With a ruling Muslim government and spies in churches using laser surveillance technology, every movement is being monitored carefully.
The Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, along with the prime minister, has declared his vision that Brunei will be an entirely Muslim nation by 2035.
Since overtaking his father’s reign in 1967, he has made dramatic changes to the way in which the government operates.
In 2014, Brunei became the first East Asian country to adopt parts of Sharia law, despite condemnation from the UN. This first phase of the law included punishment for general offences, such as showing disrespect for Ramadan or propagating religions other than Islam. Following this, there was a widespread banning of Christmas in the country and punishment for violating the ban was a five-year jail sentence. Putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs or even wearing clothes or a hat that resembles Santa were all considered an offence.
Last year, the Sultan and his Islamic Religious Council approved a draft Criminal Code to bring the country one step closer to the full implementation of Sharia Law. The law, implemented last month, facilitates the introduction of harsher punishments for crimes, such as the amputation of limbs for theft, and the death penalty for adultery and homosexuality.
Despite this, Christianity is growing rapidly and has increased from 9% in 2014 to 12% in 2018. House churches are becoming the most effective way for Christians to meet and worship. Currently, there are only 20 legally registered churches. No new church buildings are allowed.
Projects in Brunei
Voice of the Martyrs Australia was active in reaching out to the persecuted church in Brunei in 2018 and has many more projects underway for the year ahead.
Last year, we were able to purchase and distribute Bibles in Brunei. Chinese residents of Brunei can obtain Bibles, but Bibles in the Malay language are illegal and are confiscated if discovered. No bookshops inside Brunei sell Bibles.
Much-needed Bibles were distributed to churches throughout Brunei with the help of our partners.
VOM also worked to support pastors in two ways. Firstly, by providing a few key pastors with much-needed transportation to visit church members and also evangelise. Many of these pastors travel long distances, transporting various resources along dirt roads. Funds were provided to purchase suitable vehicles.
Secondly, pastors need support for income-generating projects so that they can freely engage in ministry. VOM was able to assist pastors by sending monthly funds to support wages, assist with setting up farms or purchasing supplies to start businesses.
In 2019, VOM is continuing to support pastors by providing monthly funds for them to evangelise without concern for their livelihood. VOM is also working on a new project to provide disciple training for church leaders, equipping them to minister effectively to their churches and training them to evangelise Muslims.
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