During the ban, most congregations continued to meet together for worship in private homes. To avoid attracting undue attention, however, many congregations did not sing Kingdom songs. Some meeting places were raided by the authorities, but usually the brothers were undisturbed.
The brothers often used family reunions or wedding celebrations as occasions to hold larger assemblies. “Couples typically registered their marriage and obtained a police permit to hold a large wedding reception,” explained Tagor Hutasoit. “During the reception, the bridal party sat on the platform while brothers presented a series of Bible talks.”
At one assembly a policeman approached Tagor privately.
“Most weddings last only two or three hours. Why do your weddings last from morning to evening?” the policeman asked.
“Some brides and grooms have many troubles and need lots of helpful counsel from God’s Word,” Tagor replied.
“That makes sense,” nodded the policeman.
Under the cover of a multiple wedding, brothers presented part of the 1983 “Kingdom Unity” District Convention at a large Jakarta sports stadium. A peak of nearly 4,000 brothers and interested ones attended the convention, and 125 people were baptized privately before the program. Later, when the ban was less rigidly enforced, the brothers held even larger conventions, including one attended by over 15,000 people.
Building a Branch Office While Under Ban
During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the branch office repeatedly petitioned the government to remove the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses. Brothers in other countries also wrote to the Indonesian government and its ambassadors, asking why Jehovah’s Witnesses were outlawed in Indonesia. Many officials favored lifting the ban, but the powerful Directorate General of Christian Community Guidance repeatedly blocked their efforts.
In 1990, the brothers concluded that it might be possible to build a new branch office in an inconspicuous location. That same year, the Governing Body approved the purchase of a property near Bogor, a small city about 25 miles (40 km) south of Jakarta. Few local brothers, however, had construction skills. How, then, would the new facility be built?
The answer came through the international brotherhood. The Brooklyn Construction Office and the Regional Engineering Office in Australia supplied the architectural plans. Some 100 international volunteers provided the needed expertise during the two-year project.
Hosea Mansur, an Indonesian brother who acted as a liaison with various local officials, related: “When Muslim officials saw my initials, H.M., on my hard hat, they assumed that the letter H stood for ‘Hājjī,’ a highly esteemed title claimed by those who make pilgrimages to Mecca. They thus treated me with great respect. This simple misunderstanding made it easier to organize the work.”
The new branch facilities were dedicated on July 19, 1996. John Barr, a member of the Governing Body, delivered the dedication talk. The 285 people in the audience included 118 branch representatives and former missionaries from many countries and the 59 members of the Indonesia Bethel family. In the two days that followed the dedication program, 8,793 delegates attended the “Messengers of Godly Peace” District Convention in Jakarta.
Jehovah Delivers His People
In 1998, Indonesia’s longtime President Soeharto (Suharto) resigned, paving the way for a new government. In turn, the brothers intensified their efforts to have the ban on the work lifted.
While visiting New York in 2001, the Indonesian Secretary of State, Mr. Djohan Effendi, toured Brooklyn Bethel and met with three members of the Governing Body. He was impressed by what he saw, and he acknowledged that Jehovah’s Witnesses had a good reputation worldwide. Mr. Effendi favored lifting the ban, but he said that the final word would have to come from the attorney general of Indonesia, Mr. Marzuki Darusman.
The attorney general also favored lifting the ban, but hostile officials in his department kept stalling in the hope that he would soon be replaced. Finally, on June 1, 2001, Tagor Hutasoit was summoned to the attorney general’s office. “In that same office, some 25 years earlier, I was handed a document stating that Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned,” recalled Tagor. “But on this day, the attorney general’s last day in office, he handed me a document revoking the ban.”
On March 22, 2002, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Indonesia was officially registered by the Department of Religious Affairs. The director-general of the department told branch representatives: “This registration document does not grant you freedom of worship. That freedom comes from God. This document states that your religion is officially recognized by the government. You now have the same rights as other religions, and the government is at your service.”