Christianity’s Impact in Indonesia
Posted by Tracy Trinita on July 14, 2017
At the end of May, Ravi Zacharias and the RZIM Asia team held a series of significant events in Indonesia, a place where religion is often in the public eye. Please enjoy this reflection by Tracy Trinita about her home country and how RZIM Asia’s mission is uniquely able to address the religious milieu of Indonesia.
Ravi Zacharias speaking on Ascension Day at IES Jakarta.Indonesia is a country very unique in both location and diversity. It is made up of 253 million people (the fourth highest population in the world) and more than 13,000 islands. Despite having the biggest Muslim population in the world, it is not a “Muslim country” – instead, people choose one of six official religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Confucianism. The capital city, Jakarta, is five times bigger in size than Singapore, has over twelve million people, and is the hub of the country’s activity in business, education, politics, entertainment, etc. The island of Bali, on the other hand, is more well known to the rest of the world than is the rest of Indonesia. With a Hindu majority, the island’s kind-hearted people profit heavily from tourism and artistic industries and are highly religious. In a situation similar to ancient Athens described by the Apostle Paul, they love to worship any gods, even ones unknown to them (Acts 17).
With so much diversity, Indonesia faces its own challenges when it comes to religion. Radicalism has been rising to the surface in recent years, threatening to squash the republic-style system with its freedom of worship, as well as the freedom to share and preach the gospel. Conversion is relatively easy in the big cities, but, on some Muslim-majority islands, adherence to sharia law makes it difficult to change one’s identification without reprisals. Nominalism is also extremely common, as everyone must have a religion, at least in public. Saying that you have no religion will get you labelled as a communist, which is banned in the country.
The Challenge of Christianity
As for Christianity, it must overcome several hurdles in the local culture. It is seen as a “Western religion,” brought into the country by the Dutch who arrived first as explorers, then missionaries, and then colonizers. For many, it carries the weight of past oppression and trauma, and those who would speak ill of Christianity use this as their reason to stand against it. Though this portrayal is inaccurate and disingenuous, the “silent majority” of Indonesia’s Christians are unaware of Christianity’s actual origins in the Middle East during the first century, and so are not equipped to respond to these challenges.
This is having devastating consequences on the young. As students from Christian homes migrate or go to university, they continue to attend church to please their family. But they sit in church without listening and have so many doubts. Many have been told to “just have faith and believe” instead of asking questions in church, so they do not grow, except in their feeling of guilt over having doubts. Out in society they meet people from other worldviews who are willing to offer them answers, which they eagerly embrace, as their internal struggles are taken seriously for the first time (sometimes by those who would seek to lead them into radicalism). Though the Indonesian church is influential and well resourced, many churches that do not teach on deep subjects or that preach a prosperity gospel have lost numerous people in the process.
East Vs. West
The East-versus-West culture clash in Indonesia takes many forms in the young generation. Most will pick and choose pieces from different worldviews and create their own moral lens. Others will become apathetic, distancing themselves from all religion. Small numbers will choose the New Age movement or radicalism.
Amongst all this worldview confusion, people ask with their minds, “Which god is real?” and their hearts wonder, “Does god really care about me?” Many faiths teach that God is distant, constantly watching, entertained by what you do. The Christian gospel message stands alone in contrast: it says that God is not far off and waiting to punish you, but instead He loves you and sent His only son to pay the penalty for your personal sins.
The Difference of Christianity
Let me share a great example of a story that happened during an event:
“At the resort, we worked closely with one of the hotel employees who was responsible for the setup of our meetings. After observing our Saturday morning session from the sidelines, he approached me during break time. He said that he had never seen such an engaged audience, especially a group listening to deep topics on God and the Christian faith. He went on to share that he was not a Christian, but felt all religions were equally true, with the ultimate focus on pursuing good. I think he expected me to nod in agreement, instead I gently shared that Christianity claims that Jesus is more than a good man. It teaches that Jesus actually claimed to be God. The man smiled with curiosity, and as we parted we shook hands and embraced.
On Sunday morning, this same employee was standing in the back of the ballroom listening to the powerful singing during our morning session. He was deeply moved to tears by the beauty of the worship songs. He wept and was overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. He knew immediately that Jesus was speaking to him and revealing that he was the one true living God. As we were all saying our goodbyes that afternoon, he came to me in tears but with a smile on his face. He opened up and shared that he had encountered Jesus that morning. We sat down together and he said that he wanted to follow Jesus, so we prayed together and he confessed Jesus as his personal Lord and Saviour. I was overwhelmed with tears of joy to witness God’s faithfulness and love for his people, and to pray with a man whose longing heart was so overcome by the love and power of the Holy Spirit. What a way to end the Asia Founders weekend!”
This is the unique setting of Indonesia: people with open hearts and minds who need to hear about and experience the love of Jesus. Thank you for your partnership with us in sharing this message across the diverse cultures of Asia who are waiting to hear.
Tracy Trinita is an Itinerant Speaker with RZIM Asia. She does live radio talks and Q&A sessions in Indonesian which can be accessed here. To learn more or get involved in the ministry in Indonesia, contact us at [email protected].