A multi-billion-dollar government program to relocate millions of people to Indonesia’s less-populated islands could give Christians on the island of Irian Jaya a major opportunity for outreach among Muslims.
The resettlement project gained impetus last year with the Indonesian government’s announcement of a stepped-up, five-year program. Families willing to leave their overcrowded homelands for the rugged frontiers of the nation’s less-developed islands receive about five acres of land, a house, seed, and enough food to last until their first harvest. The resulting influx of homesteaders is forcing changes on Indonesia’s frontier areas. Perhaps nowhere do those changes promise to be more radical than in predominantly Christian Irian Jaya, a jungle-covered province three times the size of the densely populated Indonesian island of Java.
“Prior to last April, they were bringing them [homesteaders] in only a few at a time,” said Ronald Hill, chairman of the Irian Jaya field of The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM). “Now they are bringing in 250 Javanese people at a time on three or four flights per week.”
Some observers say the transmigration project is an attempt to Islamize Irian Jaya and other islands that have substantial Christian or animist populations. While many Christians in Irian Jaya view the influx of settlers with trepidation, others say it is a rare opportunity to evangelize a group that otherwise would be difficult to reach.
“We are seeing this as one of the greatest challenges of the Christian church, because the church had not been able to go before to minister in Java …,” Hill said. “Now the Lord is bringing … two million Muslim people into an area where we can minister to them. We want to prepare the church ...1