Agency Blocked from Settling Muslim Orphans in Christian Orphanage

A Virginia-based missions agency has dropped plans to settle 50 Muslim children orphaned from Indonesia’s tsunami-ravaged province of Aceh to a Christian orphanage outside Jakarta after the Indonesian government blocked the move, the group said on Thursday.

World Help, one of dozens of Christian organizations providing humanitarian relief to victims of the Dec. 26 quake-tsunami disaster, said the decision came after a broad government crackdown on Western organizations, not because of concerns that the group was proselytizing amid tsunami relief efforts.

"As of today, it is our understanding that the people who originally gave permission have been influenced to rescind that permission," said World Help president Vernon Brewer, as reported by the Associated Press. "The climate has changed and these children are no longer available to be placed in a non-Muslim children's home."

After learning that the orphanage could no longer take the Muslim children, World Help removed fund-raising appeals from its Web site through which over $70,000 was raised for the effort—enough to help the orphanage care for 50 children for three years. The group had planned eventually to house a total of 300 children.

According to AP, World Help's plan drew criticism from Muslim groups, which said it would take advantage of people in a position of need. Although most religious charities prohibit mixing relief efforts with proselytizing—such as World Vision and Catholic Relief Services—some allege that some groups use the opportunity to make converts in hard-to- reach areas.

Brewer, however, said his group had not gone overseas to evangelize in tsunami-stricken areas.

"First and foremost, our intention is not to evangelize but to show the love of Jesus Christ through our acts of compassion," Brewer said, as reported by the Washington Post. "We are not using this open window of disaster to move in and set up a beachhead for evangelism. That's not the spirit of what we're trying to accomplish.... We just want to show the genuineness of our faith. We have no ulterior motive here."

"These are children who are unclaimed or unwanted," he continued. "We are not trying to rip them apart from any existing family members and change their culture and change their customs."

In addition, Brewer told AP, “Our faith compels us to share our faith—but in this time of disaster, it's not a time for Christian evangelism. It's a time to meet basic survival needs of human beings who've lost all hope."

World Help has raised $200,000 over all for tsunami relief efforts, he said.

For many, World Help’s encounter is one example of tightening restrictions on foreigners in a number of South Asia’s predominantly Muslim countries that had opened its borders to outsiders providing assistance after the Dec. 26 tsunami.

According to AsiaNews the Indonesian government, which has come under fire because there are supposedly too many foreigners in the Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, announced that they would have to leave by Mar. 26. After that date, Indonesian experts would carry out rehabilitation and reconstruction, said cabinet secretary Sudi Silalahi.

In Sri Lanka, sources say two anti-conversion laws currently under review by Parliament may prohibit Christian organizations dedicated to providing assistance to those in need from participating in the relief effort. Meanwhile in India, Hindus have begun to tout their very own anti-conversion law that threatens the ongoing aid efforts by Christian religious and humanitarian groups.

Of the twelve nations hit directly by last month’s quake-tsunami devastation, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India were hit hardest, resulting in the deaths of over 150,000 between the three countries alone.