On July 9, 1964, the Indonesian Department of Justice officially registered the Bible Students Association, a legal corporation used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. But before the brothers could enjoy full religious freedom, they needed to be registered with the Department of Religious Affairs. This agency took advice from the Directorate General of Christian Community Guidance, which was staffed by hard-line Protestants who were implacably opposed to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

One day a brother met a senior official who worked closely with the Minister of Religious Affairs. The two men discovered that they came from the same village, so they enjoyed an animated discussion in their native dialect. When the brother told the official about the problems that the Witnesses were having with the Directorate General of Christian Community Guidance,  the official arranged for three brothers to meet directly with the minister, a congenial and sympathetic Muslim. On May 11, 1968, the minister issued an official decree recognizing Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religion and confirming their right to carry out their work in Indonesia.

The senior official also volunteered to bypass the Directorate General of Christian Community Guidance so that foreign Witnesses could obtain missionary visas. With the help of this fair-minded administrator, 64 missionaries were admitted to Indonesia over the next few years.

By 1968, about 300 missionaries and special pioneers and more than 1,200 publishers were carrying the good news to every corner of Indonesia. The missionaries gave valuable training to the local brothers. This helped speed up their spiritual progress. The training was timely because storm clouds of persecution were swiftly approaching.

A “Christmas Gift” for the Clergy

In 1974, the Directorate General of Christian Community Guidance resumed its long-running campaign to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses. The director general of that department wrote to each regional office of the Department of Religious Affairs, falsely claiming that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not legally recognized. He urged local officials to act against the Witnesses whenever they caused them “difficulties”—a thinly disguised invitation to persecute Jehovah’s people. Most officials ignored the direction. But others seized the opportunity to ban the meetings and the house-to-house preaching.

On December 24, 1976, a newspaper announced the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses

 Around the same time, the World Council of Churches (WCC) was planning to hold an international assembly in Jakarta, a move that local Muslims viewed as provocative and aggressive. Because religious tensions were escalating, the WCC canceled the assembly. However, Christian proselytizing had become a hot issue, and many politicians were nervous. Predictably, the clergy tried to blame Jehovah’s Witnesses by loudly complaining about their preaching activities. This caused more officials to view the Witnesses in a negative light.

In December 1975, with religious tensions still increasing, Indonesia invaded East Timor (now Timor-Leste), a former Portuguese colony. Seven months later, East Timor was annexed, fueling patriotic fervor throughout the nation. The brothers remained politically neutral and refused to engage in military service or salute the flag, a stand that aroused the ire of senior military commanders. (Matt. 4:10; John 18:36) Moving in for the kill, the clergy clamored for the government to act against the Witnesses. Finally, in mid-December 1976, the clergy received their “Christmas gift”—the government announced that Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned.