Practicing one’s faith in a country where every move is monitored to catch any infractions of the Islamic law has presented both obstacles and growth opportunities for local believers. Hard pressed from all sides, the Church in Brunei has learned precious lessons that they are eager to share with the larger Body of Christ:
Unity is Key
Making up only nine percent of the population, Bruneian Christians realize the need to stand as one. “Even before the Sharia penal code was implemented in May 2014, churches in Brunei had gone past inter-denominational frictions,” said a pastor of an Anglican Church. “Church leaders meet regularly to discuss national issues that might have implications on believers.”
Churches outside of the Catholic and Anglican denominations are illegal in Brunei, so this pastor has thrown wide the door for the church’s space to be used by six other non-Anglican congregations.
Practice Cautious Boldness
With the government constantly watching over their shoulders, Christians in Brunei have no option but to be cautious. Many Christians are trying to figure out how to exercise discernment without being completely paralyzed.
“My rule of thumb is you never know until you try,” shared one pastor. The pastor of two congregations has managed to upgrade his church building without seeking official permission from authorities. While this is an ordinary scenario in most free countries, in Brunei this means breaking the law because of an old fatwah (Islamic ruling) prohibiting churches from repairing any deteriorating parts until the whole building collapses.
Persecution Raises True Believers
“Persecution is a good wake up call for us, Bruneian Christians who have been living comfortably for too long,” shared a Christian leader.
Though tiny in size and population, the country is among the richest in the world. In 2012, Forbes ranked the Sultanate the fifth richest nation, thanks to its abundant oil and gas reserves. The Sultan imposes no taxes on the citizens and provides them with free medical care and schools. For the Church, the idyllic situation presents the perfect recipe for materialism to creep in and hinder full reliance on God. “Persecution will only draw us closer to Him. He has allowed it to bring us to our knees,” said a believer. In fact, another church leader believes that only the purest of faiths will survive the trials. With greater persecution ahead, Bruneian Christians have started to recognize that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3). Praise God for how He is strengthening Christians in Brunei, in the face of this increasing persecution.