Almost every ethnic group in Malaysia has the freedom to choose their religion. While Malaysia is technically an Islamic nation, many other religions are allowed. This includes Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and traditional Chinese religions. Citizens have the freedom to change religions, all except the ethnic Malay, creating a wall between them and the Church.
Walls Between Malays and the Church
People who speak the Malay language and practice Malay culture are automatically considered to be Muslim. If someone is born into a Muslim Malay family, he or she does not have the choice to legally change religions. When those with a Muslim background do decide to follow Jesus, they face persecution from the government, their families, and their communities.
Many walls often prevent ethnic Malays from hearing the gospel, and some of these walls exist between Muslims and the church. A Christian in Malaysia shared with us three major walls that can keep Malaysian Christians from reaching out to the ethnic Malays with the good news.
Wall #1: Fear
In most states in Malaysia, it is illegal to share the gospel with a Muslim. Many churches fear backlash if they openly reach out to ethnic Malays, and the fear is not unwarranted.
Some who have chosen to share with ethnic Malays have faced persecution from the government. Thirty years ago, the government cracked down on Christians who were openly sharing with Muslims, and several people went to jail. These events sparked much fear inside the church and discouraged many believers from doing further ministry among Muslims. And persecution isn’t just in the past. In the last year or two, four Christians were abducted, at least one in broad daylight. Their whereabouts are still unknown.
These abductions have sent a fresh wave of fear among churches, as many are worried that if they reach out, they will also face the same fate. Pastors face the challenges of leading their congregations to make disciples of all peoples in the midst of pressure from the government.
Wall #2: Unbelief
While there are Christians from many people groups in Malaysia, one fact remains the same. Most Christians in Malaysia have never met an ethnic Malay following Jesus.
The government and by ethnic Malay communities well protects the Muslim Malay culture. In the eyes of the government, one of its jobs is to protect and preserve Islam. Often Muslims and Christians are isolated from each other socially. If ethnic Malays do decide to follow Jesus, they often remain isolated from Christian community. Rarely would someone see an ethnic Malay in a church.
With such barriers it can be difficult for Christians to visualize a day when ethnic Malays come to faith in Jesus in large numbers.
Wall #3: Know How
Many Christians in Malaysia long to see the day when Malaysia is full of ethnic Malay Christians. One big challenge to seeing this become a reality is knowing how to wisely and effectively share the gospel with ethnic Malays.
Traditionally, ethnic Malays have been seen as hardened to the message of Christ. So, many people think that it is nearly impossible to share with ethnic Malays and do not know how to start.
However, some people told us that ethnic Malays are surprisingly open to spiritual conversations. One Christian in Malaysia said, “What the church doesn’t realize is that there are far more ethnic Malays who want to hear something than there are believers who share.”
Breaking Through the Malay Walls
God is moving in Malaysia, and he is using His church to begin breaking down these barriers. Believers are beginning to move past fear and pray for a great harvest among the ethnic Malays.
Some believers are starting to boldly share their faith with ethnic Malays as they live alongside them and show God’s love to them.
In addition, church leaders are also working hard to think through how they can shepherd their people to live wisely under their government’s restrictions while, at the same time, obeying the Lord’s command to make disciples of all peoples (Matthew 28:19), including the ethnic Malay.
We invite you to come alongside the church in Malaysia. Support them in prayer as they try to reach out to others with the gospel. Also, pray with them for the Lord to save many among the ethnic Malays.