Angry Mob Attacks Church in Aceh, Indonesia
Pastor faces wrath of Muslims after organizing revival for 500 Christians.
by Sarah Page
DUBLIN, September 8 (Compass Direct News)
A pastor and his wife living in Aceh province, Indonesia, have gone into hiding after a Muslim mob set fire to a church building following a revival service on September 1.
Several weeks ago, Pastor Luther Saragih of a congregation called Siompin, an Indonesia Evangelical Mission Church, distributed letters to several villages in Aceh Singkil inviting Christians to a revival service.
A Muslim resident somehow received a copy of the letter and edited it, making it appear that Muslims were invited to the service. He then distributed his own version of the letter to 3,000 Muslims. According to one local source, the police knew this was happening but made no attempt to restrain this man.
Large Christian gatherings are extremely rare in Aceh, but at this service over 500 Christians arrived to take part -- along with a large crowd of irate Muslims. The police were also present. Local Muslim leaders argued for several minutes with police, and eventually Saragih was taken to the police station. There the police scolded the 40-year-old pastor for organizing the event and ordered him to cancel it and send people home. A pastor from Jakarta asked for 10 minutes to explain the situation to the Christians who had gathered. When the police relented, he returned to the church and spent 10 minutes preaching a brief message on "walking in the shadow of death" to those who had gathered before sending them away. At about 7 p.m., when everyone else had left, Saragih and his wife Netty, pregnant with their first child, returned to their own home just a few minutes down the road from the church.
At 10 p.m. that night, a convoy of two trucks and 50 motorcycles arrived outside the church, carrying over 100 liters of gasoline. Witnesses said there were over 100 men present, many of them carrying swords. The mob poured gasoline over the building and set fire to it; they also attempted to burn a second building that was used as a church kindergarten.
Some of the attackers came looking for Saragih and Netty at their home, which is nearby. The couple escaped into the nearby jungle and stayed hidden in the undergrowth. Many thought the couple had been consumed in the flames of the church buildings, but a friend found them at around 4 a.m. Christians in a neighboring province have provided shelter for Saragih and his wife, following reports that local police and Muslim leaders are still searching for the couple. It is uncertain when -- or if -- they will be free to return home.
Friends estimate that the fire caused at least US$20,000 worth of damage. The fire destroyed two motorcycles (one belonging to Saragih and another borrowed for the revival); two electronic piano keyboards (one borrowed for the revival) and a computer and printer. The province of Aceh is unique in two ways: the government has granted limited autonomy to the province following years of civil war, and sharia (Islamic law) replaced state law earlier this year, leaving the Christian minority at a distinct disadvantage.
"After this, we're afraid they might set fire to other churches," a local source said. "We plead with Christians around the world to keep us in their prayers."