words & photos: phylliswong
In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his steps.
It was a “Forum”. Just another one? But a “Forum” with three “R”s – Remembering the Past, Reflecting the Present, Reckoning the Future – is not easy to come by. A “Forum” sharing the journey of faith of pastors of five decades comes only once in fifty years!
I was there. If I could sum up in my own way of the journey, I would do it this way –
When we walk the lonely road, He will be our constant companion.
When we scale the mountain, He will not let our feet slip.
When we walk the valley of darkness, He will be our guiding light.
When we choose the narrow path, He will form a hedge of protection around us.
With Him, the highways, the byways of life are filled with confidence and hope.
We never walk alone.
Grace has the full record of the Forum which should appear in the Souvenir Magazine. You have read my first account of the journey of early pastors, now please join me in some of the accounts of our pastors shared at the three “R” forum!
Rev Dr Tie and Winne felt like moving in a hotel when they were posted to Wesley in December 1989. But soon, they felt at home at the “hotel” and enjoyed their home-stay in the “hotel”.
Rev Dr Tie with wife, Winne, and children Josiah and Joy and Datin Judy Wong at the Thanksgiving Dinner. Joy is the talented girl who designs our anniversary logo. (Jan, their second child is not in the picture as the GB girl is busy ushering guests to the hall.)
Rev Tie said that God has done amazing works through Wesley Church in different ministries which include Cancer Support groups, Maids Fellowship. Youth Worship Service, and others. He specially mentioned that Wesley’s Ministry in the longhouses has set example for future churches to follow.
He encouraged Wesleyans to preserve unity of the Holy Spirit and that we are all family members of God. Being family members, praying for each other, encouraging one another and strive every effort to unity is a norm.
From home to coffeeshop, Rev Tie has put it beautifully that relationship needs time together.
“Church leaders should go for “kampua mee” more often. Rules without relationship will lead to rebellion. Rules with relationship will lead to submission. Dine together. Have fun together.”
The other pastor who has made Wesley his home and a preparation ground for his own own is Rev Dr Khoo Ho Peng. He should have that first feeling of home when he received a note from a Wesleyan soon after he joined Wesley. The note said,
I missed the morning call of Rev Tie. Could you do something about your voice?
Besides that painfully honest note that only family member would say to each other, the soft spoken pastor, then still single, was even called to share family life and experience family life.
“By the time I left Wesley, I was more ready for my family.”
Rev Khoo humbled himself sharing that his ministry in Wesley has pushed him into the direction of counseling.
As he reflected, he thanked God for the courage of Wesleyans to make themselves available to God to do new things and willingness always to start new ministry and ability to give way to new height of growth and development of the ministry when the right time comes!
Rev Khoo left Wesleyans with the
Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David. (Isa 55:3)
The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3)
From left, Rev Dr Lau Hui Ming, Rev Dr Khoo Ho Peng, Rev Philip Ang and Rev Dr Tie King Tai. Rev Philip Ang also shared at the Forum sharing his time in Wesley, especially the memorable Julau Mission Trip.
The longest serving pastor of Wesley is Rev Dr Lau Hui Ming serving from June 1997 to December 2003. It was during his tenure of ministry that Wesley started its annual Vision Building Day. It was through these Annual Vision Building days that many visions were conceived, captured and later realized. That includes the Longhouse Ministry, the Maids Outreach Ministry, Cancer Support Group, Youth Worship Service and Archive Centre.
In his reflections, he exhorted Wesleyans to remain passionate by the profound teamwork that they have displayed over the years. He said that team work is the key work of church life at Wesley that had deeply impressed him. At this point, he touched the hearts of many Wesleyans by sharing that he has been and still amazed by the high rate of mobilisation of manpower and potential at Wesley.
He said, “There were people who had been quietly and faithfully serving in areas like the Sunday School and the Brigades for many years whom I got to notice it quite a while after my arrival.”
Rev Dr Lau said he appreciated the opportunity of serving together with enthusiastic visionary leaders. who revealed their profound leadership qualities and are visionary, committed, responsible, humble and dedicated.
He also praised Wesleyans being committed to practice a balanced Christian discipleship between works of mercy and works of piety which means holding in balance the two commandments to love God and neighbour.
