Please wait until the service is done, then we can discuss.”
On Sunday, August 7, during one of their regular church services (pictured above), congregation members in the Indonesian city of Riau watched in confusion as government officers interrupted their worship.
Paying no attention to Pastor Ganda Damianus Sinaga’s plea, the officers stopped the service and sent away church members, saying the church didn’t possess a building permit.
“It is our right to have Sunday service, why can’t you let us be?” Pastor Sinaga’s wife cried.
When the officers arrived, the congregation was worshiping in a makeshift tent in the church yard; the church’s building had been sealed. Pastor Sinaga says he has applied for an official permit, but like many other churches in Indonesia, the church knows a church building permit is difficult to come by.
A pattern of persecution
As violations against religious freedoms increase in Indonesia (#30 on the 2019 World Watch List), since July alone, three churches in the Muslim-majority country have been forced to close, including Pastor Sinaga’s.
The first was a church in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Their building permit was revoked by the local government for failure to meet the requirement to frequently use the building. The pastor, Tigor Yunus Sitorus, applied for the church building permit in 2017, which was approved in January 2019.
But during that time, the church was torn down. And weeks before the permit was revoked, local residents intimidated the church by putting up posters with negative messaging throughout the area.
The second was a Baptist Church in Semarang. Local residents stopped the construction of the church building a few weeks ago because the 1998 building permit date had expired. Due to financial issues, its construction was intermittent. The Semarang City Mayor led a meeting where it was decided that the church must renew the building permit. Only then would they welcome the church.