Missionary’s boat journey to Sarawak’s ‘New Foochow’

The Rev Ling Ching Mi, a respected scholar and District Superintendent of the Foochow Annual Conference, was recruited for work in Singapore, and arrived in 1897. He became the founding pastor of the Foochow Church whose members were then worshipping at the Middle Road Church. Here, he gives a moving account of his “missionary journey” to the recently arrived pioneering settlers in “New Foochow” (later known as Sibu).


‘IRECEIVED instructions from the Bishop to pay a visit to New Foochow, near Sarawak, and left Singapore on the 28th of May with the headman of the Colony, Mr (Wong) Nai Siong, arriving at Sarawak on the 30th. We had to remain there a whole week because there was no ship ready. I went out and preached in the town and looked for friends.

On the 7th of June we hired a sailing boat, which took five days in getting to New Foochow; on the way I preached to the people in the boat, and they heard the Word gladly; sometimes I left the boat with the headman to look at the country.

On the 11th of June we arrived at New Foochow, and l felt a mixture of pleasure and sadness at meeting the brethren again, some of them being sick and some having died. As there were still some who were dangerously ill, I hastened to see them, trusting to be able to cure them by the help of the Lord.

Thus every day I was engaged in attending to the sick and assisting the headman to make arrangements for the benefit of the brethren. Both day and night I was busy in this way until I was very weary, and had but little time for visiting the brethren.

I was pleased to see that the fields which were under cultivation were doing very well. I also went to visit some Hokkien and Teo-chiu men who were settled there, and I visited the native people (Dyaks) whose fields were producing good crops. In the houses of the Dyaks I saw the heads of men hanging; on inquiry they told me that they had got these heads in battle with their enemies, and that they thus proved their bravery.

However, the natives treated me very well, and in one or two houses expressed a desire to come to worship, so I think that some day they will receive the Lord’s blessing. On Sunday, the 16th of June, I preached in the morning at the central colony and administered the communion, and in the afternoon I did the same at the lower colony; and the following Sunday, 23rd June, I did the same at Sin-chhu-oa. Over 200 received the sacrament.

The total members and probationers is now over 400; 13 have died; there is one supernumerary preacher, and 16 local preachers. After the Sunday service the people all return to work, because they have as yet no money, so they work for their food. As they have no one to help them, the spiritual life of all the members is growing cold; this is a very sad thing.

When I had done my work for the church, I planned to return to Singapore, but the brethren all detained me; as there was no boat I remained several days longer. On Sunday, 30th June, I preached at the lower colony and baptised the eldest son of the local preacher, Tan Liong Tian. On the 7th of July, I preached at Si-ngo in the afternoon.

Our church members decided unanimously to get me to ask the Presiding Elder to request the Bishop to select an elder as soon as possible to be stationed at New Foochow, also to build a church and to send local preachers to different places, some of which are 30 or 40 miles apart.

There are no roads, and if one took a boat one might have to wait until there was enough (river) water, so it is impossible for the people to meet together in one place. As there are a large number of women it would be as well to get a Bible woman to come and help them.

Moreover during the present year another 500 persons or more will arrive at New Foochow, and if the spiritual life of the local preachers and all the members is not cared for, the church cannot prosper, and will finally fall into the hands of others, which would be lamentable.

On the 11th of July I took leave of all the brethren, taking with me 30 men who were unable to work, and we reached Sarawak (Kuching) on the 12th. As there was no ship there for Singapore, I had to wait again several days, and stayed with the Church of England clergyman and his preacher.

On the 20th I embarked, and reached Singapore on the 23rd with much gratitude to the Lord for His protection on the way and for my safe return.’ – MM, Sept 1901, page 146, slightly edited.

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