A crescendo of voices can be heard at the second floor of a shop lot singing Christian praise and worship songs such as “Lord, I Offer My Life” and “I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever”. Kenny the worship leader, is backed by Paul on keyboards leading a group of people during a worship service in the afternoon. Located near one of Kuala Lumpur’s busiest highways leading to the district of Cheras, the Good Samaritan Fellowship (GSF) have come a long way in Malaysia. The bilingual Chinese-English service is conducted much like any other church in Malaysia. The difference is, this is the first LGBT inclusive church in the country. And the first MCC branch in Asia.
It started back in August 2007 when openly gay Malaysian-born Reverend Ou Yang Wen Feng, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) based in New York, told the Malaysian media of his plans to set up a church “where everybody felt safe and welcomed”. It was met with protest and opposition from various parties like the Malaysian government and church authorities, and ignited a big debate on homosexuality. It also drew responses from the anti-gay Reverend Allen Tan, along with Pastor Edmund Smith from the ex-gay ministry, Real Love Ministry. Allen Tan attempted to gather protesters at a special MCC service that month, and Edmund Smith used this opportunity to parrot more pseudo-theories about homosexuality and his ministry.
Two months later a Malaysian youth pastor, Joe Pang shared his vision with MCC for starting a new gay-friendly church. That church, the Good Samaritan Fellowship (GSF), started with only 4 members on October 2007, under Pang’s leadership. He then went to MCC, New York (MCCNY) for training at the end of March 2008, and was officially instated as the senior pastor of MCC’s fledging church in Malaysia by Reverend Pat Bumgardner. Reverend Bumgardner also dedicated the GSF as a parish extension of the MCCNY, during the first GSF retreat at Cameron Highlands on the 23rd to the 25th of May, 2008.
Today their membership has grown to 20 regular attendees (including 10 committee members) ranging in age from their 20s to 50s. At times they are joined by some members of another LGBT but predominantly English speaking Christian Group “Credo”. Some members of GSF left, fearing the stigma imposed upon them by the largely Muslim, anti-gay country of Malaysia, but more members are coming in. “This is an all welcoming church. Anyone, regardless whether they are LGBT or straight can join us”, says Pastor Joe Pang, echoing Reverend Ou Yang’s vision of a safe and inclusive church. “But we do screen through new members to avoid complications.” The GSF also receive legal and promotional support from the PT Foundation of Malaysia.
After starting the worship services and care group from a house in June, they had recently leased a shop lot in Kuala Lumpur for two years, where they held the first full worship service on the Sunday 29th of June, 2008. They are currently surviving through donations and offerings. Better things are expected to come as the core church members mature in their walk with God and gain confidence from the affirmation and reconciliation of their identity and sexual orientation with their faith. Kenny, the worship leader shared, “I used to be the worship leader at Hope Church in Malaysia, but felt very uncomfortable. At times I feel if they knew my sexual orientation, they would not judge me with their mouths but will judge me with their hearts. At least here, I can lead the worship service in comfort, in spirit and in truth”.
GSF held their 1st Anniversary Fund Raising Dinner on Saturday, the 13th of September 2008 at Passion Road Restaurant within the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was attended by almost a hundred guests. May they grow and come of age in peace and love.
A special thanks to Pastor Joe Pang and the GSF members for sharing their stories with us.