Dr Benjamin F. West came to Malaya in 1888 and worked in Singapore with pioneer missionary Rev William F. Oldham. One of the very first recruits, he was doctor, teacher, preacher, explorer and handyman for seven years. Catherine Jackson (right), another much loved missionary, wrote this memoir about this extraordinary missionary who organised Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church which celebrated its 116th Anniversary on Aug 14 this year.
‘DR WEST was a physician with a good practice at home when one day Bishop Thoburn came to his town to speak, met Dr West and induced him to give up his practice and come to Malaya to work as a missionary.
When he arrived in Singapore, he found that he could not carry on as a practising physician, as he lacked the necessary British credentials … He was then appointed to teach small wriggling boys in Standard IV in the ACS in Singapore.
Once, I heard him say that many a night, he had walked the streets of Singapore, and had fully made up his mind to go down the next day, take passage on the first boat leaving Singapore, and go home. When asked why he did not do it, his reply was characteristic of the man. He said, “Because I could never quite get the consent and approval of my conscience to actually do the thing.”
… To me one of the finest things about Dr West was the close contact he maintained throughout his stay in Malaya with the Asiatic people. He spoke Hokkien, and gave himself unstintedly in service to anyone in need. When he started the Jean Hamilton Training School, he went to live with the men.
The mother of one of our most active young men in one of our largest churches today told me how Dr West found her ill and about to die. During the night, heart complications arose, and for hours she hovered between life and death. All night long, Dr West sat beside her; now his hand on her pulse, now administering the medicine that was to keep her alive.
She was not a Christian and could not understand why he watched over her so carefully. She finally remonstrated with him, told him she was but a poor woman with no money to pay him, and that he would better leave her to die. Still, he sat and watched as the night deepened, and the danger of her dying increased.
Again she told him she was poor, and had no money to pay him.
Finally, Dr West said, “But, Nonya, I am not here for pay.” Then she said she looked at him in amazement and asked, “You do not want pay? You will not take pay? Then why are you watching over me so carefully?”
Then Dr West told her why he had come to Malaya and that God wanted her to recover and give her life to Him and serve Him.
He then told her of Christ and asked her to think of this when she was better and able to do so, and if she could, to give herself in service to Christ.
In telling it later, she said, “Oh Missie, I had to believe in Jesus as he told me that Jesus loved me and wanted me to live and be a follower of Him. Why, Dr West was doing just the things that he told me Jesus went about doing, and I had to believe.”
That woman became an active worker in the church as long as she lived, and her children today are all active in the work of the church …’ — MM October 1933, p. 13-14.
Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.
SERVICE TO CHRIST
Dr West told her (“Nonya’’) why he had come to Malaya and that God wanted her to recover and give her life to Him and serve Him. He then told her of Christ and asked her to think of this when she was better and able to do so, and if she could, to give herself in service to Christ.