A Focus on South Pacific and Southeast Asia: 661 Least-reached People Groups Remain

Overview
The first missionaries who went to the twenty-seven island nations of the South Pacific two hundred years ago were stunned by the beautiful green landscapes and women with long, black hair. But they were also appalled by immorality, human sacrifices and idolatry. Thanks to the hard work of these missionary pioneers, it is difficult to find ethnic groups in this part of the world who have no contact with the gospel; however, there do remain between twenty-five and thirty least-reached people groups.


There are twenty-seven nations in the South Pacific.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands only has a population of about six hundred people; however, 68.9% are least-reached (Islamic). Australia has nearly 391,000 least-reached people in ten groups, mostly immigrants and Jews. Today, the Pacific Islanders are taking the gospel a step further—they are sending and being sent as missionaries themselves. Pray for this region with the lowest number of remaining least-reached peoples, that God would quickly establish vibrant fellowships of believers among all of them so that all South Pacific peoples join together to glorify God.


There are eleven nations in Southeast Asia.

Did you know that many peoples in the eleven nations of Southeast Asia were once Hindus, later Buddhists, but today they are Muslim? Most peoples in this region of color and diversity are either Buddhist or Muslim and over six hundred people groups remain least-reached. The gospel is making small inroads; however, few people groups have embraced Jesus other than a few tribes in northern Thailand and Myanmar. Five countries have least-reached populations of over fifty percent; some have up to 95.2% (Cambodia) least-reached peoples! Indonesia is a huge challenge with over two hundred least-reached peoples and over 130 million least-reached population! We need to pray for the spiritual obstacles to be removed.

Prayer Points

  • Resourcefulness. Pray that God causes people from the body of Christ to work with his divine creativity and in the unity of the Spirit to overcome every barrier to the gospel among every people group.

  • Rapid. Pray for the Word of God to spread rapidly and be honored as it is proclaimed by faithful men and women before those around them, especially among the remaining least-reached peoples.
  • Remainder. Pray for the remainder of the least-reached groups to be reached and to join hands with God, one another and believers around the world.
  • Expatriate and indigenous workers. God would bring many more workers and provide creative means of access to the least-reached peoples throughout these regions for the gospel.
  • Contextual evangelism. Pray for God to help believers creatively communicate the gospel and his truth through familiar means with an eternal message of hope and salvation.

Links

  • Resources to pray, to mobilize prayer and to do outreach.

  • Discover more about these 661 least-reached peoples.
  • Pray for the least-reached peoples of these regions.
  • Obtain daily prayer guides for peoples of these regions.

Background


The number of Malay people can
rise to 285 million people separated
into 766 different subgroups
scattered across Southeast Asia.

Does One Have to Be Muslim to Be Malay?
(By Keith Carey, managing editor, Global Prayer Digest)
To hear the term “Malay” would make you think that the Malay peoples all live in the country of Malaysia, but they don’t! Out of twenty-five million Malay people, only about half live there. The other half live in Indonesia (ten million), southern Thailand (2.5 million), Singapore (500,000) and Brunei (231,000). However, if you broaden the linguistic definition, the number of Malay people can rise to 285 million people separated into 766 different subgroups scattered across the Malay World of Southeast Asia. It is worth stating that this Muslim population is one-fifth of the world’s total Muslim population, making Southeast Asia a key region for ministry to Muslims.

Language is key in defining the Malay peoples. However, the Malay peoples add one more very important element to how they define themselves. To them, to be Malay is to be a Muslim. How did this come to be? Let us take a look at the historical context.

Why the Malay Do Not Want to Be “Christians”
Malays founded several trading empires and their language became the major language of commerce in Southeast Asian ports. During this time period, Arab traders were trading with the Malay peoples. They were on friendly terms. Arab missionaries were spreading Islam throughout the region. Most people embraced Islam by choice.

Unfortunately, Christianity was perceived as being the religion of colonial conquerors. In 1511, well-armed Portuguese ships, emblazoned with the cross, came into Melaka. They conquered this part of the world and held it until the Protestant Dutch forced them out in 1641. Neither group impressed the Malays with their spiritual merits.

