In 1953, Peter Vanderhaegen was assigned to the circuit work in Indonesia. His circuit included the whole country and stretched some 3,200 miles (5,100 km) from east to west and 1,100 miles (1,800 km) from north to south. To cover this vast area, he often had many hair-raising experiences.
In 1954, Brother Vanderhaegen traveled to the eastern region of Indonesia, a religiously diverse area including the islands of Bali, which has a large Hindu population; Lombok and Sumbawa, with a predominantly Muslim population; Flores, which is mainly Catholic; and Sumba, Alor, and Timor, which are mostly Protestant. Traveling by rickety boat, he preached briefly at several islands along the way before arriving at Kupang, the capital of Timor. “I preached in Timor for two weeks,” Brother Vanderhaegen related. “Despite heavy rain, I placed all of my literature, obtained 34 magazine subscriptions, and started several Bible studies.” Special pioneers followed up on this interest and established a congregation in Kupang. From there the good news spread to the neighboring islands of Rotè, Alor, Sumba, and Flores.
When the Protestant clergy in Kupang saw that their flocks were listening to Jehovah’s Witnesses, they became filled with jealous rage. One senior clergyman ordered Thomas Tubulau, an elderly one-handed tinsmith, to stop studying with the Witnesses, adding that if he did not stop telling others what he had learned, blood would be shed. Thomas boldly replied: “No Christian would say what you just said. You will not see me at your church again.” Thomas became a zealous Kingdom proclaimer, and his daughter became a special pioneer.
Nevertheless, Timor’s clergy were determined to stamp out Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1961, they successfully pressured the Department of Religious Affairs and the local military authorities to ban the house-to-house preaching work. So, the brothers simply adjusted their witnessing methods. They spoke to people at markets and wells, to fishermen bringing in their catch at the beach, and to families tending graves at cemeteries. After one month, the military authorities relented and announced over the radio that there was freedom of religion in Timor. When the Department of Religious Affairs insisted that house-to-house preaching was still forbidden, the brothers asked them to put their statement in writing. The officials refused. After that, the brothers resumed their house-to-house work unhindered.
When missionaries Piet and Nell de Jager and Hans and Susie van Vuure arrived in Papua in 1962, they too were opposed by Christendom’s clergy. Three senior ministers confronted the missionaries and demanded that they preach elsewhere. From the pulpit, in print, and over the radio, the clergy falsely accused Jehovah’s Witnesses of stirring up trouble against the government. They also cajoled, threatened, or bribed any parishioner who started studying with the missionaries. And they pressured local community chieftains to oppose the preaching work.
These efforts backfired when one chief invited the missionaries to speak at his village. “After the chief assembled the villagers, Piet and I gave two short talks explaining our work,” recalled Hans. “Then our wives demonstrated how we would knock at their doors, accept their invitation to step inside, and share a short message from the Bible. The chief and his people responded favorably to our presentation and allowed us to carry on our work freely.”
These and other incidents followed a familiar pattern. Rarely did Muslims oppose the preaching work; invariably the opposition came from Christendom’s clergy. This pattern continues to the present day.
“Brought Before Governors . . . for a Witness”
Jesus told his disciples: “You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the nations.” (Matt. 10:18) These words have repeatedly proved true in Indonesia.
In 1960, a prominent Dutch theologian in Jakarta published a book that denounced Jehovah’s Witnesses as false Christians. This book prompted many clergymen to take up the cudgel against the Witnesses. For example, the clergy in one town wrote to the Department of Religious Affairs accusing the Witnesses of “confusing their church members.” When the officials invited the brothers to respond to the charges, they presented the facts and gave a good witness. One religious official counseled his colleague: “Let Jehovah’s Witnesses alone. They are waking up the sleepy Protestants.”
In 1964, a group of Protestant clergymen in Papua appealed to the Parliamentary Committee on Religious and Social Affairs to have the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses banned. The branch office, in turn, requested to appear before the committee to make a defense. “We addressed the committee for nearly an hour and clearly explained our Bible education work,” said Tagor Hutasoit. “One opposed politician—a Protestant—falsely accused us of provoking religious unrest in Papua. Most Muslim committee members, however, were sympathetic. They told us: ‘The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, so you have the right to preach.’” Following this meeting, a high-ranking government official in Papua declared: “The new government . . . maintains freedom of religion, and this also applies to newcomers in that field.”