The world’s largest Muslim population is not in the Middle East nor are its members ethnic Arabs. That surprises many people. More Muslims live in the Asian country of Indonesia than anywhere else.Unique in many ways, Indonesia is also marked by the zeal of its growing Christian population.
Christians probably comprise between 10 and 15 percent of all Indonesians. Most are evangelical or charismatic, which missiologists attribute both to the young age of the Church and a high number of new believers. These people are enthusiastically embracing the Story of Jesus. In fact, they are rapidly using more and more of the booklets to reach their neighbors. Within only a few months, they set out to present the Gospel to two million of their neighbors. Initially, they requested 50,000 copies of the Story of Jesus. Shortly after that, another 100,000. Then 350,000 more. Now they are asking for yet another 1.5 million to distribute personally. They will have them if David C Cook can raise enough support.
Their strategy is working. About 40 percent of children will never make it to middle school, but the Story of Jesus illustrates the Gospel attractively and at their reading level. Young people love it. Soon their entire families are hearing the story as well and responding.
Islam has a high opinion of Jesus. More than 90 passages refer to him positively in the Koran, but as a prophet rather than the singularly special One chosen by God to redeem all people. The Story of Jesus is vital for Indonesians to engage with the biblical version of who Jesus is. Moderate Muslims want to hear this. While it’s estimated that 100 million people in Indonesia have never heard the biblical account of Jesus, churches want to bring his story to them. Now, with the Story of Jesus, they have a way.
Indonesia is a chain of more than 17,000 islands mostly covered by jungle wilderness. It straddles both sides of the equator. Still, enough people live on about one-third of the islands to make it the world’s fourth most populous country. Islam dominates, but not officially. Indonesia technically assures freedom of religion, mostly because its diverse citizenry includes at least 750 distinct people groups. The 2000 census alleges that 86.1% of Indonesians are Muslim, although the exact figure is impossible to determine because non-Muslim minorities appear to be undercounted. Further, many Indonesians who call themselves Muslims practice a blend of Islam and animism unacceptable to stricter Muslims, or mix mysticism and the occult with Mohammad’s teachings. Extremists hate this and have bombed both Muslims of other factions, as well as tourists. The country never fully recovered its appeal as a travel destination since an attack killed 164 international tourists in a famous Bali resort area.
The country has a history of invasions, natural disasters and internal conflict. Because the nutmeg plant historically grew only in Indonesia’s Banda Islands, that valuable commodity made the area popular with seafaring traders as far back as the 7th century. Arab traders spread Islam during the 1300s.
As part of World War II, the Japanese invaded and occupied Indonesia. The United Nations estimates that four million people died as a result of famine and forced labor during that occupation.
Natural disasters join with foreign invasion, internal corruption and war to make life hard for many of the people. In 1881, Krakatoa erupted in one of history’s biggest volcanic explosions, affecting weather worldwide for several years. As recently as 2001, a devastating tsunami drew attention and sympathy from many who had never previously thought about Indonesia.
Religious persecution targets Christian and tribal peoples alike by the hundreds of thousands. In the past ten years, an orchestrated Islamic jihad against Christians destroyed thousands of churches.
Yet, in the face of all this trouble, the Church in Indonesia is vibrant. Best estimates are that the number of Christ followers in Indonesia grew more than ten times over the last 50 years. It is an honor to encourage and equip that believing community with the Story of Jesus.