Indonesia Christian Teachers Say Imprisonment 'Worth It'

Three Indonesian Sunday school teachers who were found guilty of "Christianization" reflected on their prison sentence and said it was worth it after being freed on Friday.

"This is nothing compared with the suffering and persecution faced by others," Dr. Rebekka Zakaria said to Open Doors U.K. "Compared with the Lord's love and what He has given me, it is worth it."

On May 13, 2005, Zakaria, Ratna Bangun and Eti Pangesti were arrested for allegedly converting Muslim children to Christianity through their "Happy Sunday" program. The Sunday school program – which included Christian songs, games and Bible studies for children in the neighborhood – was popular among Muslim children.

Although the Muslim children reportedly had the full approval of their Muslim parents, a court four months later found the women guilty of operating the Sunday school. The three served two of their three-year sentence and were released on parole from Indramayu State Prison in West Java at 6 a.m. local time on June 8.

The Christian women reportedly transformed the prison environment during their stay including cleaning the facilities and cells, gardening and even painting walls of the room they used for church meetings bright yellow and blue, according to Open Doors U.K.

They are also credited with calming the women's section, which previously was filled with quarrelling.

On their release date, the women rode on a bus provided by Open Doors and were escorted by seven cars to the neighboring town of Cirebon to report to the prison administration office and obtain necessary documents for their release.

During the imprisonment, the father of one of the women had passed away.

"It was a great loss to me, as we used to be very close," Bangun said, according to Open Doors USA. "Had he been still alive, this is what he would tell me upon my release: 'I'm very proud of you, my child, because you were jailed because of Jesus.' It was a struggle to lose him, but I submit all to Jesus despite this grief."

Bangun's father passed away just two months before her release.

"We still need your prayers," Zakaria said, according to Open Doors USA. "First, please pray for the congregation. We are still looking for a place to conduct worship services. We might hold them in Haurgeulis, just like before – and I'm sure God will allow this to happen – but Muslim radicals are still scrutinizing us. We must be very cautious about this.

"Second, please pray for us and our family; pray that we would stand firm and strong in the Lord, in whatever we do."

According to Open Doors USA, lawyer Aris Wibowo said the women will be on parole until February 2009.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country with about 85 percent of its 220 million people saying they are followers of Islam. The country has experienced much sectarian violence over the years with at least 1,000 people dying due to Muslim-Christian violence from 1998 to 2001 in Central Sulawesi province where there is roughly equal numbers of both communities.