Our Christian who has made a difference today is a man who grew up in a poor family in East Timor and who wore no shoes most of the time as a child. But he worked for independence for East Timor most of his adult life in the face of strong opposing forces – first from Portugal and later from Indonesia. He was awarded a Nobel peace prize in 1996 for his efforts. His name is Jose Ramos-Horta.
Jose Ramos-Horta was born in Dili in 1949. His father had been exiled to East Timor by the Portugese dictator Salazar. His mother was an East Timorese who survived the devastating Japanese invasion during WW2, when all but one of her family died in that conflict. Horta was educated in a Christian mission in the small village of Soibada in East Timor. At the age of 18 he was caught criticizing Portugal’s governing of East Timor and exiled to Mozambique for a time. After a brief time back in his home country, he was exiled again from 1970-1971 for his activism, as he continued to speak out against the Portuguese military rule. He was a member of the Fretelin movement.
In 1974, when José was 25 years old, Portugal gave up its colony and East Timor declared independence. Jose was appointed Foreign Minister of the fledgling republic. However Indonesia had other plans for the tiny country. Indonesia invaded and began a brutal occupation of East Timor. José spent the next 24 years in exile, studying and trying to bring the story of East Timor to the world. He arrived in the USA with $25 in his pocket. As the youngest person to address the United Nations, he was successful in convincing UN representatives to pass a resolution supporting the independence of East Timor. Despite this victory, Indonesia continued its occupation.
In 1992, José formally presented a three-stage peace plan to the European Parliament. The plan called for the withdrawal of the Indonesian troops, the release of political prisoners, respect for human rights and the stationing of UN peacekeepers in East Timor. The final phase of the plan called for an interim period of time during which East Timor would be independent. That would be followed by a UN-supervised vote, in which the East Timorese could choose between independence, becoming a part of Indonesia, or being associated with Portugal. In December 1996, José Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his ongoing efforts to stop the oppression of his people.
In the year 2000, the people of East Timor won their struggle for independence and became the world’s newest democracy. When the East Timorese people held their vote to decide the fate of their country, independence won overwhelmingly. In response the Indonesian army burned and destroyed all that they could on their way out of the country, leaving the people with nothing. Four of Horta’s eleven brothers and sisters were killed during occupation by the Indonesian military. About 102,000 East Timorese died during the Indonesian military occupation of mainly Christian East Timor.
Gusmao, East Timor’s first president, appointed José Ramos-Horta to serve as the country’s first Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister. José Ramos-Horta was then elected by the people as President of East Timor in 2007. He was a president who was known to ride the bus and then buy everyone aboard a meal at a sidewalk café.
On February 11, 2008, after returning home from his morning walk, José Ramos-Horta was critically injured in an assassination attempt outside his home in Dili. In the gun skirmish, one of Ramos-Horta’s guards was wounded, and two rebel soldiers, including rebel leader Reinado, were killed. He was treated in Australia and was in an induced coma for ten days.
Horta is a man of deep religious faith. At the time of the attempt on his life he experienced a spiritual epiphany as the blood seeped from his wounds whilst waiting for the ambulance. He felt that God had given him a second chance at life to assist his country and help his people move towards peace. He said that he had an apparition and heard a voice telling him that it was not his time to die.
Jose Ramos Horta says that Christianity is the reason that East Timor has a strong national identity. In 2012 he was defeated in a new presidential election.
We salute Jose Ramos-Horta, a Christian who has made a difference.