Although it clearly carries a strong religious identity, the indiscriminate care and assistance that the Salvation Army has provided to the needy and disenfranchised has allowed it to grow and expand its presence in predominantly Muslim Indonesia without encountering resistance.
With a long presence in the country, dating back to before the nation came into existence, the Bandung-headquartered Salvation Army today operates some 400 churches, six hospitals and 14 clinics across Indonesia as well as about 100 schools and a nursing academy, 16 orphanages, and 20 homes for the elderly and for women.
The two principles of the organization are visibility and availability. Visibility is achieved not just by the uniforms and insignia that members wear, but also through contributions to the community. Availability is reflected in the organization’s strategy of meeting the needs of the community in the area in which it operates, without discrimination.
“People will come to us to ask for help because they know who we are,” Michael Parker, the Salvation Army’s territorial commander for Indonesia, said in an interview in Jakarta.
Parker said that while the Salvation Army now covered all of Indonesia, it did not yet have a formal presence in all 34 provinces nationwide.
He said the organization had set a target of achieving that full representation by the year 2020.
Parker said that whenever it entered a new area, the Salvation Army did so because there was a need for its care and services. He said Salvation Army officials would always first meet with local leaders, including religious ones, and consult with them, informing them that they were there to meet an existing need.
“We would never impose ourselves… we would go because there is a need,” Parker said.
He said that the army was always up-front about what they were and made it clear that they did not have any other agenda than to serve the needs of the local community, especially the poor, the unfortunate and disenfranchised.
“We do not hide our faith,” Parker said, adding that despite of being a Christian ministry, care and services were dispensed without regard to race, religion or status.
“We never ask anyone ‘Are you a Christian?’ We ask ‘What are your needs?’”
He added that indiscrimination was a salient point of their services and care.
After three years heading the Salvation Army in the country, Parker said that he had never encountered resistance or hostility and that actually, “it is the other way around.”
He said that people came to seek care or assistance with the army because they respected the organization for its indiscriminate care, despite its clear religious affiliation. He said he believed that if people could see the integrity, seriousness and dedication of the army in caring for others, the response would be positive.
Parker said the “challenge” faced by the army today was the fact that there was so much still to do in Indonesia.
“There is so much need, and not enough resources, and not only financial,” he said, alluding to the limited resources available to his organization, including financial, manpower and expertise.
The army’s 52,000 active members, he said, were not enough to meet the needs.
Joan Parker, the territorial president of the women’s ministries, said the Salvation Army was “always looking for funds — funding to develop our clinics, schools, homes and other activities.”
She said the group welcomed donations and sponsorships, and added the question now was “how thin do you spread” those resources. The Jakarta Globe