Monday, February 2, 2015

The Curious Journey of a Christian in a Muslim Land, part I

An interview with the author of Someone has to Die.

What I know about Muslims comes from three sources: the news, the report from Western Christianity, and my own experience. The news provides enough information to scare me into thinking most Muslims want to kill me. The Christian community often reiterates that general mindset, then adds some information about the ancient Biblical reasons behind today’s struggles. My own experience is limited to passing by the ladies with headscarves at Wal-Mart.
Occasionally I try to make eye contact. I smile at their children. They are as new to my world as the 911 terrorist attack. Before that, I don’t remember ever seeing a Muslim at the grocery store. There certainly was not a mosque in my town. There is now. The women in the produce aisle, and their children and even their husbands are harmless, I’m sure. But if I was waiting for takeoff on a jet and they boarded and stuffed their bags into the overhead bin—right over my head—I might find the easiness in me turning to fear. I don’t want to be that way—to think that way. Chances are their bags are filled with books and underwear and three ounce bottles of shampoo. Just like my bag.

That is my experience. But I met a man recently whose understanding was so inexplicably opposed to mine that I had to find out more. So I read a novel he wrote and then asked him some questions. Someone has to Die is a fictional story centered on Christian/Muslim relationships in a small town in Indonesia. Author Jim Baton portrays skepticism and mistrust on both sides, but also a desire to move beyond tolerance to understanding and acceptance. Family ties, religion, and political agenda carry the story as a Christian woman and her daughter make their home in a primarily Muslim neighborhood. An American congressman enters the plot as the intended target of terrorists, who recruit inexperienced hot-headed teens to carry out their plan.

Jim is not a man who researched a foreign existence to write a novel. This is his home, where he lives to serve both communities, to promote peace, and to love his neighbors. All of them.

Jim, why did you write this story?

After our first ten years of living in Indonesia serving and loving both Christians and Muslims, God gave my wife a series of dreams about Hagar. We studied the Bible and prayed through these dreams, believing that God was revealing the roots of the Muslim-Christian divide in Abraham’s broken family. He was also showing us how He wanted to turn this situation around and bring Ishmael back into His home and family. We decided to write this paradigm-changing message in story form so any reader from either Christian or Muslim background could hear the message in an engaging, entertaining way.

Are any of your characters based on people you know?

Practically all the characters are based on people we know personally—from the Congressman, the wounded pastor, and the moderate peace-promoting Muslim leaders to the fearful Christians, the teens who turn to jihad, and the terrorist recruiter. Besides that, many of the terrorists and terrorist organizations and strategies mentioned in the book are real, and some of them are still active today. Those guys are household names in Indonesia, a country that’s suffered far too many tragic terrorist attacks.

In the story, attitudes among Christians toward the Muslim community vary between tolerance, fear, dislike, curiosity, desire for friendship, and love for neighbors. Is this a good indication of the truth?

Absolutely! When we first arrived in Banjarmasin, the prevailing attitude among Christians toward Muslims ranged from fear to tolerance, since every single minority church had been attacked, vandalized or burned down. However, we did meet a few Christians who wanted to love their neighbors, but didn’t know how to talk about issues of faith without walls immediately going up. Thank God we’ve seen that change. Now many Christians and Muslims we know are able to discuss issues of the heart and the spirit comfortably, and some are even brave enough to attempt praying together. Breaking down this wall has been one of our primary goals.

Attitudes among the Muslim characters seem to be, for the most part, the same as the Christians. Though the book also shows a deep hatred for Christians, it doesn’t seem to be the opinion of the entire Muslim community, at least not in this particular town. Is that also an indication of real relations?

Yes, the Muslims we know also exhibit the same range of attitudes. Some are afraid of Christians, some are angry about issues of social injustice, some are incited by rabble-rousing teachers to hate Christians for no clear reason; however, most Muslims in Indonesia are tolerant people, some are curious, and many have a Christian friend or might even consider dating a Christian. Though there are small radical groups that espouse violence, most Muslims dislike them and refuse to allow the radicals to preach in their neighborhood mosques.

In reality, is there a Christian element that hates Muslims?

Yes. Unfortunately, on both sides there are those who have chosen to respond to woundedness or injustice with hate. It’s important to realize that in Indonesia everyone is required to have a religion stated on their ID Card, so when babies are born they automatically become whatever religion their parents are. We have “Christians” from Christian communities who attend Christian churches, but have no personal relationship with God through Jesus. Similarly, we have “Muslims” living in Muslim communities and attending the mosque who don’t know what the Qur’an teaches and don’t follow the prescribed daily prayers. If you visit our prisons (which I’m writing about in the sequel!), you’ll find them filled with “Christians” and “Muslims.” So we have many sad cases in Indonesia of violence by one group against the other, then violent retaliation. In the words of one of our amazing Muslim friends who is absolutely in love with Jesus as her Savior: “These Christians need Jesus too!”

Primarily, both the tolerance and the extremism in Christian/Muslim relations are more obvious among the young people in the story. Is that accurate to real life?

I know both young and old who are extremists, and those who are amazing bridge-builders for peace. However, I write a lot about the youth because we’ve established a peace movement that has trained nearly 10,000 young people in the values of peace. Greater access to the outside world through the internet has also opened their minds to new ideas. So our hope is that this young generation will lead the country into a unified resistance against religious violence and work together with those of other religions for social justice and peace.

In part two of my interview, Jim Baton shares the reasons an Indonesian from the Christian community might choose become a Muslim. He’ll explain what’s behind the American Christian’s view of the Muslim world. And he’ll answer the question: Is it fair to call Islam a religion of terrorism? Please read the rest of this eye-opening interview on Thursday, February 5. Click on

Someone has to Die, by Jim Baton is available at

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