This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Freedom from fear in Indonesia

The news of violence broke late in the evening in Phil­a­delphia, mid-morning in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jan. 14. Philadelphia, where I live, has the largest concentration of Indonesian immigrants on the East Coast.


I watched the images of the terrorist attack unfold on Facebook and then quickly did a check-in with Franconia Conference-related people who live in Indonesia’s largest city, somewhat close to the Starbucks where the deadly assault occurred. Within minutes, I knew they were safe. I went to bed wondering what else would emerge by the time I awoke.

I felt teary the morning after the Jakarta incident. I’ve been to that Starbucks before. One of the largest Mennonite congregations in Indonesia meets nearby. Starbucks are everywhere in Jakarta, as common a meeting spot in that city bustling with globalization as they are in many large U.S. cities.

On a trip to Jakarta in August, staying in the central part of the city, my hosts had allowed me to move about freely for the first time. I quickly projected that my next visit to Jakarta would likely be more guarded again. My hosts aren’t overly cautious, but they feel responsible for my well-being. That has usually meant I am rarely unaccompanied.

This trip, my third, had felt different, and I appreciated the sense that Jakarta was safe enough for me to move about on my own.

But instead of fear and confrontation, something else has emerged from Jakarta. #Kami­TidakTahut emerged as a call: “We are not afraid.”

Even Indonesia’s president, who has been connected with Mennonite-supported dialogues with Christians and Muslims in areas of the country considered a hotbed of Islamic radicalism, spoke in different tones than many leaders in the West after similar incidents. Though speaking after an incident where there were fewer than 10 deaths and in a Muslim-dominated country, Indonesians responded not with fear but with resilience.

The struggle with religious violence is not new to Indonesia. The thousands of Indonesians in Philadelphia have arrived mostly due to religious and ethnic tensions at home. Many were granted asylum here, including hundreds of Mennonites. I cannot deny the stories of friends who have left family behind in Indonesia. They speak of cowering in their homes and vehicles while roving aggressors torched their businesses and threatened their homes.

As Anabaptists, we are committed to the way of peace. Yet we acknowledge that religiously inspired violence happens. We know from our own history — whether as martyrs or religious zealots who imposed their own rule at Münster — that religious beliefs are powerfully motivating and can be powerfully threatening to the established order.

What does it mean to not be afraid and to respond like Jesus?

It means taking opportunities for conversation, to learn and engage. It means speaking boldly against the demonization of Muslims, people created in the image of our God. It means supporting, with prayers and resources, initiatives that build fabrics of civic and economic flourishing for all people and extend the peace of God.

These possibilities push us to wrestle with God, the Bible and what it means to be a neighbor, next door or around the world.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor, student and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

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