Prayers for Peace and Mr. Nobody

by Aldo Siahaan, leadership minister

President Jokowi, in October 2015. Photo by Aldo Siahaan.

I came to the United States in October of 1998.

Earlier that year, there were riots and violence in Indonesia.  Christians and those of Chinese ancestry were the scapegoats. At that time, President Suharto, who led Indonesia for 32 years, had to step down. Suharto was named the most corrupt president in the world, based on the 2004 Global Corruption Report, allegedly embezzling $15-35 billion.

Between 1998 and 2004, Indonesia experienced a change in presidency three times. It was a difficult period, due to power struggles by the political elite and many riots in Indonesian cities.  In the decade following this troubling time, many politicians were caught in corruption.

Then, a new figure appeared and ran for president: Joko Widodo, often called Jokowi. He did not come from a military background.  He came instead from a poor family who lived on the edge of the river in the city of Solo in Central Java. He became an entrepreneur, then the mayor of Solo. After successfully changing Solo on many different levels, people started to recognize his work. He continued on to become the governor of Jakarta. Jokowi then won the presidential election in 2014.

Many of his political opponents underestimated him because of his thin body, lack of a political “face,” and because he didn’t have much money or experience.  They said, “He is nobody!” 

But during his presidency, for the first time, Indonesia has had universal health insurance, a program to help poor children who need school, and stable gasoline prices. Jokowi`s children aren’t involved in politics and don’t take advantage of their father’s power (like children from previous presidents did).  Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands.  Jokowi has led efforts to build infrastructure across the country to help strengthen the economy.

It’s common to hear people say, “Now, I feel the care of a leader” or “He understands what we feel.” Wherever Jokowi goes, he’s like a celebrity because many people want to take a selfie with him.

Even though he is a devoted Muslim, when I see President Jokowi, I see that his actions align with Jesus’ teaching. He cares for the poor, doing justly, is a servant leader, and is not greedy with power and money. For his opponents, President Jokowi is Mr. Nobody but for me and the people who see his work and action, he is Mr. Somebody.

The people in power thought Jesus was Mr. Nobody, too.

In April of 2019, Jokowi won the election in Indonesia again.  It was a relief to many Indonesian Christians, both in Indonesia and here in the States, who believed that his victory will help the country continue to advance and develop. His opponent was backed by a fundamentalist Muslim party that wanted to implement Sharia Law in Indonesia.  This brought back memories of the fear and violence that caused us to flee our homes twenty years ago.

I invite my brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for Indonesia and for our President Jokowi in this critical moment. There are ongoing tensions.  Please pray for peace and for the safety of Christians in Indonesia.