BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — An American evangelist recently preached the gospel of Jesus Christ on the streets of the Muslim nation of Brunei before being taken into police custody, questioned by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and mercifully allowed to leave the country. It is believed that this is the first time in the southeast Asian country’s history that Jesus has been proclaimed to the people as preaching Christianity publicly in Brunei is illegal and punishable up to five years in prison.
The evangelist, who asked to remain anonymous and will be referred to as Silas in this report, has traveled to a number of nations worldwide for the past six years to take the Good News to every creature regardless of whether doing so is legal or not — from the United Arab Emirates to Laos and Malaysia.
Last month, after conducting ministry in Australia following the bushfire devastation, Silas traveled to Indonesia to preach. While there, he felt the Lord leading him to go to Brunei, an Islamic country that he had only recently heard about.
Silas soon learned that the timing of his travels couldn’t have been better.
“The sense I had from the Holy Spirit was very strong,” he told Christian News Network. “So, I went there only to find out that the week after I arrived was their National Day.”
National Day is much like Independence Day in the United States and marks the country’s independence from England in 1984. It is one of the most widely-attended events of the year, with more than 26,000 estimated participants in 2020.
“In order for me to do open-air ministry, which is what I felt God wanted me to do while I was there, obviously there has be people around to do that,” Silas outlined. “[National Day] is one of the few times where masses of people actually come into the [capital] city.”
In the week leading up to National Day, Silas witnessed to local residents one-on-one and found them to be receptive.
“When I would go out and about, I was having wonderful conversations with the shuttle drivers from the hotel. At one point, I had a group of 10 teenage boys engaged with the gospel. I was able to share my testimony with them,” he recalled. “I was pretty surprised at just how open people were for a country under strict Islamic Sharia law. … People were very open and that gave me confidence.”
Thinking he was only a tourist, the staff at the hotel encouraged Silas to stay to experience National Day, a celebration where even the king is on the streets. Silas felt that God was telling him that such was the reason he was there, and so he agreed to stay.
OPEN-AIR PREACHING IN BANDAR
The morning of Feb. 23, Silas walked through the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan early in the morning, looking for the best location to preach and strategically seeking out a spot where he might have a chance to speak to the people without being immediately shut down.
He found a bridge near where National Day attendees were parking their cars and crossing over to walk to the festivities. Seeing the location as promising, Silas soon turned on his microphone and began to speak. English is a second language for many in Brunei, so it is believed that passersby understood his words.
“I was just talking about who Jesus is and trying to make subtle distinction between the Koran and the Bible without being disrespectful, and tried to make a point about how Jesus is greater and higher than anyone else — that He’s more than a prophet and that He has the ability to set you free and save you and heal you,” he explained.
Some walked by unfazed by his words, and some stopped to listen or recorded briefly with their phones.
After approximately 20-25 minutes of declaring the word of God on the street, a man who claimed to be with the media stopped Silas and told him that it was illegal to do so.
“He said, ‘If you want to preach, why don’t you go to the church?'” Silas recalled, outlining that there is only one recognized Protestant church in the country — an Anglican assembly — and its members and leadership keep their faith internalized out of fear of arrest.
Silas replied to the man, “I’m not here to preach to Christians.”
The man was determined not to allow Silas to speak, so the evangelist walked away in search of another spot. The man followed, filming all the way. Silas told the man that his actions were likely also illegal and advised that he would discontinue preaching, at which point the man left him alone.
Silas continued to walk, thinking through the situation. He soon realized that he was being watched again.
“I saw a man 30 yards away talking on his phone and staring at me, and I had a sense in my spirit that something was happening,” he remembered.
QUESTIONING AND ARREST
Five minutes later, Silas was approached by an undercover police officer, who was accompanied by the man he saw watching him from afar.
“Within minutes, there was a detective on the scene and four police officers, and two men lurking in the background,” he recalled. Silas was escorted by all seven to the police station, where he was soon questioned by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the agency that deals with violations of Sharia law.
One representative began to play a video that had been recorded of Silas preaching, while some giggled at times among themselves as they discussed Silas and his actions. But one man seemed willing to engage in genuine discussion about Christianity and Islam.
“One of the men from the Ministry of Religious Affairs was talking to me about what was going on, and we ended up developing kind of a relationship, and I had a wonderful chance to share the gospel with him,” Silas explained. “We had a lengthy debate about Christianity and Islam right there.”
“I could really tell that I had favor with this guy, that he liked me and respected me because I was being very direct [and] I was not backing down. I felt strongly about what I believed in,” he said.
