Christian Education in the Muslim World
Schools and homes for children in Indonesia reach thousands of young people in unique and life changing ways
Indonesia is a nation of 17,000 islands spread across four time zones of the South Pacific. As in many other countries in the South Pacific Zone, Christians are in the minority.
Indonesia carries the distinction of having the highest Muslim population of any country in the world. Therefore, the ministry of The Salvation Army has to be approached quite differently here. Flying the Army flag in public or sharing the mission of the Army through normal avenues of outreach is difficult and in many cases totally prohibited.
Despite these obstacles, The Salvation Army is making great strides in reaching children in unique and life changing ways. Our children’s homes are a major avenue in ministering to the young people of Indonesia.
On Mother’s Day this year at our corps in Bandung, I met a little girl named Alfa who had been transported over 2,000 miles just the week before. Imagine being just six years old and finding yourself on a plane all alone. You must leave your home, not expecting to return. You have no possessions to take with you, only a nametag and a phone number pinned to your shirt as you fly across the ocean to an unfamiliar place to be taken in by total strangers. This was Alfa’s experience relocating from her home on the island of Papua to The Salvation Army’s William Booth Girls’ Home on Jawa Island.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Alfa and two other girls from the island of Papua who were living at the children’s home next door to our apartment. Each of the three girls still had family back in their villages, but for different reasons their parents had chosen to permanently place them in The Salvation Army’s care. Despite the girls’ sense of personal loss, they have already come to appreciate the new opportunities given to them.
“We eat every day and I get to go to school,” one of them says happily.
Taking In Orphaned and Displaced Children
The Army in Indonesia operates 18 homes across the country, providing full time care to nearly 800 orphans, disadvantaged poor, and abandoned or displaced children.
The boys and girls served in these areas could have easily become trapped in a life of neglect, abuse, child labor or human trafficking. The Army homes offer a place to escape these problems.
Many of our boys’ homes teach animal husbandry to the young men there. Learning such a skill fosters self-esteem and provides supplemental income along with some extra food to helps them grow into stronger, healthier young men. Our girls’ homes provide skill development in sewing, pottery and cake making, valuable skills for supporting their lives in the future.
Although The Salvation Army’s Christian values are no secret in Indonesia, last year, the country’s strongly Islamic government initiated and approved placement for 18 children into our exclusive care. The children had been discovered when a sexual trafficking ring in the nation’s capital was broken up by the authorities.
Like so many others in the past 80 years, these children have found a safe place in Army homes. The government provides our organization an annual subsidy of only $100 per child, but caring for them is our mission, no matter the cost; these children are invaluable to the kingdom of God.
Education for 10,000 Students
The Salvation Army also ministers to young people through its schools in Indonesia. Indonesian law requires that schools with 10 or more students must offer religious instruction as part of the curriculum. This law was originally enacted to ensure Islam would have a place in the public school curriculum and to curb the flood of young Muslim people converting to Christianity. However, because Christianity is legally recognized as a religion by the state, the law also opens a door for The Salvation Army’s ministry.
There are currently more than 10,000 students receiving their education at Salvation Army schools across Indonesia. Some of our schools are in remote villages and have only a single teacher while others have enrollment counts reaching upwards of 2,000 children.
One Salvation Army complex in Palu contains a preschool, primary school, junior high, secondary school and a theological college. On any given day, more than 2,000 students can be found reading and learning at their desks. Even the coordination of recess and lunch is an exercise in logistics for the staff. But whether an Army school is large or small, each day begins with prayer and Scripture reading. Though this might suggest that only Christian students attend our schools, it is not the case.
Sometimes in remote areas the only available school is a Salvation Army one, but there is no religious discrimination against those who want to attend. Even in larger cities, some Muslim parents choose to send their children to Christian schools that offer a higher quality of education than Muslim schools in the area. In fact, even some Muslim teachers who see the kind of education Army schools can provide have added their expertise to the staff, despite any religious differences that might exist.
A few months ago a special reunion was held here in Palu. Twenty-five graduates from our Bandung Girls Home returned to share their accomplishments with its current residents.
Listening to their stories and seeing their success after graduation was truly heartwarming. Many had gone on to university, some had become officers and others were now professionals serving and working within the community.
While not all remained members of the Army, all expressed a profound appreciation for the Christian values they learned at the Army’s homes in their formative years.
It’s programs like these that provide the greatest and most lasting ministry opportunities for sharing Christ and creating a better future in the Muslim world—one child at a time.
Major Marcia Cocker is assistant education secretary, assistant project officer and child sponsorship coordinator for the Army’s Indonesia Territory. To sponsor a child, please visit www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/sponsorship