God’s Doing in Southeast Asia

GOD so loved the world that he gave….” is often quoted from the words of evangelists and passionate believers. This is God’s agenda for the lost world and particularly for Southeast Asia over the last decade. Collectively, the region is also known politically as the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN). The eleven countries of Southeast Asia consist of:

  • Brunei
  • Cambodia
  • East Timor
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar (Burma)
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

They are a myriad of peoples and include over 800 unreached people groups (UPGs) or least-reached people groups (similar terms with some difference of definition). Almost 500 of these UPGs have more than 10,000 people. Just over 200 groups have at least 100,000 people. Most UPGs live under significant legal, religious, and social barriers, which prevent them from hearing how Jesus can transform lives.

For example:

  • Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world.
  • Singapore, one of the richest and fasting-growing countries economically, is located not far from the youngest and poorest nation of East Timor.
  • Thailand remains a strong Buddhist nation landlocked in the Mekong regions with four other nations: Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos.
  • Cambodia is experiencing God’s grace of salvation.
  • The Catholic majority nation of the Philippines is sending thousands of Filipinos globally as domestic assistances and professionals as well as “missionary tentmakers.”
  • Myanmar remains under military rule despite the coming election.

God’s method is still to use people in reaching the lost world. God has not changed, despite the advancement of modern technologies. He has laid a burden for the lost on individuals. This has resulted in the formation of different groupings over the last ten years. I will discuss several below.

At the close of the last century, through the effort of Dr. Luis Bush and others, the AD 2000 came to a close. God enabled Christians to focus on the 10/40 Window. The efforts of the movement and the Southeast Asia Joshua Project brought a strong UPG focus to this mission spirit and momentum.

Networks emerged between Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and other nations. These worked to create synergy and avoid unnecessary duplication. The Great Commission Roundtable (2001), followed by the Singapore ‘02 global UPG forum meeting (2002), resulted in the creation of SEALINK.

Networks have emerged between Indonesia,
Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and
other nations.

SEALINK envisions a transformational church-planting movement in Southeast Asia so these peoples will join as the glorious privileged people worshipping Christ in fulfilling the Great Commission regionally and globally. Some past events included: more than forty pastors and mission leaders participating in Singapore ’02, with the agreement to move forward; Malaysia ’03; Philippines ‘04; hosting global Ethne ‘06 in Bali (Indonesia), with more than three hundred global leaders; and Cambodia ‘09.

SEALINK’s accomplishments include books on the research groups of Southeast Asia nations and a regional strategizing network called “MPG Network” among key leaders from Southern Philippines, Sabah and Sarawak (East Malaysia), Brunei, Kalimantan, and Northern Sulawesi (Indonesia). I had the privilege to be part of the working committee from 2005 to 2009.

A missionary for many years in Thailand and a scholar from the Philippines are the pioneers for SEANET. Held annually over five days (with a specific theme on responding to the Buddhist world), participants meet for the Issues Forum and Networking. Annual papers are compiled into SEANET volumes and made available at the following year’s meeting. The network covers South, Southeast, East, and North Asia, with its purpose to catalyze cooperation for mobilizing people and resources from the worldwide Church in order to train workers and facilitate church-planting movements within each Buddhist people group.

Throughout the world today, Buddhism influences appropriately 1.5 billion people. Hundreds of people groups—comprised of many families, tribes, and nations—are significantly affected. In 1996, missiologists at an Indo-China meeting in California (USA) discussed the need for a structure that would suit the broader Buddhist World. Four years later, sixty delegates from twenty nations gathered for this purpose.

Beyond Southeast Asia, SEANET reaches out to nations that include China, Mongolia, Bhutan, Taiwan, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, USA, and Nepal. There are friends from Russia, Germany, and Korea involved as well. Attendance at the SEANET forum is by invitation only. It was my honor to be part of the 2008 and 2010 meetings and to serve as a volunteer country representative for Singapore. Besides the annual theological and missiological forum, the leadership provides research on the Buddhist World (its people, progress of evangelization, case studies on strategy, and church planting), prayer guides, training courses for workers at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, and related websites.

The works of God must be undergirded with prayer. Intercessors within the 11-nation ASEAN come together for prayer, worship, and consultation. This movement originated when global prayer leaders gathered in 2002 in South Africa. It was hosted by the International Prayer Council. Southeast Asia delegates were present and saw the need to unite in a more cohesive manner. Southeast Asia Prayer Council (SEAPC) was birthed when Cambodia hosted the SEA Prayer Consultation in 2003. Over the years, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand have hosted SEAPC. It envisions God’s visitation, revival, and transformation in the eleven nations. The mission statement includes:

…compelled by God to seek Christ’s glory for the blessing, healing, and transforming of nations, the South East Asia Prayer Council exists as a coalition of national prayer networks working together to catalyze and empower national prayer movements linking churches and ministries to fill South East Asia with prayer for the completion of the Great Commission.

Although we hear the term transformation quite a bit nowadays, God has been impressing this idea upon a few key leaders for years. Individual salvation is awesome and a cause for rejoicing, yet cities, provinces, and people groups are also converted, resulting in spiritual transformation. Transform World South East Asia (TSEA) is a part of the global “Transform World Movement,” which was launched through the TW Indonesia conference in 2005.

By 2007, TSEA had its annual conference among the Southeast Asian nations. Its purpose is to seek and pursue after God’s heart for effective transformation through partnership and mutual collaboration.

What is God planning for the next five years in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations? Perhaps there is already a SEA theological seminary, SEA student movement, or a SEA mission think tank. The networks of Southeast Asia are already working together in unity and for a greater focus of the Great Commission.

There are UPGs in the Buddhist world and they need prayers resulting in the transformation of the nations. What are the challenges in terms of individual focus, vision, mission statement, methodology, timing, venues, etc.? Are we willing and able to take a long-term view from God’s perspective? Pray along with us.

Rev. Stanley Ow was executive director of the Singapore Centre for Evangelism and Missions (SCEM), now called the Singapore Centre for Global Missions, from 2005 to 2009. He was recently appointed lead facilitator for Singapore with Student Volunteer Movement 2.