He left Wesleyans with this quote that he had used on the Vision Building Day in 1997 as a challenge –
Every new generation needs to go further than the last, or else what’s the point.
In cautioning the leaders not to be complacent, Rev Dr Tiong Chung Tiing, the present pastor-in-charge of Wesley Church, quoted John 17:4
I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.
The present Pastor-in-charge of Wesley, Rev Dr Tiong shared with Wesleyans on the common problems faced by churches today.
He said some churches have become stagnant and not as vibrant as before. He cautioned that churches should not dwell in past successes. He also observed that there are many pew warmers who are cold and indifferent, self-centred and lacking spiritual experience. With that Rev Dr Tiong quoted Matthew 7:21-23 that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
The other common problem of churches are that they are more “porgram-oriented” than “people-oriented”. He exhorted Wesleyans “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:14) by doing things that God has instructed and to do things in God’s way.
President of SCAC, Rev Dr Su Chii Ann, also former pastor of Wesley related how he was challenged by the Wesleyans which had caused him some sleepless nights. At the first EXCO meeting, one member asked, “Pastor, do you have any plan for Wesley as pastor?” Wesley was his first pastorial posting. He succeeded Rev Dr Peter Chio. On the very first day, he was given a file and told that was his first task – to build a new church. Being trained in theological studies in Cantonese in Hong Kong and later posted to English speaking church as Wesley was also a challenge to President Su.
President Su posed challenges to Wesleyans at the Forum. He challenged young people in Wesley to go into full time ministry. He has seen at least seven Wesleyans becoming pastors and one is now a District Superintendent. He attributed the glory and honour to God.
“The annual conference is lacking of English speaking pastors, so, Wesleyans, where are you? We want more English speaking members to be pastors.” He made this calling.
He ended with this thought –
Mission and Vision can be realised when we have passion to do it. Ask God to give us the passion to do the mission and vision of the church.
The one word President Su left with Wesleyans is PASSION.
In his very thought-provoking sharing at the Forum, Bishop Rev Dr Hwa Yung asked, “What is our responsibility as a church to Malaysia?” In 1738 John Wesley experienced conversion and as a result of this began his career to “reform the nation and spread spiritual holiness throughout the land”.
Bishop Hwa Yung said that God took all of us to a surprise in the nation’s recently concluded general election. He challenged Wesleyans at the Forum to think what key role can the churches play in “reforming the nation”. He was of the opinion that church could play a meaningful and decisive role.
He gave more thoughts,
Are we ready to put our house in order to do the task of “reforming the nation”?
Are we aware of God’s calling in “reforming the nation”?
Are we ready to move?
He shared incident on how God has powerfully spoken to a few of them in a deep sea fishing in Sabah recently when they asked the Lord for a “big catch” as a mark of His Blessings. And indeed, the Lord gave them a “big catch”.
When God brings the “big one”, will you and I be ready?
Bishop Rev Dr Hwa Yung challenged,
Put our house in order.
Put our lives in order.
Live accordingly to God’s way.
Love and stick together with one another.
Be ready to take the message and ministry of John Wesley –
to reform the nation and spread spiritual holiness throughout the land.
words, photos, videoclips: phylliswong
Chang Yi writes –
A resounding well done to all of you who worked until 5 a.m. (I heard!!)
And the little boy stole my heart. Did you see his final kick in the encore? A real trouper!!
We will remember this and more and hopefully for many years to come.
Thank you again to all from the OC to the little boy!!
Chang Yi, the evergreen Wesleyan, is now worshipping at Grace Methodist Church. She was one of the many homecoming Wesleyans. She and his other friends (Oop…I forgot to take their names, Chang Yi, probably, you can identify and post it here?) were at the Thanksgiving Dinner on 3rd May.
For those of you who missed the “Missing Shoe” dance, please enjoy this very very nice video of children from our Children’s Home that thrilled our some 1200 guests. The youngest of the children missed one shoe while dancing. Note he picked up his shoe at the end of the dance. By popular request, the children performed the dance again at the end of the dinner. The little boy took off his shoes this time,
by the end of the dance, he even had his socks missing!
You can view the video clip here.
