Happenings, News

The Dyak Pilgrim’s Progress

On a visit to Borneo, Methodist Missionary Rev F. H. Sullivan, who was attached to Oldham Hall and was a pastor of the Baba Church, came upon the remarkable way in which the Gospel of Mark changed the life of Wan Dangie, a Dyak native who lived in the wild country of West Borneo.

‘WAN DANGIE was born in a Dyak longhouse of the usual type erected on tottering stilts with floors of split bamboo. The grand staircase leading up to the community verandah was the usual notched pole greased with the muddy feet of scores of children, chickens and churlish dogs.

Dangie’s village was only five miles from Bengkayang, a mountain market town two “suns” journey from the port of Singkawang but his world was a very small circle around “Gunong Bawang”, or Onion Mountain, which is, of course, the only high mountain in the whole world.

On the community verandahs the different families cooked their rice and fern shoots in tubes of green bamboo spluttering and smoking against the burning embers or roasted their tapioca tubers in the hot ashes whenever a single individual felt the call of hunger.

Back of the thatched verandah each family had its own private room, cut off with checked bark tied in cross poles with rattan thongs. In this room were the fine floor mats used as beds, a few coconut shells filled with river washings used as legal tender because of the particles of gold dust they contained, and a few large earthen jars supposed to contain the spirits of their ancestors (although a peep into these only reveals moths, crickets, cockroaches and ants). Hanging on the wall is a loosely woven basket with a few pieces of badly chipped and greasy looking china ware used on special occasions and in this same basket or casket are the family charms: bears’ teeth and boars’ tusks … festival cakes dried under the tropical sun … potent leaves of the deadly ipoh tree, scorpion pincers and miniature sampans made to convey to other parts some dire disease that may have invaded the place in other days.

But strangest of all was a little green book in this magic basket printed in Romanised Malay with the words Markus on the cover. Dangie had learned how to spell out a few words on government notices and he was curious to know what this book said, but his relatives who had bought it from a colporteur for a penny were afraid to destroy it and equally afraid to have it read.

He at last met the Batak guru from Sumatra who was glad to teach him how to read it and he went to stay with the guru, sleeping under the projecting thatch of the roof outside the bamboo cottage. Months later, he met the missionary and moved down the coast to study more about this and other books of the same family.

We can hear him yet reading out the “Cherita Orang Yang Chari Slamat” story of a man seeking peace – Pilgrim’s Progress – late into the night in his little room on the river bank. He became a very happy disciple and at last presented himself at the altar for the symbolic cleansing and we called him Markus. He was soon going to the other longhouses with Gospels and picture cards telling them about the wonderful healer of men.

Ten years have passed and now instead of one Dyak Methodist in the West of Borneo, there are more than three hundred in, or getting ready to go into, the church. We were glad to learn this week that Dangie is now the head of a Dyak school and that his work has been so acceptable to government that they are giving him a subsidy for this mission school from this year.

At last, Markus has consented to take to himself a wife from Java, although he modestly fears she will be more “pintar” (capable) than he’. — Malaysia Message, April 1926, p.15, slightly edited.

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


Wife of pre-war missionary dies

WORD has been received that Mrs Louise McGraw, wife of the oldest surviving pre-war missionary assigned to Malaya, the Rev Eugene McGraw, passed away on Nov 22, 2006 at the age of 91.

Born in 1915 in Holbrook, Massachusetts, her ancestry can be traced back to the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth in 1620.

Although Singapore Methodists may not be acquainted with the McGraws, as their ministry was confined to Malaysian towns, it is worth recalling that Mrs McGraw began her work in Taiping as a teacher in 1939, a missionary of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society in the (Methodist) Lady Treacher Girls’ School in Taiping. In 1941, she married the Rev McGraw, who was Pastor of the Wesley Church, Taiping.

The advent of World War II interrupted their ministry when they were serving in Sitiawan, but they returned after the war to appointments in Sibu (Sarawak), Malacca and Penang, as she ably assisted her husband wherever he was appointed, and until they retired from Mission work in 1971.