A Muslim Finds Yesus Kristus


I was born in Indramayu, West Java, Indonesia, on April 13, 1978. I’m the third child in the family; I have two older brothers and one younger brother. I spent the first 18 years of my life in my hometown, and then went to Bandung to continue my study.

I grew up in a nominally Muslim family. My journey to Christian faith was a long, and not always conscious, process, which, as far as I can remember, started when I was about six or seven.

A Willing Victim?

It was the week in which I was having an elementary school test. I was reading a chapter in a book about the five religions that are officially recognised in Indonesia. When I read the section about Christianity, I came across words which soon I was fond of pronouncing. One was Yesus Kristus (the Indonesian name for Jesus Christ), described as the founder of the religion, and the other was Betlehem, the place of his birth.

I would pronounce the words aloud during the next few days simply because I liked the sounds of them. My parents and my oldest brother, however, discouraged me from doing it further by reasoning that it was no use trying to memorize the words since the teacher wouldn’t ask that kind of question in the exam anyway—which turned out to be true!

And so I abandoned the practice, until an incident that occurred during my teenage years triggered again the excitement that I had hitherto neglected but not yet completely forgotten.

One evening during Christmas time, when I was about 15, I watched a music show on TV. I forget whether it was at the beginning, middle, or end of the show, but a Christian song was played—not about Christmas, curiously enough, but about the Crucifixion. Some of the lyrics in the song that I still remember so well went like this: “You were willing to be crucified for us.”

This came to me as a surprise, since it was not in my understanding that there was a sense of willingness in the story of the Crucifixion. The popular Islamic version of the story that I was familiar with was that Jesus ran away when people were trying to crucify him, and when he finally got stuck and couldn’t go anywhere further, God lifted him up to heaven, and the people crucified someone else whom they mistook for, and whom God had made to resemble, Jesus.

After the TV show was over, I kept wondering why Jesus, whose birth in Bethlehem was now being celebrated, was willing to be crucified, and what benefit there could be in doing so, and what it had to do with us now. My search to find answers to these questions led me to read books that might contain such answers, to go to some Christian churches, and to befriend Christians, from whom (so I thought) I could get the answers.

Curiosity Becomes Habit

And so, during my high school years, I started to go to church. There are three churches close to where I was living: Pentecostal, Protestant, and Catholic. For some reason, I chose to go to the Catholic church, which was the farthest from my place. Soon afterwards, I began to obtain Christian things: a crucifix, tapes, even a borrowed Bible from a Catholic neighbor. Later, my parents found all of these, and they asked me why I collected such things. But I didn’t know how to answer the question appropriately, so I ended up not saying anything at all. Besides, I really didn’t know the answer. I was just interested in anything that had to do with Jesus, but I didn’t know why.

After this “interrogation,” all the Christian things that I had bought and borrowed were gone and I stopped going to the church for a while. This, however, didn’t last for very long, for several months later, out of some sort of spiritual longing, I would sneak out early in the morning to go to the (Catholic) church again, although this time I only did it now and then. I kept on doing this until I went to Bandung for college.

Conversations with Christians

When I first wanted to become a Christian, the kind of church that I had in mind (and that I actually went to for the first couple of times) was the Catholic Church. And so, even as a Muslim—ignorant of the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism (and in fact still ignorant of them several years after I became a Christian)—I wanted to belong to the Catholic Church. But later, at college in Bandung, I happened to meet and befriended a lot of charismatic Protestants who were “on fire for God.” I didn’t really see why I should view them as different from Catholics, so I went with them to their churches and discussed many Christian issues with them.

When I lost contact with them several years later, I started looking for an international church in the city. Then I found Bandung International Church, and soon I was involved in a certain ministry there. I was baptized in the church and finally even worked for some international (Protestant) mission organizations in Bandung and later in Jakarta.

I Make My Choice

This situation was about to change. One evening in October 2005, at the invitation of my boss at work, I watched the movie Luther at the house of the Australian pastor of All Saints Church in South Jakarta, the church that I went to at that time. During and after the movie, I suddenly realized that within Christianity are two main choices, Catholicism and Protestantism, and that I had to make mine.
The vague term Christianity, of which religion I thought I was part, doesn’t consist in one single unifying teaching: Christians believe a lot of things, sometimes supportive, but a lot of times contradictive, to each other. And for the first time in my life I came to realize that there was serious disagreement among them, which I couldn’t take lightly.
In the movie Luther, a bishop remarks that “the Bible is too profound for common people to fully understand.” This remark is, I think, intended by the movie producer, or whoever else that is involved in it (perhaps based on some legitimate grounds) to be some kind of attack against the Catholic teaching on the Bible. But the line stuck in my mind. And after the movie, when the pastor opened a discussion on what we had just seen, I decided to bring up the bishop’s remark.
I quoted the words of the bishop, and I asked those in attendance if this is why in Protestantism there are so many denominations, with each claiming its own as the true one, as a result of their interpretation of the Bible by way of private judgement? There was silence for about 30 seconds, until finally my German boss, who had invited me to the movie, admitted that there were indeed many different teachings within Protestantism, but that the differences were only secondary, and in no way affected either faith or salvation. At this suggestion, all the others seemed relieved and nodded their heads as a sign of agreement. Although I was quite satisfied with the answer at the moment, this didn’t stop me from looking for the answer myself; later I realized that what my boss said was actually more applicable to the Catholic Church than to Protestant churches.

The House of Adonai

And so I began reading a Wikipedia profile about Catholicism, from which I also got many Catholic Web sites as references. The one that I visited most was Catholic Answers and its online magazine, This Rock. My source for the Catholic point of view on the issues of Protestantism, and on many other things, was the Catholic Encylopedia. In addition to that, I also started reading some Catholic theologians and writers, most notably John Henry Cardinal Newman and G.K. Chesterton, who have been a great help for me to understand Catholic teachings and to confirm my intention to be received into the Catholic Church: Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and Chesterton’s The Catholic Church and Conversion.
I was received into the Catholic Church in December 2006, a couple of days before Christmas, at a parish in South Jakarta. I became a Catholic because after much prayer and study on the issues between Protestantism and Catholicism, I simply could not hold the main Protestant tenets, namely sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia. And as a consequence, I had to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, the Church that I’ve wanted to belong to all this time without fully realizing it, and the Church whose presentation of her Master once stirred, and still does, the desire in me to get to know him more.

During my Protestant years, there was a song, based on Psalms 92:12-13 (the Jerusalem Bible), which made much impression on my heart and mind, and which in fact I printed out and posted on a wall at my office. The song went like this: May I dwell in your courts O Lord, there to flourish like the trees of Lebanon, planted in the house of Adonai, there to live for evermore.

Although long and winding, I’m glad that the roads finally led me home, to the Catholic Church, in whose bosom I will hopefully be carried into God’s everlasting house, in which I shall dwell forever and ever.

 


 

T.A. Herdian lives in Jakarta, works as a translator, and is currently enrolled as a student of philosophy for a master’s degree at Driyarkara School of Philosophy in Jakarta, Indonesia.

 

This article appeared in Volume 21 Number 5.