Beyond the celebration, there was this little story of “The Missing Coma” that probably only a handful of Wesleyans heard of it. Not even the Organizing Chairperson, Judy Wong, heard of it!
The thanksgiving dinner was reported in the press. In The Borneo Post, it was reported of the guests attending the celebrations. It was reported – Mr John Vas and wife Sandy Davis….
The “coma” that was inadvertently omitted by the newspaper between Mr John Vas and wife and Sandy Davis probably had caused some embarrassment. But, Wesleyans, pastors whether former or present and our missionaries are a bunch of happy and forgiving people, right? They would have laughed over the “missing coma” as much as they were thrilled by the “missing shoe”. Right?
Now, here is Mr & Mrs John Vas (from right to left) to put it right!
For many Wesleyans, it was a week that they are trapped in a sticky web for an exhilarating experience that’s too brief too satisfy… too deep to describe… probably, too personal to share too?
I do not know about you. I like Glen Campbell. His “Gentle on my mind” always sends me down to the memory lane. And this week, it still did.
I did not grow up in Wesley. I started worshipping at Wesley when Rev Dr Peter Chio was going to leave and Rev Dr Su Chii Ann was to start his term.
Besides Rev David MacDonald whom I met seven years ago, and the “Muthiah” who stood out distinctively among them, it was a taxing time for me to remember the Hipkins, the Brinks, the two Sandy, the Seniors and even the Williams! Believe, it caused trembling feet. I had to check, re-check and check again with Judy and Peter if I got them wrong.
I wonder who has the memories of our first beloved pastor who has said this to the press some seven years ago when he made a come-back. Rev David MacDonald said,
When I left Sarawak,
I took part of you with me,
And I left part of me with you,
For that, I thank God.
Yes, I was the journalist who interviewed him. After that interview, I made it a point to remember all the good words of people who passed through my life. And my life could never be the same as before.
That’s very profound. That’s also very heartwarming. These are not mere words. Rev David MacDonald shared during the Thanksgiving Service on 4th May at Wesley Methodist Church that he has been praying for the Wesleyans on every Tuesday morning!
Rev MacDonald shared at the forum on 3rd May that he could still remember his first sermon shared at Wesley. It was based on the text taken from 1 Timothy 1:50.
A group of missionaries, English speaking locals called themselves the English Vespers were worshipping together. One day, by chance, one member said, “Why can’t we be a proper church?” Rev David MacDonald related.
“The person was asking for structure so that they can be properly organized.” He said.
“So, on May day, our group met. It took us only half an hour to form the church!”
How could he remember things that happened 50 years ago?
“I wrote to my mother once a week. My mother kept all my letters. There was also a British magazine called Kingdom Overseas.”
Rev David MacDonald ended with a “high”. He always does,
“I thank God to be here at the beginning,
I look back with warm memories
I thank God for that early beginning.”
The other person who remembers Wesleyans in his prayers is Rev.Geoffrey R Senior. He shared at the Forum,
It was a wonderful experience to develop the work of Sunday School, Youth fellowship groups. My wife started the ladies’ group.
Rev Geoffrey then shared with the Wesleyans the story of a Chinese girl who is now with the Lord. Zheng Yue Mei (Chinese translation) wanted to be baptized. She knocked at the door of Rev Geoffrey one day. The first word she uttered was, “I want to be a Christian.”
Rev Geoffrey invited her in and they talked. Yue Mei was from a Buddhist background. She was trained as a nurse in a hospital in England where she met a wonderful nursing sister. Yue Mei wanted to be like her. Knowing that this sister was a Christian, Yue Mei also wanted to be a Christian.
Rev Geoffrey baptized her later.
“Whenever I think of Yue Mei, I thank God for the seed planted by the nursing sister in the heart of Yue Mei. And God gave the increase. It was God who worked in her heart.”
Rev Geoffrey ended with a “High” –
We are all fellow workers of God. Whether we are in Malaysia. Indonesia or Hong Kong, we are one mission in this one world of His.
Rev Philip D Williams made three “wonderfuls” in his sharing at the Forum,
The first “wonderful” was the experience as the minister of Wesley.
The next “wonderful” was the joy to come back to Sibu.
It was also a “high” for the last wonderful he claimed –
How wonderful it is to celebrate the first 50 years. God will provide us with the next 50 years!
