Several weeks ago I mentioned the ministry of Sadrach Surapranatra from Indonesia. Today I want to tell his story as it is so important to the future of our interaction with this religious empire. His ministry is teeming with wisdom on how to win Muslims to Jesus.
Sadrach was born in 1835 in what is Java and raised as a Muslim peasant boy during the Dutch colonial era. It is important to not the future influence those three distinct cultures would have on him in the future. After graduating from the local Qur’anic school he discovered that his teacher had converted to Christianity after losing a debate with the evangelist Tunggul Wulung. Over the next few years Sadrach apprenticed himself to both of these men, and from them he learned the very important lesson of not to rejecting his Javanese culture as part of becoming a Christian.
After falling out with his mentors when one took a second wife and the other started using opium, Sadrach was mentored for three years by a Euro-Indonesian woman by the name of Christina Phillips-Stevens, from whom he gained great Biblical knowledge. At the end of this learning period he was ready to win souls.
Sadrach launched apostolic his ministry around Purworejo in central Java using the debating style of Tunggul. He proved a powerful intellectual defender of our Biblical faith and many Imams, gurus and their disciples were bound by honour to convert after losing debates with him. His movement grew, but for the first ten years he still relied on the Dutch clergy to baptise the new believers.
Sadrach skilfully combined an orthodox Biblical faith with both the Islamic and Javanese cultural symbols familiar to the people he was trying to reach. Here are a few of them:
1. He called his churches “Masjids”, the Muslim word for “meeting place”
2. He built all his meeting places without any foreign help, and he built them in a similar style to the local mosque with the exception of the three tiered roof to symbolise the Trinity.
3. There was no cross on these buildings either. Instead, they displayed a pre-Islamic Javanese symbol. His use of Javanese “ngelmu” or wisdom in the running of his movement played no small part in its appeal to other Javanese who understood that Islam was a recent arrival on their shores, forcing Hinduism offshore to Bali.
4. Church leaders wore traditional Javanese dress and were called “Imams” which means “the one in front”.
5. Men and women sat separately in meetings, with the women often covering their heads in Middle-Eastern fashion.
6. Sadrach also adopted the Muslim creed of “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet” but changed it to “There is no God but Allah and Jesus Kristus is the Roh Allah”. “Roh Allah” means the “Spirit of God”.
As you can imagine, the local Dutch Reformed church was alarmed at this new movement. In 1883 they brought charges against Sadrach to the colonial authorities. Once again, European Christianity failed to understand how much cultural baggage it had brought with it. After being initially arrested, Sadrach was released without charge and continued his ministry. Relations with the Dutch Reformed church were finally terminated in 1893.
His ministry continued to flourish and it is estimated some 20,000 Muslims came to Jesus as a result of his remarkable efforts. His decision to create a culturally sensitive movement no doubt contributed significantly to that number. Sadrach live to the grand old age of 90 and died in 1924. He would not have known it but he had overseen the very first voluntary movement of Muslims into true Christianity anywhere on earth. He broke a 1,200 year spiritual drought.
This remarkable achievement has yet to be recognised by the western church, but it has become a model for much future ministry in Indonesia. I believe the prayers of those early saints are a significant reason why Indonesia has by far the largest number of believers from a Muslim background of any country in the Islamic empire.