INDONESIA: Sunday School teachers released!

Dr. Rebekka Zakaria (pictured right), Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun were released from prison earlier today. The three Christian women were released on parole ‚Äì having served two years of a three year sentence handed out for running a ‘Sunday School’ that included some local Muslim children.

The women left the prison at 9am local time and went immediately to be reunited with their families. Rebekka, aged 49, is married and has a daughter and son at university. She and her husband also have an adopted adult daughter Linda, who regularly brought food to the women while they were in prison.

Eti, aged 45, is married to Sutrisno and they have two daughters (aged 21 and 15) and a son, aged eight.

Ratna, aged 40, was looking forward to a reunion with her husband Sembiring and her two sons, Joshua (10) and Christopher (8).

Throughout their imprisonment, the ladies remained powerful witnesses for their Christian faith. They transformed the prison by cleaning washrooms and toilets, scrubbing cells, working on the garden and even painting in bright yellow and blue the walls of the room they used for church meetings.

Within the women’s section, quarrelling was reduced and because of Rebekka, Eti and Ratna’s calming influence the guards overruled prison protocol and allowed each woman to have her own knife and spoon in their cell.

The case of these ladies sparked concern among the Christian community worldwide resulting in a letter-writing campaign and prayer vigils in many countries including Ireland. (Open Doors)

INDONESIA: Sunday School teachers lose appeal

On November 22nd, an Indonesian court denied the appeal of three Sunday school teachers convicted of preaching to Muslim children in western Java.

The three women, Rebecca Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun, are serving a three-year prison term after being convicted of proselytizing Muslim children who attended their Sunday school class. Under Indonesia law they can make only one more appeal to have their sentences reduced. The women, who have been in prison for six months, maintain that they have been wrongly convicted.


Rebecca, Eti and Ratna were recently visited in prison by Jay Esteban (Christian World News) who reports: Dr. Rebecca Zakaria said, “God is using us boldly to minister to other inmates here. We have led two women already and even shared to a Muslim woman. It’s hard being here but I know I am pleasing God by doing His work.”

Ratna Bangun misses her children, 9-year old Joshua and 7-year old Christopher. She says her children hardly ever have the opportunity to visit her, since they are studying in another state. But, her husband visits twice a month.Ratna said, “My children are sometimes crying, asking when I will be back. But they get comforted when they know that their mom is doing Jesus‚Äô work.”

Eti Pangesti owns the house where the three women held the Sunday school programme that was attended by Christian and Muslim children. In the area, in Harleguis, we spoke to Eti’s family. We asked 10 year old Leila how she feels about her mother being in prison. She said, “I‚Äôm proud of my mom because she is doing this for God.” I saw some of the materials, such as colouring books, used for the Happy Sunday school Program these three women taught. About 20 – 25 children would come over and praise and worship God.

Right now, this place may seem abandoned, but once they get out of prison Eti, Ratna and Rebecca are determined to continue teaching God’s Word, not only to children but also to their fellow Indonesians who are not Christians. This, they believe, is God’s will for their lives. (Christian World News)

INDONESIA: Sunday School teachers imprisoned

Earlier this month, Indonesian judges sentenced three women (pictured left) to three years in prison for allowing Muslim children to attend a Christian Sunday school programme.

Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun received the sentence after judges found them guilty of violating the Child Protection Act of 2002, which forbids ‚Äúdeception, lies or enticement‚Äù causing a child to convert to another religion. The maximum sentence for violation of the Act is five years in prison and a fine of 100 million rupiah (‚€8,000 approx.).


The Sunday school teachers had instructed the children to get permission from their parents before attending the programme, and those who did not have permission were asked to go home, according to Jeff Hammond of Bless Indonesia Today, a Christian foundation operating out of Jakarta. None of the children had converted to Christianity.

When the verdict was announced, the courtroom crowd erupted with shouts of “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”).

A source who spoke with Zakaria by phone as the three women were waiting to be taken into the courtroom for the verdict said she was calm and confident. Zakaria said the situation did not look hopeful but that some day, “in God’s time,” all three women would “walk free from the prison.”

The three women, described by friends as “ordinary housewives,” were relieved that they had not been given the maximum five-year prison sentence. All three, however, were devastated at the prospect of being separated from their children, who range from 6 to 19 years of age.

As they have done throughout the trial, Islamic extremists made murderous threats both inside and outside the courtroom. Hammond said several truckloads of extremists arrived; one brought a coffin to bury the accused if they were found innocent.

“The ladies, witnesses and judges were constantly under the threats of violence from hundreds of Islamic radicals who threatened to kill the three ladies, witnesses, pastors, missionaries and even the judges if the women were acquitted” (Compass)

INDONESIA: Rinaldy Damanik released early

Rev. Rinaldy Damanik walked free from his cell at the Maesa Detention Center in Palu, Sulawesi, on November 9 after authorities granted him an early release.

A smiling Rinaldy greeted the small crowd of friends and reporters who had gathered outside the prison and expressed thanks to those who had campaigned on his behalf during the imprisonment.


Before his arrest on what many believe were false charges, Rinaldy worked tirelessly to provide relief for Muslim and Christian victims of the sectarian violence that erupted on Sulawesi island in the late 1990s. He was also a signatory of the Malino Peace Accord, signed in December 2001.

The breakthrough for Damanik’s early release came in August this year, when a respected Muslim cleric, Idrus R. al Habsy, befriended Rinaldy after the cleric’s son, Husen, met Rinaldy in prison. When Idrus learned that Rinaldy had worked tirelessly to promote peace, the elderly cleric became a staunch advocate for his release.

On August 20, Idrus sent a letter of appeal to the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, asking that Rinaldy be freed as he was a man of good character. Observers say this letter was vital in securing an early release date.

It seems other Muslims are also supportive of Rinaldy. Compass received a letter from a Muslim refugee in late October, expressing the belief that Rinaldy was innocent. The letter, translated from the original Indonesian, read in part; “I myself am one of the victims amongst the thousands of the Poso violence who were evacuated by Rinaldy Damanik with his Crisis Center. Even though we differed in religion, their hearts and humanitarianism were extraordinary.”

The letter also referred to Rinaldy’s election as president of the Synod of the Christian Church of Central Sulawesi (GKST) on October 17 while he was still imprisoned: “This election also testifies that Rev. Rinaldy Damanik is innocent and greatly beloved by the people.”

Meanwhile, a press release from Open Doors on November 9 said Damanik planned to continue his work with the GSKT Crisis Center. “When I leave, I will continue to do exactly what I was doing before I was arrested,” he told an Open Doors staff member.

He also expressed thanks for support provided by Open Doors and other organizations throughout his imprisonment. ‚ÄúAll the people, including children, who sent me letters, cards, band-aids, lotion for my skin and little chocolates with Scriptures written on them — you really touched my heart.‚Äù (Compass)