Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Keep the faith close, no closer, no closer still,...

There is a lot of tension in Aceh after 30 years of being closed off from the world. Many Acehnese are concerned about non Muslims coming into the area and evangelizing. In some instances it has been warranted, one faith-based NGO was kicked out of the area for distributing leaflets. (This happened before we came here). Maybe not such a bad thing; (I’ve contributed to this particular organization in the past), but they were specifically told that while the aid is welcome, the Amens, so to speak, are not.

It has gotten so bad that there are news stories about villagers finding ‘cross-shapes’ on candy and requesting that the distributors of these candies take them back. A bunch of fake Korans were found and confiscated, fearing that some Christian-based foreign group was trying to teach falsehoods. A group of tweeners pillaged their middle school when they found references to Christianity in their history books and requested that these Indonesian, printed in Jakarta (where there happen to be quite a few Christians) books be returned. (I guess history is in the eye of the beholder,..?)

As part of a faith-based organization, we are particularly sensitive to this. CRS, however, does firmly believe that there should be no strings attached to the aid and money that it generously donates. There is no weird flicking of the holy water or slipping a crucifix in the pocket that some might think happens at this Catholic organization.

Some actions CRS takes might be a little too much on the politically correct side (for me), such as CRS not distributing its annual calendar in the office, as it contains a biblical saying and might offend some workers.

Another NGO in the area (not faith based, just not-for-profit) had to put the kibosh on Christmas music being played at worker’s desks because it upset the non Christians.

CRS was also very careful to only put the chairman of the organization (a lay person) on the faceplate for the downtown park, fearing that the religious title of the actual director would be offensive.

So, in light of all this paranoia, this new problem really isn’t such a shocker. It seems that the chairwoman of a local kindergarten called CRS very upset because the design on the top gable of her school building looks like a cross in this year’s school picture. While this is only a gable and is the same color and material as the rest of the wall, the light catches this structure, and, since you know, the CRS name contains ‘Catholic’ and the money used to rebuild the school is from Catholic people, many parents have interpreted that CRS has started to evangelize. To minimize the situation, CRS is immediately helping get pictures back from the students’ families and put a piece of plywood over the gable.

This after the new mayor of the city of Banda complained that the roof of the park’s main building was too pitched, apparently similar to certain other architectural buildings, like, you know, churches. Forget the fact that Acehnese architecture very frequently has steep pitched roofs with gorgeous carved wood.

Well, what do you expect from an area where an ex-GAM member was imprisoned, was able to escaped from his cell after the tsunami and became the province’s new governor?

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