Saturday, December 27, 2008

Malaysia: Hitting the Streets

Our second day of ministry in Malaysia proved to be the most difficult for me. After joining a staff praise and prayer meeting at our host missionaries' home/ministry base, we had a crash course in street evangelizing. I know what you're thinking: an obnoxious, holier-than-thou, self-proclaimed blood-born-again Christian screaming fire and brimstone messages of doom from his soapbox on a busy city sidewalk. Not a pretty picture. And I don't blame you if that image comes to mind, because it does for me, too, when I hear the phrase "street preacher."

And yet, that's what our task of the day was. We learned about Islam (Malaysia's official religion) and how to chat with a Muslim about Jesus in a way that's informed and respectful. That's right -- respectful. All evangelism is, I would say, about meeting a person where they're at and sharing what I consider to be true about Jesus and the Bible. And if I believe that those who don't know Jesus will live an empty life of striving and ultimate despair before being forever separated from God's peace after death, isn't it an act of love to share those beliefs with others? I think it is, as long as I'm not trying to shove my religion down others' throats or force conversion or something ridiculous like that. That is not an act of love.

I learned a bunch of interesting things about Islam and the Koran during this evangelism pow-wow. Apparently, the Koran talks about how Allah (God) has a son born to a human woman (Mary) through his Spirit, and that that son is Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah). The Koran actually says , from my understanding, that this Isa is the messiah will redeem the world through his life, death, and resurrection! Amazing! Unfortunately, a lot of Muslims don't know this because they haven't read the entire Koran, and this information is not shared by Muslim leaders in the mosques. I learned some other intriguing facts. For example, the Prophet is only referred to by name five times in the Koran, while Jesus is referred to twenty-five times. Mary is honored as a "woman of all nations" and has an entire chapter of the Koran dedicated to her (chapter 3) while the Prophet's own mother is nowhere to be found. Something to think about, for sure.

Armed with this new knowledge, we took a bus downtown and split up into pairs. We were given a few hours to eat, wander, and try to share the Gospel with people that we met. How did this task make me feel? Terrified. I don't really feel comfortable striking up random conversations here at home about innocuous topics, much less sharing my beliefs about Jesus with strangers from a different religion and culture in a country where over evangelism is illegal. Still, my partner and I gave it our best shot.

We ate (I tried claypot chicken, which is a surprisingly tasty and nutritious broth-based soup that had noodles, some greens, fish balls, and an egg in it, all boiled in the titular claypot over an open flame), prayed, and then began to wander. We started in this vast mall -- and I do mean vast. I was born and raised in New Jersey, or "the mall state," and even I was blown away by the enormity of this place. We began chatting with two women working at a booth selling belts. One was from Indonesia, and the other was a Musliam Malay engaged to a Chinese Hindu who was preparing to convert to Islam. This type of a relationship mix is not too common in Malaysia, and I asked the girl what her parents thought. I don't think she understood, and she invited me to come clubbing with her. I think I made her laugh a little!

We also visited with a university business student waiting for a ride outside the mall, and then with a Chinese Hindu fabric shop clerk. Our interactions with the clerk were the most interesting of the day, to my mind. I told her that I was buying cloth for my mom, who loves to sew. Then the woman started talking all about her family, her faith, and how there are many different people and so many different ways to know God. But then she stopped and told me that I was a very happy person. I certainly didn't feel overly happy at the moment, more nervous, and I thanked her. She didn't stop there, though. The woman went on and on about how cheerful I was and how anyone who was my friend would surely be very happy. I told her that if I seem happy, it's got to be Jesus, because I certainly can't pull myself out of my own darkness or despair. I'm not sure if she understood, but I was intrigued. Our interaction made me think of this verse:
"You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house" (Matt. 5:14-15).
Was Jesus showing through with the woman in the fabric shop? Maybe! I certainly didn't say or do much that was especially miraculous or amazing. Any amazingness is all Jesus!

Although this last interaction allowed me to bring up Jesus, my partner and I didn't do any true evangelism. However, we did both feel that the day was valuable in terms of getting us out of our comfort zones and caring about and interacting with people who are different from us and as a result may seem scary to approach. This experience made me see the common humanity that we all share, no matter race, nationality, or creed.

I finished up the day with another visit to the night market. There, I ate dim sum for dinner, which is another Malaysian food favorite. Dim sum is a broad category of steamed Chinese appetizers. These particular dim sum were steamed buns made of pao flour and filled with savory meats. I had barbeque pork, and the team leader who I was eating and adventuring with that night had chicken. I also had a little ciapati bread with an Indian veggie dish.

Then we traveled back up to the top of the market -- via a rather terrifying but hilarious rickshaw ride with an exuberant driver! -- for a massage. Massages are super cheap in Malaysia. This was the first professional massage that I've ever had, and I was surprised at how rough it felt. Also, I felt so ridiculous that I didn't enjoy it all that much. Still, we got to know the man who owned the business fairly well, and ended up visiting once more before leaving. Tourism is down due to the economy, so he really appreciated us spreading the word about his business as well as our repeat patronage. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by a touristy seafood restaurant that touts a cultural show and live fish that you can select from for your meal. A featured dish on the menu was live stir-fried eel. No, thanks. I like my food good and dead before its cooked.


  1. I'm enjoying your insights on your trip but wanted to refine some of your observations about Islam. The Koran doesn't say that God had a son through Mary. Rather, the Koran says that Mary had a son, a miraculous birth. Nowhere does the Koran state that God had a son. Muslims do believe that Jesus will return to the Earth to live out his life, and he will defeat the being commonly known as the anti-Christ. His return to earth is one of the first events of the end of time and the coming of the day of judgment. Further, Muslims believe in all of the prophets, which include Mohammad, Jesus, Abraham, Moses, etc. We just don't believe that Jesus is God's son, nor do we believe in "original sin." Islam is the continuation of God's Message as delivered in the Torah, the Gospels and the Koran. You may not be warmly welcomed to evangelize in predominantly Muslim countries as the Koran states there is no compulsion in religion, so attempts to convert others may not be embraced for that reason. I hope you enjoy your trip and gain more insights about the many things our faiths have in common.

  2. hi there.i was about to comment on the same thing..but leslie had already done that..let me reinstate: Allah had no son and we believe in Jesus as you do..but Jesus is not the last prophet..Muhammad is and so his teachings should be the one to follow.Anyway, I am happy that you love my country and enjoy the spicy food.I miss chillies so much..hehe

  3. Leslie and Fusherna, thank you for clearing up any misinformation. I truly appreciate it. It was quite the experience, to live in such a culture with such different political, racial, ethnic, and spiritual foundations from my own. Not to mention the amazing foods! I truly loved every second of my adventure and will treasure the memories and lessons I have taken back home.

  4. The culture of malaysia is wonderful. You sum it up nicely, just wanted to mention my site about How to tighten skin


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King