Protestant Church in the Moluccas
(Gereja Protestan Maluku, GPM)
The Moluccas are the "spice islands" to which Columbus thought he was sailing when he discovered America in 1492. The islands cover a land-water area as large as the Philippines. The Christian faith was preached there as early as 1546. The Dutch East India Company and the Netherlands Indies government gave the inhabitants of the Moluccas some military and minor government positions, but did little to improve the economic and social conditions of the people. The church suffered much under the Japanese occupation during World War II. A quarter of the ministers on the island of Ambon were killed and the population of several villages massacred. Much church property was destroyed. Another serious blow to the church was the revolt of the Republic of South Moluccas in 1950, which was repressed by the Indonesian government. All churches in Ambon were destroyed and many others burned or wrecked in Ceram. A great refugee problem was created which was only solved after many years. It took a long time for places of worship and congregational buildings to be restored.
In 1999, the church faced yet another trial when violent conflicts broke out which lasted almost four years, involving Christians and Muslims in the area. More than one hundred church buildings were destroyed, two dioceses stopped functioning and thousands of people in the villages and in the capital town of Ambon were murdered. Houses and many public facilities, including school buildings owned by the church and the campus of the Christian University were burned down. Over a hundred thousand people were displaced. These were presented as religious conflicts, but the saddest thing was that the communities comprised of Christians and Muslims were also destroyed; prejudice and mistrust developed along with the experience of forced conversion in some Christian villages. Fortunately many have returned to their original Christian faith as security conditions have stabilized, except for some who live in the predominantly Muslim areas.
The church is working hard, not only to rebuild the country physically, but especially mentally and spiritually. The Protestant Church in the Moluccas is focusing on building a "theology of life" and a "spirituality of brotherhood and sisterhood" in its quest to overcome violence and conflict. The church hopes that in the years to come the reconciliation process which is underway will succeed.