Terrified by May riots in the capital, Jakarta, that left nearly 2,000 dead and more than 4,000 shops and homes looted or burned, Indonesia's 3 million ethnic Chinese Christians remain traumatized and ready to flee if the situation worsens.
Iman Santoso, leader of a national prayer network, warns that "Chinese, including Christians, feel angry, violated, and betrayed by the recent events, but the church is uniting through the suffering, and we must get ready for more persecutions ahead."
Protesters calling for the resignation of President Suharto (who stepped down May 21) began to blame the economic woes of the country on the Chinese, who form only 3 percent of Indonesia's 200 million people but are disproportionately successful. "We were made the scapegoats," says Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor Hardi Farianto, who saw 10 percent of his 300-member congregation flee.
The rioters were thorough. "They took everything, right down to our knives, forks, and spoons," says one Chinese Christian.
They were also cruel. The human-rights commission has documented more than 100 cases of rape and sexual assault of Chinese females ranging from ages 10 to 55 during the height of the riots May 13-15 in Jakarta. Some women who had been repeatedly gang-raped were thrown into burning buildings that had been set afire by gasoline. Other women, humiliated by the attacks in front of their neighbors, committed suicide afterwards.
In the city of Bandung, where no disturbances took place, Christians marched around the city "erecting a protective wall of prayer," according to local pastor Bambang Widjaja.
Indonesia's 20 million Christians are apprehensive about the future because they are a minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.
Indonesia's new president, B. J. Habibie, and opposition reformist hero Amien Rais have made strongly anti-Christian statements in the past. Christianto Wibisono, a Chinese businessman and lay Christian whose daughter's house burned in the riots, says, "Christians must lobby for principles of nondiscrimination, build alliances with moderate Muslims, and come together in prayer like never before." Otherwise, according to Sularso Sopater, general secretary of the Indonesian Council of Churches, "We will Balkanize like Bosnia."
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