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What to Expect When Visiting a Baptist Church in Muslim-dominant Malaysia

Baptist Church in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We walked along Jalan Alor on a Friday night soaking it all in–the smells, the food, the culture, the chaos. Afterall, Jalan Alor is THE street in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to experience street food. It is one big cultural smorgasbord of Asian ethnicities, all hawking their foods on one street. As we walked along trying to figure out what we were brave enough to eat, I looked up and saw something that I hadn’t seen in seven weeks of traveling…

A Baptist church!

We’re not even Baptist, but it’s certainly close enough.

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Main Religions in Malaysia

Now keep in mind, we aren’t in a Christian nation; we are in Malaysia, which is 61% Muslim, 20% Buddhist, and only 9% Christian. After three weeks in Southeast Asia, we’d seen and visited plenty of Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques, and listened to the Muslim call-to-prayer five times a day. Even after spending a month in Europe with hundreds of cathedrals, most seemed more like museums, not places that were active centers of worship.

Kuala Lumpur Baptist Church

That’s why seeing a Baptist church on Jalan Alor felt a bit like spotting a purple unicorn. Kuala Lumpur Baptist Church (KLBC) punctuates Jalan Alor like the dot sitting on top of the letter i. Not only is KLBC an active Christian church, according to the electronic billboard out front, they even have an English service. We decide to check it out on Sunday.

Visiting Kuala Lumpur Baptist Church

If you’ve ever visited a church you know just how uncomfortable it can be. Will we be ignored? Will it last three hours? What if they want us to handle snakes, or do something else which is outside of our Christian comfort zone? Will we find ourselves accidentally in a religious procession like at St. Peter’s Basilica? There are so many unknowns…we need a plan.

So here’s what Riley and I decide:

1) we will sit on the back row, and

2) we invented hand signals to communicate “let’s get out of here!”

On Sunday morning, the girls and I each put on the one dress that we packed; Dale donned his single pair of slacks. As we walked the three blocks to KLBC, Riley joked about how awkward it would be if they asked all the visitors to stand up.

When we arrived at the church, we were immediately greeted by Robert and his huge warm smile. He enthusiastically shook our hands and directed us upstairs to the sanctuary.

So far so good.

At the top of the stairs stood a team of greeters. A small Malaysian woman welcomed us like we were the most important people to ever visit the church. We spoke with her for a few moments then turned to make our way to the back row. That’s when she took charge. She wasn’t going to let her special visitors sit on the back row. No way. She marched us right down front to the first row. We took our seats and within seconds we were flanked by more eager church members determined to make us feel welcome.

They did a fine job.

The Church Service

When the service started, I was surprised at just how familiar everything felt. It was a contemporary service, so it started with about 30 minutes of praise music. Some of it was familiar; some was not. The vocals were a bit off-key; the sound mix was off too; and everyone seemed to clap to his own beat.

However, the joy was authentic and I loved it.

Praise song lyrics at Kuala Lumpur Baptist Church
We weren’t familiar with this song

After the (mostly English) praise music ended, Riley’s premonition came true. Looking straight at us, the only Caucasians in the house, the pastor asked for any visitors to stand up so we could be properly welcomed. Feeling slightly like zoo animals on display, we stood up and were swarmed by more church members.

No worries about being ignored.

Next, the sermon was delivered by guest speaker, Brother Eugene Yapp. He is the Secretary General of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia. He opened his message by telling the congregation that they do not want to be NECF Christians.

Why is that? I wondered. Because they are the ones that only go to church on New Year’s, Easter, Christmas, and Funerals.

Ah, a good ol’ corny preacher joke…I definitely feel at home.

Other than the accents, everything about the service was strangely familiar. We prayed for the Christians being persecuted and executed in North Korea, Sudan, Pakistan, and other parts of the world; they are sending money and a mission team to the Philippines; their small group is studying The Purpose Driven Life. The only thing that was different was how they collected the offering. Rather than passing a plate, they passed a bag–a beautiful crimson velvet bag hanging from a pair of silver handle bars.

KLBC cafe

After the service, we met Marvin and Zebrina from Lafayette, Louisiana. For the first time in seven weeks we had a conversation with people who not only speak English as their first language, but who are from our part of the world. It felt like a family reunion with people we had just met. That’s when Robert (the first greeter) and his wife invited us, the couple from Lafayette, and another visitor from Pakistan to join them for tea in the church café.

As we sat huddled around a table in the crowded café–a Pakistani, Malaysians, and black and white Americans–it occurred to me that the Christian agenda really is the same regardless of your corner of the globe or the color of your skin. It really just boils down to loving your neighbor.

I think Kuala Lumpur Baptist Church may just be the Apostle Paul’s idea of the “body of Christ.”

How about you? Do you enjoy visiting churches when you travel? We’d love to hear about it.

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