A married couple living in Indonesia have thought a lot about upstream solutions to terrorism. In response to the growing Islamophobia in the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, I’m sharing below a letter by a husband and wife serving as mission co-workers for the Presbyterian Church USA in Indonesia, an archipelago nation with many Muslims, and many other faiths. Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta tell about how Christians and Muslims are living together peacefully there . Of course, there are similar stories from the U.S., but right now the major media seem preoccupied with stories about fear and violence. For another take on what’s happening in areas of the world with much religious diversity, read the letter from Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta, below.
Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,
We were horrified by news of the Paris terrorist attacks, which reached us while we were in Hanoi as guests of Vietnam National University. I presented a paper comparing views of religions in Indonesia and Vietnam. During the U.S.-Vietnam War, my father once commented, “Communism cannot be overcome with violence.” Our Vietnamese colleagues at VNU are Communist Party members and war heroes, but also religious believers and thoroughly disillusioned with Communism. One predicted that the Communist Party in Vietnam will collapse within 10 years, the way it collapsed in Eastern Europe.
Christians and Muslims Working Together
I wonder if terrorism can be stopped by violence. The great majority of Muslims are not terrorists, but people from any religion can become terrorists if they lose hope of living in peace, with justice and dignity. Our mission is to seek reconciliation, justice and peace between Muslims and Christians and help our neighbors, especially women and children, escape from poverty. Farsijana’s House of Authentic Sense (HAS) is working with Duta Wacana Christian University to bring hope to our Muslim neighbors.
Mother Ngatirah is a brave, hard-working Muslim woman from one of the poorest villages in Indonesia. Since her family had no income, she started cooking snacks made from bananas and yams to sell in the market. People loved her snacks, so she organized her neighbors to help find the ingredients and prepare the foods. She now has 20 Muslim women working with her on food preparation and distribution. For 12 years she tried to get a government permit to sell food, but without success. Without the permit she cannot sell outside her immediate neighborhood or get access to funding and wholesale prices for ingredients. Time and again she was refused the permit because she failed to meet hygienic standards. She cooks in her own traditional kitchen, with a dirt floor, open fire, thatched roof and open access to her family, neighborhood kids, chickens and other animals.
Farsijana visited Ngatirah in her home and promised to help her get the permit. Ngatirah joined the cooperative run by HAS, which also gives her access to small loans and access to wholesale prices. She was overjoyed when a team from the Architecture Faculty of Duta Wacana Christian University (DWCU) visited her kitchen and drew up plans for a legal, hygienic kitchen so that she can prepare safe, healthy, environmentally friendly food and get a business permit. The Biology Faculty of DWCU dispatched students in ecological waste management to help Ngatirah deal with her garbage. The Dean of the DWCU Business Faculty (who is Chairman of the Board of HAS) gave a workshop for village entrepreneurs. They are helping Ngatirah manage her finances so that she can pay back her small business loan from the HAS Cooperative and keep track of her expenses. The DWCU Product Design Program will help Ngatirah and her neighbors package their products to make them more appealing. Finally, students from the DWCU Information Technology Faculty will help them set up web pages to market their products over the internet. The women are not receiving charitable handouts, but rather information, skills and support to be independent.
Farsijana and I are both involved in “up-stream solutions”, to prevent hatred and violence from ever occurring, rather than just dealing with the anguish after tragedy strikes, like it did in Paris. By the grace of God we are trying to bring reconciliation, justice and peace to our Muslim neighbors. Women and children in one of the poorest villages in Indonesia are gaining hope and learning that Muslims and Christians can love and help each other. Indonesia has 220 million Muslims, more than the whole Middle East put together. Yet very few Indonesian Muslims are going to Syria to fight with ISIS. Ironically, far more Europeans than Indonesians are joining the terrorist ranks of ISIS. There are many reasons for this, including that many Indonesian Muslims and Christians consider each other brothers and sisters, not enemies. Another reason is that many Muslims in Indonesia have hope for the future. Violence and death is not an attractive life plan, if you have hope.
Still, ISIS and other radical groups are trying to recruit in Indonesia. One of my former students from the State Islamic University was involved with a notorious Islamic school which has graduated many terrorists, some of whom were put to death for involvement in the Bali bombing. When he came for dinner at our home, he introduced himself to Farsijana as “Bernie’s terrorist student.” His son went off to fight for ISIS and was killed in Syria a few months ago. My former student is trying to distance himself from radical Islam and has reached out to me again, asking when we can meet. How do I feel about this? We will meet soon. Perfect love casts out all fear. I love him, although not yet perfectly.
Before we left for Vietnam, almost 80 of my Muslim students from Muhammadiyah University Yogyakarta came to our house for a discussion and dinner. Farsijana, her sisters and friends cooked all day. The students were so curious about our Pondok Tali Rasa (a home for binding people together in our feelings, thoughts and senses). Some of the kids are from very strict, conservative Muslim families who are worried about the effects of “Western immorality and liberalism”. In our home they are learning that Christians are not their enemies. We care about many of the same things. We do not have to agree with each other in order to respect and learn from each other.
The Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) is nearing its 10th year. Most of our students and graduates are professors, teaching in Muslim, Christian and Buddhist universities around Indonesia and in many countries. They are the teachers of the teachers, training religious leaders who not afraid of people who are different from them. We are not trying to kill terrorists, like my student’s son who died fighting for ISIS. Rather we are just trying to obey Jesus’s first and greatest commandment: to love our neighbors.
Our work in Indonesia is supported by the Presbyterian Church USA. We will be visiting universities, churches and friends in the USA during June, July and August 2016. Please contact us if you would like us to visit you or if you would like to know how you could be more involved in our work.
Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta