The territory of the GPM is the Central and South Moluccas. Christianity in its RCath form was brought here by the Portuguese (first baptism 1538). In 1605 the Dutch drove out the Portuguese and the Catholic clergy and Protestantized the indigenous Christians (on February 27, 1605, the first Prot church service was held ashore in the Moluccas and even in Asia). Ambon city and Banda became centers of a church which stretched from Ceram to the South Moluccas; here the Dutch ministers resided, six of them in Ambon alone at the end of the 17th century; here, too, a church council was formed. The villages, even on the central islands, were served by teacher-preachers with a modest education. Gradually they were provided with the materials needed for Christian education: a catechism (before 1625; the complete HeidC was translated into Malay as early as 1625); the New Testament (1668), the complete Bible (1733), and a Psalm Book (1735); and collections of sermons which the teacher-preachers were supposed to read before their congr. In this way Christianity became rooted in the Moluccan soil as a mixture of pre-Enlightenment European Christendom and traditional Moluccan religiosity (“agama Ambon,” “religion of the Ambonese”).
In the 19th century this Moluccan Christian community became the springboard for the mission work in the whole of eastern Indonesia. In 1815 the first NZG missionaries arrived in Indonesia. They were immediately enlisted by the established church. Joseph Kam was sent to Ambon. For 18 years (1815-1833) he had a powerful ministry in a large part of eastern Indonesia, bringing pietistic fervor to the old congr. Between 1840 and 1940 the Central Moluccas were a fertile recruiting ground for the missionary societies, who needed teacher-preachers for their mission fields in eastern Indonesia. These teacher-preachers were the backbone of the mission in the region, especially in the Southern Moluccas and in Irian. From about 1865 the mission terminated its activities in the Moluccas proper; however, in the next decade the established church improved its organization, intensified the care for the existing congr, and started missionary work in the Southern Moluccas. In this way the church was prepared for autonomy, which it gained in 1935. At first the GPM was within the Prot Church, and important decisions were subject to approval by the Church Board in Jakarta. However, after 1948 this bond became increasingly meaningless. Since 1950 the PGI became the channel for the ecumenical relations of the GPM with other churches within Indonesia.
During World War II the GPM suffered more than any other Indonesian church. As many as 54 church workers were killed by the Japanese, not including scores of Ambonese teacher-preachers in other parts of Indonesia. In 1944 buildings and archives of the church, the oldest Protestant Church in Asia, were lost when Ambon city suffered a heavy bombardment by the Allies. In 1950 heavy damage was suffered again when an insurrection against the central government was quelled. After that a period of consolidation began. The church order was revised in a presbyterian manner, the relation of the Christian faith withadatwas reflected upon (1960Pesan Tobat,“Message of Conversion”), theological education was raised to a higher standard, and the new congr on the southern islands were more and more integrated into the church. Problems facing the church are: the economic situation and its relation with the local Islamic population, which is rapidly making up for the lag in education and political influence, while the old Christian majority in the Central Moluccas is turning into a minority due to immigration from other islands. The GPM has a number of schools, mostly on the Southern Moluccas, and it is active in health care, with a hospital in Ambon City. The church considers September 6, 1935, as its birth date.
During the colonial era, including the years of armed struggle for national independence (1945-1949), many Moluccans served as soldiers in the colonial army. In 1950 the Dutch government brought 4,000 of these soldiers, with their families and their Ambonese army chaplains, to the Netherlands. There they continued the ecclesiastical tradition of their homeland.