Reaching the Nations

Brunei

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 5,765 square km. Located on the western side of the island of Borneo, Brunei consists of two small enclaves surrounded by East Malaysia on the South China Sea.  The climate is hot, tropical and rainy.  The terrain includes coastal plains and hills in the interior.  Seasonal smoke and haze from fires in Indonesia is the primary environmental issue.  Brunei is divided into four administrative districts.

Population: 401,890 (July 2011)

Annual Growth Rate: 1.712% (2011)

Fertility Rate: 1.86 children born per woman (2011)

Life Expectancy: 73.91 male, 78.53 female (2011)

Peoples

Malay: 66.3%

Chinese: 11.2%

Indigenous: 3.4%

Other: 19.1%

Malays are the largest ethnic group.  Chinese arrived as early as the 14th century.  Other ethnic groups are indigenous or primarily come from East Malaysia.  Foreign workers constitute a sizeable minority.

Languages: Malay [Brunei dialect] 66%, Chinese languages (11%), Bisaya (10%), Iban (5.5%), Tutong (4%), English (2%), other (1.5%).  Malay is the official language.  English and Chinese are widely spoken.  No languages have over one million speakers.

Literacy: 92.7%

History

Islam arrived in the twelfth century, and was adopted in the fifteenth century when a Malay Muslim became Sultan.  The Sultanate of Brunei reached its height in power and influence in the region between the fourteeth and sixteenth centuries.  Territory controlled included coastal areas of northeastern Borneo and the southern Philippines.  The Sultanate of Brunei began to decline due to political instability, pirate attacks, and European powers exerting their influence in the region.  The British made Brunei a British protectorate in 1888.  With the exception of a brief period of Japanese occupation in the 1940s, Brunei was ruled by Great Britain until independence occurred in 1984.  Oil and natural gas profits have made Brunei one of the wealthiest nations in Asia.  The royal family has continued to rule for over 600 years. 

Culture 

Brunei proudly professes its adherence to Islam and shares many commonalities with Malaysia.  Government bans the public sale and consumption of alcohol.  Minority groups practice their own unique traditions and customs.  Ancient influence from Hinduism is still apparent in some customs.  Crime rates are very low.  Government leaders have expressed some concern over the balance of integrating into the international community without losing local culture or disrupting social systems.

Economy

GDP per capita: $50,100 [108% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.920

Corruption Index: N/A

Brunei's economic success is attributed to revenues from oil and natural gas which account for more than 90% of exports.  Foreign investment has also contributed to the nation's wealth.  Industry employs 63% of the workforce and produces 74% of the GDP.  Services account for most of the remainder of these two indicators.  Revenues fund free education through the university level and provide free health care.  Government aims to diversify the economy through increasing tourism, banking, and agriculture.  Primary trade partners include Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. 

Faiths

Muslim: 67%

Buddhist: 13%

Christian: 10%

Other: 10%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   712

Latter-Day Saints   less than 100  2

Religion

Muslims are the predominant religious group and number approximately 200,000.  Sharia law is enforced and adherence to Muslim teachings is more conservative than Malaysia.  There are over 16,000 Buddhists and 7,500 Christians.  Hindus, Baha'is, atheists, Taoists, and Sikhs all number less than 500.  Almost 17,000 Bruneians express no religious preference.  Religious groups do not typically experience conflict and interact peacefully.  Converts to Islam receive financial incentives from the government.[1] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution allows for religious freedom of non-Muslims, although government restricts these rights.  The official religion is Islam.  Less tolerance is demonstrated towards non-Muslims than in the past, as indicated by the government discontinuing the right to religious instruction in private schools.  Proselytism by non-Muslim groups is forbidden. The government promotes Islam and pressures Muslims to refrain from inter-faith relations.  Some non-Muslim groups report challenges in bringing religious literature into Brunei.  Marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims is prohibited.[2]   

Largest Cities

Urban: 75%

Bandar Seri Begawan, Kuala Belait, Seria, Tutong, Bangar.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

One of the five largest cities has a group, which is smaller than a branch and is not considered an independent congregation.  40% of the national population lives in the five largest cities. 

