Heading to the Interior Heartland
It was 7:30 am on Saturday 15th June 2019. Five of us from Emmanuel Methodist Church Bintulu embarked on a three-hour journey from Sibu to Kapit, the heartland of the upper Rajang basin. As the express boat manoeuvred out from the jetty, I started to reminisce my days in Kapit some 38 years ago when I was a young medical officer at the Kapit Hospital. I looked forward to the hospitality of the Ibans, the delicacy of the local fresh water fish, dabai and wild boar meat among others.
Dr Lee CS, chairman of the Board of Ministries of Lighthouse Kapit, greeted us as we alighted from the boat. As we stepped out of the wharf, I could not believe what my eyes beheld. Traffic jam! The whole town was different from what I remembered. Once vacant lands in the town are occupied by buildings. The town was bustling with people and shops running brisk businesses. The markets too were teeming with life and shoppers. Many more shops were under construction. Even the town football field was not spared!
From what I gathered, the town has not be coping well with the rapid influx of young families from rural Iban longhouses over the last few years. Due to the closure of many logging camps, most of the experienced local timber workers have left to work in logging camps overseas, sending home their lucrative salaries. It has become the trend for them to move their families to the town area. As each family needs a house and a car, one can only imagine the impact on the socio-economic health of the town. The young people are obviously exposed to life challenges they are not prepared for. Many struggle with their faith and moral values while adjusting their lives to the changing culture.
Is there any hope for the weary and vulnerable young sojourners? We believe that Lighthouse Kapit provides the answer. An unwavering beacon of light shines forth from the Lighthouse Kapit guiding the seekers to the right path.
The Lighthouse Ministries
As its name implies, the Lighthouse serves to throw light in the paths of the youths living in the midst of social storms and in the rough sea of life, which is strewn with hidden rocks. Lighthouse gives hope by providing them with love, care and guidance. The Lighthouse building is a converted 50-year old Methodist girls’ hostel. It also aims to be a friendly Youth Centre. It is also a platform for birthing the wave of a much needed revival among the Iban community.
Strategically located between SK Methodist Kapit and SMK Kapit, the Lighthouse is within walking distance from the town centre. The facelift and renovation work began in Jan 2017. May 1st 2019 marked the historical dedication of the building officiated by Bishop Rev Ong Hwai Teik. As we watched a video of the worship during the Official Opening Celebration that night, I was deeply moved. This has to be the beginning of a spiritual breakthrough!
Through the unity of God’s people, this landmark was established for His glory. It had started with the brainstorming session on the community needs by the Sarawak Iban Annual Conference (SIAC) in 2015, followed by the sharing of the vision with leaders of the local churches as well as with various NGOs. The notion of the Lighthouse was consolidated during the Prayer Revival Seminar of SIAC held in Kapit in April 2016. In summary, the Lighthouse would not have been possible without the help and contributions from its many partners who have also synergically generated a series of kingdom-minded ministries through engaging, equipping and empowering the communities with its holistic initiatives. Lighthouse Kapit focuses on five key thrusts, namely, students and youth, women’s welfare, outreach, economic transformation and social concerns. The reactivation of the Teachers’ Christian Fellowship marks another significant milestone in realising the effectiveness of the students program held at the Lighthouse.
Winning the Next Generation
The ISCF Camp was running when we checked into the guest rooms at the Lighthouse. More than sixty children from three primary schools led by their teachers and facilitators were then busy discussing their group skits according to what they had just learnt.
The primary school pupils were introduced to the “5 Principles of The Way”, encouraging them to be on a journey of following Jesus. At the altar call during the last session the next day, we witnessed an almost 100% response to be the followers of Jesus. Many were touched by the Holy Spirit and were in tears during the commitment prayer.
The camps for the secondary and primary school children are run on alternate months. Participants at the camps for secondary school students journey through a series of 7-10 lessons extracted from “Standing Strong through the Storm” discipleship program.
About 1,600 students have been blessed since its commencement in early 2018. It has been a very fulfilling ministry. The testimonies of the participants, with confirmations from their parents and teachers on life transformation, attest to it. The initiation in strengthening the basic essentials of Christian faith foundation and the subsequent follow up by their teachers bear equal importance in the strategy of shaping their lives to face future challenges.
