Five Steps Forward, One Back
Indonesia is a country in transition – on the one hand, huge progress has been made to eradicate corruption and build up infrastructure. Despite the fact that 90% of Indonesia is Muslim, religious freedom is guaranteed by law. On the other hand, every once in a while you hear of an unfortunate incident. For example, the mayor of Jakarta is Christian and has done a great job of fighting corruption and the vast majority of the people love him. He and the President of Indonesia are friends and work together famously. Some Muslim hardliners, though, recently accused him of blasphemy because they say he misquoted the Koran. They also stopped a Christian group from using a public park to hold a worship service. But, a week later, a Catholic group accused a Muslim group of blasphemy by trying to deny them the right to free worship. (The majority is finding that those things can cut both ways.)
As I’ve mentioned before, the signs of Christmas are everywhere and “Merry Christmas” signs are in every store. The locals love to say “Merry Christmas” to us, even women wearing a hijab. The malls play Christmas music all the time – and not just Jingle Bells – real, religious, Christmas carols. But, we do the same to them during Ramadan. Live and let live. But, recently some Muslim hard-liners (accompanied by the police) went to a mall to make sure Muslim employees were not being forced to wear Santa hats or other “Christmas accouterments” as they were called in the local paper. But, the same police were responsible later in the week for finding and breaking up a terrorist cell. Indonesia is making progress and they are finding their way….
The mission recently had a number of native Indonesians return home, which in turn leaves a larger than normal group of bules, or non-native Indonesians. That, in turn, left 4 bules serving together in one of our cities, which normally doesn’t happen – President tries to match a native with a non-native, so they can teach each other the culture, the respective language (English and Indonesian), etc. Well, these 4 missionaries recently went to the RT (a community leader) to inquire about Christians living in the neighborhood since it is illegal to proselyte Muslims. They were showing respect to the RT, but he was a little concerned that 4 white guys were together asking about religion. So, he in turn asked the RW (the larger community leader) about it and he, too, was concerned. So, the RT, the RW, the police and the military showed up at the missionaries apartment to express their concern and to ask them what they were doing. So Subandriyo (the local Indonesian LDS leader who knows everyone), had to write a letter explaining the situation. In the meantime, President transferred in a native Indonesian to break up the all-bule companionships! Just about the time we think we are making some progress (and in so many ways we are), the police show up!
Let me reiterate we love it here – the people are so kind, so friendly and have accepted us with open arms. The vast majority of Muslims are absolutely peaceful, genuine, family-loving people. Unfortunately, some are not, and since you can’t tell which are which, rather than be suspicious of everyone because of a few, we choose to try and be kind to everyone and expect the same in return. The Golden Rule applies to everyone, regardless of religion or lack of religion.