LDS History

Members have lived in Brunei from as early as the 1980s.  Elder Russell M. Nelson visited with members from Brunei during the Miri East Malaysia District conference in early 2010.[3]  Brunei is assigned to the Singapore Mission. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: Less than 100 (2010)

There are likely fewer than 100 members in the country, consisting primarily of expatriate workers and few native members.  Convert baptisms are infrequent due to restrictions on formal proselytism, although members can share their beliefs with friends and relatives.

Congregational Growth

Groups: 2

Two small groups in Brunei are administed by the Miri East Malaysia District and meet in Bandar Seri Begawan and Kuala Belait. 

Activity and Retention

Limited information is available and most active members appear to be expatriate workers.  There may be additional inactive members who are not known to the Church among expatriate workers.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English, Chinese

All LDS scriptures are available in Chinese.  Only Gospel Principles Simplified and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony are translated into Malay.  The Articles of Faith are translated into Iban. 

Meetinghouses

There are no LDS chapels in Brunei.  Meetings likely occur in the home of a member or in a rented space.

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church is not known to have conducted humanitarian or development work in Brunei. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Government restrictions on proselyting and increasing intolerance for religious minorities severely limit Church activities.  Meetings for the Brunei group are not published due to the conservative nature of this Islamic state as the Church does not have official status.  Some members may reside in Brunei who cannot find the Church due to these restrictions.  In addition to laws rendering the population unreached by the Church's missionary efforts, local members also face challenges regarding their religious freedomand must be careful to respect and obey local laws. 

Cultural Issues

Many cultural issues faced by the Church in Brunei mirror those in Malaysia, but with less tolerance toward minority religious groups.  Many Bruneians live lifestyles in harmony with some Church teachings as indicated by low alcohol consumption and crime rates. 

National Outreach

The entire population is unreached by the Church missionary program.  Only non-Muslims with personal contacts with Church members may potentially learn about the Church.  The small size of Brunei and urbanized population would potentially allow for few outreach centers to reach the population if proselytism were less restricted.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The sensitive nature of the Church in Brunei poses barriers for church activity, as expatriate members experience difficulty making contact with the local church.   Convert retention is likely high as the few if any converts in Brunei likely join the Church after overcoming considerable opposition and developing habits of regular church attendance.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Two-thirds of the population, virtually all Malay, are unreached by the Church due to their adherence to Islam.  Indigenous groups and immigrants from East Malaysia and elsewhere may be challenging to integrate into congregations due to cultural differences.

Language Issues

With the exception of native English speakers and Chinese, the population lacks LDS scriptures in the native languages.  The Book of Mormon translation into Malay was initiated in the late 2000s but will likely take many years to complete.  Worship services likely use English or Malay. 

Leadership

Limited active membership results in limited leadership insufficient for the organization of a branch.  The Church in Brunei appears to be largely dependent on transient expatriate members. Training and mentoring local leaders will be difficult due to government restrictions on religious freedom. 

Temple

Brunei is assigned to the Hong Kong China Temple district.  Temple trips likely occur through the Miri East Malaysia District as the active Church membership in Brunei is likely too small to support its own temple trips.  Such trips are likely to be infrequent due to long distances and travel costs, as well as the preponderance of transient expatriate members who may have easier temple access in their home regions. .  A temple in Singapore would reduce these burdens.

Comparative Growth

Due to restrictions, there has been little growth in Brunei, with the small group servicing primarily foreign expatriate workers. The Church's presence in Brunei is comparable in size to some Muslim nations, primarily in North Africa. 

Christian groups report that little to no progress has been made in increasing their congregations over the past couple decades.

Future Prospects

With a small population and heavy government restrictions on non-Muslim faiths, Brunei is unlikely to experience significant church growth in the medium term future.  No other Muslim nation in Southeast Asia is as intolerant towards Christians.  Government restrictions and Malay cultural customs limit missionary efforts among religious minorities to personal contacts of Church members in Brunei. 

Prospects exist for groups to mature into independent branches under the Miri East Malaysia District.  Greater progress will not occur without increased member-missionary outreach towards non-Muslim personal contacts of members join the Church in greater numbers.  Additional foreign members who relocate to Brunei may help strengthen the congregation if they are able to locate it.


[1] "Brunei," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127265.htm

[2] "Brunei," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127265.htm

[3]  "Asian saints taught by Elder Nelson," LDS Church News, 13 March 2010.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59001/Asian-saints-taught-by-Elder-Nelson.html