THE CHURCH IN BRUNEI: DESPERATE FOR A BREAKTHROUGH

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1. History
Brunei is a tiny country of just over 400,000 people on the northwest coast of the Island of Borneo, an island shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Records show that Brunei was trading with China as far back as the 6th century. Historical references in Chinese and Hindu chronicles refer to a maritime-based trading kingdom situated at the mouth of the Brunei River. Its history and existence in medieval times was closely linked to the founders of the Ming Dynasty in China and to Chinese Buddhism.

From the 13th to the 15th Centuries, through allegiance to the Javanese Majapahit kingdom it came under Hindu influence. Then, in the early 15th century the kingdom was then exposed to Muslim traders from Malacca and widespread conversion to Islam took place. Brunei became an independent Islamic sultanate after the king’s conversion. It was a powerful state from the 16th to the 18th century, ruling over the northern part of Borneo, adjacent island chains and even pats of the Philippines. Brunei eventually fell into economic and political decay and lost Sarawak in 1841 to the British. It became a British protectorate in 1888, and then a British dependency in 1905. Japan briefly occupied Brunei during World War II before it was liberated by Australia in 1945.

The sultan regained control over internal affairs in 1959, but Britain retained responsibility for the state’s defence and foreign affairs until independence in 1984. Oil has since made Brunei very, very wealthy. Citizens pay no income tax and Brunei even owns the Beverly Hills Hotel amongst many foreign investments. Brunei now has one of the highest per-capita incomes in Asia and the sultan is believed to be one of the richest and most ostentatious men in the world. He and his brother are extremely self-indulgent and the sultan even sports a harem of 30 young women flown in from all over the world.

2. Today
Brunei is practically an absolute monarchy, with very limited political representation. In 2013 the Sultan started imposing draconian sharia law on all Muslims, who make up two-thirds of the country’s 400,000 inhabitants. Attendance at Friday prayers is now compulsory and brutal punishments are handed out for actions deemed crimes in the Qur’an. Hypocritically, the Sultan is legally exempt from all sharia laws and just as well considering his lifestyle! Non-Muslims are now subject to creeping Islamisation via its compulsory teaching in the entire school system. This has led to a new brain-drain among the well-educated who hate the new restrictions on themselves and influence on their children.

Brunei’s wealth is built solely on oil. Ninety three percent of all government revenues come from oil exports which are now declining and oil will run out within two decades. Brunei’s declining economic fortunes are being countered by ever-growing Chinese economic influence. After many centuries it is once again becoming an outpost of Chinese mercantilism!

Sunni Islam is dominant and restrictive. Islam is obligatory for all Malays from birth. Leaving Islam is forbidden and punishable. It is believed there are only a handful of Malay believers in Brunei and they face severe persecution if found out. Christian witness and missions work by foreigners is not permitted, but Christians may freely convert to Islam and the government is constantly offering financial inducements to anyone, especially tribal Christians, to convert.

3. Evangelistic Highlights
Anglican missionaries first came to Brunei in 1848. The Roman Catholic Church has also been established in Brunei for over 100 years but its leadership were all expelled in 1991. Three Australian missionaries established the Borneo Evangelical Mission in Sarawak in 1928, a work that led to the birth of the SIB Church, which now numbers 500,000 in neighbouring Malaysian Borneo. Although still functioning among the village people, the SIB has no legal presence in Brunei.

The religious atmosphere in Brunei is repressive but evangelical Christians still surprisingly number 6.1 percent of the total population, many are from the Dusun people group who are farmers living in the jungle villages. Some 15% of the Chinese population, who control most commerce in Brunei, are also Christian. Many believers are affiliated with a growing number of independent congregations and most of these are not officially registered. Some Christians do meet secretly but meetings in homes are being regularly raided by the religious police in an effort to shut them down. The number of believers is growing at around 4% a year, much to the consternation of the Islamist government. The government also greatly fears the influence of the internet and its access to alternative beliefs to Islam.

4. Prayer Points
Pray for the destruction of demonic strongholds and hidden powers.
Pray for miracles to multiply. It is only the supernatural that will destroy Satan’s grip.
Pray for internet access to bring people to Christ.
Pray for a hunger for truth and for Islam’s lies to be exposed.
Pray for the salvation of the royal family via a conviction of sin.
Pray for a revival among the tribal and Chinese believers that spills over to the Malay community.
Pray for strength in the face of creeping Islamisation.
Pray for hypocrisy in high places to weaken the reputation of Islam in the eyes of the people.
Pray that the eventual financial collapse will bring a flood of people to freedom in Christ.
Pray for the few Malay believers who must keep their faith a secret.

Kevin Davis

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