Challenges, opportunities in Sarawak

Aug 2010    

When Methodist missionary Rev James Hoover was sent to Sarawak in the early 1900s to help develop the fledgling Christian settlement, he faced many and diverse problems as well as opportunities. But the potential was already apparent.

“ … WITH THE RESIDENT, I have put in a lot of hard, trying work this (1905) year, surveying and setting up boundary posts.

We try to be just and fair with the Dyaks – if they have rice land that they farm, we keep the Chinese off; if fruit trees are cut, the Chinese must pay for them; but they can’t understand the Chinaman’s way of farming. It is their custom to farm a piece of land, and the next year go to some other place, and if anyone wants the piece they had the year before, there are no objections. Not so with the Chinese: every foot of land they get, they keep, and work every year, a mean and foolish practice in the Dyaks’ eyes.

Behind the old Chief’s house is a fine high piece of ground, so over-grown with jungle that only a wild pig can get through. The Chinese wanted to open this property, so I went to see the old Chief about it. He said, “All right”. I made a map of the place and went to see the Resident about it. He drew a line through the map, making the boundary two hundred yards back of the Chief’s house.

But when the Chinamen had worked for two or three days, and the Chief saw what awful havoc they were making of his beautiful jungle, he hurried to complain to the Resident, and wanted to move; but he is wanted here, for there is no telling what he would do if he got away to where he could not be watched.

He said, “With the enemy up river, the Chinamen down river, and the smallpox everywhere, life is not worth living.” So I said we would not clear this strip. Our troubles in this direction are just beginning, and will tend to distance us from the Dyaks, but there is nothing else to be done …

The work of the churches was never in better shape. Practically all the colonists are Christians, so we can make very little advance in numbers, but we are striving to advance in quality. Among the Amoy traders in town, one man has put away his idols, and two others are reading the Bible and say they have no faith in idols. Mrs Hoover and the Bible woman visit the women frequently, and are gradually getting into the homes. As soon as these people can be taught, we are sure they will accept Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.

Providence has opened up a way for us to reach the Cantonese. ere are about four hundred of them here. The son of the manager of the colony, a boy about 14, came to us about a month ago, wanting to study English. Seeing an opportunity of an entrance, and a chance to learn Cantonese ourselves, we took him in. He learns fast, and we have enough words in common to make ourselves understood. The Foochow boys in school, all of whom are Christians, are also doing their best with him. Several days ago, while he and I were out pointing at things, he saying the Cantonese for them, and I the English, we sighted the Chinese temple. After we got the names properly pronounced, he said, “I don’t worship that.” We are praying that he may find the Saviour and be the means of the conversion of many of the Cantonese, or make it possible for some other to reach them.

Our moving to town has removed us from the neighbourhood of the native Sibus. For this we are sorry, but are doing our best to keep in touch with them. While Bishop Oldham was here, we visited their village, and while talking to us, the Chief said, “I have proposed to my people that we follow your religion, but we have done nothing yet.” May the Spirit of God guide their thoughts and bring them to a decision for Christ.’’ – MM, August 1905, pp.99-100, slightly edited.

■  The MCS Archives and History Library is located at #04-01 Methodist Centre, 70 Barker Road, Singapore 309936. Please call 6478-4775 if you wish to make a research visit. Research questions may be sent to: archive.history@methodist.org.sg

■ Web site: http://archives.methodist.org.sg

By J. M. Hoover


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