Church Worldwide: RCA Church Sanctuary for Indonesian Christians Seeking Asylum

Asylum seeker Harry Pangemanan, right, plays guitar during the Indonesian service at Reformed Church of Highland Park on Jan. 28 in Highland Park, N.J.
RNS photo by Chris Sagona

A third undocumented Indonesian has sought sanctuary in his New Jersey church, saying he fears deportation to his native country because Christians suffer persecution there.

Harry Pangemanan joins two other Indonesian Christians now living in Reformed Church of Highland Park, about 35 miles south of New York City. One man has lived in the church for more than three months and the other for more than two weeks.

Established in his adopted community, Pangemanan has previously worked with World Renew and alongside volunteers from Christian Reformed and Reformed Church of America congregations in rebuilding New Jersey homes after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

On Sunday (Jan. 28), three days after Pangemanan sought sanctuary in the church, fleeing what he believes were Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents outside his home, supporters gathered for a vigil and march in support of the three men.

The sanctuary seekers are backed by many in the local clergy and local government, as well as New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy. Murphy visited the church and on Thursday tweeted his promise to fight on their behalf.

“I just met with families torn apart and others seeking sanctuary at Reformed Church of Highland Park. Our hearts go out to all New Jerseyans living in fear of deportation. I will fight for you,” he tweeted.

The Highland Park church is one of more than 30 congregations across the nation that are housing people at risk of deportation, according to Church World Service, which is tracking the development.

Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world, has come under intense criticism for the persecution of Christians within its borders. Last year the Christian governor of Jakarta, the nation’s capital, was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam, a development many deemed a serious setback for those trying to shore up religious tolerance in Indonesia.

Sunday’s vigil for the men at First Presbyterian Church of Metuchen ended with a march to a rally at that town’s municipal hall. There participants called for the release of two other Indonesian men who belong to Reformed Church of Highland Park and who are being detained by ICE, as well as legislation to protect immigrants.

Melanie McDermott, a neighbor of one of the men seeking sanctuary in the church, attended the rally with her husband. She said anti-immigrant policies should not target people who have established themselves as productive members of society.

“We feel that enough is enough. This has to stop. We want a path to citizenship for law-abiding people starting with asylum seekers who are part of our hardworking fabric of our nation,” she said.

At the rally, activists linked arms and sang the civil rights movement anthem “We Shall Overcome.”

“If it took this situation to wake us up, so be it,” Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch said of the sanctuary seekers as he addressed the crowd.

“But we’re woken up now and we’re going to do something about it.”

Banner news editor note: This story has been edited for length, with third paragraph added.

© 2018 Religion News Service

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See comments (2)


The Christian Reformed Church needs to get its story straight when it comes to Islam. On the one hand the church wants to speak of Muslims as our brothers and sisters, a claim for which they have no Biblical argument, but then they want to say that Christians are facing persecution in a majority Muslim country and are in need of sanctuary in the U.S.

The truth is that Christians face persecution in every Muslim country. Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco etc. There is no solidarity between Muslims and Christians. Muslims deny the deity of Jesus which ends the supposed commonality right there. Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the cross but that another person who appeared to be like him took his place. This is an old Christian heresy. 

Next I would point out that there is no law granting churches the ability to operate as refuges for people who are fleeing the law. If this man has a real fear of being persecuted for his faith then the government has a legal process by which he can plead his case. The church cannot assist someone in the breaking of the law. This circumstance does not come under the heading of being forced to do something that involves denying our confession concerning who Christ is. This is a civil matter pertaining to an area where the civil magistrate has exclusive jurisdiction.

Any person who is in the country illegally is not law abiding. He doesn't have clean hands.

Surah An-Nisa

O people of the Book! commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an Messenger of Allah and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah: glory be to him: (for Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (171)