Methodist missionary, Miss Clara Martin, served more than 20 years in Penang in the early days of the last century. In this letter published in the WFMS Quarterly Review, she recounts some of her experiences in a 10-day evangelistic trip to share the Gospel with the Chinese women and their families in Kulim, a town in Kedah.
‘PENANG: April 10 – Miss (Catherine) Jackson and I left for our first evangelistic trip. The country was new to us and we spent a good deal of time looking for the right kind of people.
Being in Malaysia instead of in India or China, our first task was to find where the Chinese lived. One thing helped us very much in this … the Chinese houses can be told because they have on their doors, strips of red paper with Chinese characters on them. But after we found Chinese houses we had to find Hokkien Chinese and that was not so easy. We were in the houses of Chinese of four different dialects. We had my good old Chinese Bible woman with us and her way of finding out was to go up and address them in the proper Chinese way by asking them if they had “chiah pa” (eaten full). If they said “pa” (full) then she knew they understood her dialect.
After she had found out if they understood, the next thing was to find out if they were willing to listen to the Gospel. In some places they were friendly to us but not to our message; sometimes they were curious and therefore willing to listen, sometimes they refused to let us in, and sometimes, in a few cases, they had heard the Gospel before and loved to hear it. But we did not meet as many of the last sort as we do here in Penang, for not much work has been done in these villages.
We had the best time in Kulim where we have a little church. We were there Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday we visited the Christian people, walking for miles and miles over the hills; on Saturday we visited the heathen people in the town, and on Sunday we went to church in the morning and in the afternoon we had a street Sunday School.
Evidently it was a new thing to the natives to see “English” ladies singing in the street for they gathered in large numbers; but while they were curious and got fun out of the occasion, they were respectful and listened well.
A little Chinese girl was watching us closely and (when) Miss Jackson put her arm around her, the little girl did not mind it, but a young man spoke to her and she ran off. After a while she came back with clean clothes on and we never could tell whether the young man told her that her clothes were too dirty to be with us, or whether he told her that Miss Jackson’s touch contaminated her.
When we went away she walked along with us for a little while, but when we asked her if she wouldn’t like to come to school she ran off. The Chinese people are very fond of trying to scare their children into good behaviour by telling them that the “red heads” will catch them. We are the “red heads”.
We brought two little Christian girls from Kulim for the school, and in Sungai Bakap two little heathen girls promised to come. They have not appeared yet but we hope that they will some time.
We returned on April 20. The Bible woman spoke some very earnest words to the people whom we visited and we trust God to use them. She is over 60 and yet she wanted to go as much as far as we did. The long walks where conveyances could not go were too hard for her, and she is not well, but I hope it will soon wear off. I hope we will be able to go over the same ground next year and will be able to find our way about better and reach many more people.
Will you not ask the ladies to pray that this may become a very useful branch of our work? Pray earnestly that we may have the power of the Holy Spirit and that our faith may become stronger.’ — WFMS Quarterly Review, Vol. 12, No.3, July1905, slightly edited.
The MCS Archives and History Library is open from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5.30 pm except during lunchtime from 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm.
Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.