Once the British established their colonial administration in 1786 in Melaka, Penang and Singapore, they began Christian missionary work. Unfortunately, most of these early missionaries were simply waiting for China to open up before moving on to the Middle Kingdom. When this door opened in the nineteenth century, only a tiny remnant of the missionary force remained in the Malay world. One notable missionary was Benjamin Keasberry, who resigned from his missionary agency to continue his work among the Malays. At the height of his work, there were sixty Malays in his congregation; however, after he died, all of them reverted back to Islam. 

The Treaty of Pangkor in 1874 was a setback for missionary work. In this treaty, the British made an agreement with Muslim sultans not to interfere with the religion of the Malays. To this day, Malay leaders point to this treaty to excuse their restrictions on Christian missionary work. In the 1930s, a group of Christian workers in Malaysia, among them lawyers and other very notable people, determined the treaty said nothing of the sort. But the treaty certainly hindered ministry. Today there are churches and Christians who are reticent to engage in Malay outreach for fear of being closed down, imprisoned or fined.


In Southeast Asia, there are
significant Buddhist, Hindu and
Christian populations.

Today’s Context
Malay Muslims in Southeast Asia have had to learn to live in harmony with peoples of other faiths. In Southeast Asia, there are significant Buddhist, Hindu and Christian populations. The Malay Muslims in Malaysia only make up about sixty percent of the population.

During British colonial days, the Malays tended to remain rural while Chinese immigrants excelled in urban businesses. In nearby Indonesia, where ten million more Malay people live, the Chinese also tend to run the most important parts of the economy. Malay people in both countries feel threatened by the Chinese. The usual peace between ethnic and religious groups in this part of the world has been interrupted by sporadic violent persecution of the Chinese minority, some of whom are Christian.

The Malay peoples sometimes feel that they are losing control of their own country. In order to regain control, the Malay legislators have passed laws that require their universities to have a certain percentage of ethnic Malay students. A certain number of government jobs are also reserved for the Malays.

Like all Muslims, the Malays are sensitive about their people becoming “apostates;” that is, converts to other religions. To them, if someone from their family or community turns away from Islam, it means that they all lose face. To the Asian mind, this is unacceptable. A 15 November 2006 article in BBC News told of the ordeals faced by two Muslim women in Malaysia who dared to embrace Christianity. One of them said, “If the authorities find out [about my conversion], I will be in big trouble. They will create hell between me and my family, and hell in my life so that I will no longer get any privileges or employment.”

She noted that the church where she was baptized had to keep the matter a secret to avoid retribution from the Muslims. At the time the article was printed, one of the women was in hiding and the other feared that Muslim neighbors might take the law into their own hands. Both women were trying to officially change their identity cards that state they are Muslims. This act would make their families feel that they are losing face, and make the Muslim majority fear that they are losing people to another religious system. Remember that Muslims view religious affiliation in political as well as religious terms. Joining another religion is the same as joining their rivals. 

To be Malay is to be a Muslim. To become a follower of Christ, one would have to switch not only his or her allegiance, but also his or her culture. Wouldn’t it be possible for a Malay to put his or her faith in Christ while dressing like a Muslim, praying five times a day and following Islamic cultural rules that do not conflict with the Bible?

Right or wrong, the Malay people believe that they are in danger of having their culture and their identity overrun by outsiders. This is nothing new. In Melaka, Malaysia, there is the grave of the legendary Malay warrior, Hang Tuah, who protected the Malay people from an outside attack that could have destroyed them as a race. His grave is marked with the following words: “The Malay will never be lost from the Earth.”

When God created the nations, he had a purpose for each one of them, including the Malays. We know from Revelation 7:9 that there will someday be people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshipping the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Malay are not excluded from the roll call of the nations. Will they resist him to the end, or will they submit to Christ? One factor to consider is that they may be resisting another culture and the possibility of losing face more than they are resisting Jesus. Let us pray for this prominent affinity block as they face monumental spiritual decisions in the twenty-first century.

How Can We Pray?

  • Pray that ambassadors for Christ will take the Lord to each Malay people group in such a way that they can embrace him without losing their culture or losing face.

  • Pray for lasting fruit to come from the work of those who have worked among the Malays and those who are currently working among them.
  • Pray for an indigenous, biblical fellowship movement among each Malay subgroup and each Malay community.
  • Pray for Christ to be glorified among the Malay peoples.
  • Pray for a defeat of the forces of darkness that deceive the Malay peoples into believing that they cannot put their faith in Christ.