Happenings

Christian pioneers in Sarawak

Jun 2010    

Missionary Rev J. R. Denyes accompanied Presiding Elder, Dr B. F. West, on a visit to the recently established Christian colony in Sarawak in late 1902, and describes his observations of life in the early years of the work that would later become the Methodist Chinese Church and Conference in Sibu

‘AS WE CAME UP THE RIVER a few miles below Kuching, we passed two very large crocodiles swimming leisurely along the mid-river, utterly indifferent to the noise of the launch …

We arrived in Sibu on ursday, just in time to participate in a rather elaborate marriage feast. Having been sea-sick on the boat I was especially well fitted to store away a liberal supply of food, but after having sampled twenty-one courses of stewed meats I was obliged to stop.

By Saturday we were ready to start down the river in a native house boat. It is a long, very narrow, round-bottomed dug-out with an overgrown cabin for saloon passengers. It serves very well for natives who are raised in them, but on this occasion the boat was manned by one Chinaman who knew a little about boats, and three Chinamen who did not. After a few hours we reached the first settlement in safety and were thankful.

What exquisite pleasure it is to be wanted by someone, to feel that someone is glad that you have come. ere was “no making one’s way into the hearts of the people”, for the hearts were already open wide. Wherever we went, men, women and children came out to welcome us. Even the yellow dogs yelped their pleasure until the pig came out from under the bed and grunted cordially.

We found the people hard at work, planting rice and vegetables. Considering the brief length of time that they have been at work, the amount of clearing and planting that has been done seems almost wonderful.

Aside from clothes and kerosene oil there is scarcely anything necessary to their lives that they do not produce.

Their vegetables are for the most part sold in Sibu, but the more daring ones are beginning to seek better markets among the native peoples far up and down the river. Sometimes they go even as far as the Oya River, some sixty miles away.

Their houses are as yet very crude affairs, merely a framework of poles enclosed on three sides. Even in this there are signs of progress and permanence for many are beginning to put up larger and more substantial buildings.

Those who have been there for two seasons are generally well and healthy, but many of the more recent arrivals are going through the seasoning process. The government provides quinine for all who make application, but the people do not seem to understand this and they have been either quietly letting the fever take its course or else have indulged themselves in the drug at the modest price of five cents per grain.

The best word of all, however, is that these people have been looking after their spiritual interests. The Quarterly Conference revealed the fact that these men are working hard from daylight to dark were gathering together every night of the week for prayer and testimony meetings, besides the regular Sunday preaching service. The local preachers at the various stations have organised the work so that the different members take the meetings in turn.

The Dyaks who live about them do not speak Chinese, but the Chinese are picking up a few words of Malay, and with these words, are already doing evangelistic work. These people are invited to Chinese meetings and they come. If we had a resident missionary on the ground to direct their efforts and to lead them, these people could be made a great evangelising agency among the native tribes.

The rumour spread that we were about to open up some schools and the Dyaks became very enthusiastic, calling upon us to promise to allow their children to attend. The fact that it would be Christian teaching seemed rather to increase their enthusiasm than to diminish it.’ – MM, December 1902, p.22, slightly edited.

By Rev J. R. Denyes

 

■ 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

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