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Another Record Year of Religious Violence in Indonesia?

Surge bolsters stance of New Jersey pastor harboring asylum-seeking refugees in his church.

Religious freedom violations against Indonesian Christians are rising and on track to surpass last year's increase.

Nearly two dozen churches have been forced to shut their doors this year, and violent attacks against Christians have increased since January, reports Compass Direct News. Most of the church closures occurred in Aceh Province, where local authorities have faced pressure from Islamist extremists.

In 2011, monitors tallied 64 known cases of religious freedom violations, up from 47 the year before. The Jakarta Christian Communication Forum already counted 40 reported incidents as of May, according to Compass.

The increase affects Indonesian Christians in the United States. In New Jersey, a pastor has drawn attention for harboring Indonesian refugees facing deportation in his church. In March, refugee Saul Timisela moved into a Sunday school classroom at the Reformed Church of Highland Park; within one month, two more men joined him.

Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale has pledged to help Timisela and nearly 80 other Indonesian Christians facing deportation, many of whom came to the U.S. in the 1990s on tourist visas to flee persecution in their homeland. Most were not aware of their time limits for applying for asylum; their visas expired, and they continued living in the U.S. illegally.

One of the refugees living in the church, Rovani Wangkoa, told the New York Daily News, "I'm scared to go to Indonesia.… Indonesia is no good for Christians."

Kaper-Dale has been working with authorities to secure legal means for the refugees to stay. He told Religion News Service that he would continue to bring refugees into his church, despite the potential legal ramifications he could face, saying, "Our arms are open wide, as wide as the cross."

Indonesia, long known for valuing religious pluralism and harmony, has made headlines in recent years for a Bogor mayor disobeying a Supreme Court order to reverse the forced closure of a church; a rare suicide bombing at a sister congregation of Rick Warren's megachurch; the banning of aid groups from hurricane-ravaged Aceh Jaya over charges of proselytism; and narrowly upholding its long-standing blasphemy law.

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