Day 20 The Sundanese people of Indonesia
Primarily occupying the western third of the island of Java, the Sundanese (or Sunda) are the largest unreached people group in Indonesia. Joshua Project estimates that Christians comprise less than 1% of their population. Islam is the predominant religion.
They are also the nation’s second-most-populous ethnic group after the Javanese, who live in the central and eastern provinces of the same island.
For most Sundanese Muslims, faith is a blend of Islamic beliefs and pre-Islamic practices like spirit worship. Joshua Project explains, “The Sunda seek to protect their harmony with the natural world. They do this through traditional ceremonies for spiritual life and through group work for mutual assistance.”
In traditional Sundanese society, following Jesus is synonymous with deserting one’s Sundanese identity. During the years of Dutch colonialism, a division was formed between the Europeans and the Sundanese, who came to view the good news as foreign. To become Christian is to become like the colonizers.
Ministry among the Sundanese is undeniably arduous, but not impossible. It is often when they experience the love of Christ in real, practical and culturally relevant ways that they learn that the gospel is for them, too. A true story, told by Matt Kirkas, an author and missionary among the Sundanese, illustrates this truth.
Cakra, a widower and single father, worked tirelessly to provide for his daughter. Sometimes, he even skipped meals to save money for her tuition fees.
However, the constant strain of hunger and stress eventually led to his own illness, rendering him unable to work. This created a challenging cycle: Because he was sick, he couldn’t work. And because he couldn’t work, he had no money to seek medical treatment, which meant he couldn’t work.
When a group of church planters visited Cakra, their hearts broke for the family. Immediately, they took him to the clinic. They also prepared meals for him and prayed for him and his daughter.
Three days later, Cakra was well again. The church planters continued their visits, each time sharing the gospel in greater depth. Because of the love the church planters demonstrated in such practical and caring ways, both Cakra and his daughter turned to Christ.
But for those who embrace the gospel, the road ahead is far from easy. It is a journey marked with opposition, persecution and intense pressure from their families and communities to renounce their newfound faith, as there is almost zero tolerance of family members who take on new religious identities. Kirkas depicts this daunting reality through yet another story.
When Meimunnah, a Sundanese woman, came to Christ, she was physically abused and threatened by her family not once, not twice, but five times. She endured injuries, property damage, humiliation and ostracism from her family. Yet her undying commitment to following Jesus never wavered.
“Even though I must die, I will continue to follow Christ,” she told her tormentors.
Eventually, her tormentors reached a breaking point. Realizing that Meimunnah would not be swayed, they decided to leave her alone.
Jesus, I thank you for the bold courage of believers among the Sundanese on the Indonesian island of Java. Protect them. Give wisdom and strength to those enduring persecution from their own families. May their testimonies speak loudly and clearly of the love of you, Jesus.
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