For a small church in Indonesia, it’s Christmas eve on the street again

Shyntia Felicitas

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For a small church in Indonesia, it’s Christmas eve on the street again
The Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI Yasmin) in Bogor has been sealed off since 2009, despite a Supreme Court ruling ordering the local mayor to open it

BOGOR, Indonesia – It’s Christmas eve again, and as with the past 4 years, the members of the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI Yasmin) will celebrate Christianity’s most important holiday out on the sidewalk.

It’s been this way since the local government of Bogor, a city about an hour outside Jakarta, shuttered their small church in 2009. The government insists they don’t have the proper permits, even though the Supreme Court has already issued a ruling in their favor.

But many believe the local government is just kowtowing to hard-line Islamic groups, and activists can’t understand why the central government isn’t stepping in to force the mayor to follow the court ruling.

Waiting for a miracle

Last year, Renata Anggraini and other church members decided to hold their Christmas eve celebration in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, out on the street and under the rain, praying for a Christmas miracle.

“It was messy; I couldn’t focus on my prayer. The pastor’s bible was destroyed by the rain and the strong wind, but we decided to stay. I’m glad no one move from their place,” she said.

That wasn’t the first time they’ve prayed in front of the palace; it was the 79th time. But they’ve never received a response.

Else the palace claims they didn’t hear the prayers, the church members have also sent letters to the president’s office. But they didn’t get replies to those either.


Does the central government not care about his community? GKI Yasmin spokesperson Bona Sigalingging said they feel this way, and Renata agreed.

Aside from the cold shoulder, she said she has also experienced being roughly treated by security officers.“They took my camera and pushed my children,” she said.

It’s tiring, she admitted. “But I have to fight until the end. I don’t want to give up and lose. I don’t even want to think about that,” she said.

What led to this

GKI Yasmin received their permit to build a church in 2006, but protests from hard-line Islamic groups led to the mayor revoking it 4 years later. The church was accused of falsifying the signatures of support from local residents needed for the permit to be issued.

‘Why must the minority always have to be the one to give in? For the sake of security, we have to follow the majority’

–GKI Yasmin spokesman Bona Sigalingging

What followed was a seemingly illogical struggle: The Supreme Court sided with the church, but the mayor revoked their permit again. Then the Ombudsman issued a letter recommending the mayor’s letter be revoked. But the church remained shuttered.

In other words, the local mayor’s office appears to be brazenly defying the country’s justice system to keep this small Bogor church closed.

“They (the Bogor administration) don’t seem to be serious about responding to the law,” Bona said.

He thinks the local mayor’s office is being influenced by hard-line Islamic groups – one he calls the “king of the region” – which apparently have the power to control the government.

“Why must the minority always have to be the one to give in? Why is the minority always the one who has to sacrifice? For the sake of security, we have to follow the majority,” he complained.

BIRDS OF HOPE. GKI Yasmin member Renata Anggraini arranging paper birds in a Christmas tree. Each paper bird carries the wish they would be able to use their church again.

Keeping the faith

They haven’t lost faith, though. Each year, they prepare for Christmas as if they’ll finally be able to do it inside their church, and not out on the sidewalk in front of it, or in front of the Presidential Palace.

And so this year, they prepared for the Christmas eve service and sent a letter to the police in Jakarta requesting for protection.

But it doesn’t look like it will happen. When Rappler visited the church on Tuesday, December 23, two officials were seen making sure the church was completely sealed, including a secret entrance church members have been using to gain access to the facility and bring journalists in.

Wild grass now grows in the area around the small church. Iron sheets guarded it, making it look dark and lonely.

And so the members of GKI Yasmin will be found out on the sidewalk on Christmas eve again this year, likely in front of the Presidential Palace where they hope newly elected President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will be more sympathetic to their plight.

They firmly believe they have the right to celebrate Christmas in their church, just like all other church members in Indonesia. “For what reason do they forbid us to pray in our church?” Bona said.

And so they press on. This year, Renata created thousands paper birds, which will be turned into a Christmas tree, as a symbol of hope.

“There’s a story in Japan that if we create 100 paper birds, our prayers will be answered,” she said.

So far, she has more than 3,000 paper birds, including ones given by friends and colleagues who sympathize with their plight. In each of the paper birds, she wrote the same wish: to celebrate Christmas one day inside their own church. –

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