Silas had booked a flight out of the country for that afternoon, but wasn’t sure if he was going to be allowed to leave or if he would remain in government custody. Soon, he was informed that he would likely be permitted to board the plane — but with one request.
“Eventually, I was taken into a side room alone with this Ministry of Religious Affairs officer that I had a relationship with. He said, ‘God willing, you’re going to be let go and you’re going to the airport, but you have to promise me that you are never going to do this again here,'” Silas recalled.
As he had just been reading from his Bible about the story of Peter and John in Acts 4, who were ordered by the religious leaders in Jerusalem “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus,” Silas was mindful of the disciples’ response.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘As a Christian, I have to obey God first before anyone else,'” he recalled. “I fully understand what you’re telling me, and I now fully understand the law and respect what you’re saying.”
The authorities later seized as evidence Silas’ Bible and microphone, along with the few tracts he had in his possession. Advising that he had been arrested, they took his mugshot as well.
“They were very interested in this Bible, flipping through it,” Silas relayed. “I’m not sure they ever saw a Bible before.”
While all of his other belongings were eventually returned, his Bible remains in Brunei to this day.
Before Silas was allowed to board his flight, several others from the Ministry of Religious Affairs came in to question him, as well as the head of the department, who was present while he wrote his answers to 20 official questions.
“I had the chance to write down on paper the gospel message and exactly what I was speaking, which was really amazing,” he joyed. “It was a great testimony to them and they were having trouble reconciling why I would do this …”
“At one point I said to them, ‘Look, this is real Christianity,'” he recalled. “I’m a Christian. Everywhere I go, I talk to people about Jesus, no matter what country it is, no matter what the language is, because Jesus has given us a command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. … I’m just following the commandments of Jesus.”
Silas could tell that officials had come to respect his actions despite their illegality. They advised that the penalty was five years in prison and a 20K Bruneian dollar fine, but that they had decided to take him to the airport and let him go.
He was again told not to preach in the country, and after being given an opportunity to make final comment, he responded that — unlike Brunei — there is freedom of speech in America, and they would have the liberty to speak on religion in the United States without penalty.
“The Lord just gave me such boldness in these moments,” Silas marveled.
He said that he asked those questioning him if a Christian had ever preached openly in their country, and they looked around among themselves and said no.
“So, it’s very possible that this was the first time in the history of the nation of Brunei that a Christian ever openly declared the gospel in public,” Silas noted.
A short video clip of his preaching was soon published online by one of the bystanders and has generated over 41K views. In the clip, Silas can be heard telling passersby that Jesus was the only perfect person who ever lived.
“What I did in Brunei was in obedience to the Holy Spirit,” Silas said. “God knew the timing. He knew the hotel I would be in. He knew the staff would be friendly to me, that they would encourage me [and] that National Day was coming. He put all of the pieces together for this ministry to take place.”
MUSLIMS NEED THE GOOD NEWS TOO
When asked what he would say to those who are questioning or critical about his decision to open-air preach in Brunei and violate Sharia law, Silas asked how else the people will hear about Jesus and be saved if the gospel is not taken to them in love.
“If someone does not stand up and speak in these Islamic nations, how is the ground going to be broken up?” he said. “I realize we need to use wisdom, but there has to be a bold declaration of the gospel in these strong Muslim nations, otherwise nothing is going to change.”
“I don’t see Muslims getting saved in Brunei. … There’s no gospel outreach to Muslims that I’m aware of,” Silas noted. “That’s not what the Church is supposed to look like.”
He lamented that many Christians in the West are out of touch with the New Testament examples of what Christianity and missions is supposed to be, noting that the Christian life involves sacrifice and a willingness to suffer. The disciples openly preached repentance and faith in the streets no matter the cost, but many modern-day missions groups would have likely pulled Silas off the field for preaching in Brunei, he said.
“Modern missions has become a business,” Silas mourned. “This western mindset of the way we do things, in addition to the fact that we seek to preserve our lives so we can do X, Y and Z down the road, this mindset just really is not biblical.”
He pointed to the story of Paul in Acts 21, who was urged not to travel to Jerusalem by fellow Christians, but felt that he must obey God’s leading despite the potential ramifications.
“He was told by the disciples in Tyre not to go because of what was going to happen to him. He had another prophet who tied himself as a physical example of what would happen. He was begged not to go by his own people,” Silas noted. “And he said, ‘Even if I die there, I’m willing to go for the name of Christ,’ because he wanted to get to Rome so badly, and I think he believed in his heart that God was going to send him there.”
“These are our examples,” he said. “Either we live like this or we don’t.”