These women have been developing a heart for missions for the past 10 years. But this journey marks their inaugural step in sharing the Gospel among the nations.
Augusta Knox*, an IMB worker ministering in the Philippines for more than 40 years, has been instrumental in the journey that led to this prayerwalk. Knox believes in the importance of the women's vision, saying that "God brought Christianity to the Philippines 500 years ago. Now it's our turn to take the Gospel to the nations."
Accompanying her from the Philippine Woman's Missionary Union (PWMU) are Maria Cruz*, Carla Montes*, Mirasol Galit*, Riza Pecore* and Reina Salazar*. Montes, a dentist, says she fasted for two weeks while pursuing God's will for her role in the venture. Emerging from her fast, Montes remained confident of God's call to the Filipino women to stand and pray boldly for Christ to be proclaimed throughout the world, specifically in Malaysia. The Malay people are largely unreached; in fact, the Bible is not even available in their heart language, Bahasa Melayu.
At a Malaysian mall, women sporting the traditional Islamic hijab or headscarf dot the escalators, dart from store to store, and laugh and talk among friends. The PMWU women pause at the top level of the mall to pray over the multitudes of people from different religious traditions as they scurry about. Their ability to see and connect with some of the 26 million people living in Malaysia was an important factor in choosing to physically visit and walk among the Malay people.
"You walk among the people, see the culture, their customs and attitudes," Galit says. "It's important. You see smiling faces and you can pray specifically for people when you walk among them."
The Filipino women and Knox sit down outside to drink cups of local tea, or teh tarik, and eat folded Indian bread called roti at an open-air restaurant wedged between two towering concrete buildings. They discuss what God has taught them thus far in the trip. They also talk about their overall impressions, from the luxury brands they saw in the mall to the number of times they have heard the Achaan, or call to prayer, from local mosques.
Salazar, who works for the PWMU in Manila, captures the heart of the trip this way: "It is not an accident we are here. It is a privilege. The Lord has orchestrated our steps and will move in the hearts of the Malaysians in His time."
Following the meal, the women ask Knox for more information on what it means to be a Christian in Malaysia. Knox shares that it is illegal for a Malay to convert from Islam, and the individual may end up in one of the country's Islamic immersion camps. Often, those wishing to leave Islam are sent to an undisclosed facility where they are "re-educated" and encouraged to return to Islam.
While churches are present throughout Malaysia, it is difficult to leave Islam, and almost impossible if the person is of Malay heritage. Traditionally, the Malay are said to be 100 percent Islamic, and any Malay claiming a different religion is not recognized by the government.
Hearing this, Salazar leans forward, holds Galit's hand, and says, "Prayers are really needed. Prayer warriors need to rise up."
A call to prayer
Sandals slosh and tennis shoes squeak as the women walk on rain-soaked roads the next morning. It is the beginning of rainy season, so heavy downpours are sudden, frequent and soaking. The women are thankful that they will soon be seated inside a local church, listening to the morning service and praying for believers throughout Malaysia. Until recently, there has been a heavy hand of repression from the government on sharing the Gospel among Malays.
Even though there has been some progress in Malaysia, churches still must weigh the need to share the Gospel against losing everything they own. So far, the government has succeeded in silencing evangelization because churches claim the consequences are too great if the government catches them trying to tell Muslims about the Good News. In fact, many Christian materials are branded "For Non-Muslims Only." Even today, the Bible in the official language of Malaysia must be smuggled into the country because the government has not granted anyone permission to import Bibles in the official language.
Knox and the PWMU women listen intently as believers and missionaries living in Malaysia share advice and explain the risks involved with sharing the Gospel with Malay people. In spite of all the obstacles, God is stirring the hearts of Malaysian people, speaking through dreams and visions.
The women listen as a Malay believer shares her testimony and confirms that God is working in her country.
She encourages the FilipinO women to press on, even in the face of persecution. "When someone persecutes you, love them. Love them beyond their ability to comprehend it."
What was once just a vision is now a reality as the women accept the challenges of reaching Malaysia, a closed country, for Christ.
"We will certainly pray and continue praying for the people in Malaysia," Salazar says.
Montes jumps in, saying, "God put the burden on my heart . I have learned to love the Malay people. I have learned to love on this trip."
Though the women live in the Philippines, they have committed to return to pray and inspire more women to share the message of Christ's love throughout the cities and towns.
With the first trip completed, Knox is confident more Filipinos will commit to coming and praying as the PWMU works alongside the IMB in the task of sharing the Gospel internationally.
*Names changed. Evelyn Adamson is a writer living in Southeast Asia. To see the PWMU prayerwalk, go to corresponding video link: http://vimeo.com/67349285. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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