“I learnt many Chinese folk songs during those days.” shared Rev. James R Hipkins who pastured the church from 1966/1967. He did not share the names of the songs.
Rev Hipkins said he had an interesting time in Wesley. The choir then practiced in his home!
The Boys Brigade remembers Rev. Chris Tomlinson best, I think. He was the first captain of Boys’ Brigade, 1st Sibu Company. He remembered forming the company on 30h May 1967. It started with 20 to 30 boys, and now, it’s 600!
Rev Tomlinson shared, “It was a big day for BB on 15 November 1967. The uniform arrived. And the boys wore the uniform for the first time.”
It was even covered by the newspapers then!
Rev Tomlinson ended, “We plant the seed. We never know what it will become. We tend it. We nurture it.” Indeed, God will do the increase!
Rev. James M Brinks started his sharing at the Forum with a “High” –
When I arrived Sibu with my wife and four daughters, we thought we are in heaven!
He also ended with a “High” –
I thank God for all that we have gained by being here. It is a joy to see many in the leadership position.”
“I put up a fence around Liling Residence when I become pastor. I had to because the durians were missing.” Said Rev Lionel PA Muthiah.
During this homecoming, and 35 years later, someone confessed to Rev Muthiah that he was among one of those who stole his durians!
“We are all co-workers of God. We are all a people in missions.” Rev Muthiah said and shared this story.
He said that people are searching for meaning in life and hoped Wesley would be a place where they can find meaning of life.
“It’s an humbling experience to be recognized. It’s God’s grace. To God be the glory.” Rev Muthiah, the last missionary pastor of Wesley, concluded.
Rev Dr Peter Chio succeeded Rev Muthiah. He opened his sharing that if he had a choice, he would not choose to come to Wesley for three reasons. He said everybody knew that when missionary came, money came, when missionary left, money also left. The second reason was when a local person took over, he had to do it locally according to our ways whereas the missionary did it in their own way. The third difficulty he faced then was that many young people went overseas to have their higher education, thus the number of members greatly reduced.
He would have closed down Wesley then, but Rev Dr Chio did not.
He shared, “We have to aim high, achieve a great task for God. God’s grace is sufficient for you.”
Dear Wesleyans, I shall continue with Reflecting the Present and Reckoning the Future soon….
Or if you were at the celebrations, if you wish to share, just drop an email or leave a comment here!
More photos …. akan datang!
And are we yet alive,
And see each other’s face?
Glory and praise to Jesus give
For His redeeming grace!
See and feel the joy of homecoming of past pastors, early missionaries, guests and Wesleyans at the Welcoming Dinner on 30th April in pictures here! (Photos Credit: PhyllisWong)
From left – Shirley Ling, Gail Pilley Harris, Mrs Ling Chee Huah, Mr & Mrs Peter Lau
Rev & Mrs Philip Williams and Peter Lau
Rev Dr & Mrs Tiong Chung Tiing, Rev Dr Peter Chio, Rev & Mrs David MacDonald, Mr & Mrs Peter Lau
Rev & Mrs Lionel Muthiah
George Lau, Jackie Fries, Sandy Berg
Dolly Chong, Rev & Mrs Jim Brinks
Rev & Mrs Philip Williams, Shirley Ling
Oliver Wong, Tony Wong
Chiew Pick King, Mr & Mrs John Vas
Mrs MacDonald, Mrs Geoffery Senior
Rev & Mrs Jim Hipkins
Judy Wong, Rev David MacDonald
Sheila Chiew, Rev Chris Tomlinson
Jennifer Yeo, Mr & Mrs Joseph Yao
Rev Jim Hipkins, Mr & Mrs Stephen Yeo
Rev David MacDonald
Michael Tiang, Cheng Hwa Kong
Francis Hii, Jason Chua
Mrs Philip Williams, Mr & Mrs Geoffrey Senior, Tony Wong, Oliver Wong
Rev & Mrs MacDonald
Rev Dr & Mrs Tiong Chung Tiing
Rev Lisa Ting Lu Ling
Rev David MacDonald, Judy Wong
Rev David MacDonald
Rev Lisa Ting, Mr & Mrs John Vas
This news article appears in thesundaypost on April 27, 2008
SIBU: “When I left Sarawak I took part of you with me. And I left part of me with you. For that, I thank God.”
