Indonesia: A Rise in Religious Freedom in the Most Populous Muslim Country

Source: International Christian Concern, January 24, 2024

Religion is a vital part of a person’s identity in Indonesia. On each citizen’s official National Identity Card, people can identify with one of the six religions recognized in the Constitution—Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

A seventh religious category—kepercayaan (belief)—was introduced for identity cards in 2016. But since then, there have been legal and religious challenges to this change, including the Indonesian Ulama Council (an influential national Muslim organization) that opposed this new category.

Indonesia has strict anti-Islam blasphemy laws. Yet Indonesians who are part of minor religions may now openly include their religion in this seventh new category. Government figures show that nearly 140,000 Indonesians have used this new kepercayaan category since its start.

Read the full story or read A Step for Freedom of Religion and Belief in Indonesia (Human Rights Watch).

In other religious liberty commentary, see Islamic Studies No Longer Required for Religious Minority Students in Pakistan; Christians Rejoice (The Christian Post) and A Year of Bumpy Ups and Downs for Religious Liberty in Vietnam (Morning Star News).

Finally, in case you missed it, last week’s Missions Catalyst also highlighted a short video on The Top Ten Countries Where Christians Face Extreme Persecution (Open Doors).

Middle East: God Used Poor Handwriting for His Glory

Source: OneWay, January 31, 2024

Throughout history, God has used human weakness for his glory. That was the case for a OneWay staff member when God took his struggle with bad handwriting and used it to prepare him for international ministry.

When he was a child, “Sparrow” had such poor handwriting that his teachers couldn’t grade his assignments. To help with this, Sparrow’s parents bought him a laptop to use for school, making him among the first people in his community to have one. As he grew in his skills, Sparrow developed a passion for technology, but he didn’t know how to channel it into his passion for missions.

Today, Sparrow works with a large network of missionaries and ministries all over the Arab world as a digital evangelist. He uses Facebook and Google ads to reach out to people in the Middle East who are questioning their faith and connect them with local believers who can answer their questions about Christianity.

Read Digital Evangelism Making an Impact in the Middle East.

See also an article about United Hive, a social media platform designed for Christians to share inspiring “God moments” (Back to Jerusalem).

Editor’s Note: Dedication of a Temple

Greetings!

Did you catch the live stream of the big temple dedication? It was celebrated globally. More than a billion people around the world watched and 8,000 were present.

No, it wasn’t the temple in Israel. It was India’s new temple of Ram, built on the site of a former mosque and dedicated last Monday in what some see as a symbol of the nation’s turn away from the secular, multicultural vision of its founders.

As you take it in, ask the Lord to guide you in praying for India and the watching world.

You might also be interested in news about a mosque destroyed last month in Gaza. Previously, it was the site of the Dagon temple we read about Samson destroying in Judges 16:25-30 (perhaps the sort of thing described in Isaiah 42:8) and after that a Byzantine church and a Catholic cathedral (Religion News).

Thanks for praying,

Pat Noble

Southeast Asia: Shaman Makes Disciples After Jesus Heals Him

Source: Beyond, January 10, 2024

Wayan was known as a “wise man” or shaman. He was accustomed to using his dark arts to harm others. In the neighborhood where he lived, he was highly respected and feared because people believed he possessed great “knowledge.” Many people sought his guidance, advice, and help with mystical matters.

One day, Wayan’s wife asked him to pick some coconuts from the backyard. He agreed without giving it much thought and immediately climbed the 30-foot-high coconut tree.

Suddenly, his wife heard a loud shout from behind the house. Wayan had fallen out of the coconut tree! For the next three months, he needed assistance from his wife or someone else to carry out his daily activities.

One day, he remembered someone who had come to their village a few years before he fell ill. Ketut, a disciple of Jesus in the region, had tried to share the gospel with Wayan at that time. However, on Wayan’s orders, he had been rejected and expelled from the village. Now Wayan asked his wife to find Ketut’s address and invite him to come and pray for him.

Read what happened next. Today, Wayan is one of the leaders of a movement on his island in SE Asia. His ministry has birthed more than 2,000 disciples, 285 small groups, and 28 small group leaders.

See also a short article and video about the continuing revival in war-torn Myanmar, where one church movement has grown from 2,000 people to 7,000 in the last year (Asia Harvest)

India: Reclassified as a “Restricted Nation”

Source: The Christian Post, January 20, 2024

The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) has reclassified India as a “restricted nation” in its 2024 Global Prayer Guide, citing the escalating radical Hindu extremism and the persecution of Christians under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government.

The restricted nation designation is typically reserved for countries with federal laws explicitly restricting Christian worship and evangelism. The group contends that India’s situation is unique due to the ideological shift under the current government.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election in 2014 and his subsequent reelection in 2019, Christians in India have faced increasing opposition and violent attacks in spite of constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, VOM said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.

The Christian ministry claims Modi’s administration has fostered an ideology known as Hindutva, or Hindu purity, which aims to establish a “pure” Hindu nation, explaining that this ideology has led to heightened persecution of religious minorities.

