Official Orders Halt to Beleaguered Church in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Compass Direct News) – A local government official in Bekasi, West Java last week forbid all worship of the Filadelfia Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church (HKBP) in Jejalan village.

Regent Sa'duddin on April 12 ordered a halt to all activities of the church, including worship services that have been held on a strip of roadside land since the government on Jan. 12 summarily sealed the church's building, which was under construction.

Announcing the order at a meeting of government officials with the Rev. Palti Panjaitan, Vice-Regent Darip Mulyana said the reason for the closure of the church's makeshift site was that worship interfered with "community activities," though the site is on a nearly deserted roadside bordering vacant fields.

The regent also suggested that the church join with another HKBP congregation in the Graha Prima housing development, far from the Filadelfia church's site. Pastor Panjaitan said the church objects to this suggestion as it would be impractical, creating time and transportation difficulties.

Mulyana said that Sa'duddin had ruled that the church needs to find a new place to construct its prospective permanent church building because local residents had rejected it – even though the church had secured approval from local residents when it submitted its application for a permit in 2008. The government has never acted on the application, and since then Islamic organizations have organized protests to try to pressure government officials to deny approval.

The church on March 30 filed suit against Sa'duddin for unilaterally closing their church building under construction.

The church's Tigor Tampubolon said the church would never have been forced to meet by the roadside if the government hadn't sealed its building under construction without due process.

"We have been waiting for the government to grant us a temporary permit so that we can hold services, instead of forbidding them," Tampubolon said. "It's difficult for the 500 or so members to hold church beside the road, and it would be even more difficult if the location was moved, because most of the people live near the church."

Tampubolon said the church had purchased 1,088 square meters of land, had obtained signatures of 60 people living near the church as well as letters of agreement from the Jejalan village head and leaders, and had submitted all necessary documents to the government in 2008.

The Bekasi Regency never took any action on the application, saying the permit needed to be discussed and approved by the Bekasi Interfaith Harmony Forum.

In December the church held a Christmas service in a temporary structure on the lot.

"We held our Christmas service there because we had village level permission and were waiting on permanent permission from the regency," Tampubolon said.

The Christmas service drew a large mob of protestors claiming to act on behalf of the local citizens. The mob demanded that services end and that no Christian worship take place in the area.

The regent then recommended that the church hold services in Jejalan village hall, but when the congregation tried to do so on Jan. 3, another demonstration harried them. Since then the church has held worship services on the roadside.

The Filadelfia congregation has been active since 2000, with services initially held in the pastor's home. In 2006, a mob of 300 people swarmed the pastor's home during a Sunday morning service. Claiming to be neighbors, they pressured the pastor to sign a document promising not to hold religious meetings at his home.

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