Herbert W. Armstrong’s Message to Indonesian President Suharto
Why would the president of one of world’s most populous nations repeatedly pursue meeting an unofficial ambassador for world peace? Why would such a nation partner a joint humanitarian foundation exploration of land inhabited by aboriginal peoples?
To understand, we must wind the clock of history back to 1954. During this time, the World Tomorrow radio broadcast, with Herbert W. Armstrong as presenter, beamed out over Asia via Radio Ceylon, receiving responses from listeners eager to hear current events explained in light of Bible prophecy.
By late 1968, a worldwide advertising campaign was in full swing, featured in publications such as Life, TV Guide and Reader’s Digest, along with newspapers from all corners of the globe. Over a quarter million subscribers were added to the mass-circulation Plain Truth magazine, and tens of thousands of these came from Indonesia.
By September 1970 this exposure, along with key relations with world leaders from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, led to a meeting organized between Mr. Armstrong and President Suharto in Djakarta.
Formerly General Suharto, the president had only been in power two short years by the time of his first invitation to the unofficial ambassador for world peace. After an attempted coup in 1965 was thwarted by Suharto-led troops, blame was leveled at the Indonesian Communist Party. Suharto was appointed acting president two years later and then appointed to the full powers of the country’s highest office the following year.
The first rescheduling of their meeting came in September 1970 due to scheduling conflicts, with the president in Europe and the unofficial ambassador in Singapore. Next was when Mr. Armstrong had a pre-scheduled meeting with the Philippine president. He recounted this to co-workers Oct. 28, 1970, “I had an important meeting with President Marcos. And while in Manila, President Suharto tried personally to reach me by telephone to arrange a meeting the next day. Prior commitments did not allow time to fly back down to Djakarta. Result, I am now scheduled to meet General Suharto the middle of December.”
It wasn’t until the middle of the following year that the two saw their schedules clear, only to be thwarted again. “At Djakarta, my planned visit with President Suharto had to be postponed because the king of Thailand (Siam) was there on an official state visit. This required President Suharto’s entire time. He had scheduled a meeting with King Leopold (who was on a private, non-state visit, with us), for the following Monday, and wanted to see me then. But I had meetings scheduled in Manila and Tokyo, and was unable to remain over that long. But a special dinner was held on Tuesday night in Djakarta, attended by six or eight of the chief officials under President Suharto, and their wives” (co-worker letter, May 28, 1971).
At the time, Mr. Armstrong’s eldest daughter accompanied him, aiding in the organization of such occasions, as he reminded his supporters: “She takes her mother’s place as my hostess.” His wife, Loma, had died suddenly in 1967, thrusting his oldest daughter into greater duties. Had Mrs. Armstrong have lived, her role would have been alongside her husband, traveling to world capitals, meetings world leaders with him and acting as his ambassadorial “hostess” at the hundreds of such banquets and testimonial dinners he would attend over the remainder of his life.
It was not until the summer of 1972 that President Suharto and Mr. Armstrong finally met. This time, the president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Adam Malik, who was also Indonesian foreign minister, passed along the request to Mr. Armstrong to travel to Djakarta. Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Malik were already friends and had visited previously at the foreign minister’s home in Indonesia.
At 8:45 a.m., August 3, Mr. Armstrong arrived for his meeting with the leader of the world’s fourth-most populous country. The occasion came at a time of global tensions amid fears of Communist encroachments. Suharto had gained much Western support for his resistance to this power and its advancement into his resource-rich, poverty-stricken nation spread over 3,000 islands of the South Pacific.
At the presidential offices, Mr. Armstrong was greeted by press photographers, staff members and the chief protocol officer. He then signed the official guest book, was ushered into a waiting reception room, then into the president’s office. After a warm handshake, Mr. Armstrong, as was his tradition, presented President Suharto with a gift of Steuben crystal.
His “personal” for the November edition of the Plain Truth was termed an “exclusive interview” to its then 2.5 million subscribers, with the Indonesian president’s picture featured as the cover. Mr. Armstrong wrote from Sri Lanka the day following his stopover in Indonesia, “We really had a most interesting and profitable meeting with General Suharto.” Mr. Armstrong’s recollections came amid the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the U.S. administration’s efforts to withdraw troops from the conflict.
“He had been desirous of seeing me all along, and this was made doubly evident by the warmth of the reception at this meeting yesterday morning,” he wrote readers. “If you could be with me in meetings with heads of governments in different parts of the world, you would have an altogether new conception of the insurmountable problems facing this whole very sick world today. These heads of governments tell me of problems beyond their human power to solve.”
The two discussed President Nixon’s visits to China and Russia, the changing landscape of the United Nations with admission of Communist nations, and the domestic security threat to Indonesia, which the president told Mr. Armstrong he feared more than any threat from abroad. The two discussed Indonesia’s policy of national resilience and the challenges of the country’s poverty, economic development and education expansion.
“I thanked him for giving official approval for our forthcoming scientific expedition into the Irian, that is, the western portion of New Guinea and for the cooperation given by the Indonesian government to King Leopold of Belgium, when he was there planning the expedition,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “I’ve mentioned previously the joint participation of Ambassador College with the Belgian Foundation, headed by King Leopold, for the exploration of land inhabited by Aboriginal peoples, the study of these peoples, and other activities in the field of anthropology.”
Mr. Armstrong then concluded his report of this “exclusive interview” by reminding readers of God’s inexorable law of give, outflowing love and concern for others—of cause and effect and the resultant 6,000 years since the Garden of Eden of man’s inhumanity to man, amid a world held captive.
By 1973, the Plain Truth was on Indonesian newsstands and the shelves of 84 of its libraries.
The following year, he continued to work to reach Indonesians with God’s gospel message, organizing public appearance campaigns, additional testimonial dinners and promoting his humanitarian endeavors in the Andaman Islands in the Sea of Bengal in consort with its government and King Leopold’s Belgium Foundation.
Then in 1975, with the establishment of the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, he launched the Human Potential magazine, designed for the limited readership of royalty and the highest echelons of worldwide government such as President Suharto and Foreign Minister Malik. The publication was later renamed Quest.
On March 15, 1981, Mr. Armstrong reminded the world from the pages of the Wall Street Journal of Indonesia’s size and scope of population and needs for physical humanitarianism and spiritual education.
Five years before his death, he oversaw visiting and baptizing tours into Indonesia from the Church’s Australian regional office. Representatives traveled to Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Permantang Siantar. Readership of the Plain Truth remained steady, but by late 1983, there were only a handful of members from its Muslim population of hundreds of millions.
Thankfully, today at the Trumpet, successor to the Plain Truth, editor in chief Gerald Flurry in like manner receives responses from our readers, listeners and viewers of the Key of David in Indonesia. And in the spiritually benevolent footsteps of Mr. Armstrong, the Church’s regional office in Australia serves and supports those in Indonesia and throughout Asia with understanding of God’s Word and law of love.