Surrounded by India to the west, China to the north, Papua New Guinea to the east, and Australia to the south, Southeast Asia is an economically, culturally, and religiously diverse region that is home to approximately 10% of the global population. Economically, Singapore is one of the world’s richest nations per capita, while countries like Cambodia and Laos rank near the bottom. Inhabitants speak nearly a thousand languages, with over 700 in Indonesia alone. Large numbers of Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus live in the region. Animism, folk religions, ancestor worship, and state-sponsored atheism are also prevalent. Roughly 40% of Southeast Asians follow Islam, and Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Although Christians mostly live as minorities, they represent the majority in the Philippines and East Timor.
Political upheaval, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters are among some of the challenges faced by nations in the region. In the Philippines, protracted pandemic lockdowns have enabled armed rule and worsened President Duterte’s bloody crackdown on drug users. Following a military coup in Myanmar this February, government forces have killed at least 138 people and detained over 2,100 more.
In the face of these challenges, the Church has grown at a remarkable rate. According to Operation World, the greatest relative growth has occurred in Cambodia and Vietnam. Pray for the training of pastors and leaders in these countries. In Vietnam, only two Protestant Bible schools belong to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam, the sole Protestant group sanctioned by the government. In 2004, the Institute of Bible and Theology reopened its doors in Ho Chi Minh City after almost 30 years. In 2013, a second school opened in Hanoi in the northern part of the country. Dr. Peter (last name withheld), who earned his PhD at Fuller, with support from ScholarLeaders, now serves on its leadership team.
Furthermore, the growth has largely occurred through the efforts of local leaders. Churches increasingly embody Asian structures, styles, and leadership. Asian scholars have helped to identify and develop Christian responses to unique cultural and societal issues. One example is Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up by Simon Chan, who teaches theology at Trinity Theological College in Singapore. ScholarLeaders supported Simon during his PhD studies at the University of Cambridge. In the Philippines, Athena Goropse, who received the 2017 ScholarLeader of the Year Award, combines biblical scholarship with activism on behalf of the marginalized. Pray for Asian theologians who are helping the Church develop authentically Asian understandings of the unchanging truth in God’s Word.
Pray for the Church in nations where Christians face persecution. Political opposition and the struggles of living as a small minority take a toll on believers. Pray for perseverance and strength. Pray also for continued growth and discipleship among believers. Pray for local pastors to receive the training they need in order to guide the Church in Southeast Asia.
Photo: Kuala Lumpur at Sunset by Esmonde Yong on Unsplash.