I have a few Christian friends who are from overseas, including one very good friend who is from Indonesia. Persecution of Christians happens there, though not on the same scale as in places like Iran or Saudi Arabia. But it struck me one day to ask my friend what seems to be an obvious question: “What can we, as Christians in America, do for the persecuted church in other nations?”
When that question is raised, there’s an immediate and obvious answer: “We can pray for them.” Yes, I know; and I purposely asked my friend to account for that, and say, what can we do besides pray. (I’m not denigrating prayer by any means, but I’ve also noticed that “I’ll pray for you” is sometimes code for, “I don’t want to give away any more of my precious money. I need to buy a new car to replace the one I’m getting tired of; the house needs a new coat of paint, and I already give away 10% to the church. So here’s a bone. Woof woof.”)
So, moving past my cynical take on superficial expressions of piety…what can we do for the persecuted church in places like Indonesia?
The first thing to know is that what we might be able to do for persecuted Christians in Indonesia, might not work in a place like Saudi Arabia. My friend noted that the issue faced by Christians in Indonesia “is complex and multi-dimensional.” There’s a closer interrelation between race, ethnicity, and religion in their culture, so that persecution of Christians can be misinterpreted as persecution against the ethnic Chinese minority among which Christianity is more prevalent.
In practical terms, here is what my friend suggested as someone who has had boots on the ground both in Indonesia and America, as given to me more or less verbatim:
Put pressure on major news outlets and on church and government officials to shine a spotlight on the persecution, not only for American consumption, but for Indonesian consumption. Although Indonesians in general think that Westerners are ‘different’ and morally bankrupt, they paradoxically value certain Western stuff (news, education, entertainment) to be superior to their own.
That said, it’s best if the persecution is reported and criticized not as a human-rights issue, since that takes on the appearance of Americans telling Indonesians what to do, which in turn will raises debate about national sovereignty, etc. Rather, the matter should be raised as a religious persecution issue (that is, Christians helping their brothers and sisters in need). Of course, since most American media is secular these days, it might be left to Christian media to take up this task.
Another suggestion: More visitor exchange programs. Financially and logistically, this is much more difficult. But despite a Muslim majority in Indonesia, it is, as noted, a place where persecution of Christians is not as serious as it is in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia. You might say that the more “modern” a Muslim is, the less likely it is they will engage in persecution against other religion. (We can see this in Turkey, as well, I believe.) In my own view, this might be said to be similar to how some suggest Communism could be overthrown in Cuba, by exposing Cuban citizens to Western ideas, not by force, but by gentle influence and by being a beacon on a hill.
Hmm…now where did I get that figure of speech from?
In sum, that’s just some food for thought; we would do well to ask the same question of Christians from other nations, and see what answers we get. I would suggest that since Christians in America are getting a little fat and lazy, it might do us some good to wear the shoes of our brothers and sisters in other locales for a while.
Who knows? Maybe we can get a few hundred intelligent hecklers into Joel Osteen’s church instead of a handful of really uneducated ones.