Malaysia is a beautiful country, comprising of the mainland peninsular, Malaysian Borneo and a number of smaller and islands. It ranges from cooler mountains to tropical beaches, vast and advanced cities to smaller villages almost untouched by the years.
I am not reading to you from a tourist brochure, I was born in Singapore and brought up in Kuala Lumper; I was woken every morning by the sound of the Imam calling the faithful to prayer. I was aware through the people my father worked with that prayer was a vitally important part of the nations identity- obedience to Allah was the Malaysians duty.
Malaysia is also a cosmopolitan country, I attended the Garden School, an international school, and one of my class mates was the Sultans daughter! People of all races and faith mixed there but faith was never mentioned. And I honestly cannot remember seeing a church, though there must have been some. Today Malaysia celebrates its cosmopolitan nature, it is advance technologically and is on the surface a wealthy, successful, forward thinking country.
It is only since becoming a Christian as an adult that I became aware of the oppression and injustice and violence that we have just heard about through the voices of the women of Malaysia.
Oppression of faith- it is illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity.
It is illegal for Christians to proselytise, even talking about faith can be dangerous, and if misinterpreted and misrepresented could result in a fine or prison sentence.
Women are not treated as equals and; a few years ago a former Prime ministers daughter spoke out: She described Muslim women as second-class citizens who were held back by discrimination.
Malaysia led by Mahathir Mohamod was in the forefront of the international campaign to end white minority rule in South Africa.
But his daughter Marina has described Muslim women in Malaysia as subject to a form of apartheid - second-class citizens held back by discriminatory rules.
While she was speaking for Muslim women (who we must recognise are the majority) discrimination and abuse affect all women, violence and rape against women are treated lightly as offences- the judgement that they must have done something to deserve such treatment is evidence of systemic corruption.
The customary Malaysian greeting; Selamat Datang – peace and welcome – is likely to turn sour in the moth of the speaker or the ears of the hearer when the ideal of peace and harmony is so undermined by corruption and greed, and sadly distorted when voices for truth and justice are silenced.
Their questions from this service should echo in our ears:
Do we take the risk and engage, or do we remain silent? Should we stay neutral?
They answer their own question:
We have come to understand that God calls us to be righteous citizens of our country. So we do have a role to play by speaking out against all forms of injustice’. (rpt)
We have a role to play- these are brave words and they should challenge us! For they see their role not simply as needing to speak out once, but continually, raising their voices not only in protest but also in prayer.
Theirs is an ongoing call to cry out to the authorities in Malaysia, to the world (through events like this) and to God in intercession and complaint! The readings they have given us are full of faith and endurance and longing. They also contain a promise, and an assurance that God is not deaf to their plight, and that s/he will act!
Listen again to the words from Habakkuk 3: (The Message)
O God, I've heard what our ancestors say about you,
and I'm stopped in my tracks, down on my knees.
Do among us what you did among them.
Work among us as you worked among them.
And as you bring judgment, as you surely must,
remember mercy. (2)
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (17-19)
I will persist, the prayer of Habakkuk echoes in the prayers of the women of Malaysia, it echoes in their prayers, and as it does so it should challenge us! Will we speak out against injustice, will we speak out for them, pray for them; will we speak out about injustices that surround us, bankers being given huge bonuses whilst jobs in the public sector are being cut! Will we speak out for our youth when so many are loosing hope of ever being employed, will we speak out against potty decisions- such as broke councils spending £30,000 pounds on Commerative Jubilee mugs for Primary School Children, people in need being denied disability living allowance, abuse of our land, pollution and for the rights of the unborn, and that is just scratching the surface…
Will we speak out? Is it worth speaking out? The women of Malaysia say that it is. They offer us the story of the persistent widow as an example, encouraging us to bring our petitions before God- because God is not like the unjust judge who finally dragged himself out of bed just to rid himself of the widow. God is just and holy, and knows when the time is right:
Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won't step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won't he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet.
He will not drag his feet; he knows what we need….
But then the challenge, the challenge shown to us through the persistence of the widow, whose cries were heard, whose case for justice was vindicated;
How much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?"
How persistent are we in our cry for justice, in our care and compassion for the poor and the outcast? Have we heard and understood God’s heartbeat, are we in time and in tune with it? Do we want to be? Believe me I too am challenged by these questions, but we ignore them at our peril:
I am sure you have heard it said that a society can be judged on the way it treats its most vulnerable members.
And remember though Habakkuk cried “How long O lord”
God’s response was this:
“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
God’s ways are not our ways, her/his thoughts are not our thoughts, and yet through prayer and persistence we can learn his ways, we can begin to understand her/his heart, as we draw close, as we persist, as we speak out s/he promises us gifts of wisdom and strength. And this we can know, s/he is with us always!