Indonesia (MNN) — The experiences of Indonesian Christians are as diverse as the nation’s 17,000-plus islands. Some island areas like North Sumatra and West Papua have a fairly large Christian population and are more open to the Gospel.
But in most of Indonesia, Christians are the minority among Muslim neighbors and suffer varying levels of persecution.
Churches are shut down by opposition from Islamic extremists. Muslims who convert to Christianity face harassment and even death threats from family and friends. Thankfully, physical violence towards Christian converts is uncommon due to Indonesia’s anti-terror police.
Despite this reality of Christian persecution, the tides of religious tolerance are shifting for this southeast Asian country — largely due to a more connected generation of young people.
The influence of language
Indonesia became an independent nation less than 80 years ago. The new Indonesian government needed to take the patchwork of islands with millions of people and establish a sense of unity.
Bruce Allen with FMI says, “One of their responses to that was we create a national language that people will learn to speak so that, yes, they might know their tribal language. That might be the language that they first learn. But once they’re going to school, they’re learning Bahasa Indonesian language.”
Young people in Indonesia have grown up under a shared language — something older generations didn’t experience.
“So older adults still speak their tribal languages,” explains Allen. “For younger people, it’s ‘Bahasa all the way’ sort of feeling.”
Religious tolerance: An open door
Allen says with a whole generation growing up under a shared language, “You do get this greater sense of unity from the youth — a greater sense of, ‘We will cooperate with each other even though we might be different from each other.’
“I do see that even across the islands. There’s an openness for the Gospel as long as there are workers who are willing to go present the Gospel to people.”
FMI supports local church planters in Indonesia reaching their own people. With around 80% of Indonesians following Islam, the message of salvation in Jesus Christ is something most have never heard.
What’s amazing is the Evangelical Church in Indonesia is growing at an annual rate of 2.8% — just slightly faster than the overall global growth rate for Evangelicals.
As more Indonesian young people discover the God of the Bible through interaction with Christian peers, they are finding true spiritual freedom in Jesus.
“Islam does not offer an assurance of forgiveness of sins, and yet people around the world long for that. They know that they’re broken. They know their flaws. They know their sinfulness, and when they find out that someone has paid the penalty for that, it is so liberating — even in a Muslim culture like Indonesia.”
Allen says, “As we can empower more church planters and disciple makers to go across these regions, I believe we’re just going to find more people willing to embrace Christianity and place their faith in Jesus Christ.”
Header photo courtesy of Rendy Novantino/Unsplash.