Evangelical Christians from Indonesia and other countries have intensified efforts to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of thousands of East Timorese people settling into refugee camps at the western end of the Indonesian island.

Despite limited funds and inadequate staffing, believers are sharing the gospel with refugees from ethnic people groups that previously have had little or no access to the message.

An estimated 300,000 people have fled into the Indonesian-held western half of the island of Timor since East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in August. The vote sparked violent reactions in the already tumultuous region, with hundreds of people in East Timor believed to have been killed by militias loyal to the Indonesian government in Jakarta.

Baptist relief efforts began as members of Kupang Baptist Church in West Timor ministered to 14 Baptist families from Dili, East Timor, who had fled to Kupang. As the refugee numbers increased, a team of 11 young adults from a Baptist student group in Jakarta joined the church in Kupang to help care for the refugees, who were being housed at the Noelbaki refugee camp outside the city.

A Baptist representative involved in the relief efforts said the 515 people (105 families) the church is now caring for had fled their village near Dili, leaving their homes, land and most of their belongings. Their village leader is a member of Dili Baptist Church.

He added that the size of the camps has continued to increase because refugees are not quickly returning to East Timor, mainly due to misinformation and intimidation tactics being used by anti-independence elements in Timor.

"Opportunities for ministry are increasing and we are moving the ministry into a longer-term project, ...

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