Standing in a spacious, modern church building, listening to a large youth choir sing a song about Jesus, their voices and guitars amplified by an impressive sound system, it’s difficult to remember that we are visiting the largest Muslim nation in the world.
There is no fear in the faces of the people filling the seats and overflowing into the outer lobby area. They seem genuinely excited to be worshipping in “God’s House.”
When my friends back in Colorado Springs heard I would be traveling to Indonesia, they warned me to be careful. Some even tried to convince me not to go. Besides being on the other side of the planet, the collection of islands has a reputation for being hostile toward Christians.
While that is the case in many parts of Indonesia, in the city of Manado, on the island of Sulawesi, Christians are actually the majority. And they seem strangely at ease living in an Islamic nation.
When Arab traders arrived in the beautiful islands of the South Pacific in the 8th century, they not only came seeking spices (and sadly, sometimes slaves), but bearing a new religion: the teachings of a man named Mohammed and the book he reportedly received from the angel Gabriel – the Qur’an.
Seven centuries later, Islam had spread and put down deep roots. Rulers throughout the islands began to adopt the religion and by the 17th century, the islands comprising what is now known as Indonesia were almost entirely Islamic.
Today, Indonesia is not only the world’s largest island nation, but it boasts the largest Muslim population in the world. More than 200 million Muslims (nearly 90% of the total population) follow Islam.
As evidenced in Manado, the Church is alive and well in this nation. But in some parts of the islands, tolerance is harder to come by. Being a Christian in places like Jakarta or the province of Aceh (ruled by Sharia law) can come with a heavy price. Church buildings have been burned, bombed, and vandalized. Christians have been attacked and faced intense discrimination.
Whether it’s for evangelism and discipleship, or for the opportunity to hear the message of salvation, the minority Christian population and the majority Muslim population of Indonesia need God’s Word. But right now, all they have is an old translation that doesn’t use modern Indonesian.
The Bible was first translated into Indonesian in 1629. The translation most commonly used today is the Terjemahan Baru, which was finished in 1985. In the 31 years since it was completed, the Indonesia language (like all living languages) has changed dramatically. That’s why Biblica is undertaking a new translation.
Launched in 2016, when this translation is completed, Indonesians will have a Bible that subscribes to the same rigorous standards as the English New International Version. It will be accurate to the original Greek and Hebrew texts, but also be readable, using contemporary Indonesian to share God’s truth.
After the youth choir finishes their energetic song, the pastor steps up to the podium and begins to teach from God’s Word. Do the young people understand what’s being taught? Or does the Bible the pastor is reading from have the hollow ring of a version their parents or grandparents might be clinging to? Does it communicate to them in their language?
My prayer is that they will soon have a Bible they can understand.