The Lord's Work in Malaysia
By Ken Willis
Malaysia is located in South Asia and on the north coast of the island of Borneo. It is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico. Being situated a little north of the equator, the climate is tropical. More than two-thirds of the country is covered in jungle. A high mountain range runs through the peninsula. The population of Malaysia is 19,283,000 with about two million living in Kuala Lumpur, the nation's capital. The population is multi-racial. The primary groups are: Malays, Chinese, Indians, Europeans, Indonesians, and Filipinos.
Malaysia is a former British colony with a stable government and a strong economy. The official language is Malay but English, Chinese, and Indian dialects are widely spoken. The official religion is Islam. Other religions are permitted to worship freely but forbidden by law to attempt to convert Moslems.
The Lord's church had its beginning in Malaysia after the Ira Y. Rice Jr. family moved to Singapore in 1955. Brother Rice came in contact with a Methodist preacher named Lye Hong Ming in Muar, Malaysia. Lye had left the Methodist faith and had begun what he called the "Jesus Christ Church." After studying at length with brother Rice, he dropped that name in favor of the "church of Christ."
A few months later, a family left the Presbyterian church and began meeting on their own in the city of Klang. After several studies with this group, the Lord's church was established. Among those converted was David Chew who is now president of the Four Seas College of Bible and Missions in Singapore.
After working in this region for five years, brother Rice and his family moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1961. The first worship service was held in their living room in April of that year. Among the first converts were Chan Kim Foh and his wife, Doris. They have remained faithful members in the congregation. Later that year, the Rices were joined by the Frank Pierce family. The work began to spread to other cities.
Other missionary families have served in Malaysia. Among them are the Jud Whitefields, Phil Wrights, Richard Matlocks, Miles Cothams, Ken Sinclairs, Don Greens, Ron Warpoles, Charles Bishops, and this writer and his family who served from 1971 - 1975. In 1975 the government refused to give any more visas to missionaries. However, in 1986 the Jim Dearman family was permitted in for two years. During this time, the Malaysia School of Preaching was begun in Klang. Brother Dearman served as the first director, and brother Peter Chin served as the administrator. Brother Chin continues to serve as the full-time administrator of the school as well as working with the church in Klang.
There are 14 congregations in West Malaysia with over 500 members and one congregation each in Sabah and Sarawak with a total of about 15 members. There are eight full-time preachers in Malaysia, but there are a number of well educated, dedicated men who are capable preachers though self-supporting. A few congregations own their own building. Some are involved in supporting evangelistic work in India.
Even though no missionary visas are now granted by the government, several former missionaries and others have returned on tourist visas to hold meetings and conduct campaigns. Several preachers have worked in Malaysia following the Annual South East Asia Bible Lectureship held in Singapore. As long as meetings are held where the church regularly meets, there are usually no restrictions from the government. However, when a public hall is used for a campaign, a special work permit is required and is usually obtained only with great difficulty. Tourist visas for three months are available for West Malaysia. Two week visas are granted for Sabah and Sarawak.
If you would like to know more about the Lord's work in Malaysia or if you are interested in preaching there in gospel meetings, please write to me at Box 385, Morrison, TN 37357-0385 or call me at (615) 6352457.