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Stories: Successes and set backs in getting church buildings built

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Successes and set backs in getting church buildings built 10 May 2005
Successes and set backs in getting church buildings built. by Chad Emmett ( to be included in a book on the history of the church in Indonesia--corrections and additions are welcome!)

As membership of the Church increased in Jakarta, there were soon enough members to warrant the building of an additional church in Bekasi, a suburb in eastern Jakarta. Agus Setiawan (30 April 2001 interview), who was working for the church overseeing the construction of new buildings, went to Bekasi in 1996 to seek approval from the local leaders for general approval to build a church in Bekasi at a yet undetermined location. He went to the various heads of RTs (neighborhood associations), then to the heads of RWs (a kampung which is made up of several RTs), then to a lurah (head of a kelurahan which includes several kampungs) then to the camat (head of a kecamatan which is made of up several kelurahans) and finally to the mayor. None of these leaders were willing to give permission to build a chapel in areas under their jurisdiction. This one and a half year process finally ended with the church being given an allowance from the mayor’s office, but not formal permission, to hold church meetings in Bekasi with the caveat that if the local residents complain for whatever reason (i.e. the singing is too loud or the church members are causing problems) then the church must leave.

By this time, church leaders had come to realize that if a church was to be built in Bekasi it would have to be in a non-residential area and so a three story parcel was purchased in the isolated corner of a strip mall type, office/retail/housing complex called a ruko (short for rumah/toko, house/store). The three stories were then remodeled to include a chapel on the first floor, classrooms on the second floor, and a multi-purpose room on the third floor. There is a sign on the door to identify it as a church, but there is not a steeple or any other religious markings. On the east side of the retail complex and chapel there is a kampung with a small mosque at its center—no more that 200 meters from the church. All told, there are about six mosques surrounding the mall. Four other Christian denominations have also bought or rented space in the retail complex because of local restrictions against Christian churches being located in Muslim majority neighborhoods. So far there have been no complaints against the church. Agus Setiawan was also tasked with trying to get permission for a chapel in the West Jakarta neighborhood of Tangerang. He was initially granted permission from the lura, but that permission was over-turned two months later when Agus went to obtain higher approval from the camat. His refusal was based in part on recent tensions between Christians and Muslims in Tangerang. At the same time Agus was tying to get approval for an LDS chapel, another Christian congregation had been holding meetings in various homes of church members within the boundary of the kecamatan. One day angry Muslims demonstrated their disapproval of one of these home meetings by throwing stones at the house. This act then prompted the camat to forbid the use of homes as places of Christian worship in his kecamatan. At the same time he denied approval for the building of an LDS chapel. With Bekasi as a model, the church is now renting space in a retail complex for the Tangerang congregation.

In Bogor the process for building a church was also laborious, but in the end the LDS Church was able to build a new chapel. In late 2,000 the LDS Church tried to rent a building in a nice neighborhood in south Bogor. This location would then serve the local congregation until a church could be built on property already procured by the church. The deal was almost finalized, but then the Muslim owner of the property, who was happy with the amount the church was willing to pay for rent, mentioned the deal to his Christian wife, who upon hearing the name of the church, expressed concern because it was not a church she was familiar with. The owner then visited with the head of the RT who said that he could not guarantee security for a Christian meeting house. The owner took this as a sign that it might not be wise to rent the house to the church based on the fact that it was commonly known that the RT leader had participated in an earlier incident where a arsonist fire had destroyed the beginning stages of some new dormitories being built on the campus of the Indonesia Bible Institute, which is located within the boundaries of his RT. Based on his wife’s misgivings, the subtle warning from the RT leader, and the fire at the Bible Institute, the owner of the property decided not to rent to the church. A few weeks later the owner agreed to rent his house to an orphanage, at half the price the church was willing to pay (11 November 2003 interview with Emmanuel Laumonier). Opposition to renting a temporary meeting place proved more problematic than actually buying land. Even so, it took Agus two years to get approval to build a church. The proposed property for the chapel was in an upper class neighborhood inhabited by Muslims, Christians and Buddhists and where the local RT and RW leaders were willing to grant approval. This neighborhood bordered the neighborhood where the church was not allowed to rent. According to one resident of the neighborhood (11 November 2003 interview with Emmanuel Laumonier), the approval-granting RT leader, who was a Muslim, was more interested in good business and good relations than religious rivalry and so he was willing to approve the building of Batak and LDS churches in his RT as well as the building of restaurants and kindergartens. The location of the Batak Church was just across the street from the RT where the contrary leader had denied rental space to the LDS church. This man also waged a strong but ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the building of the Batak Church in the RT across the street. His opposition to the Batak Church still necessitates police guards during church services.

The willingness of RT and RW leaders to grant permission for a church building was based in part on the signatures of approval obtained by the church from at least 40 neighbors—most of whom were Muslim. Armed with the list and the approval from the RT and RW leaders, Agus then approached the lura, who offered approval, and then the camat, who after sending representatives to confirm the approval of the neighbors, also offered his approval. The next step was to get the approval of the municipal departments of religion and social/politics, which was granted after making sure the LDS Church was officially recognized in Indonesia. The mayor’s office then approved the architectural plan (after some revisions) and a building permit was granted, with the new church being dedicated in 2001.

An LDS chapel in Surabaya was also approved during this time with remarkable ease. In this instance the key was a personal contact. In 2001, a church leader named Subandriyo (30 April 2001 interview) went to Surabaya to obtain permission to build a second LDS chapel. The person selling the property was a friend of the mayor and so he told Subandriyo to write a letter of application for a building permit and take it to the mayor (a Muslim) for approval. Subandriyo had church letter head faxed to him. He then typed a letter on a borrowed typewriter and delivered it to the mayor who then granted permission. Subandriyo then took that letter to the RT, RW, lura, and camat for their approval. They had no choice but to approve what the mayor had already approved. The large chapel was completed and dedicated in 2002.

Chad Emmett Send Email

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