Recently I visited Sarawak for the first time. Just a short work trip to Miri. I met Malaysians from many tribes. Indeed, the majority of the congregation at the church where I was ministering were from various local tribes. I was preaching on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20) and emphasised our mandate to make disciples of all nations (races). Once again I felt the frustration and the embarrassment of the constant references to only Malays, Chinese and Indians in many official conversations in Semenanjung (Peninsular Malaysia), with other races relegated to “lain-lain” (others). (I know that there is now the inclusion of Dayaks — the indigenous people of Borneo — in some contexts, but even that is a term that covers about 200 sub-groups.)

As someone from Semenanjung, I apologised to those present for our insensitivity and said how enriched and encouraged I was to meet and to learn from Malaysians of such diverse backgrounds. My short trip enlarged my vision of Malaysia and what it means to be Malaysian.

The Christian vision of the new heaven and the new earth is one that sees the redemption and celebration of all races.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
(Revelation 5:9–10 NIV)

A Christian vision of society is one that celebrates all races. Indeed if we believe that we have all been made in the image of God, we must embrace folks of all races. It is one of the most shameful indictments of the church that we have often failed in this area. Racism is a horribly stubborn sin to eradicate.

Tomorrow is Malaysia Day. I feel both a profound sadness and some hope. Profound sadness because of the crippling racism that continues to plague our land. Malaysia could have been a foretaste of heaven with its joyous celebration of many races, a land where all races are celebrated and no race is left behind. Just imagine how great our nation could be if the unique strengths of all our races were welcomed. We get samples of this wonderful richness in our foods and our dances. But there are those who continue to champion racist policies to stay in power. How can we not be sad and angry?

Yet I also feel some degree of hope. Irrational romanticism? Maybe. But in the words of that old hymn, “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Our ultimate hope is not in politicians and demonstrations. Our ultimate hope is in Christ and His return some day to actualise Revelation 5. But in the meantime I also see glimpses of hope in the little acts of kindness I see among regular people of different races. I saw many examples of this in Miri and maybe Sarawakian Malaysians will be the ones to lead the way and show the rest of the country how people of different races can live in harmony.

But while my ultimate hope is in the Lord, I am also called to act responsibly and engage intentionally. Followers of Jesus must pray. We must share the gospel that changes hearts and makes possible true unity. We must model the celebration of all races in our churches. And we must work together with each other and with others of like mind to do whatever we can to help make Malaysia a place where more of God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, in race relationships and in other matters.

Berbagai kaum sudah berikrar
Menuju cita-cita
Satu bangsa, satu Negara

The people have pledged
To strive for the aspiration
Of one people, one country
(Lines from the song “Malaysia Berjaya”, with English translation.)

This is our prayer, Lord.

*Image from Stasyan117 / Wikimedia