Happenings

A colony of Chinese Christians in Borneo

Jun 2006    

Bishop Frank W. Warne, who accompanied the mainly Christian pioneer group of Foochow settlers in their pilgrim journey to Sarawak, told of his experience baptising the very first converts. Making them responsible for the spiritual nurture of the new converts was a bold step, and a Wesleyan approach to personal/mutual accountability relevant even today. This early community was to be the nucleus of the Methodist Church in Sarawak

‘A S ANNOUNCED in your last issue, I went to Borneo with a colony of Chinese Christians. We had a rough passage to Kuching. The settlement is up the Rejang River.

There is about sixty miles of open sea between the Sarawak and Rejang River, crossing which we were again caught in a storm and delayed the whole day, which delay caused me to miss the boat on her return trip, and left me in Borneo until the boat made a second trip.

It seemed generally conceded by the European officials that this Colony had been located in one of the very choicest spots of Borneo … (The Sarawak Government Gazette says, “The formation of this Colony where the natural advantages offered by soil and climate and surroundings are so great and the population proportionately so small, promises to be an event of no light importance. The position allotted to the immigrants is a large tract of land on the banks of the Siduan River.”)

As we approached the landing near their future home, they began to sing Christian hymns, and I thought that is probably much like the Pilgrim Fathers did when they first sighted their new home. The local government had built for them large and commodious, though cheap, houses and they were at once made comfortable.

We arrived on Saturday night. I preached to them on Sunday morning through an interpreter, and it was a picturesquely thrilling sight. The Dyak people filled the verandah, the doors, stood in a row around the Chinese audience, and crowded in close on either side of where I stood, in their almost nude condition, and with their long hair falling loosely over the backs down to the waist. Almost every one of them had hanging by his side, a Dyak parang (his great head-hunting knife).

After preaching, I asked if any of the non-Christians who had come with the Christians from China desired to become Christians, and almost immediately eleven men stood up. I, for a moment, scarcely knew what to do, and then thought that I should throw the responsibility upon the Christian community.

I asked the Christians to look carefully at the eleven persons who stood up, and then asked them to be seated. I then said to the Christians, “You know these people. I do not; you will live here with them and I will not; I must therefore throw the responsibility on you.

Will all of you who believe these eleven persons ought to be baptised, become responsible to see that they are trained up as Christians, raise your hands,” and instantly the entire Christian community raised their hands. I said, “Now the responsibility is yours.”

There were several Chinese local preachers present. I said, “We will not baptise them until the evening service, and in the interim you take them aside, see how much they know; explain to them the obligations they are to take, and if you are satisfied and assume the responsibility of caring for them, I will baptise them at the evening service.”

At the evening service the preachers presented them, having gathered the necessary particulars, and in addition one woman, which made twelve in all, I baptised them together with two Christian children. It impressed me that it spoke well for the Christian community that twelve persons who had travelled with them from China as non-Christians, did at the first opportunity become Christians.

I administered the communion, and appointed the supernumerary member of the Foochow Conference who had come with them, as preacher-in-charge, and four local preachers as his assistants, and left them an organised Christian community in the heart of the great island of Borneo, and a circuit in the Singapore District of the Malaysia Mission Conference. Whereunto this may lead, who can tell?’ – MM, April 1901, p.77.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.

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