Meeting the Spiritual Hunger
One cannot deny the existing spiritual hunger of the community. Their spiritual decline is obvious. Perhaps the church should ask whether it has been neglectful in contributing to the spiritual development of its members.
The spiritual roots of the Iban community here date back some 70 years. In 1959, the American missionaries built the first Mission House at Nanga Mujong, about 45 minutes’ drive from town today. The chapel is still standing. They also started Christ Hospital in Kapit. The first thing I did when I revisited the hospital was to look for the foundation stone laid by Bishop Hobart in 1959. This building was handed over to the government in 1974 and became the old wing when the new hospital was built. The contributions by the American Methodist Mission in terms of infrastructure, human resources development, education and healthcare programme are well archived.
Though the hospital was taken over by the government, the Mission-sponsored Community Health Education and Motivation Programme (Chempro) was set up and continued to serve the Iban community under the church. However, Chempro has not been active for about a decade. Can Lighthouse Kapit revive Chempro and continue to be an agent of change and blessing like before?
We were told that over the last seven decades, about 300 Iban longhouses have been reached in this region. However, passing on the spiritual legacy to the younger generations is not evident. In spite of this set back, we sensed their spiritual hunger during our longhouse ministry that night. Even the Tuai Rumah volunteered to be our driver! The residents participated actively in our programs which included a health talk and free blood pressure checking before worship, gospel sharing, altar call and prayer for the sick. It was a very meaningful and fruitful night. It had been a long while since the last time an event of such nature took place here. We distributed the bibles and recommended them to use the audio Bub Kudus.
Before we departed, a lady told us that a group of them had in recent months been having bi-weekly bible studies with two lady missionaries. It was disturbing that the missionaries had been distributing Watchtower publications and teaching heresy to these spiritually hungry longhouse ladies. How many ladies in other longhouses have they reached out to?
Does the church have any plan for regular pastoral visits to all the longhouses? Is there any strategy to train the tuai sembayang (worship leader) of individual longhouses to conduct their own bible studies? How does the church equip them to defend their faith and beliefs when challenged by those who confuse or challenge them? These are crucial questions which demand urgent answers and concrete actions. There is no time to linger!
After church the next morning, our friend took us on an eye-opening ride around Kapit, running commentaries and all. We learnt that unwed teenage pregnancies here is the highest in Sarawak. Truancy, alcoholism, drug addiction among the teenagers is sadly on the rise. There appears to be an acute shortage of space and place for healthy activities for the youth. Despite the uphill task, our friend’s spirit is not dampened. We encouraged her to continue her voluntary services in the town and Lighthouse ministries, to bring about a positive transformation in Kapit.
There is an urgent need to transform the social and spiritual landscape. The Lighthouse has turned on the light. Its holistic interventions are not just defensive but rather it takes the offensive. We have seen the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Everyone is excited that the Sibu-Kapit road will be officially opened soon. Road accessibility is definitely a blessing but the question is “Are we willing to move faster than others in our ministry for God’s kingdom?” Are we already on our pathway to galvanize the leaders to action before it is too late?
We praise God as we see Lighthouse Kapit gaining momentum in seeking God’s favour in this heartland. We must also realize that the imminent challenges and the fight against the spiritual forces and social ills and causes are far from over. Will Lighthouse Kapit be able to recruit more workers to nurture the youths and equip the folks in the longhouses in their faith formation? Will the Lighthouse be able to embark on building a youth centre to provide healthy activities on the empty lot next to the present building?
Our team was only able to feel the pulse of Lighthouse Kapit during our short visit. As we departed after lunch, my heart was singing praises and thanksgiving for the Lighthouse. We shall continue to uphold the Lighthouse in prayer so that its ministries will always be aligned to God’s own heart. My salute to all who have been working so painstakingly for the people of this heartland whom God has never abandoned.
“I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will al- ways be there.” (1 Kings 9:3) May His name be magnified in this Lighthouse forever and may it bring blessings of eternal value for many more generations to come.
Dr Wong Sung Ging