The Rev James Hoover, pioneer missionary to the farming community in Sibu, Sarawak, shares the remarkable story of a Foochow Christian who became the first Chinese missionary to the Dyaks.
WE ARE ABOUT TO SEND our first Chinese missionary to the Dyaks. is has been our thought and prayer since we came here, but we had not hoped, or even dreamed of doing so for years yet. We find it next to impossible to do any work among the Dyaks, because of the condition of the country and the uncertain abiding place of these people; but when our Christian Chinese go out, they will camp on their track and follow them to their farthest retreat.
It may be interesting for you to know a little about this first man that goes out. When a boy, he heard the Gospel from a Chinese preacher in his own town, about 300 miles inland from Foochow; after a year he was baptised. His mother being dead, and none of his relations or friends being Christians, he had a hard time, and resolved to leave for Foochow to go to school. is was a long tramp for a small boy, but he did it, and was taken into our school there.
He studied for three years, and as our Mission was contemplating opening work in the district from which he came, his evenings were spent with the missionaries studying his dialect. In the midst of his school days, he heard of Borneo, that great, fertile island, waiting to be cultivated, civilised and Christianised, and he determined to go. Although he was restrained by the missionaries for a time, he finally sailed with a number of other emigrants, for the Rejang River district.
Landing here he went at once to farming and managed to save enough money to buy a trading boat. Just here I may say that he never cost the proprietor of the colony anything more than his passage money, and soon paid that back. I don’t know half a dozen others that did the same.
With a small stock of cloth, matches, salt, etc., he set out on the great river and its tributaries to trade for salt fish, rubber, rattans, etc. with the Dyaks. In a short time he learned their language and let no opportunity pass to teach them. As a trader he was a success, and in a year or more had saved several hundred dollars.
About this time, the proprietor of the colony was looking for a man to help him in the management and impressed our trader. His boat was tied up to the bank and soon went to pieces; the aﬀairs of the colony grew steadily worse and in about a year the proprietor failed. This left our man almost penniless and in about the tightest place he had been for a long time.
He came to me wanting to be sent as a missionary to the Dyaks, as he had often done before. At first we thought he was trying to get out of the job he was in, and now we thought it was for want of a job, so we said positively, “No”, but promised to help him with a little money to open a small shop. The shop was a success from the start; his Dyak friends remembered him and came to trade.
In a short time, an Amoy man saw an opportunity to make money so put in $1,200 against our man’s trade, experience and small stock. From then on, things boomed but our man was not satisfied; his Amoy partner would not close on Sunday, and he wanted to go to teach the Dyaks and support himself by trading, and although he was importunity itself we would not hear him.
When Bishop Oldham came he told his story and after hearing ours, the Bishop took him on. The shop is now sold out and the first missionary from the Chinese to the Dyaks is about to begin his labours. Pray that the Lord may bless him and that Borneo may be redeemed.’
– MM, October 1905, pages 5-6.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This was the last article Mr Earnest Lau sent me before he passed away.
Lessons from Earnest Lau’s last book
FROM MISSION TO CHURCH – the story of how the Methodist Mission here started in 1885, grew and evolved from a “mission” to become the autonomous Methodist Churches in Singapore and Malaysia – was the last book written by the late Mr Earnest Lau in 2008.
Taking the best part of three years of research and writing, From Mission To Church records the strenuous work of the early missionaries and local workers.
The 320-page volume is a very important book, especially for all Methodist Church members in Singapore and Malaysia, as it provides a historical account of the evolution and formation of the Methodist Church in these two countries.
Our church members, especially the pastors and lay leaders, need to know about our rich heritage.
We owe it to ourselves to be reminded of our history for there are important lessons to be learned from the book which are useful even today.