Thirty-eight million Sundanese live in the western third of the island of Java, with three million more living in Lampung, Sumatra. The majority of Sunda still live in villages, where most work as tenant farmers.
Because the volcanic soil is some of the most fertile in the world, for centuries the Sunda have not had to work very hard to produce a crop, which other Indonesians argue has led to laziness.
Muslim traders traveling to Southeast Asia in the 15th century brought Islam along with their merchandise. Gradually the “old” animist religious practices of the region combined with the “new” Islam to create the Folk Islam practiced by the majority of Sunda today.
Muslim identity runs deep among this people group. Even though most only go to the mosque on high holidays, “to be Sunda is to be Muslim.” If one is no longer a Muslim, one is no longer a Sunda, and can therefore be kicked out of the local community.
The Sundanese are being left out of economic advances in Indonesia, even though they are located mostly in Jakarta and Bandung, the fastest-growing regions of the country. Reasons for this include their poor work ethic, lack of value for education, lack of leadership abilities, and high divorce rate.
Factory managers will bring in whole villages of Javanese rather than hire local Sundanese. When they migrate to cities, the majority of Sunda tend to work in lower-level jobs. The ideal Sundanese job is a government worker: the work is not hard, it is guaranteed for life, and, in the right position, riches come quickly through corruption.
Although they look happy on the outside, Sundanese are dominated by fear and shame, often stemming from parents who did not demonstrate sacrificial love. Sadly, this dysfunction can sometimes carry over into relationships between pastors and Sundanese Christians.
Sundanese Muslims are attracted to the experience of authentic love, even if that love is from a Christian.
Christian resources are readily available, including the Scriptures, the Jesus Film, and Christian programming on the internet and local TV.
The Sundanese church (approximately 35,000) is growing slowly. Many are open to the gospel, but there is no large movement to Christ. Discipling believers is difficult. Leadership development is slow because of the negative cultural characteristics the Sunda bring with them, which impedes church growth. There is no focused outreach to the 3 million Sundanese diaspora in Lampung.
If a husband and wife come to faith together, they often hold firm; single individuals rarely do. New converts face intense psychological pressure to return to Islam, first from family and then from the larger community. While they are often kicked out of their local community, the Sunda do not tend to hold grudges. After time, believers can often return to their community, albeit as second-class citizens with no inheritance. There is little physical violence against believers.