Beleaguered Indonesian Churches Still Shut This Christmas
Lenny Tristia Tambun
While Christians across Indonesia are busy decking out their churches with colorful Christmas decorations, two congregations on the outskirts of Jakarta are fighting just to be allowed to enter their churches for the holiday.
For the Rev. Palti Panjaitan of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) Filadelfia congregation in Bekasi, the lack of a Christmas tree is the least of his worries.
“How can we think about Christmas decorations or a Christmas tree when our church is still sealed off from us?” he said on Thursday.
“Our focus now is just to be able to hold Christmas prayers in our own church.”
The congregation of around 600 has since 2007 been forced to worship on the street outside its church or in members’ homes as the Bogor district administration continues to deny it a permit.
The congregation has taken the matter to the West Java State Administrative Court and the Supreme Court, both of which ordered the district to issue the permit and reopen the church. But the district has refused to comply, citing residents’ opposition to the presence of the church in their midst.
“It should be a very straightforward matter for us to get the permit, but they keep clouding the issue,” Palti said.
“In reality, it’s only a few people who don’t want us there.”
The group’s plan this year, as it has been every Christmas since 2007, is to keep lobbying the local community and authorities to allow them to hold Christmas services in their church.
Palti said that if their efforts failed this year, they will have to fall back on their now familiar routine of holding a very brief service at another church in Bekasi.
In Bogor, the GKI Yasmin congregation faces a nearly identical quandary, although in its case it was awarded a permit that was promptly revoked by municipal authorities in 2006.
Rini, a congregation member, said that this year the group planned to celebrate Christmas in its church, which remains sealed off despite a Supreme Court ruling ordering it reopened two years ago.
“Whether or not the authorities permit it, we’re intent on worshiping in our church,” she said.
“That’s all we want, so hopefully we can celebrate Christmas properly this year.”
She added that the congregation had also sent an invitation to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to be the guest of honor at the Christmas prayer.
The Yasmin and Filadelfia congregations have for the past year tried to draw the president’s attention to their plight by holding joint Sunday services on the street outside the State Palace.
To date, however, the central government has refused to enforce the court rulings in either case, arguing that under the principle of regional autonomy, the local authorities are free to act as they see fit.
“We don’t have a place to celebrate Christmas,” Palti said. “But that won’t stop us celebrating it through the strength of our faith.”