The Spirit Sweeps Over Bali
When Gayle Dwije's firstborn daughter was barely a year old, a group of strangers smashed the windows of her family's home in Bali and burst inside. Gayle did not recognize the men, but she suspected immediately that her husband, Wayan, who was born into a Balinese family as the son of a Hindu high priest, might be murdered because of his Christian faith.
Gayle grabbed their daughter and fled frantically into the backyard. The family climbed a seven-foot ladder to the neighbor's house and called the police. By the time officers came, it was too late to catch the perpetrators. The men had disappeared and left behind broken glass, a home in disarray, and a shattered sense of security.
"The police couldn't guarantee our safety," said Gayle, who now copastors the Christian City Church (C3 Bali) with her husband in Denpasar, Bali's capital. The family decided to move to another part of town.
Wayan, a native Balinese who became a Christian in 1994, is no stranger to death threats, including one from his own uncle. But this attack was the closest anyone had come to killing him. In the eyes of Wayan's extended family and community, his crime was that he abandoned his Hindu beliefs became a Christian. Yet what the Dwijes found after the attack was a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit.
Island of the Gods
Bali, one of Indonesia's 17,508 islands, is home to Indonesia's Hindu minority. The island became a refuge in the 16th century for Javanese Hindus fleeing the spread of Islam in Indonesia.
The province of Bali is 93 percent Hindu, while Indonesia as a whole is 85 percent Muslim. One doesn't have to walk into one of the 20,000 Hindu temples or shrines to realize that Hinduism is deeply embedded in Bali, traditionally called "Island of the Gods." Along the public sidewalks of Kuta, the major tourist area, Hindus staple together fresh bamboo leaves in the shape of plates, placing flower petals and white pearls of rice on top as prasad, a meal offering to Hindu gods. Native Balinese practice a distinctive blend of Hinduism with indigenous animism, ancestor worship, and magic.
Compared with the rest of Indonesia, Christianity has made little headway in Bali. Christians make up only 2 percent of Bali's inhabitants. (Christians are 15 percent of Indonesia's entire population.) In Bali, it is easier to establish a mosque than a church: Pastors need approval from 50 families in the surrounding area and recommendation letters from the local district government. Islamic leaders do not face such steep requirements.
Yet new Christian outreach is taking root. A turning point occurred in 1972, when I Wayan Mastra, a native Balinese Hindu who became a Christian at a school on Java, was chosen as chairman of the Balinese Protestant church association. He contextualized the Balinese church, including introducing dance and traditional gamelan music, to divorce it from its Dutch Reformed colonial legacy. He cast a vision for a "mango tree" church, rooted in Balinese soil, not a "bonsai tree" church, potted artificially.
Over time, Mastra's vision produced results. Christianity in Bali is now growing faster than the population in Indonesia. In the past 15 years, immigration of Christians from other parts of Indonesia and active crusades to encourage conversions of native Balinese have contributed to the growth.
Exact data are hard to compile in a country where Christian conversion faces lasting stigma. "When I first came to Bali 18 years ago, there were three Christian denominations," said Gayle Dwije, originally from Melbourne, Australia. C3 Bali was founded by the Dwijes in 2001 and now shepherds about 250 members. Last August, they opened a small Bible-based school for grades K–9.