Thanks to Winnie of The Connection for putting up a Hymn of Praise written by Rev David MacDonald that prompted me to find out this interview done by me on 13th September 2002 and published in The Borneo Post. I thought what Rev MacDonald had said enlightened me a lot even re-reading it four years after the interview.
Thanks to Rachel (my daughter) for scanning the newspaper articles to be included in her history project two years ago that allows me to have the images to be copied and uploaded here.
I have the priviledge of walking down memory lane with some very imspiring and distinguished persons for the past four months in my course of work. Life of journalist is colourful and just full of life!
If you are from Sarawak, in particular from Sibu, if you are struggling with learning of Chinese, if you want to know what’s Bishop’s Soup, if you want to know how a person could leave part of himself in Sarawak and take part of Sarawakians with him, please read on …. it’s a little of history, may be nostaligic to some, but surely all honour and glory go to God!
The engine throbs into life, and the boat vibrates…. People are still clambering up the gangplank, women carrying children and bundles of vegetables, followed by other small children sucking on ice-cream…
Highways are waterways in Sarawak. Some people ply the river in small craft powered by outboard motors, but most are content to let the public launch trundle them home from market.
Bicycles, sacks of meal, oil-drums, timber, pigs, hens, ducks, edibles and passengers all seem to constitute a legitimate load …
Sarawak children … sweet and innocent
This was how Rev David Hill MacDonald described Sarawak, in particular Sibu back in 1959.
Early Missionary Pastors
Rev MacDonald was one of the early missionary pastors from England who served in Sarawak from 1957 to 1960.
After 42 years, he is back “home” here in Sibu. During the afternoon at Ida Mamora’s house, I joined Rev MacDonald as he reminisced about life back then. He bantered on about old friends, missionary work, the youths in Sarawak, sowing seeds, and studying Chinese.
That’s life – fullness of life!
Meeting Old Friends
“Yes, I have been meeting old friends during the past few days,” Rev MacDonald said. He has been amazed by the growth of Sibu, particularly the people and the churches. He is particularly impressed by the enthusiasm of Christians and their outreach program.
“It speaks of the continuing work of God in this land,” Rev MacDonald noted with much joy and satisfaction.
Rev MacDonald was the founder and first pastor of Wesley Methodist Church, Sibu. Asked on the setting up of the Church, Rev MacDonald said prior to the founding of the Church, he and other missionary colleagues had conducted worship in the form of evening vespers.
Added he, “The worship provided missionaries, their families and colleagues, an opportunity of meeting together.”
As time progressed, they were joined by civil-service expartriates, those employed in the hospital and the business community. He recalled that the Church was formed on May 5, 1958. Appropriately, it was known as the Wesley Methodist Church, Sibu.
Serenity.. see the coconut trees “in the river”?
“A Land of Decision”
It was established at a time when Sarawak was at the crossroads. Back then, British and American churches had designated Sarawak as “A Land of Decision” in the belief that the following 25 years would witness monumental changes.
American churches were then focusing their missionary work in two areas, including Sarawak. Resources poured in to ensure its success.
The Methodist Missionary Society has long a deep appreciation of, and concern, for the Chinese community. So when invited by the American Methodist movement to jointly operate in Singapore, Sarawak and Sumatra, they readily joined in this new field of service.
Three young ministers were sent from England – Rev David MacDonald, Rev G.R. Senior and Rev J L Hodgkinson.
Rev MacDonald said the Vision has been fulfilled.
Praise be to God!
Church of the people
However, missions have had to give way to church growth especially for the church to take root. He said, “The churches here have become self-financing, self-governing and self-propagating to become truly a church of the people.”
In illustrating what he meant by “truly church of the people”, Rev MacDonald said a few months ago he read a book called “Mangoes or Bananas?” by Rev Dr Hwa Yong. There is a simple parable to remind us that whilst partnership and learning is a vital part of the pattern of the Church – each culture needs its own way of expression faith in Jesus.
Rev MacDonald is sufficiently conversant to preach in Mandarin. He showed me the text of his first sermon in Chinese. I was amazed by the neat handwriting, easy to understand presentation on the sermon topic. Besides being the pastor of the English Church, he also helped out at the Kwong Hua Chinese Church.
He said, “The newness of the work from my own point of view was exciting and challenging.”
He emphasised that the study of Chinese language helped him understand himself better.
“There are profound thoughts in the Chinese culture that have made me into a better Christian.”
The understanding of the Chinese langauge and culture has taught him to spend time in meditating on the goodness of the Lord. Moreover, it helped him allot time for meditation.
In 1989, Rev MacDonald studied Chinese in China. This, said he, was to ensure he maintained common ground with the community.
He elaborated that what Christians have in common are the Bible, the Creed, The Lord’s Prayer and fundamental beliefs. Therefore, Christians should seek the common ground and agree with the little differences.
The Chinese article that I have written published in See Hua Daily News
Rev MacDonald focused much attention on youths. His greatest satisfaction was being able to communicate on the same wavelength with local youths, emphathising with teens who were struggling to remain faithful.
He said it was great to be with young people, and watched them grow, There were about 50 to 70 members in the youth fellowship who met every week. About six young men went into the ministry; others become lay leaders and lay preachers.
“Together we built each other up,” he said.
He notes that youths today tend to be so different.
Observed he, “Youths today ahve access to all sorts of information that it is difficult for them to evaluate what’s wrong and what’s right.”
It’s his hope that youths will walk with the Lord and stand in the way of the gospel.
Rev MacDonald recalled his first Christmas at Sungei Aup Longhouse which he has visited during this trip back “home”.
However, the most unforgettable one was Christmas 1959 when he was hospitalised.
Today, he is still overwhelmed when recalling this experience – awakened in the middle of the night by Christmas carols on the Rejang River. It was a group of young Christians carolling in a boat!
Rev MacDonald brought along with him some magazines published by the Methodist Missionary Society in the United Kingdom in 1959. The magazines contained stories from the early missionaries here. I lifted one for your reading pleasure:
The Bishop’s Soup
One of our missionaries visiting a Chinese family in Sibu was told an old Chinese joke. The halfway line in a Chinese Feast is marked by a change from Savoury pork to sweet lotus seeds in syrup. A bowl of warm water is therefore, placed on the table at this point for the guests to wash their spoons.
A certain Bishop, on one occasion, dipped into this washing bowl and drank from it. His host, not wishing to embarass him, said, “Guests, taste with me the Bishop’s soup,” and all drank with him.
Christian folks now call the bowl “The Bishop’s Soup”.
“My work here was sowing the seeds. My ministry is shaped by the people. You made me what I am.”
Rev MacDonald showed me his Elder’s Credentials. He said this is a reminder that it was here in Sarawak that he was ordained.
During a dinner organised by the members of Wesley Methodist Church Sibu for him in a local restaurant, Rev David MacDonald said,
“I have never forgotten the kindness and love shown to me.
Above all, what I learnt here from you has travelled with me throughout all my years of ministry.
When I left Sarawak I left part of myself here
and took part of you with me.
For that I thank God.”