Thursday, May 8, 2008

Revival In Borneo

In 1946, Guru Paul, a vivacious little Timorese Pastor from Indonesia founded the first primary school and by 1976 there were over twenty Kelabits entered university. During his teaching, he actually taught his Christian faith to the Kelabits. He then becomes the first Bornean member of staff of the Miri Bible College. Robert Lian Saging, one of the first Kelabits to graduate in his honours degree at Kuala Lumpur University points this out in his thesis “The greatest thing to have happened in the history of the Kelabit people was the conversion of the tribe to Christianity. The developments in the Kelabit country carried out by the Government in the last thirty years have been success mainly because of the effect of Christianity on the Kelabits. Christianity has played, is still playing and will continue to play a leading role in the lives and developments of the Kelabit tribe. The Kelabit church is the power and strength of the Kelabit people. The main effect that the Christianity has had on the Kelabits is the change of the Kelabit society from a pagan and unprogressive on to a Christian and progressive one.” There were doctors and other professional qualifications among the Kelabits and many are earning well in coastal towns. Education improves among the many tribes and that includes the Lun Bawang too.
According to the Sarawak Gazette, the Lun Bawang was drunken one hundred days out of 365 days. They were dying out. The Lun Bawang men were incapable to guard their house while their wives had to work. They got drunk at all occasions, at every marriage, death festivals. They drank jar after jar of rice beer. Even small children would do the same and in fact it is said only the dogs were sober. Their lifestyles were terrible. Houses were filthy, covered in soot and cobwebs, floors showing traces of recent debauches, dogs everywhere, pigs under the house. They had diseases, epidemics were frequent and severe.
The revival truly had changed everything. During their disputes, the people would gather together discuss and prayed together as civilized people and settled the matter. Drinking feasts had been replaced by daily prayer meetings and hymn singing and the results was they had enough to support their families. Their lifestyles change, they were able to eat well, wear good clothing and receive education. Their homes change, it was more spacious, well kept and clean. This is definitely the results of someone whose life had been affected by a meaningful Christian experience. The standard of living has improved and illiteracy among the young is a thing of the past. It was God who had brought this group of Kelabits, Lun Bawang and the other tribes to himself.

Their church meetings and pre-dawn prayer were alive and many came to join in to network in prayer. In fact the revival started among the younger generation. Their lives change remarkably.
People of the SIB church have become increasingly aware of God’s purposes for the whole world. He has planned and declared that in the final day there will be those from every tribe language, people and nation will bow down to Jesus. The vision of an established, indigenous church which inspired the three pioneers’ missionaries has come to completion, not only among the Kelabits and the Lun Bawang but also many among other interior tribes.
Once BEM was birth, revival took place everywhere in East Malaysia. They had small church like the Bisaya church that runs its own affairs. By now, the Lun Bawang had been left during the war years with a local leader in each group and they had taken the Gospel to the Kelabits. The Dusuns were now already doing much of the evangelism themselves as well running their own church organization. There was a Bible School at Lawas training the locals so that they could take over the leadership and there were fruits from the school whereby a number of students accompanied the missionaries on evangelistic trips to tribes other than their own. The locals did not stop spreading the good news wherever they went and took every opportunity they had. They were on fire for Jesus and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
In 1952, BEM organized conference for Pastors to meet. They knew it was time to increase more missionaries and also intensive training for leaders of the future church. They had specific items for prayer, they believed for twelve new workers in the next twelve months and also in increase of 70% in the size of the team. During and after the conference, God worked remarkably in many of the missionary team. For example, Oswald Sanders, a General Director of the OMF had visited Borneo in 1956 wrote in his Foreward to Jungle Fire, ‘A great leap forward in the work took place in 1952 as the outcome of a sovereign moving of the Holy Spirit among the missionaries. They discovered anew that spiritual success comes only when the Holy Spirit is able to work unhindered by carnality and sin in His chosen instruments. With confession and cleansing came new vision, this time of long-range planning to be implemented with short-team urgency.’ The blessing truly changed the lives of the missionary team which was the embryo from which develop the Inter-Tribal Conference of the Sidang Injil Borneo (The Evangelical Church of Borneo).
The Pastors began to meet yearly and by December 1954 a representative body was formed for the administration of Church affairs which consists of six tribal churches, the Lun Bawang, Kayan, Kenya, Dusun, Kelabit and Tagal together with Racha Umong and Udan Rangat, a Lun Bawang who had graduated from Bible School. The BEM was represented by the Belchers. In 1955, over ninety pastors and their wives came together. Finally in 1959, the Conference was ready to draw up a constitution for the Evangelical Church in Borneo. At this conference they were helped by representatives from KINGME, the evangelical church founded in Indonesia. This part of God’s building was taking shape and Sidang Injil Borneo was chosen as its official name. The SIB was now an independent church just before Independence came to Borneo.
The indigenous people saw the truth and believed in the truth. As a Christian, I personally believed that if we avail ourselves for His service and that as we put out trust in Jesus and not use our strength, He can use us mightily as how He used the three missionaries to bring Jesus to this land of Borneo. All things are possible through Christ who strengthened us. Even though they had to go through trials and tribulations but it was worth. SIB is now a fast growing church, touching many lives and blessing many people all across this land.
Today, Christians in the SIB not only serve in churches but also in the political world. They are making a difference in the land of Malaysia. They have brought hope to many lives. Evangelism had been their goal and is still their goal. SIB has never lost its focus to keep to our commission, to ‘Go Ye and Make Disciples’ to All Nations’. SIB had managed to set up churches to almost every settlement in Sabah, Sarawak and also branching out to West Malaysia. Holding to our vision to proclaim God’s grace and to reflect His glory, the SIB will not stop mushrooming until the day Jesus comes to take us home.