Notably, 12 Indian states have implemented laws banning what they claim are “forced” religious conversions, posing severe penalties for Christian evangelists, including lengthy prison sentences for activities as basic as sharing a Bible or praying with someone, VOM said.

The anti-conversion laws claim that Christians “force” or give money or material items to Hindus to persuade them to convert to Christianity. They typically state that no one can use the “threat” of “divine displeasure,” which means Christians can’t talk about Heaven or Hell since it would be seen as luring someone to convert.

Read the full story.

Also from this news source, read about a new animated series on Amazon Prime getting backlash for its positive portrayal of Lucifer. Though, as another article points out, “People have been grinding out remakes of this particular fanfic since the days when they had to do it on papyrus.”

Buddhist World: What Is Bodhi Day?

Source: East-West Blog, January 15, 2024

In the early weeks of winter, many Buddhists will celebrate the Buddha’s enlightenment on Bodhi Day. Some Buddhists observe the holiday on December 8, but Buddhists who follow the lunar calendar observe this day in January.

Enlightenment is a key aspect of Buddhism. Followers of Jesus who want to share the love of Christ with Buddhist friends should understand enlightenment and celebrations like Bodhi Day.

If your Buddhist friends celebrate Bodhi Day this year, ask what they believe about enlightenment and how it can be realized. Then, ask if you can share what you believe about suffering and the way to be liberated from it. As you do, pray that God would soften their hearts to understand the gospel and accept Jesus’ free gift of grace.

Read the full story.

See also, an article about the (related) Chinese Laba Festival as celebrated by Buddhists in New York and described as the start of their Chinese New Year Celebration. Read Distributing Buddha’s Congee Thousands of Miles from Home and watch a short video (Religion Unplugged).

Ethiopia: Learning from African Leaders

Source: Lausanne Movement, January 15, 2024

Africa became the continent with the most Christians in 2018, surpassing Latin America (which surpassed Europe in 2014). It is tremendously encouraging to see that those who were previously the object of the majority of mission endeavors have now become the major force behind present-day mission endeavors around the world.

The African continent now has 1.4 billion people and most of the world’s population growth as we head towards 2050 will be in Africa. It has been predicted that by the year 2050 one quarter of the world, as well as 50 percent of all global evangelicals, will be African.

Like the rest of the world, Africa is becoming increasingly urban, with the rise of megacities like Cairo, Lagos, and Kinshasa. By 2050, the continent is set to have four more: Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Nairobi in Kenya, Khartoum in Sudan, and Luanda in Angola.

Africa has the youngest population in the world. The 25 countries with the lowest median age in Africa are also the countries with the lowest median age worldwide. More than 50 percent of the population in Africa are youth.

Christianity is expanding from Southern Africa, as well as East Africa, yet even more rapid is the expansion of Islam from North and West Africa.

When we consider the demographics and position of the region, the church in Africa and the Middle East will to a large degree shape the future of the global church in 2050.

Read the full story for reports from a recent Lausanne gathering of 789 African and Middle East Christian influencers and leaders in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. See also another Lausanne article, Help! I’m Scared of Younger Leaders. The headline made us smile.

To hear more from emerging leaders across the global church, plan on joining (or hosting) a watch party for the Fourth Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization coming up in September. We’ll share more about that as the details are released.

Also from Africa:

Duane Frasier of Joshua Project shares about a small group near the coast of Kenya called the Dahalo. A few years ago, the number of people who prayed for them as “the unreached people group of the day” actually exceeded the total Dahalo population. But a pastor from Nairobi realized his church could be part of the answer to those prayers. He traveled by plane, bus, boat and motorcycle to reach the group, at one point in disguise to avoid attention from local extremists. But now the Dahalo have a body of believers reading Swahili Bibles brought to them by the congregation in Nairobi (Mission Frontiers). Praise God.

World News Briefs from Nigeria, Sudan, India & Beyond

  1. Malaysia: Christians Unashamedly Celebrate Christmas
  2. Nigeria: 160 People Massacred on Christmas Eve and Day
  3. Uzbekistan: Why Some Muslims Follow Zoroastrian Traditions
  4. Bangladesh: Pastor Arrested and Later Learns of “Secret Charges”
  5. Sudan, Egypt, and France: A Sudanese Refugee Story
  6. India: In Its Holiest City, Hindus Worship the Nation

Read or share the email edition, or scroll down for more.

Malaysia: Christians Unashamedly Celebrate Christmas in Sarawak

Source: International Christian Concern, December 20, 2023

In mid-December, more than 10,000 Christians in Sibu, Sarawak Region celebrated Christmas with a parade organized by the Association of Churches in Sarawak. This follows another significant Christmas caroling event in early December, where nearly 2,500 Kuching Christians and carolers gathered to sing songs, worship God, and celebrate the birth of Christ.

ICC welcomes these peaceful events in Malaysia, a nation where Christians and churches have, over many years, been attacked and persecuted. Christmas can often be a risky time for many Christians around the world.

Read the full story, or this one with lots of pictures: Record-Setting Turnouts in Recent Sarawak Christmas Gatherings (Christianity Malaysia).