‘Obey God’ … and other hollow words

This is the second in a series of occasional posts from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where I have the privilege of serving with Michael O’Neal, a church planter/pastor/teacher from Tennessee, and missionary Scott Carter to teach Christian apologetics to fellow believers and assist local pastors in their discipleship and church-planting efforts.

Sept. 27, 5:45 a.m., guest house in Subang Jaya

I am learning that I don’t need an alarm clock here. Yesterday it was jet lag that awakened me at 4 a.m., followed by the neighbor’s cat, then a flock of screeching birds. Today I made it to 5:45 and the Muslim call to prayer blaring from nearby Masjid Darul Ehsen mosque.

I roll out of bed, slip on my running shoes and head for a jog through the waking streets of this sector of Kuala Lampur. The sun rises, traffic picks up and the merchants open their doors. I pass a park where a solitary woman engages in tai chi while a dozen others exercise to the music from “Mama Mia.” Street vendors prepare their kiosks for the breakfast crowd. The pungent smell of raw fish cuts through the pleasant aroma of rice, noodles, spices and cooking meat. Tempting, but I think I’ll stay with Starbucks this morning, or maybe the McDonald’s or 7-11, all within easy walking distance of the guest house.

The temperature is in the low 80s and quite pleasant but the humidity has me oozing sweat as I round the last curve and catch a glimpse of the mosque – a mustard-colored building with multiple minarets and a beautiful golden dome. I get to thinking about the people I have met the last two days while preaching and teaching in area churches.

Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, although there is freedom of religion and one does not need to look hard to find Christian churches or other places of worship for Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and others. There is an important caveat, though: Evangelizing Muslims is off limits. This creates a tremendous challenge to my Christian brothers and sisters who love their Muslim friends and want to tell them about Jesus.

Some are fairly new Christians who have discarded their idols, abandoned their empty rituals and discovered the simplicity of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But not without cost. One Chinese-Malay couple attends a Sunday evening Bible study in a neighbor’s home despite stern warnings from their parents, who culturally are to be respected and obeyed. Another couple has faced job loss and other hardships directly related to their faith in Christ. And the man who hosts the Bible study has forfeited a considerable family fortune since trusting in the Lord.

Over lunch yesterday with a local pastor and several of his congregants I am peppered with questions about politics, culture and faith in the United States. American music, film and television dominate Malaysian culture, and I find I know less about health-care reform and the Tea Party movement than my friends who live halfway around the world.

I have to admit that I don’t personally know a single American being persecuted for his faith. And the reason most Americans don’t share the gospel has more to do with apathy or fear of rejection than the threat of imprisonment. But my friends want to know: What are they to do when the Bible tells them to share Christ but the government forbids it or the culture discourages it? The apostle Peter was clear when faced with that question: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Simple. True. Powerful. But I don’t quote that verse for my new friends. The words would seem hollow coming from my lips because I have never had to live them, while these dear brothers and sisters in Christ must weigh carefully their words and actions each day.

Scott, our host and a career missionary here, responded wisely to a similar question at a workshop a few days ago. While God has granted us salvation and given us the Great Commission, He also has provided each of us with a measure of discernment to deal discreetly with our Muslim friends. Pray always for them, Scott says. Live a Christ-honoring life at all times. And when asked why your life is different, point to the One who makes it so.


  1. altonwoods

    “I have to admit that I don’t personally know a single American being persecuted for his faith.”

    That’s absolutely true, however, there are many people in America who do sacrifice their time and money, and who live quite simply in order to be able to do so.

    Sounds like you’ve hit the ground running over there,praying daily for you!

  2. Mike Ebert

    Challenging words Rob! Glad you’re having the opportunity to be over there. I’ll be praying it’s a productive time for you.