Thursday, January 13, 2005

Christianity's Foothold in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Banda Aceh is the center of the earthquake damage, the place where the largest number of victims were found. It is also a very politically sensitive place where fundamentalist Islam is important and where the Indonesian government and the muslim rebels continually clash. Now something new is added to this stew: our very own fundamentalists:

A Virginia-based missionary group said this week that it has airlifted 300 "tsunami orphans" from the Muslim province of Banda Aceh to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, where it plans to raise them in a Christian children's home.

The missionary group, WorldHelp, is one of dozens of Christian, Muslim and Jewish charities providing humanitarian relief to victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that devastated countries around the Indian Ocean, taking more than 150,000 lives.

Most of the religious charities do not attach any conditions to their aid, and many of the larger ones -- such as WorldVision, Catholic Relief Services and Church World Service -- have policies against proselytizing. But a few of the smaller groups have been raising money among evangelical Christians by presenting the tsunami emergency effort as a rare opportunity to make converts in hard-to-reach areas.

"Normally, Banda Aceh is closed to foreigners and closed to the gospel. But, because of this catastrophe, our partners there are earning the right to be heard and providing entrance for the gospel," WorldHelp said in an appeal for funds on its Web site this week.

The appeal said WorldHelp was working with native-born Christians in Indonesia who want to "plant Christian principles as early as possible" in the 300 Muslim children, all younger than 12, who lost their parents in the tsunami.

"These children are homeless, destitute, traumatized, orphaned, with nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat. If we can place them in a Christian children's home, their faith in Christ could become the foothold to reach the Aceh people," it said.

The website of the group no longer has this message, but it doesn't mean that the group would have changed its mind about it. Individuals who believe that only those who have found Jesus can go to heaven are not going to stop proselytizing just because it would look bad to outside observers.

What are the consequences of trying to plant Christian footholds among devastated people? Maybe Western aid won't be accepted in the future? That would be very sad indeed.
Thanks to Alishapa in my comments for the link.
Update: The plan has been dropped because the government of Indonesia refused to allow it. Thanks to Donna in the comments for this link.