THE FRUITS OF THE MISSION to the Iban people at Kapit are very evident today. Early on this Sunday morning, we, together with the students from our mission school, wended our way to the little new church. The older boys had already gone with the missionary to get the church in readiness for the service. Since there is no janitor they swept the church and placed the furniture in proper position. The new pulpit was placed on one side of the chancel and the new communion table, surmounted by a cross, in the centre back. The new pews, devoid of any paint, were all set in line on opposite sides of the church. The little chapel was resplendent in new paint, inside and out, applied by the older boys under the direction of the missionary.
Now the students assembled for the service of worship. The girls were dressed in bright new dresses, made from cloth that had been sent by friends from America; some of the girls even had had their hair permed by a local hair-dresser. The boys all wore clean shorts and sport shirts and their hair was neatly combed and cut instead of being long as is usual among the men in a longhouse. There were also several older people, including one chieftain, in the congregation.
Quiet came over the little congregation when the missionary, together with the writer, took his place back of the pulpit. Every eye was on the missionary as he arose and gave the Call to Worship. Then all looked into their little Pantun Dayak booklets, which contain 20 hymns in translation, and found the opening hymn of adoration, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’. Led by the strong baritone of the missionary they joined in heartily and sang this great hymn of the church with vigour and feeling. Then they sat with bowed heads and closed eyes as the minister led in prayer. Again they stood and joined in the Litany of the Ten Commandments, and every one knew the responses from memory. It was inspiring to see the shining eyes and the worshipful attention given by these children who have come out of such an illiterate and primitive background.
The time came when I was to speak. I had chosen the story of the little Hebrew slave girl in II Kings who helped her Master Naaman to get healed. One cannot preach sermons to these simple people from the jungles, one must tell them stories, and that is what I tried to do. My colleague, Burr Baughman, took my words and put them into thrilling, pulsing, vivid Iban (it was close enough to the Malay language so that I could sense much of that which he said) and how those children and adults listened!
When the time came to read the Invitation to the Holy Communion, the congregation followed each word carefully and took part in the prayers and responses that enrich the Service. I read the Consecrating Prayer and then all who were Christians were invited to come forward to participate in this memorial of our Lord’s death. I have participated in many different Communion Services, including wonderful experiences in an internment camp, but the privilege of participating in the Lord’s Supper with these new brothers and sisters in Christ, our first converts from among these former head-hunters, was more moving than words can describe.
The day will come, that is certain, when these boys and girls from our Methodist Iban School in Kapit, Sarawak, Borneo, will be the leaders of the Methodist Church among their people and will themselves bring to their people, far better than any of us can, the imperishable message of the Gospel.
The Malaysia Message