Rev David MacDonald, the first pastor of Wesley Methodist Church, said this when he was interviewed by The Borneo Post during a visit in 2001.
And since that year, he has made it a point to look up that of him that he has left here, and bring with him that part that was entrusted with him.
In the same unfailing spiritual relationship, come April 30 Rev David MacDonald will be here once again, which will give him the better reason to thank God he is capable of this brotherhood ever since that day in 2001.
Many will share in his communion on April 30 because on that date the Wesley Methodist Church will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee. Undoubtedly, it will be a time to renew friendship and exchange experience.
The Wesley Methodist Church started its first service in 1958 with Rev MacDonald as pastor.
Prior to that, from December 1955 to April 1958, the members who called themselves “English Vespers” were worshipping at the Masland Church.
The Wesley Methodist Church has every reason to rejoice and attribute its achievements in different ministries to the faithfulness of God on its Golden Jubilee celebrations.
A line-up of programme has been planned for the past pastors, guests and members, whether they are from afar or from home.
A welcoming dinner has been planned for the guests from overseas together with local church members on April 30.
Guests will also be visiting some Methodist Institutions on the same day.
Itinerary includes: May 1, the guests will be visiting a nearby longhouse; May 2, a Praise Night where Wesleyans and guests will tell how much God has done for them over the past 50 years; May 3, from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm a forum, “Reminiscing the Past, Reflecting the Present, Reckoning the Future” will be held at the church. During the forum, some missionary pastors, early local pastors will be speaking to the participants.
Other highlights are a Jubilee Thanksgiving Dinner at Sibu Civic Centre on May 3 at 7:30 pm while Sunday worship services o May 4 will see speakers in the persons of Rev Dr David MacDonald, Rev Dr Peter Chio and Rev Dr Hwa Yung.
Rev James M Brinks (Pastor of Wesley, 1969 to 1972), who now resides in Huston, Texas USA, said prior to his homecoming, “It is a great joy to be returning for this wonderful and very significant event in the life of Wesley Church!”
The homecoming pastors and missionaries from overseas to rejoice with Wesleyans are Rev & Mrs David MacDonald, Geoffrey Senior, Philip Williams, Chris Thomlinson, Jim Hipkins, Jim Brinks, Lionel Muthiah, Jackie Fries, Sandy Lovett Berg, Edna Floy Brown and spouse, Camille Funk and spouse, Gail Pilley Harris, Sandy MacKay and spouse.
Past Wesleyans and members of the public who are interested to know more about the Golden Jubilee programme can call the church at 04-336210 for further information.
You can also log on to https://wesleyjubilee.wordpress.com for a line-up of activities and welcoming note from the organizing chairperson, Judy Wong, who is also the Chairman of Wesley Exco.
By God’s grace and provision, the Program Book for Wesley Golden Jubilee is out! Grab a copy on Sunday at the Church! One for each family!
You would be walking down the memory lane of 50 years in pictures.
Remember to –
1. Pray for the various celebration events.
2. Pray for the safe journey of former pastors, missionaries and invited guests from overseas.
3. Pray for celebration committee members.
4. Pray and select the events that you wish to participate and hand in your response cards to the church office or ushers. This would allow the various organizing committee to prepare and provide.
5. Thanks God for His faithfulness for our first 50 years and pray that His blessings will be in abundance in the years to come and all glory be to Him.
You are part of Wesley – our very own Church!
Dear Pastors and Wesleyans from far and wide,
It is indeed my greatest pleasure to welcome you back to Sibu and specifically to Wesley Church in our Golden Jubilee Celebration!
It has been a long-awaited journey for you all. For some it was a year ago that you made that affirmative, joyous and excited “Yes, we are coming!” piece of news.
Thank God for such conveniences as emails. As I continued to receive more confirmation of your coming with such eagerness and spirit of Jubilee as “home-coming and reunion”, I was deeply touched and humbled.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for coming to us once again. It is indeed an attestation of God’s unceasing grace and providence that you are all here. With your presence, your reminiscing, we, the present Wesleyans will be blessed once again as we reflect on our present church growth and ministry, and be challenged to reckon with the future..
