Key among motives for the attack was that area Muslims felt “disturbed” by the presence of the Christian college. They wanted it to be moved to another area.
The approximately 1,300 seminary students were placed in three locations: 760 at the BUPERTA campground, 330 at the Kalimalang Transit Lodge, and 220 at the former office of the mayor of West Jakarta.
The fate of the students at all locations was similar; they were overcrowded and short on water, and overall facilities were substandard.
Jakarta Vice-Gov. Prijanto, who goes by a single name, had promised to find a solution. He had also stated that the government was ready to help and would pay for the students’ room and board, but this has not been the case.
Mangentang said he continues to hope for good will from the Jakarta government, which he said should return the school to its original site in Pulo Kampung.
“Even if there is talk in the provincial government that the locals don’t accept us, we still want to go back,” he said. “After we are back, then we would be prepared to talk and negotiate about the future. Healthy discussions are not possible if we are not back in our own home. If we tried to talk now, while we are trampled upon and pressured, nothing healthy would result. It is better that we return to our own place so that we can talk at the same level.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Christian leaders assert decision breaches religious law.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, May 5 (Compass Direct News) – Church members in Depok city, West Java, are unable to use their church building after the mayor, citing protests from area Muslims, revoked a permit issued in 1998.
Under a Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) issued in 1969 and revised in 2006, all religious groups in Indonesia must apply for permits to establish and operate places of worship.
The Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) church in Cinere village, Limo sub-district, in 1997 applied for permission to construct a church building and auditorium on 5,000 square meters of land, said Betty Sitompul, manager of the building project. Permission was granted in June 1998, and construction began but soon stopped due to a lack of funding.
After construction began again in 2007, members of a Muslim group from Cinere and neighboring villages damaged the boundary hedge and posted banners on the walls of the building protesting its existence. Most of the protestors were not local residents, according to Sitompul.
By then, the church building was almost completed and church members were using it for worship services.
Mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail asked church leaders to cease construction temporarily to appease the protestors. Six months later, in January 2008, the church building committee wrote to the mayor’s office asking for permission to resume work on the project.
“We waited another six months, but had no response,” Sitompul said. “So we wrote again in June 2008 but again heard nothing.”
The building committee wrote again in February, asking for dialogue with the protestors, but members of the Muslim group also wrote to the mayor on Feb. 19, asking him to cancel the church permit.
On March 27 the mayor responded with an official letter revoking the church permit on the grounds of preserving “interfaith harmony.” When challenged, he claimed that city officials had the right to revoke prior decisions, including building permits, at any time.
The Rev. Simon Todingallo, head of the Christian Synod in Depok, said the decision breached SKB regulations and was the result of pressure from a small minority who did not want a church operating in the area. Rev. Todingallo added that the ruling is illegal since the mayor has no right to decide alone, but must also involve Religious Affairs and Internal Affairs ministries.
Saddled with an expensive building complex that was effectively useless, church officials said they would attempt to negotiate with the mayor’s office for the return of the permit and seek legal counsel if negotiations failed.
Report from Compass Direct News
Catholic leaders, security forces negotiating with Somali insurgents for release.
NAIROBI, Kenya, November 12 (Compass Direct News) – Negotiations continued today for the release of two nuns abducted by insurgent Somali militia at midnight on Sunday (Nov. 9) from Kenya’s northern Mandera district near the Somali border.
Pastor Alois Maina of Community Church in Mandera told Compass that the two nuns were being held in El-Haddah, Somalia, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the border. Kenya Broadcasting Corp. reported that it had confirmed the nuns were being held in Somalia.
A Catholic priest in Mandera who requested anonymity told Compass that Catholic leaders in Mandera were collaborating with village elders in both Kenya and Somalia to negotiate with the militia for the nuns’ release.
“What we need at the moment is prayer,” said the priest.
The nuns were captured in Elwak in a midnight attack by about 20 armed Somali men suspected to be members of Islamic insurgent group al Shabaab – said to have links with al Qaeda – and taken away using three vehicles, two of them belonging to the government and the other belonging to a school.
Members of the Little Sisters of Jesus order, the nuns were identified as Caterina Giruado, 67, and Maria Teresa Oliviero, 61, both from Italy.
Catholic leaders in Mandera were involved in ongoing negotiations for the nuns’ release, sources said.
Police have reportedly arrested one suspect in the kidnapping.
Armed Somali gangs have carried out scores of kidnappings in recent months, targeting either foreigners or Somalis working with international organizations, to demand ransom.
Aid groups report at least 24 aid workers, 20 of them Somalis, have been killed this year in Somalia, with more than 100 attacks against aid agencies.
“Tension is reported to be high in the area following the attack,” said Pastor Maina. “The residents have started to move out of Elwak town in fear of militia attack or a security operation.”
Report from Compass Direct News