The Early Beginnings of the Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia
To all members and congregations in the Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia (EFCM) – grace, mercy and peace.
Congratulations on the recognition and celebration of your 50th anniversary. Give God the glory for all He has accomplished over the last 50 years. At the same time, humbly seek His blessing for the years ahead. It is a wonderful honour that you, the EFCM leadership, have asked us to reflect on the early history of the EFCM. The four-fold vision of the EFCM has been:
(1) To make converts to the Lord Jesus Christ;
(2) To plant churches throughout Peninsular and East Malaysia;
(3) To equip EFC members for ministry in the local congregations; and
(4) To launch church-planting movements.
God has used the EFCM to fulfill this fourfold vision. Evangelism has been robust; church planting has been steady; the training programme for lay men and women thorough; and the launching of church-planting movements internationally a sacrificial gift that has blessed many countries well beyond the region.
First stop – Melaka
EFCM planted its first church – Melaka EFC – in 1963. The key players here were Eric McMurray, Ben Sawatsky and Henry Khoo, who made numerous weekend trips from Singapore to Melaka to lay the foundation. Door-to-door evangelism was blessed by God with the firstfruit in the person of Ho Keh Yun who later became the first Chinese-speaking EFCM fulltime worker. To this day, he is the pastor of a thriving Chinese-speaking church in Melaka.
Many other converts were harvested through the door-to-door evangelism. The most memorable was the Pang family who discarded the idol altar in their home along with its paraphernalia. Fifty years later, members of this family are still walking faithfully with God.
Several key converts in the Melaka EFC were senior high school teachers. They continued teaching but assumed major ministry roles. Names like brothers Yoong Yee Soon and Yee Seng come to mind, as well as businessman Lim Chow Loon. Youth for Christ partnered with the EFCM in those early days and their jointly-organised youth rallies at a Christian secondary school were used by God to make disciples and train future workers.
The first fulltime missionaries in the Melaka EFC were Jim and Fran Phalen. For a year, they held their meetings at a rented a storefront with a fruit garden behind it that yielded a bumper crop of jack fruit. Here, they held evangelistic rallies and taught lay workers. In time, the church purchased its own meeting place. On a recent visit in August 2011, I saw that the building had been greatly expanded into a wonderfully pleasing centre of worship.
Second stop – PJEFC
In 1967, EFCM planted its second congregation, Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church (PJEFC), in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. Key players again included McMurray and Sawatsky. A year later, an immigration policy was implemented which limited foreign missionaries in the country to 10 years. At first, we feared this would be a serious blow to the advancement of the Kingdom. However, because of the focus on lay leadership development, PJ EFC was ready for this restriction and hardly broke stride.
Ben and Muriel Sawatsky were in Malaysia for 10 years. In spite of erratic missionary staffing, God did miraculous things with PJEFC – the church took root and continued to multiply. The church started from a bungalow where the Sawatsky family lived, a fairly large family dwelling. The bungalow, which was close to the university at Section 14 in Petaling Jaya, attracted many university students.
The congregation grew to include many astute lay people who collected funds and paid fully for a bungalow that became the church premises. What followed was a series of moves which eventually led to the church’s present expansive facilities at Section 13, Petaling Jaya.
As PJEFC continued to grow, a branch congregation known as the Gospel Centre was started. Following the Sawatskys’ departure, both congregations continued to grow under the effective leadership of several pastors and lay leaders.
Third stop – Emmanuel EFC
Emmanuel EFC was started in the mid-1960s as an independent congregation by OMF missionaries Rev. and Mrs Kenneth Price. The church drew a number of young couples and singles, and met above a shophouse in the Jalan Haji Hussein area. Eventually, this group decided to affiliate with EFCM, and in 1969, it became the third EFCM congregation. The church experienced a number of location moves before arriving at its current beautiful facilities.
Fourth stop – Faith EFC
In 1974, the Sawatskys pioneered a new approach to church planting, which was later to be known as “The Team Approach to Multiple Church Planting”. It featured the missionary taking a behind-the-scenes position of training lay leaders, who were in turn given the frontline ministries of preaching and leading the newly developing churches. Faith EFC was the first congregation started this way.
Sawatsky began training a team of men consisting of Lim Lee, Leong Chee Seng, Michael Lee, Ong Meng Chai, and Kuek Heng Kwang. A formal programme of lay training known as “The Leadership Assistance Programme” (LAP) had just been initiated and this became an integral part of the multiple church planting approach. In addition to Sawatsky, missionaries Loyd Childs and Allen Tunberg were also involved in LAP, both in the new church plants as well as in some of the established EFCs. The number of EFCM congregations expanded significantly through this approach.
Truly, the EFCM is a movement born of God and born to glorify Him. You have faithfully yielded yourselves to God for 50 years, and the fruit that He has produced through you is wonderfully evident. Press ahead in Christ’s Name to continue to glorify Him in the future. We rejoice greatly with you in this Jubilee celebration.
God bless all of you
Ben Sawatsky & Allen Tunberg