Malay Christians Face 'Faith Purification' Centers

KUALA LUMPAR, Malaysia -- Living as a Christian in a Muslim nation can carry severe risks and suffering.

CBN News traveled to Malaysia -- a country that presents itself as a model for Islamic moderation, yet has many former Muslims who say they are persecuted after finding Christ.

A two-hour journey from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur revealed an isolated encampment where some Christian converts say they've been taken to be forced back to Islam.

'Faith Purification'

The Malaysian government calls the facilities "retreat centers." Muslims willingly come there to strengthen their faith.

CBN News spoke to one Christian, who asked to remain anonymous, in fear he would be taken back to what others have called "faith purification" facilities.

"They were clearly angry and they wanted to kill me, but they did not harm me physically," he recalled. "I know of many others. They force you to recite Islamic prayers and the Koran, to do all the things you're suppose to do as a Muslim."

"They're trying to force us to believe what we can't believe," the man continued. "These re-education centers come from the power of darkness."

"Nathan," another former Muslim who's identity is being protected, said he lost his property, job, and family after officials learned he'd become a Christian. He's hiding from the government.

"I've lost it all (but) does it matter? I mean, Jesus said in the Word what we should seek for is everlasting treasure," Nathan explained. "I have counted my cost. I count my cost and I don't mind paying for it... even if it means losing my life."

Christian Growth Targeted

Traditionally, Malays are Muslim. Five years ago, there were less than 200 Malay Christians in the country. Today, there are an estimated 1,000 or more.

That growth is a target of the government and its religious department. During the summer, officials halted the construction of a church building in Kelantan state.

"The religious department head said, 'This place is a Muslim place, and the people here are all Muslims. So you have no right to come in and evangelize the people here,'" Pastor Luzone, with the Kuala Betis Church, recalled.

Luzone said most locals there are not Muslims, and those who have become Christian need a church building.

"We have been gathering in houses and sometimes under trees, but we wanted to have our own place for worship," he said. "But I believe no matter what the cost we have to pay as Christians here, our people will be followers of Jesus."

Risking Their Lives

And that belief has inspired many Malay Christians to share their faith with others.

One evangelist told CBN News that angry Muslims beat him up and smashed his car. Yet, he presses on because many of his countrymen are receptive to the gospel message.

"When I began to pray for the sick, we saw instant results sometimes," he said. "People were just amazed at the miracles and they wanted to hear about the power behind the healing. And they receive Jesus so easily."

Christians from the Temiar tribe said Muslims lured fellow believers in a neighboring village away from Christ.

"I have a sister who was a Christian, but has become a Muslim now," one woman said. "Muslims came and gave them money, a house, and a regular supply of food."

Above All

Still, many of the Christians in the Temiar tribe stand firm.

"No way. This village will stand for the Lord," one Malay girl said.

"Who is going to reach out to my own people if it's not me?" Nathan asked. "The joy in Christ transcends even persecution. The joy of loving Christ is more than anything else."