Missionary Richard Babcock recounts his extraordinary experiences on a trip to Bangka, off Sumatra, and Christians who made it an island of faith and hope.
‘…THE purpose of our visit to Bangka was to search out a group of Chinese workers at a mining settlement on the isolated west coast not accessible to sailing craft. We heard news of Christ being preached among them and had had a letter from their leader … urging us to visit them as soon as possible….
Mr Miauw (pastor of the Ulu Methodist Church in Palembang) … was our guide to the small village of Tempilang, which we approached early one afternoon. We waited for several hours in the rustic two-room house of Mr Foe Pit-Djoeng, the leader of the group, while the workers finished their work in the tin pits and returned to their homes to prepare for the afternoon service.
We heard the story of how Mr Foe found his remarkable faith. Just before the Japanese war, an aged Chinese gentleman, who had received education and baptism in a Methodist Church in Singapore, returned to Bangka and told of his joyous new faith to two young men in a tin town in the north of the island.
The youths scoffed at the old man until, before their eyes, he was healed of an affliction that had been his for years.
The young men believed and through prayer were filled with a zeal to let others know of God’s Grace. They began house meetings under the watchful eyes of their Japanese captors during the war.
The church, which has grown through their efforts, is now a strong congregation in the town of Belinju, not related to any denomination but serving in an especially remarkable way.
One of those young men, Mr Ng Oen Djoe, has seen both of his children grow up to become servants of the Lord, one a pastor and the other a pastor’s wife in the Methodist Church in South Sumatra.
Hearing of the faith of the Christian group in Belinju, Mr Foe sought them out from his home in Tempilang. He had for months been suffering from a nervous disease that could apparently not be cured successfully through medical means. He had spent all of his savings with doctors on the island.
He came to Belinju in search of a powerful dukun or local practitioner in the ancient Indonesian and Chinese magic.
Instead, friends said to him, “Why don’t you go up to the little church? There is a physician there who is stronger than all the dukuns in the district.”
During his first service of worship, Mr Foe was cured and has been praising and giving thanks to the Lord ever since.
Upon his return to Tempilang, Mr Foe could not keep quiet and, following the pattern of new Christians since the beginning of the era, he told of his faith to others.
One after another of the Chinese clerks in the tiny settlement heard and believed and brought their wives to hear. The children were gathered into a class and through Mr Foe the Gospel story was recounted again and again.
Mr Miauw visited them and encouraged the work and now we were here to meet and to organise a new worshipping Ccmmunity … During the service a tall Chinese man, a descendant of the sturdy Hakka stock of South China who have made their homes in Bangka for several centuries, came up to the crude altar.
He witnessed to the group concerning his recent miraculous healing. He had suffered for six months past a most violent form of nervous shaking that had left him unable to work, to sit, to sleep, or to eat properly. He had tried everything in his attempt to calm the disease, and had come to church after hearing of the blessings that had come to others.
He said that after he had been in church three times and had prayed earnestly, his shakings ceased altogether and he stood before us sturdy and strong. There was no violent emotion, no wild outcries that have sometimes been associated with faith-healing.
He had believed, he had prayed and his faith had made him well.
He invited us all to his home following the service, for he planned to bury all of the idols and religious symbols in his home as a sign of his adherence to a new faith.
Quite apparently the Holy Spirit has moved mightily among the Chinese on Bangka …
Looking back …we couldn’t help but wonder where next the Gospel would be preached by this new convert. He will not remain silent.’ – MM, October 1962, page 4 (slightly edited).
Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.