With the assurance that God had called them, they started their journey. Their first destination was to Singapore. There they were warmly welcome by the Secretary of the Bible Society in Singapore. Henderson and Hudson left for Kuching leaving Carey and Frank in Singapore. They went to get permission to work in Sarawak. On the 12th November 1928, they arrive at the Capital of Sarawak. At first Henderson and Hudson were not greeted well by the White Rajahs as they were suspicious of them but eventually their request was favorable as God was with them and it was His plan that they when. They were given a choice to choose to work in the Limbang area in the North or Bintulu in the Central Coast area. After much consideration they decided to go to Limbang area in the Fifth Division. Sarawak was divided into five provinces, called Divisions, and the capital of each division was the headquarters of a Resident. On the 29th November 1928, they were warmly welcomed by the resident and his wife in Limbang and few days later Carey and Frank joined them who sailed direct from Singapore. That was the beginning of their mission to the indigenous people of Sarawak.
In the early years, the 3 pioneering missionaries had to battle a massive cross-cultural shift besides tackling rough snake infested jungles and mountainous terrains. They also had to contend with the steamy hot tropical climate as well as tropical diseases like amoebic dysentery and malaria. In spite of all these obstacles, the 3 missionaries pressed on. For many years, the labour was hard and the fruits were scanty.
After mastering the Malay language and the local native dialects, the missionaries began sharing the love of Jesus to the indigenous people of Sarawak. As the years passed by, God rewarded their perseverance and hundreds and thousands of natives turned to the Lord, in Sarawak and later in Sabah, and they forsook their old ways of head-hunting and getting drunk on tapai (a rice wine). The change was so dramatic that it even caught the attention of the Raja Brooke of Sarawak. The three missionaries shared the good news of Jesus amongst the Lun Bawangs, Kelabits, Kayans, Kenyas, Tagals and other peoples.
The Ibans were hardly involved though they were the first group to hear the good news from the three pioneer missionaries of the BEM from 1928-1932. About fifty years later, God’s time for the Ibans arrived. Many of the Iban communities receive Jesus as their Deliverer and Savior. God’s hand was truly upon the Iban communities, the more they discovered Jesus and they begin to reflect in a new style, improved in their health and they were more open to education and their economy begin to be enriched.
There were many missionary came to spread the Gospel. Winsome, the wife of Hudson Southwell, the first lady missionary arrived in 1932. She was a delicate, beautiful lady that many thought she wouldn’t last in Sarawak but she knew God’s call and had kept up with her untiring husband for nearly half a century of serving the Church in Borneo. Together with her husband, they took over the base work at Sungai Praga. They began a service on Sundays and morning prayers in Iban. They read from the Iban New Testament which had already been translated, and one of them came to put his trust in the Lord as he quotes “ It’s not what you’ve been saying, it’s the Word.”
In 1933 God began a similar movement amongst the Lun Bawang; the Lun Bawang who lived along Trusan river which flows from the mountains near the Indonesian border into Brunei Bay to the north-east of the Limbang. The Lun Bawang in the Trusan was desperately hungry to hear of this new way to God.
The Chinese traders were amongst the first to witness the remarkable changes in the interior indigenous peoples and at first they did not get involved in this growth but eventually when there was some migration of Lun Bawang and others from the interior to the towns, eventually they met with the interior people in their churches. In the last 20 to 30 years, large churches, both of the indigenous people and also mainly Chinese congregations, having mushrooming all over east Malaysia and West Malaysia making SIB the largest Christian denomination in Malaysia next to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Birth Of SIB, Sabah

