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Report on Central Sulawesi
December 19, 2001
Christian Aid's contact in Indonesia has just returned from a visit to the Poso and Tentena area and shares the following update on the current situation.--John Lindner, Editor
The Miracle of Answered Prayer
Two weeks ago we were on the verge of a great massacre. Jihad forces in the thousands were pressing in from all directions. Village after village was being wiped out. The Christians had cut down trees to block the roads to slow the jihad terrorists' approach and give the Christians a chance to escape into the jungles. The jihad attackers were using bulldozers and graders to smash through the trees. Automatic weaponry and bombs chased off the Christians. Trucks came in to pick up the cattle and all of the booty looted from the homes. A tanker truck then sprayed kerosene on the houses and they were set on fire.
Tentena, a small city with a refugee population of 28,000 in the town and nearby villages and hamlets, was bracing itself for what seemed an inevitable slaughter. The "refugees" were Christians who had fled their villages during the previous year and had made their way to the Christian interior of Central Sulawesi. Others had fled to other parts of the province or to neighboring provinces where they felt they could find refuge. The total number of Christian refugees (officially IDP's - Internally Displaced Persons, since they have not crossed international boundaries) was over 50,000. But now they had nowhere to run. This was the end of the road.
To the South was the Jihad base of Pandajaya where six Afghan, Pakistani and Arab trainers between August and November had been telling more than 1000 jihad troops south of Tentena that they were part of a world-wide, Islamic nation or brotherhood, and that jihad was the pathway to glory.
In the villages devastated between November 27 and December 1, many large signs expressing their hatred of Christ and His people were written on the few remaining walls: "Destroy Tentena! Kill all the Christians!" Another said, "Wait for the next episode in Tentena!" Yet another said, "Kill all the Christians. Wait for us in Tentena. The military and the police are not needed." Other signs mocked Christ saying, "Jesus would have been better to be beheaded. Kill all the Christians!" and "Jesus has long, lice-filled hair. In fact he has cockroaches." "Vacancy: Seeking a hairdresser to cut Jesus' hair" and many others much worse.
The Christians in Tentena were expecting the worst. The city was under siege. For six weeks there had been a jihad-imposed embargo on transport to the city from Poso. No buses. No fuel supplies. No medical supplies. Just the daily news of another village falling in the path of the jihad. For months we had been warning of this impending tragedy and calling on people to pray, but we are reluctant prayers. We are often more skeptic than believer!
As the major offensive began and drew more menacing day after day, there was no more time for niceties. It was time to scream and shout: "Can anyone hear me? Does anyone care?" and I'm sure that not a few even said, "God, are you there?"
Over the next few days following November 27, we began to see a miracle unfolding. People all over the world began to pray. They were calling on the phone, sending e-mails and falling on their knees. It was so hectic that during that week I missed two full nights of sleep, and large parts of others.
As December 1-2 broke upon us, the women and children in Tentena were packing travel bags ready for flight into the jungles. Twenty trucks of men went down the road to "stand in the gap" and to save their town, their women and children. Sepe, a large Christian stronghold had fallen. Silanca was under attack. The final assault on Tentena seemed just hours away.
Then came the answer to prayer. Desperate prayers. Pleading prayers. But God had His ears open to the cry of His people.
Within 24 hours President Megawati had dispatched thousands of troops and ordered four of her top Cabinet Ministers, five Generals and the National Chief of Police to Poso and Tentena. In our 27 years in Indonesia we have never seen such a quick and amazing response.
Within hours the jihad had been put to flight. They scattered in several directions to get out of the area and to hide themselves and their weapons. Within days, the atmosphere of fear and danger that had electrified the air had given way to a peaceful serenity that I had not known since before the conflict began at Christmas in 1998. It will not be a "Bloody Christmas;" it indeed will be a very "Happy Christmas" for the Christians of Tentena.
The plight of the refugees
As a result of the vicious attacks and some 21 villages either totally or significantly destroyed, there were now another 22,000 refugees to add to the 28,000 earlier ones. Some came to Tentena but quickly left, believing that Tentena was the next target. Some went into nearby forests or jungles to hide until the danger had passed; others fled further into the mountains.
Within a few days, 5000 people from Sepe and Silanca villages returned home and began rebuilding. Some 8000 had fled into the mountain valley of Napu; another 3000 had fled into the jungles near Dewua. The rest had come to either Pandiri and Tentena or passed through to other villages.
