Happenings, News

‘The jungle is my parish’

The Rev J. R. Denyes, District Superintendent of the Netherlands Indies District, was Pastor of the Middle Road Baba Church from 1900-1901 and taught in ACS, but was re-assigned to the Methodist Mission’s outreach in Java. Here is his account of an extended and challenging weekend pastoral ministry in West Borneo, accompanied by one of his pastors, 93 years ago. The effort was in the best of Wesleyan tradition.

JUST a month ago I left Batavia [Jakarta] for Pontianak, West Borneo. There was the usual two days’ run across an unruffled sea and up the river. Mr Worthington was waiting for me … we were off for a 50-mile run up the coast to Mempawa on a dirty little tug-boat.

It was Friday morning when we landed at the mouth of the river. From there it was a four-mile tramp to the town. Here we arranged for the Sunday services and then pushed on nine miles inland to another village. That night we held services with some 20 fishermen, most of whom have been baptised.

Saturday morning we walked back to Mempawa, visiting our people along the way. Sunday morning we began our services with a wedding, followed by a sermon by Mr Worthington. Then we took a recess of half-an-hour after which I preached and we had the Lord’s Supper.

Without stopping to eat we threw our baggage into a canoe and rushed at top speed for the customs house at the mouth of the river, where a steamer was to stop for us. We had just an hour and the distance was five miles. Hot and anxious we reached the customs house – and there we waited just 72 hours for that boat. While that boat was patiently sitting on a mud bank waiting for higher water, we were impatiently sitting at the customs house with a fire under our chairs to keep away the mosquitoes.

At Singkawan there were the usual services, interviews and accounts. We made but one long trip inland but that one will illustrate mission life in West Borneo.

By 5 am we had finished our breakfast and were ready to start. We had a large fishing canoe with two men to paddle. Worthington and I took turns paddling and steering. By 11 am we had paddled and dragged our boat to the Selakan River, a distance of some 10 miles. Here it began to rain so we fixed up a thatched roof over the middle of the boat large enough to cover one and part of the baggage. While one huddled cross-legged under this cover the other with a minimum of clothing sat at the stern and paddled.

We should have reached our destination by 6 pm but the river was high and the current strong. We worked along all day and until about 8.30 pm, when it became too dark to steer the boat. Then we tied up the boat to an overhanging tree and waited for the moon to rise. The rain had found its way into our boat, but fortunately our sleeping clothes and one blanket were fairly dry. Thus prepared we lay down in the bottom of the boat and slept more or less till two o’clock. The moon rose clear and bright and we pushed on for an hour till we came to the camp of a Dyak. He was hunting wild pigs and rattan, not heads. Here we had boiled rice, smoked pork, baked beans, butter and jam served mixed in a basket lined with green leaves.

By 4 am we were on our way again and we paddled steadily until 11 o’clock, when we reached our village. It is only a little group of 60 or 70 houses around the base of a hill. Each man has his pepper and vegetable garden and washes out gold from the hill between times. Word was sent out and by night nearly 50 adults had gathered for service. These all count themselves adherents of our church, though only eight have been baptised. We preached, sold books, doctored sores, and gave advice until late in the night. The next morning we had services again and then started on our return. By midnight we were home.

What the results will be only eternity can show, but we pray that at least one soul will date the beginning of its upward climb from that brief visit … ‘ – MM May, 1909, page 64.

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