Feeding the hungry and tackling injustice in Malaysia
From meetings with government ministers to sharing food with the hungry, one bishop in Malaysia says they are sharing God’s love in both words and actions.
Father of five, Archbishop Melter Jiki Tais, was installed as the sixth Archbishop and Primate of the Province of the Anglican Church in Southeast Asia last year. He is also the Bishop of the Diocese of Sabah in Malaysia.
He talked about how the church is having an impact on the government, communities and individuals in Malaysia, despite being a minority religion.
According to the Archbishop, Malaysia is a multi-racial and a multi religious country, with Christians making up about 10 per cent of its 32 million population.
“There is a very small percentage of Christians in the country,” he said. As chair of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, including the association of all the churches, Archbishop Melter said, “I always ask myself, how to be the salt in the light of the world, in the context of Malaysia. It is a crime for Christians to convert Muslims, you can be imprisoned for that. But I believe that the gospel is for every single person, irrespective of their race and religion. And this is why I feel that the Church of Jesus Christ in Malaysia needs to think of how to be effective salt and light of the world.”
He believes the effects of the pandemic have given the church new opportunities to share God’s love in practical ways with all those who have been suffering.
“I think we need to build good bridges of relationships with our fellow men, with our neighbours, and especially during this time, with the Covid 19 pandemic, where our movement is very limited. One of the things that we as the diocese, and I myself, am also involved with is social care – providing food supplies to those families who are badly affected by this pandemic. We’re hoping that through these acts of love, that the Lord in His own grace and His own perfect timing, will touch the hearts of people who received those food supplies.”
“People have also been losing their jobs. In fact, the numbers of suicide cases in Malaysia, since last year, is very alarming, very worrying. Almost three or four plus, people commit suicide every day, because they have lost their job and have bank loans to pay. And in fact, now literally in our country, people are putting up the white flags, because they don’t have anything to eat.”
Being salt and light in Malaysia for the Archbishop is also about speaking out against injustice and corruption as Christian leaders. “When we talk about politics, especially in Malaysia, there are a lot of things that we feel are not right. For example, corruption, I think almost everywhere around the world, you have this problem. But how do we convey to the government that this is not right? What we do is usually ask for an audience with the relevant authorities.”
At a meeting last year with Sabah’s chief minister and Christian leaders, the Archbishop explained, “I said, if the government policy is good for the people of the state or the country, the church will support it, but if the policy does not benefit the people in the whole state, and if the policies marginalise certain groups of people, or if it involves some forms of corruption, then I said, we want to say to you that this is not right. And we want to tell you, not through social media, but through this face to face dialogue. And actually, the chief minister appreciated that very much.”
Following the meeting, Archbishop Melter has been able to send direct text messages to the minister to let him know his concerns about policies or situations.
“At the end of the day, whether the government listens to us or not, that’s a different matter. But we feel that for such a time like this, if there is a need for us to talk to the government, we will do it. Not publicly, but we will seek an audience with the relevant ministers and talk to them about what we feel. Because I think one of the things that we have been praying for every week on a Zoom meeting, is that the Lord will somehow eliminate so called evils in our country.”
“I feel that as a bishop, I also have a role to speak to our leaders prophetically. Sometimes as a bishop, especially when you are appointed or elected as a chairman of a Christian organisation, we need to be very wise about when to speak and when not to speak, not just trying to respond to every issue. But I feel that if it has to do with the Christian faith, undermining our faith, or even marginalising certain groups in the country, I need to speak. But again, how to do it? We need to do it in a very, courteous and respectful way. And that is why when we met with the chief minister of Sabah last year, he was very happy because we did not go to the press. Instead, we sought an audience with him, we talked to him, and he was very appreciative of our gesture.”