One Christian NGO worker describes their condition this way:
"We are providing rice since December 10 until now for around 608 families (around 3,000 persons), who are living in the forest at the moment. Their condition is really poor. The food availability is very limited. Their land and all assets are destroyed. Many of them are still in the forest, in hunger, poor health, and some even got lost (because they have never lived inside the forest before, so they didn't know the area). Besides rice, we're providing shelter materials for them, such as mats, cooking tools (pan, wok), dining utensils (plates, glasses), and blankets. Everyday their number is increasing because there is a lot of them still in forest, and we don't know their location as yet.
"Our field staff stay in Sangginora right now. They help these persons day and night. Due to there being no roof at all right now in those villages (Sangginora and Dewua), they have to sleep under the sky as well as the IDP families.
"The attackers took their roofs and parts of their houses (such as the door, etc.) before they burnt the villages. If we look at the condition of the IDPs, we see very sad faces. They only can sit lonely and quiet when they receive their ration. All of them are in trauma because of the violence they experienced. They told us many stories of violence, which they saw with their own eyes.
"These IDPs are still afraid to stay in the village. They prefer to stay in the forest. They said that their place in the forest is 13 km from our distribution location. There are three hills that they have to climb over to reach us and to bring their ration to their family. They don't want to be evacuated to Napu or Tentena, because they believe that since those areas have not yet been burned down, then it's not wise to go there, because maybe someday soon they will be burned also. Therefore, they prefer to stay near their own village because the attackers have already destroyed their village."
From December 11-16, we trucked in US$50,000 of emergency aid, including two huge truckloads of vegetables (red beans, cabbages, carrots), sleeping mats, blankets, margarine, flour, dried fish, canned fish, medicines etc. It seemed a huge amount of supplies and finances, but when you distribute it among 30,000 people you realize how little it is. All we did was help provide for several days.
As we distributed the supplies, the refugees (or IDP's) gathered around us and we encouraged them from the Scriptures and sang and prayed together. It was very moving to hear them sing, "Just as I am, without one plea", or "What a friend we have in Jesus" and "Showers of Blessing". You could see the love of Christ, and His peace that passes all understanding written all over them. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are true heroes of the faith!
Mission of Restoration
With the jihad warriors in retreat and disarray, and with thousands of military and police troops to provide security, it is now a priority to get the refugees back into their villages again. These villages need to be rebuilt. We cannot restore the homes they lost, but we can provide them with a decent home using basic available materials: sturdy walls with a galvanized metal roof, and other necessities for US$500 per home.
Getting them back quickly into their homes has a number of advantages:
1. They can get back into the farms and market gardens and start providing most of their necessities again, taking strain off all of us trying to provide for their basic needs. It also gives them the dignity of being able to provide for themselves and their families. Of course, remembering that most of their supplies of rice etc. were either stolen or mixed with shattered glass or kerosene, we will still have to provide for them for the short term.
2. By reoccupying their villages, it leaves no opportunity for others to come in and hinder their rightful reoccupation as happened in the Maluku islands. In fact as I was praying about what to do, the Scriptures came to mind of the evil spirit that had been cast out, but because the house was not reoccupied, the evil spirit returned with seven of his evil friends. I thought that this was very applicable to this situation as well. The villages must be reoccupied and restored soon.
At the moment we have a team of pastors, workers and businessmen putting together lists of the total quantities needed. But with 2196 homes destroyed in the last three weeks alone, that need is US$1.1 million. There are of course so many other needs, like supplementary food supplies for three months, medical supplies, special ministry to the traumatized and churches to be rebuilt to help restore the community life. We will not be the only ones involved, since other organizations like Church World Service, Red Cross, World Vision, International Christian Concern, Christian Aid and others are likely to be taking a part as well.
On January 5, 2002, we plan to go back in with several truckloads of building supplies. Unfortunately there are insufficient supplies in the provincial capital to provide for all the immediate needs. Although we do not yet have the finances needed to undertake this task, we are confident that the Lord who motivated believers around the world to pray will also motivate believers to provide the finances to help these dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
So without apology, we call on each of you to do your bit! Perhaps your home group could sponsor the building of a family home, or undertake some other enterprise to help. Please pray and ask the Lord what He would have you do and remember what Jesus said, "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them" (Luke 6:31. If you were in their shoes this Christmas, in the forests, without shelter, hungry and frightened, what would you want the Body of Christ to do for you?
Meanwhile, we are still ministering to several thousand IDPs and escapees in North Maluku (including the 1700 Christians who escaped from jihad controlled Lata-Lata), and plan to take financial assistance to pay for their escapes, food supplies, housing assistance and seeds, tools and work equipment such as canoes, nets, carpentry and farm tools to help them get started in their new location.
Contributions for aiding Christians distressed by the jihad movement in Indonesia are being received by Christian Aid, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Additional information on this crisis can be found on the organization's website www.christianaid.org .