It is my sincere wish and prayer that your return to Sibu will be another memorable one in every aspect.
HAPPY HOMECOMING !
It’s a hymn specially written for Wesley on its 50th Anniversary Celebrations –
On this day of celebration,
We would offer thanks and praise
For the way that God has led us,
Guiding us throughout our days.
We have seen His sovereign purpose
In the coming of His Son
Jesus, ‘Word made flesh’ among us,
Reconciling all in one.
Help us to proclaim His Gospel,
Telling of amazing grace,
Seeing love expressed in suffering
On the Cross – to save our race.
Now we know death could not hold him,
He arose to set us free,
Here in majesty and splendour
Jesus reigns in victory.
Holy Spirit, source of power,
Working with God’s people still,
Changing lives and old directions
Teaching us to know his will.
Now equip us for his purpose,
Share the gifts which you inspire,
Now let Pentecost renewal
Come on us like wind and fire.
Tune [‘Hymn to Joy’ Beethoven’s 9th]
[David H MacDonald 2008]
Rev David MacDonald said in an email to Judy Wong, the Organizing Chairperson of the Celebrations,
Needless to say we are beginning to get excited about our visit to Sibu to share in the celebrations.
A few weeks ago whilst beginning my own preparations for the 7.30am service, a hymn tune came
into my mind which I remember singing when I was minister at Wesley 50 years ago.
The words I believe were – Joyful, joyful we adore Thee – (or something like that! )and the tune was from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony ‘Ode to Joy’.
( I notice the tune is also in Mission Praise no 600)
Since then I have worked on the enclosed hymn which I finally finished this morning!
It seems to go well with the tune and I would very much like to dedicate to Wesley Church.
(Phyllis Wong walked down memory land in 2002 with Rev David MacDonald, the first pastor of Wesley Methodist Church, Sibu)
I have the priviledge of walking down memory lane with some very inspiring and distinguished persons for the past four months in my course of work. Life of a journalist is colourful and just full of life!
If you are from Sarawak, in particular from Sibu, if you are struggling with learning of Chinese, you want to know what’s Bishop’s Soup, if you want to know how a person could leave part of himself in Sarawak and take part of Sarawak with him, please read on …. it’s a little of history, may be nostalgic to some, but surely all honour and glory go to God!
The engine throbs into life, and the boat vibrates…. People are still clambering up the gangplank, women carrying children and bundles of vegetables, followed by other small children sucking on ice-cream…
Highways are waterways in Sarawak. Some people ply the river in small craft powered by outboard motors, but most are content to let the public launch trundle them home from market.
Bicycles, sacks of meal, oil-drums, timber, pigs, hens, ducks, edibles and passengers all seem to constitute a legitimate load …
This was how Rev David Hill MacDonald described Sarawak, in particular Sibu back in 1959.
Early Missionary Pastors
Rev MacDonald was one of the early missionary pastors from England who served in Sarawak from 1957 to 1960.
After 42 years, he is back “home” here in Sibu. During the afternoon at Ida Mamora’s house, I joined Rev MacDonald as he reminisced about life back then. He bantered on about old friends, missionary work, the youths in Sarawak, sowing seeds, and studying Chinese.
Meeting Old Friends
“Yes, I have been meeting old friends during the past few days,” Rev MacDonald said. He has been amazed by the growth of Sibu, particularly the people and the churches. He is particularly impressed by the enthusiasm of Christians and their outreach program.
“It speaks of the continuing work of God in this land,” Rev MacDonald noted with much joy and satisfaction.
Rev MacDonald was the founder and first pastor of Wesley Methodist Church, Sibu. Asked on the setting up of the Church, Rev MacDonald said prior to the founding of the Church, he and other missionary colleagues had conducted worship in the form of evening vespers.
Added he, “The worship provided missionaries, their families and colleagues, an opportunity of meeting together.”
As time progressed, they were joined by civil-service expartrates, those employed in the hospital and the business community. He recalled that the Church was formed on May 5, 1958. Appropriately, it was known as the Wesley Methodist Church, Sibu.
