Seventh-day Adventists should be known as “people who are eager to do good,” Pastor Jan Paulsen, Adventist world church president, told more than 3,000 students and faculty at Bandung Adventist University, concluding a four-day visit to Indonesia Feb. 15.
Throughout his visit to Indonesia—a nation that continues to experience inter-religious conflict in some areas—Pastor Paulsen emphasized the responsibility of every Adventist believer to contribute to a culture of tolerance, and to make a positive contribution in the cities and villages where they live.
“The Indonesian authorities need to know that the Adventist community is a peaceful community that will never be drawn into acts of violence, that will never support terrorism, and that will never play a part in destabilizing society,” Paulsen told the students who crowded the university’s church building. “I want the secular authorities to know this about us—that Seventh-day Adventists are productive members of the nation, positive members of the community, and good citizens.”
Paulsen said it is “a tragic distortion if the best thing that can be said about us as a church is that ‘They know a lot,’ or ‘They have all the theory,’ but they are not nice people to be around.”
He added, “It is vital to know the truth, to take care of the truth. But the truth has to be lived—to find expression in our daily lives. For it is in this way that the goodness of God is made known to other people.”
In the capital, Jakarta, Paulsen paid a courtesy visit to the national Minister of Religious Affairs, Said Agiel Munawar. During the Feb. 13 meeting, Paulsen and the minister—a Muslim academic and cleric—discussed ways to increase communication and reduce tension between different religious groups in Indonesia.
“Tolerance does not come of itself,” said Paulsen. “It must be deliberately pursued and cultivated.” The minister thanked the Adventist Church in Indonesia for “facing other religions with smiles, rather than harsh words,” and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to safeguarding religious freedom.
Inter-religious violence continues to flare in various provinces of Indonesia, most recently in Aceh, where Shari’a, or Islamic, law will be introduced in March this year. Perhaps the most widely publicized conflict in recent years took place between 2000 and 2003 on the Maluku islands where an estimated 6,000 people were killed—including at least 15 Adventist Church members—in clashes between Muslims and Christians.
At a news conference held at the minister’s office, Paulsen spoke about the work of the Adventist Church in Indonesia and internationally, and answered questions from the national media.
With more than 230 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. It is a nation that has endured both political and economic upheavals over the past decade. Politics is again at the forefront of public discussion as the country prepares for presidential elections in April this year; it is the first time an Indonesian president will be chosen by direct election.
In response to questions from journalists about the church’s political stance, Paulsen said the church, as an institution, does not involve itself in politics, nor does it advise its members how to vote. “But we do advise our members to be participants in the life of their nation,” he added, “and to cast their votes in harmony with their own judgment.”
On Sabbath, or Saturday, Feb. 14, some 9,000 church members from more than 100 Adventist churches in Jakarta gathered at a downtown sports arena for a celebration that featured music from a 350-voice choir, as well as a performance by a band playing “Angklungs”—traditional Indonesian bamboo instruments.
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world—some 80 percent to 85 percent of the population practice Islam—and yet the Adventist Church here is experiencing steady growth. By the end of this year, membership will approach a quarter of a million. Local church leaders attribute this growth not just to their ongoing public evangelism efforts and television ministry, but also to the emphasis that has been placed on the role of individual lay people in sharing their faith. Global Mission pioneers—or lay volunteers—are also working within many of the different ethnic groups of Indonesia, sharing Christianity in a contextualized way.
At a Friday evening meeting with church leaders from across Indonesia, Paulsen urged them to continue looking outward, and to avoid a “club mentality. Clubs exist to care for members who pay their fees—they exist in the interest of the members,” said Paulsen. “But the church is different; it exists primarily in the interest of those who are not members, for God has chosen the church to bring to others the good news that salvation is in the Lord. We must never forget that the church exists for mission.”
Pastor Paulsen was accompanied during his visit by Pastor Alberto Gulfan, president of the Adventist Church in the Southern Asia-Pacific region. The Adventist Church has had a presence in Indonesia for more than 100 years. It operates 316 elementary and high schools, three universities, three hospitals and numerous medical clinics.