Fries: I left my heart in Sibu
Fries: I left my heart in Sibu
(From the connection)
“My time in Sarawak did not do a lot for my cheque book but it did something for my life that a cheque book cannot do.” (Jackie Fries, former missionary-teacher of Methodist Secondary School)
As Wesley Methodist Church celebrated its 50th anniversary, all 7 former missionary-pastors accompanied by their spouses together with a few other missionary-teachers came back to join this joyous occasion. All came except for one – Rev. Roy Aylott – who has gone home to be with the Lord earlier. I could not understand why these missionaries in their 70s and 80s would travel all the way from UK or USA to join this event. I wondered, there has to be something “magical” about Sarawak. I just did not get it until I talked to them….
Jackie Fries or Miss Fries (affectionately called by her former students even to this day) used to teach Physics, Maths, Religion and Bible Knowledge at Methodist Secondary School, Sibu, from 1964-1971. While having a very “heavy” high tea in Judy’s house, Connection caught up with her to ask a few questions.
Connection: What made you want to come to Sarawak to teach?
Fries: I was at that time a Mathematician working with a research group. I figured life must be more than just developing missile projects and doing research. So I applied to the Methodist Mission Board. It was a tough process. We had to go through lots of screening. I passed all and they told me Sarawak need-ed a Mathema-tics teacher, so I went. I spent 10 months learning Chinese in KL before coming to Sibu.
Connection: How was life and what were the students like back then?
Fries: I lived next to the school compound. I tried to spend some leisure time with the students like playing basketball with them. I found great joy in teaching them.
Connection: Have you been back since you left?
Fries: Yes, I returned for the class 1971 reunion in 1999. The students were very kind to invite their teachers back. Even then, Sibu was very different already.
Connection: What do you do now in your hometown Maryland?
Fries: I still tutor Maths occasionally. I serve 3 mornings a week in the security department. I am an amateur radio service operator. I obtained a flying license and I do civil air patrol. I love to take challenges.
Connection: What impressed you most when you came back this time?
Fries: I am very pleased to find out that some of the students I met are doing very well and accomplished.
Connection: Most missionaries stayed here only for 2 or 3 years. You stayed more than 6 years. When you look back, what did Sarawak do to you?
Fries: It changed my life. I began to have a new appreciation of life. The students were great and just the thought of being able to give a little input in their young lives is very worthwhile. My friends in USA made comments that I left my heart in Sibu. I think it is true. Sibu is where my heart is. I found it difficult to share with someone who has not been to this part of the world. They just could not understand. When our plane landed at Kuching when we came, Sandy Berg (another missionary-teacher) and I turned to each other and said, “Home again!” That is exactly how I felt.
As Fries relates, “It is the timing of the Lord. If I would have come to teach now, maybe it will be a completely different story.” Indeed, it was the grace of the Lord upon Sibu during those “magical” years. Can we call that period “The jubilee year of the Lord”? The period of time that God chose to bless those who came to minister to us and those who were being ministered? After seeing these missionaries day in and day out over those few days, they are no longer merely names to me. Their legends and stories come alive in my heart and will be passed on. (Winnie)