For many foreigners, Indonesia is often seen as a country where intolerance is on the rise, but for others who have been working deep in the archipelago, such statements have no bearing.
“Sometimes people in the Western world think that there is intolerance, but actually it is exactly the opposite here. You feel embraced, and I think Indonesia is a hidden gem,” Gen. Andre Cox, the international leader of the Salvation Army said on Wednesday.
Speaking on the sidelines of a lunch with partners and friends of the Salvation Army, Cox said he had traveled to many isolated parts of the country, including areas not frequented by Westerners, and never experienced reticence from the locals.
“There is always a warm embrace,” he said. “That is a tremendous draw card, and you need to tell the world about it,” he added.
He called Indonesia a fascinating place and added that despite the negative images portrayed about Indonesia, he has often found that the people here were tolerant.
Comm. Mike Parker, the Salvation Army’s territorial commander for Indonesia, also spoke of the same experience.
Parker said he had been warned about intolerance in Indonesia, but in the field, he found them to be an accepting people.
“I have been here for two-and-a-half years and I’ve yet to experience [intolerance]. Everywhere I go I feel I’m being treated like royalty. Their welcome is so warm, so sincere,” Parker said.
Cox said the acceptance may also be partly because his organization, despite being a church, does not carry a religious bias in its engagement with local communities.
“Our bias is to help the poor. We serve without discrimination,” Cox said.
He also said Indonesia has shown that people from different faiths can work well together.
“Here in Indonesia, I found a great source of strength in communities where people of different faiths have actually come around and sat down to look at the community, to look at the issues, and we discovered how much we have in common with each other,” he said.
Cox said many of the community development projects, engagement and social programs of his organization provided a unique characteristic that also needed to be shown to the world.
“We put the spotlight on Indonesia, or wherever we are, that these are positive things. This is an opportunity for us to put the spotlight and say here, a difference is being made,” he said.
The Salvation Army, headquartered in Bandung, West Java, has been in Indonesia since 1894. It is now active in 20 of the country’s 34 provinces and has approximately 60,000 active members.
It operates more than 100 schools across the country, from kindergartens to university level, including a school for medical nurses.
It also runs six hospitals and 15 medical clinics in the country and 20 homes for babies, children and the elderly.
The Salvation Army is also involved in an HIV/AIDS program, while it also empowers the poor in rural areas through training programs in agriculture.
In addition to providing practical emergency relief and disaster services, the organization also trains volunteers to deal with post-disaster relief services. The organization was started in London, England.