Happenings

No Batak hymnals but beautiful singing all the same

Apr 2002    

Dr Paul B. Means, a Methodist missionary to Malaysia before World War II, described beautiful Batak land and the dignified and deeply moving worship services of the Batak Christian community.

‘ … THE road to Parapat winding through beautiful rubber plantations and palm groves gradually reaches a height of 3,300 feet; the scenery is now very mountainous so you may look down into deep, rich valleys or look up to the volcanic rock of the mountains overhead.

Then a great surprise awaits you when you come in sight of Toba Lake and look down upon that enchanting lake of the mountains. This lake from time immemorial has been regarded as sacred by the Bataks and until 50 years ago no white man was allowed to approach its shores. Here for ages these Bataks have lived a very isolated and secluded life with a reputation for war and cannibalism of which few tribes can boast.

There in front of us lies this jewel of a lake, with its placid surface of crystal clear water and extending over an area twice that of Lake Geneva. Its surface lies some 3,000 feet about sea-level, although from its edge rise abrupt cliffs and beautiful mountain ranges.

The town of Parapat is quite a health resort; it is situated on a spur or finger of rocky land, which extends out a good way and points over to the coast of the large island, Samosir. On that island the Bataks are supposed to be living under most primitive conditions, where heathenism lives pure and unadulterated.

That afternoon our bus travels on over mountain ranges until we reach the Uluan district which is an extensive plain, thickly populated and rich with rice fields, along the southeastern shores of LakeToba. The most striking thing to you about this landscape will be the numerous schools and mission churches, whose white towers seem to rise from every village or grove of trees. In this district, the power of heathenism has been broken and over 60 per cent of the population is Christian.

Each German missionary in this district has a Christian parish of from 12,000 to 20,000 communicants. The new Church in Balige, which the Bataks have built with their own money and with their own workmen, and which would be considered a beautiful church in any country, gathers together every Sunday from three to four thousand Christians.

Each German missionary in this district has a Christian parish of from 12,000 to 20,000 communicants. The new Church in Balige, which the Bataks have built with their own money and with their own workmen, and which would be considered a beautiful church in any country, gathers together every Sunday from three to four thousand Christians.

Sunday morning I attended service at the church in Pea Radja of the Silindung district, an experience indeed long to be remembered. To this church had come together for worship on an ordinary Sunday some 3,000 Bataks, men, women and children, all well dressed with joyous faces; indeed, most of them regarded this privilege of worship very much as medieval folks regarded pilgrimages.

DIGNIFIED

The German missionaries have taught these people to sing hymns in the most beautiful and dignified way.’

The German missionaries have taught these people to sing hymns in the most beautiful and dignified way; there are no song books, but the song leader “lines out” the hymns, after which they all join in the most dignified and perfect harmony – simple, beautiful and inspiring. After the scripture reading and the repetition of the creed, the Batak preacher mounts the pulpit and delivers the sermon.

In this part of the Batak land the German missionaries began work about 60 years ago, and they are certainly reaping a rich harvest today. They have definitely worked for the goal of folk-Christianisation; the church here has become truly a folk-church, indigenous and self-supporting; you will see the largest majority of these people in church Sunday morning and you will find the Sabbath observed as a day of rest … ‘ (MM Aug-Sep 1927, p.5-6).

Earnest Lau, Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.

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