The Future of Renewal: A Malaysian-American Reconnaissance

By: Amos Yong
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

map-malaysiaI left Malaysia, my place of birth, about 37 years ago, when my parents immigrated to the USA as missionaries to Chinese speaking immigrants in California. I spent this past week in Kuala Lumpur (KL) – only my third trip back to my homeland, all since 2001 – enjoying visiting with my family, feasting (practically non-stop – forgive me Jesus!) on the distinctive Malaysian foods, enduring the humidity, and marveling at the incredible urbanization and modernization of this city (there are probably as many skyscrapers per square mile in the KL metropolitan area as anywhere, with many more to come). Having lived in America since 1976, I felt as if I was coming back to the ends of the end; in reality, I had gone as a 10-year old to the ends of the earth, and now have tasted home again. While here I had the privilege of visiting some amazing congregations. My first Sunday I ministered at the oldest Assembly of God (AG) church (since 1934!) in the heart of the hustle and bustle of KL, First Assembly of God Church, with my message interpreted into Cantonese and Mandarin in the two services. Then in the middle of the week, I got a chance to visit the church my father, Rev. Joseph Yong, pastored from 1969-1975, Glad Tidings Church, in Petaling Jaya (a KL suburb), now a megachurch with Cantonese, Mandarin, Tamil, and Indonesian sections and preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary plus dedication of its grand “Vision Center.” My second Sunday was at the mega-Calvary Church, at their new and massive Calvary Convention Center  (CCC), where wireless interpretation of the service (and my sermon) was provided into Bahasa Malaysia and Cantonese. The 23rd World Pentecostal Conference will be held at the CCC during the last week of August (next month).

In the midst of all this, I had the privilege of lecturing at the Bible College of Malaysia and then interacting with a number of the principals and leaders of the Malaysian Association of Theological Schools. Although theological education here in this small country is no less challenging than in other parts of the world, yet even amidst the dominant Malay Muslim sociopolitical context and ethos, there is guarded optimism. Malaysia has long been an international crossroads, going back as far as the fourth century when its ports serviced trade routes between India and China. Today, it remains in many ways the hub of Asia, featuring indigenous Malays, East Asians (of all types, predominantly Chinese), and South Indians, among many other nationalities. There is a growing Malaysian diaspora around the world even as this fast developing nation is also the migration destination for those from many other nations, tribes, and tongues.

Renewalists (pentecostals and charismatics) are found across the evangelical-ecumenical spectrum (the lines between these are a bit fuzzy in this context) even as classical pentecostal churches continue to thrive. While overt evangelization of Muslims remains legally prohibited, this does not hinder believers from praying and believing for the renewal of the land. Observations about renewal happening in the East Malaysian context are encouraging toward these ends. There is a sense that just as the ends of the earth came to Jerusalem for the first century Pentecost followed by the apostolic sending back toward those same ends, so also is Malaysian church a multi-cultural fellowship of the Spirit poised for further and more palpable international impact. OK, so Malaysian Christians are not as numerous as South Korean ones, and they are certainly outnumbered by many other nations; but the Hebrew renewalist prophet cautioned against despising the day of small things (Zech. 4:10), so I would not count out the possibility of a global renewal catalyzed or precipitated through a new Pentecost across the Malay peninsula. Perhaps the tropical heat here prefigures fresh tongues of fire that will alight on KL and go from here to the (other) ends of the earth.

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Amos Yong
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