1998 NCC News Archives

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NEW YORK, Dec. 10, 1998 ---- Economic and political turmoil in Indonesia has created and exacerbated interreligious tensions there, reported two staff members from the National Council of Churches who spent two weeks in Indonesia recently visiting the new $2.5 million food program implemented by the NCC and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

"We visited to show appreciation to the staff and our partner, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (CCI), who have gotten our comprehensive food-for-work program off the ground," said the Rev. Dr. Rodney Page, Executive Director of Church World Service (CWS), the NCC’s human development, refugee assistance and disaster relief ministry. "We also went to show solidarity with the churches and the people of Indonesia during this time of deep crisis in the life of their nation."

"As a memorable line in a play says, ‘Everything nailed down is coming loose.’ That is what is happening in Indonesia right now," said the Rev. Larry Tankersley, NCC Southern Asia Director, who spent November 14-25 in Indonesia with Dr. Page. "There are student demonstrations every day, including while we were there. Last week 14 more students were killed. About 1,500 people have been killed in the recent violence."

"Economically, people have suffered a dramatic decline in their buying power and 80 percent of businesses in Indonesia are technically bankrupt," Rev. Tankersley also said. "What’s more, 20 million people are unemployed. On top of the social problems, there have been forest fires and El-Niņo related drought. All of this has led to a World Food Programme estimate that 40 percent of the population will be unable to meet their basic nutritional requirements in the coming year."

"Most disturbing to us in the religious community is that the religious world in Indonesia seems to be coming apart, as well," Rev. Tankersley added. "There has been a

history of religious tolerance in the region, but over the last several months, Dayak Christians have killed Madarese Muslims in Kalimantan and Javanese Muslims have killed Ambonese Christians in Jakarta. There have been burnings of churches and mosques. Just last week, a church was burned a few blocks from our office in Ujungpandang. The military had placed a guard on churches in several cities."

"People we met expressed concern about this increasing tension between Muslims and Christians," Dr. Page said. "Because of the economic crisis, scapegoats are sought and interreligious tensions are exacerbated."

Yet in the midst of crisis, the food-for-work program delivers much-needed rice and results in work projects which help to rebuild the infrastructure and increase food security.

CWS works with CCI to supply 45 percent of the caloric needs for 37,000 people in Sulawesi, one of Indonesia’s five largest islands which has been particularly hard hit. The 12-month emergency food program will increase food supplies until the next harvest and ensure that children under 5 and lactating mothers do not become malnourished.

In exchange, recipients repair roads and bridges, build water conservation systems and plant trees. One-third of the beneficiary families will receive seeds and tools.

While there, Dr. Page and Rev. Tankersley witnessed the delivery of rice. Ten tons of rice per day is being distributed in Sulawesi. They also visited a rice paddy irrigation project near Ujungpandang where Dr. Page helped to dig a ditch.

"This food is given without regard to religious affiliation or ethnicity, but given only on the basis of need," Dr. Page explained.

"CWS has always supported interreligious dialogue and interfaith cooperation in Indonesia," Rev. Tankersley said. "We will continue to do so, while our program will model such cooperation."

Meanwhile, "people hesitate to make even educated guesses about what will unfold in Indonesia," Rev. Tankersley said. "Elections are set for October but it is hard to know whether or not they will solve anything."

"People asked for our prayers for Indonesia," Dr. Page said.

CWS plans additional projects in Indonesia to respond to the current crisis.

Contact: NCC News Department

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