For many years, the fight for freedom in East Timor received little attention in America and the rest of the world. Even now any mention of the small island occupied by Indonesia is likely to be met with confusion and a search of the world map.
The Rev. Arlindo Marcal is in Spokane hoping to change that. The leader of the Christian Church of East Timor will speak at 7:30 tonight at Covenant Christian Church, 5616 S. Palouse Highway.
East Timor, one-half of an island about 300 miles north of Australia, is a former Portuguese colony that was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975 after a brief period of independence. Experts say Indonesia’s rule has been particularly brutal, with about 200,000 people, or one-third of the population, dying from killings, starvation and disease.
Like many East Timorese, Marcal, 37, went into hiding in the mountains for four years after the invasion. He was arrested and detained for several months. After his release, feeling that his people needed something spiritual in their lives, Marcal entered the theological school in Kupang, West Timor, and received his bachelor’s degree.
He went on to earn a master’s degree from Duta Wacana Christian University in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, making him the first East Timorese to graduate from a Protestant theological seminary and the first to be ordained as a minister in the Christian Church in East Timor.
East Timor is 90 percent Christian, predominantly Catholic with a small Protestant minority. Churches can worship freely, but are forbidden from getting involved in political matters.
Marcal, who has a wife and daughter, is serving his second five-year term as moderator of the church, a position that is roughly the equivalent to being a bishop.
Marcal said during a telephone interview that he hopes to form relationships with churches in the United States during his visit that will strengthen his people and offer moral support during their struggle.
“There are conflicts in East Timor that should be resolved in the best way, in a democratic way,” he said. “We need an immediate solution because people are suffering. We need your help and support.”
Experts say most East Timor residents have had family members and friends murdered while their culture and language have been suppressed. People living in the forests and mountains were forced to resettle in planned villages, and army-run torture houses flourish.
Because it was closed to outsiders until 1989, the world knew little about East Timor. In November 1991, the island captured world attention when Indonesian troops killed hundreds of Timorese during a peaceful demonstration in a massacre witnessed by foreign journalists.
The Rev. Michael Rice-Sauer of Covenant Christian Church had never heard of East Timor until April, when he attended a speech by journalist Allan Nairn, who witnessed the 1991 massacre. “I had no idea East Timor was anywhere,” said Rice-Sauer.
Indonesian troops beat Nairn and fractured his skull during the massacre.
Rice-Sauer is particularly incensed about the conflict in East Timor because a lot of the weapons the Indonesian army uses are purchased from the United States, something most Americans don’t realize. “We have to do something,” he said. “I really think it’s time we show some moral outrage. It’s time for this to stop.”