When the leaders of the churches of Christendom heard that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been granted freedom of worship, they cried out in anguish. More than 700 clergy and lay leaders from seven Protestant churches held a seminar in Jakarta to urge the government to reinstate the ban. But the government stood firm.
As news filtered around the country that the ban had been lifted, many interested people wrote to the branch office, asking for literature or Bible studies. In 2003, over 42,000 people attended the Memorial, more than double the number of publishers in the country. Nearly 10,000 people attended an assembly in Jakarta, including a high-ranking official from the Department of Religious Affairs. The official was amazed to see younger and older ones in the audience looking up cited scriptures in their copies of the Bible. He assured the brothers that he was determined to correct the misinformation about Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The end of the ban also paved the way for missionaries to return to Indonesia. The first missionaries to return were Josef and Herawati Neuhardt* (from the Solomon Islands), Esa and Wilhelmina Tarhonen (from Taiwan), Rainer and Felomena Teichmann (from Taiwan), and Bill and Nena Perrie (from Japan). They were followed by new Gilead missionaries who were assigned to North Sumatra, Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, and other outlying areas.
In 2005, the branch office conducted classes for two new theocratic schools. One of the instructors for the Ministerial Training School (now called the School for Kingdom Evangelizers), Julianus Benig, stated, “I really enjoyed helping the students to improve their teaching and speaking ability and to become even more useful to the organization.” Many graduates of this school now serve as special pioneers or circuit overseers. Most of the brothers who attended the first class of the School for Traveling Overseers* had initially been trained while the work was under ban. The new school helped them to carry out their assignments after the ban had ended. Ponco Pracoyo, who attended the first class, stated: “The school helped me to be more empathetic and more responsible in carrying out my role as a circuit overseer. It was refreshing and motivating!”
Filling an Urgent Need
During the 25-year ban, most congregations in Indonesia met for worship in small private homes. Few congregations could afford to build a Kingdom Hall, and it was almost impossible to obtain building permits for new places of worship. With many congregations bursting at the seams, the branch office set up a Kingdom Hall Construction Desk (now called the Local Design/Construction Department) to address this urgent need.
One of the first areas to benefit from the new building program was Nias Island in North Sumatra. “When we heard that we were getting a new Kingdom Hall, we were elated,” says Haogo’aro Gea, a longtime member of the Gunungsitoli Congregation. “The branch office sent seven construction volunteers to oversee the project. The hall was completed in 2001.” Faonasökhi Laoli, a member of the local building committee, relates: “We previously met in small private homes, and the community looked down on Jehovah’s Witnesses. But as soon as we finished the Kingdom Hall, our average meeting attendance jumped from 20 to 40. Within 12 months, it increased by over 500 percent. Our place of worship is the finest in the area, and the community views Jehovah’s Witnesses with respect.”
In 2006, in Bandung, West Java, brothers started searching for property to build the city’s first Kingdom Hall. “It took 12 months to find a suitable property,” says Singap Panjaitan, an elder who served on the building committee. “But we needed to get approval from at least 60 non-Witness neighbors before the authorities would give us a building permit. Seventy-six neighbors supported the project, including one influential woman who had initially opposed us. When the hall was finished, we invited our neighbors and the mayor of Bandung to an open house. The mayor stated, ‘This clean and tidy place of worship sets the standard for all other churches to imitate.’” The two-story Kingdom Hall was dedicated in 2010.
Since 2001, over 100 Kingdom Halls have been built in Indonesia, but many more are needed.
Herawati Neuhardt’s life story appeared in the February 2011 issue of Awake!
Now called the School for Circuit Overseers and Their Wives.