Indonesia’s Churchless Children

How would it be to spend your childhood without a place to worship God? These children of Yasmin Church in Bogor, near Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, have the answers.

Ivan, a fifth grader back then, sang “Old Churches” and “Little Candles” during the last Christmas celebration in 2012 in front of his church, an area that is now transformed into a street food vendor.
Ivan, a fifth grader back then, sang “Old Churches” and “Little Candles” during the last Christmas celebration in 2012 in front of his church, an area that is now transformed into a street food vendor.in 2012 in front of his church, an area that is now transformed into a street food vendor.

Shortly after the church received a building permit from the City of Bogor in 2008, intolerant Muslim groups came to the site, marking the beginning of endless, frequently violent, demonstrations. The pressure eventually pushed Bogor’s mayor at the time to revoke the permit and stop the construction entirely.

Even after losing the case in the Supreme Court in 2010, the city government is still not willing to open the church. Since then, the congregation has initiated “service on the road” in front of the presidential palace. Every two weeks, they travel almost two hours from Bogor to Jakarta, demanding their religious freedom in the world’s largest Muslim population.

Yasmin church congregation along with human rights activists have been demonstrating against the ban of the church since 2012, the year when they won their case at the Indonesian Supreme Court.

Perhaps what is often overlooked is how this case has disproportionately affected children. Most of them were elementary school students when all of this started. And now, 10 years later, they have become young adults of today.

Some teens had no choice but to take their catechism, religious education central to every Christian’s life, at other churches. One teen is studying civil engineering in college, aspiring to restore the church in the future. Another one moved to another city to study law, hoping to be a future advocate for religious freedom.

Undeniably, a decade-long process has had a profound, irreversible effect on them and their life decisions.

These are Indonesia’s Churchless Children.

The children of Yasmin Church grew up seeing their place of worship abandoned for 10 years. The initial construction is now covered with brushes and trees. December 2012 was the last time they were able to celebrate Christmas Day inside, singing songs and eating sweets. What is left in the area is decoration from that precious moment.

The area around Yasmin Church now has changed a lot. The gate where Ivan played a guitar is now a street food vendor. The site is only accessible through a medium-size hole behind the food vendor.

Ivan

Ivan was a fifth-grader when his church was banned by the city government of Bogor, Indonesia. He remembers that in 2012, he played a guitar in front of the location, singing “Old Churches” and “Little Candles” with a ‘closed’ banner in the background. At the time, what he understood was merely a small protest from intolerant groups.

Among tens of children at his church, he’s the second youngest and the only one that is still involved in church activities and advocacy. Some of the other teens have moved to other cities for work or study. Others again have moved to other churches.

He regularly drives a car for his older church members, including his dad, on a 90-minute trip from Bogor to Jakarta,. They travel every two weeks to attend Sunday Service in front of the presidential palace. Before the pandemic, they commemorated the 200th time of the service, which has now turned into a movement advocating religious freedom.

After 10 years, he is now a 4th year college student with a vision studying civil engineering. “My father said, whatever I study, please give back to Yasmin Church. I want to build my church in the future.” The older he gets, the more he understands discrimination, the more he distrusts his government.

“I don’t trust my government and justice system any longer. I want to move overseas and continue my life there.”

Seeing an old picture of him, he giggled. “At that time, I thought our protest would be for two or three years only. What a hard childhood memory.”

In 2012, police guarded Yasmin chruch from intolerant protesters in the surrounding area. The church entrance is now blocked by a street food vendor but the roof is still visible.

Renata

Renata is a single mother who, with her only son Edo, is part of Yasmin Church. Edo, the youngest among Yasmin’s youths, was an elementary school student when the church was closed in 2012.

Edo gained public attention when he wrote an open letter to the president years ago, urging the president to reopen his church. However, various advocacy efforts from civil society groups for years have failed to make Edo’s dream reality.

“I am worried about seeing him growing up like that,” Renata said.

In 2012, Edo was holding a handy cam when intolerant groups seized the congregation at the church. Edo was pushed by several people while seeing municipal police do almost nothing to protect him.

A group marched around Yasmin church in 2012, opposing the continuation of church construction.

“Never ever ever ever had he cried like that. I could feel he was devastated.”

Growing up, Edo gradually lost his connection with Yasmin Church. He attended catechism at another church and has become its member.

“Honest answer? Yes. I feel I lost him.”

Ten years later, Edo just started college as a law student in the city of Bali.

“He applied only to law programs at 3 different universities”

She believes that the childhood experience has profoundly shaped her son.

“He is rebellious, critical, and cynical towards almost any kind of authority”

During the 200th Sunday Service in front of the presidential palace, Edo just started the first week as a freshman. But Renata already missed his son many times, particularly when she prepares the service on the road. Edo used to help her.

2012 marked the start of hundreds of protest by Yasmin church congregation and human rights activists near the Indonesian presidential palace. The area is now blocked by barbed wire barricade.
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ArtIQulate is a publication associated with the Adenauer Fellowship, a scholarship programme by the Media Programme Asia, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Ltd.
About the author

Rio Tuasikal

Alumni, Diploma of Visual Journalism, Asian Center for Journalism

Born in Indonesia, Rio Tuasikal is a broadcast journalist focusing on current affairs, minority groups, and the environment. Having previously worked with the news agency KBR in Jakarta and Voice of America in Washington D.C., he now works with Climate Tracker in supporting journalists around the world in covering climate issues.

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