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Quake aid workers warned against proselytising

JAKARTA (UCAN): Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, warned volunteers from religious-based organisations offering aid to survivors of deadly earthquakes that recently struck the tourist island of Lombok, against proselytising. The region was hit by three powerful quakes on July 29, August 5, and August 19, killing hundreds of people and displacing thousands more.
The September 3 warning came after a video, purportedly showing aid workers allegedly proselytising among child survivors, went viral on social media.
The volunteers were seen offering trauma healing to children and a woman sprinkling water over them, which sparked accusations the workers were trying to baptise them. 
“It’s simply not true,” Father Laurensius Maryono, priest at St. Mary Immaculate Parish Church in the provincial capital of Mataram, said on September 4.
Christian aid officials responded by issuing a statement denouncing the claims. 
“We have never conducted proselytism — consciously or unconsciously — among quake victims. The claim going viral is a lie,” the statement said.
“If there are people irresponsibly conducting proselytism, we would strongly condemn it and call on police to take a strict action against them. We don’t want any action which could disentangle unity and harmony in this province,” the statement said.
Saifuddin said in his statement, “A humanitarian mission should be free from apostasy attempts or the introduction of a religion which is different from the one adhered to by people affected by a disaster.”
He also cited a call from Humanitarian Forum Indonesia (HFI), a network of humanitarian organisations that includes Caritas Indonesia and the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Centre, stressing the principles of humanitarian accountability such as providing non-proselytising assistance.
“This call must be abided by,” said Saifuddin, urging all aid workers to focus on assisting others regardless of their religious backgrounds.
Reverend Gomar Gultom, general secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, said the furor was likely a misunderstanding.
“There are certain groups who don’t understand the real meaning of humanitarian aid. They carry religious symbols and local people see this as proselytising,” he explained.
Indrayanto, from the Yogyakarta-based Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Centre, said volunteers from religious-based organisations must look at how they go about humanitarian assistance.
In this case “the volunteers (in the video) might not have intended to conduct proselytism. But it becomes a problem if they fail to take into account cultural differences which can be interpreted negatively,” he said.
According to him, the people in the video had apologised.
“We appreciate it. What they need to improve is how they offer humanitarian aid to victims,” he said. 

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