Image: A South East Asia Church
Years of Islamization in certain countries in Southeast Asia have strangled the church quietly and slowly, making her unfruitful and ineffective to impact the majority Muslim community. An Open Doors training is working to strengthen the church to fulfill her mandate: to boldly care for one another and bear witness to all nations, all people groups.
“Pastors and leaders are fearful, believers are fearful. Everyone is fearful!” cried out Edmund* in desperation. The MBB worker for over 20 years in this Southeast Asian country was referring to the hesitance of open churches to reach out to Malay Muslims or welcome new believers into their midst.
After coming to know the Lord, the first thing a believer from Muslim background does is join an ordinary church. After all, MBB house groups are hidden and unknown to them. But sadly, they are often turned away by the open church which, if known to harbor Malay believers, risks being shut down and its leaders persecuted by the government.
“Such a fear has made the churches read Matthew 28:18 as ‘therefore, go and make disciple of all nations, except Malay Muslims,’ shared a MBB worker, who expressed his grief and hurt to see the Malay people continuously being denied the experience to know the love of Jesus Christ and God the Father. Yet, without the support of other Christians, MBB house groups continue to remain small, fragile and segregated.
Image: A group of secret believers from Muslim background worship together
The Invisible Force
To help mobilize the open churches for Muslim ministry despite the risks, Open Doors develops lessons on biblical principles of persecution from the Standing Storm through the Storm (SSTS) into an accredited university module called Theology of Persecution and Discipleship (TOPAD). The training aims to equip students of theological seminaries who are and will be church leaders.
“Our mandate is to foster awareness and readiness for persecution, which is sometimes considered a taboo here. We’ve heard responses like, ‘Try not to use the word ‘persecution’ because it will trouble the people.’ It is strange to find that in a Christian training institution, they don’t want to see the fact that persecution is real,” shares a TOPAD project coordinator who believes that people are ill-prepared for persecution if they are not aware of what is happening.
A good number, however, were open to learning more about the unsettling truth as they saw news after news of atrocities carried out by fundamentalist groups around the globe.
Compared with such intensity, persecution in Southeast Asia seems pale if not unseen. Yet, its invisible force can be equally lethal. Slowly it is tangling and paralyzing its prey—the Church—without the latter realizing it. “Persecution here comes in very subtle form—subtle yet very dangerous. The church is now beginning to pay a steep cost for its years of ignorance or apathy,” shares the trainer.
One of the subtle threats is Islamization, the inculcating of Islamic values in schools that target students from pre-school up to university. Another is the implementation of Sharia Law which gradually strips the Christians of their religious freedom.
A number of Christians have abandoned their faith or left the country as a result, leaving the future of the church in question. Others have been convinced not to have anything to do with Islam, including to share the Good News with its adherents or to care for the new converts.
An Inconvenient Message
As inconvenient as the persecution message is, keeping it off the pulpit is not a remedy. In this country’s case, it has caused most church members to avoid suffering, even if it means neglecting the weaker members of the Body of Christ like the secret believers, or not carrying out the Great Commission.
Through TOPAD, over 100 adult students from various backgrounds—current and future church pastors, lawyers, lecturers, missionaries, youth pastor, mission organization leaders and church elders—are encouraged to pass the inconvenient message to lay believers so that they will be able to live out their faith in Christ fully, boldly, and wisely.
The survival of the church in Southeast Asia may be under threat, but not all is lost yet. With this training, more and more church leaders are beginning to wake up, as a participant testified: “We are beginning to realize the reality of persecution here and how we need to respond effectively. Thank you for the stories of persecuted believers as we have started praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters.”
*Names changed for security reasons
Image: MBB baptism and retreat in a Southeast Asian Muslim country.
- For the church to truly repent of her fear of persecution, and instead pray that she will be bold to advance the Kingdom of God in this region.
- For church pastors to start preaching the inconvenient message of persecution and suffering from the pulpit so that it will also impact believers at the grassroots level.
- For the church to care and witness to the weaker members of the Body of Christ like the MBBs or also testify of His Salvation to unbelievers, including Muslims.
- For the church to be strong in the power of God and wise to respond to persecution because it is foreseeable that she may suffer a severe backlash from the enemy once it starts to be fruitful.