This year we started the Christmas season in a unique way. Instead of our usual celebration - going to a hotel or restaurant packed with believers and decked out with decorations, singing carols, exchanging gifts, and listening to the Christmas stories told year after year - we chose to attend a Christmas party geared toward our Muslim friends in Indonesia. Indeed, this gathering was predominantly attended by Muslims and just a few Muslim-background believers. All these guests came at the invitation of Indonesian missionaries who have been serving in 100% Muslim areas surrounding our city in Sulawesi.
Our city has a notorious reputation in Indonesia for being a people easily angered. Across the whole country, we have the highest rate of demonstrations against the government. And sadly, the offenders are usually college students, the ones who are supposed to be highly educated and the hope for our future generations.
Imagine our surprise to arrive at this Christmas party and find it packed with Muslims, many of whom had traveled hours by public transportation from their villages. I would estimate around 4000 people were inside, crowding the ground floor and balcony.
The worship leaders led songs in Indonesian, and they also sang a few that had been translated into the local dialect of our city in Sulawesi. People danced and sang along.
The pinnacle of the event was an evangelistic message, preached by a former Muslim who had previously belonged to a radical group. He had been a violent man who would mutilate his victims and bury pieces of their bodies in different places. Since Jesus changed him, this man bears little resemblance to that fearsome radical. Now he is well known for holding evangelistic meetings for Muslims in West Java. He has also opened a missionary school and learned much from former Muslims who were experts in the Qur'an. As he preached, he referenced both the Bible and the Qur'an. Having memorized large portions of each, he quoted them with ease.
After sharing the gospel, he invited people to the altar to have "restoration" through Jesus. Many came forward. Some fell backward or fainted, and I saw one lady who wore the hijab receive healing in her legs. After being prayed over, she could run easily!
Despite the reputation of our city, we had no problems from the radicals, even with the presentation of a clear gospel message given publicly to Muslims. In fact, everything went smoothly. The event was only lightly guarded by a few soldiers, themselves Muslims.
According to the hosting organization, this kind of event has been going on for several years now. Last year they held one in an open-air stadium, easily accessed by anybody!
Having seen this event with my own eyes, as well as many others like it around Sulawesi, I would say that times have changed. South Sulawesi is open to the gospel. We are living in God's opportune time for Muslims to know Christ.