“A Land of Decision”
It was established at a time when Sarawak was at the crossroads. Back then, British and American churches had designated Sarawak as “A Land of Decision” in the belief that the following 25 years would witness monumental changes.
American churches were then focusing their missionary work in two areas, including Sarawak. Resources poured in to ensure its success.
The Methodist Missionary Society has long a deep appreciation of, and concern, for the Chinese community. So when invited by the American Methodist movement to jointly operate in Singapore, Sarawak and Sumatra, they readily joined in this new field of service.
Three young ministers were sent from England – Rev David MacDonald, Rev G.R. Senior and Rev J L Hodgkinson.
Rev MacDonald said the Vision has been fulfilled.
Church of the people
However, missions have had to give way to church growth especially for the church to take root. He said, “The churches here have become self-financing, self-governing and self-propagating to become truly a church of the people.”
In illustrating what he meant by “truly church of the people”, Rev MacDonald said a few months ago he read a book called “Mangoes or Bananas?” by Rev Dr Hwa Yong. There is a simple parable to remind us that whilst partnership and learning is a vital part of the pattern of the Church – each culture needs its own way of expression faith in Jesus.
Rev MacDonald is sufficiently conversant to preach in Mandarin. He showed me the text of his first sermon in Chinese. I was amazed by the neat handwriting, easy to understand presentation on the sermon topic. Besides being the pastor of the English Church, he also helped out at the Kwong Hua Chinese Church.
He said, “The newness of the work from my own point of view was exciting and challenging.”
He emphasised that the study of Chinese language helped him understand himself better.
“There are profound thoughts in the Chinese culture that have made me into a better Christian.”
The understanding of the Chinese langauge and culture has taught him to spend time in meditating on the goodness of the Lord. Moreover, it helped him allot time for meditation.
In 1989, Rev MacDonald studied Chinese in China. This, said he, was to ensure he maintained common ground with the community.
He elaborated that what Christians have in common are the Bible, the Creed, The Lord’s Prayer and fundamental beliefs. Therefore, Christians should seek the common ground and agree with the little differences.
Rev MacDonald focused much attention on youths. His greatest satisfaction was being able to communicate on the same wavelength with local youths, emphatising with teens who were struggling to remain faithful.
He said it was great to be with young people, and watched them grow, There were about 50 to 70 members in the youth fellowship who met every week. About six young men went into the ministry; others become lay leaders and lay preachers.
“Together we built each other up,” he said.
He notes that youths today tend to be so different.
Observed he, “Youths today have access to all sorts of information that it is difficult for them to evaluate what’s wrong and what’s right.”
It’s his hope that youths will walk with the Lord and stand in the way of the gospel.
Rev MacDonald recalled his first Christmas at Sungei Aup Longhouse which he has visited during this trip back “home”.
However, the most unforgettable one was Christmas 1959 when he was hospitalised.
Today, he is still overwhelmed when recalling this experience – awakened in the middle of the night by Christmas carols on the Rejang River. It was a group of young Christians carolling in a boat!
Rev MacDonald brought along with him some magazines published by the Methodist Missionary Society in the United Kingdom in 1959. The magazines contained stories from the early missionaries here.
The Bishop’s Soup
One of our missionaries visiting a Chinese family in Sibu was told an old Chinese joke. The halfway line in a Chinese Feast is marked by a change from Savoury pork to sweet lotus seeds in syrup. A bowl of warm water is therefore, placed on the table at this point for the guests to wash their spoons.
A certain Bishop, on one occasion, dipped into this washing bowl and drank from it. His host, not wishing to embarass him, said, “Guests, taste with me the Bishop’s soup,” and all drank with him.
Christian folks now call the bowl “The Bishop’s Soup”.
“My work here was sowing the seeds. My ministry is shaped by the people. You made me what I am.”
Rev MacDonald showed me his Elder’s Credentials. He said this is a reminder that it was here in Sarawak that he was ordained.
During a dinner organised by the members of Wesley Methodist Church Sibu for him in a local restaurant, Rev David MacDonald said,
“I have never forgotten the kindness and love shown to me.
Above all, what I learnt here from you has travelled with me throughout all my years of ministry.
When I left Sarawak I left part of myself here
and took part of you with me.
For that I thank God.”
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