SIB Sabah and Sarawak are the fruits of labor of the Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM). The BEM was established in Australia on 31st August 1928 with representatives from different denominations. In October 1928, 3 missionaries, Hudson Southwell a Baptist, Frank Davidson an Anglican and Carey Tolley a Brethren set sail from Adelaide and arrived in Sarawak a month later.
The Kelabit Highlands is a highland plateau in the interior of Sarawak in Malaysia. The Kelabit Highlands is a highland plateau of over 1,000m. It lies between the Tama Abu Range and Apo Duat Range on the Sarawak-Kalimantan border. The many valleys in the region are peppered with settlements of cottage-like homes and often surrounded by paddy fields. The area also boasts many high peaks including Sarawak's highest mountain, the 2,423m Gunung Murud.
The Kelabits mostly highland farmers and staunchly Christian, belonging to the Sidang Injil Borneo (Borneo Evangelical Assembly) They are also known to place a lot of importance in education and many hold professional jobs example the managing director's post of Malaysia Airlines. Although the highlands are named after the Kelabits, it is actually home to many other groups such as the Kayan, Kenyah, Penan and Lun Bawang. The Lun Bawang, who are the same group as the Murut in Sabah, are the predominant people around Ba Kelalan in the northern part of the highlands. All of them are collectively known as the "Orang Ulu" or "People of the Highlands".
Bario is the capital of the highlands and main entry point into the highlands and Ba Kelalan is the Lun Bawang village and it is the starting/ending point of popular two-day trek to/from Bario.
The three missionaries had the heart to reach out to this group of people in Sarawak. They knew it was the will of God for their lives individually. Hudson was a Science graduate from Melbourne University. In his early years before he became a Christian he had longed to be an explorer in the Arctic, Himalayas, Tibets or any remote place. At the age of 26, Hudson went to the Melbourne Bible Institute to prepare himself for what the Lord had in mind for him. He met Frank Davidson and Carey Tolley in Melborne Bible Institute. Frank had the same interest as Hudson, he was born in England, second son of the managing director of Morgan and Scott the publishers. The family migrated to Australia when Frank was sixteen. Frank was gifted with young people and he spent much of his vacations while at Melbourne Bible Institute on evangelistic tours in the East Gippsland area of Victoria. Hudson and Frank were extroverts, good conversationalists owing to their wide interest in many spheres. They had strong and decided ideas and may have overshadowed the shy, quieter Carey Tolley. He was the most inveterate traveler of them all. Carey was a man of prayer. It was said that Carey prayed so much on his knees over the map of Borneo that calluses began to develop on his knee caps!
With the heart to serve, the three missionaries then separated to give themselves to prayer. On 17th May they met again, each coming with assurances from the Lord to go to Borneo. The Lord was faithful to them and He open wide doors for them to accomplish His mission.
The Lord provider for them and one of the Lords provisions was, Alexander Henderson a timber merchant who has been a trader in Borneo for Seven years knew the area and spoke the language offered to help the three missionaries to make the initial contacts and settle in to the land of Borneo.
Before the establishment of the Borneo Evangelical Mission, there were several informal meetings were held to discuss on the formation of a Borneo Fellowship and on the 28th July 1928 the first formal statement was made. Further meetings were held, a wider fellowship in prayer, council members were appointed from many different denominations and the name Borneo Evangelical Mission was adopted on 31st August 1928. The opening meeting was arranged for 1st September when the final draft of the constitution was prepared and agreed to. This was to be ratified at the next council meeting and that was the birth of Borneo Evangelical Mission.