Malaysian Baptists provided a warm, colorful, and tasty welcome July 5 to more than 300 participants attending the 2011 Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Kuala Lumpur. About 180 Baptists from Malaysia and Singapore hosted the celebration in a gaily decorated ballroom of the Berjaya Times Square Hotel.
The evening included a feast for both the eyes and the palate. Troops of children and youth danced as local hosts, identified by matching shirts, entertained at each table. The evening meal consisted of no less than seven courses ranging from shrimp roll appetizers to corn soup with crab, fried rice with chicken and pineapple, and a whole sea bass with ginger sauce served whole at the table.
Baptist work in Malaysia began in the late 1930s as immigrants from Swatow, China moved to the area and established churches. Their efforts were boosted significantly when Communists came to power in China during the 1940s and forced the many Southern Baptist missionaries there to relocate. Malaysia, which has a significant Chinese population, and was a natural fit for missionaries who already spoke Mandarin.
Malaysia today is multi-ethnic country of 28 million people. A slim majority (53.3 percent) are Malays, while 26 percent are Chinese, 7.7 percent are Indians, and various indigenous groups make up an additional 11 percent.
Malaysia’s constitution, adopted in 1957, declares that native Malays are by definition Muslim. Conversion to other religions is strongly discouraged and can lead to persecution for those who encourage Muslims to become Christians. As a result, most of the churches in Malaysia are ethnically Chinese.
Currently, 58 percent of the population are Muslim, 23 percent are Buddhist, 11 percent are Christian and 6.3 percent are Hindu. The Malaysia Baptist Convention, founded by five charter churches from Malaysia and Singapore as the Malaya Baptist Convention in 1953, now includes 163 churches and more than 22,000 members. The convention joined the Baptist World Alliance in 1957 and changed its name to Malaysia Baptist Convention in 1964. In late 1974, the Singapore Baptist Convention branched off and became a separate convention. It now includes 36 churches and about 10,000 members.
Both the Malaysia and Singapore Baptist Conventions are active members of the Baptist World Alliance and the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation.
Meetings of the General Assembly continue through the week, offering seminars and affinity group sessions on topics ranging from Baptist-Muslim relations to theological education and human rights advocacy. Business sessions July 8 and 9 will consider resolutions and other matters of business. For most persons attending the annual gathering, however, the main attraction is friendship and fellowship with Baptist brothers and sisters from every corner of the globe.