By Tek & Goldie Chong
Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. It is situated on the north-west of the island. It is the largest state in Malaysia. Sarawak has more than 40 sub-ethnic groups, each with its own distinct language, culture and lifestyle. The Sons of the Soil (the tribal peoples) are the Ibans, Bidayuhs, Penans, Kayans and Kelabits. Chinese people first came to Sarawak as traders and explorers in the 6th century. Today, they make up 26% of the population of Sarawak and consist of communities built from the economic migrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Sarawak Chinese are predominantly Buddhists and Christians.
Kuching is a very beautiful town. Modern buildings and residential houses are tastefully constructed among clean streets lined by colourful flowering plants. In the morning the food courts are crowded with multi-racial customers who intermingle happily. This reminded Tek of his happy peaceful days in the Melaka town of old when he and his fellow scouts of different races enjoyed ‘happy hours’ in the Hainan coffee shop after an exhausting weekend scout camp.
Dr Florence Kayad
When Florence turned up in our church in Perth many years ago, she was sent by the University of Malaysia Sarawak to pursue her Ph. D. She came with her two young children, Jeremiah and Leticia. We welcomed her into our midst. To our admiration we discovered she is from the Bidayuh Tribe. Later we met her husband Henry an engineer helping the Malaysian government to build the underground rail in Kuala Lumpur.
We discovered Florence is from a committed Christian family and worshipped in a mature God -loving church in Kuching, with a multi-racial congregation. We respected this remarkable young mother working hard on her thesis. On the completion of her course, we fare-welled her with our prayer and expressed a desire to visit her and have fellowship with her church.
Easter family camp
Two years later the invitation came. The Elders in her assembly invited us to speak in their church camp. In our prayer we felt strongly that we should invite the Chengs to join us.
We met Cheng Kee How and his wife Soomy when we were speaking in Melaka Gateway Bahasa church in February. We found this couple is quite unique: Kee How has opted to retire at 50 years old. He had worked hard and done well as a resourceful businessman. Soomy has worked in the bank and also took early retirement. They enjoyed a period of ‘blissful’ unemployment with Soomy spending time crafting a beautiful home and Kee How improving his golfing handicap. But coming from a Bible believing Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church in KL, they became restless and were looking for more meaningful venture. This was when Soomy’s former school teacher, Pastor Goh Lee Neo of Melaka Gateway Bahasa Church, challenged them to conduct a Relationship & Communication workshop. By divine appointment we were invited to preach in the church Sunday Service. They gave us a lift after church to the KLIA airport so we got to know them. Later when we asked if they wanted to go to Kuching with us to conduct workshops on Family and Marketplace ministry, they readily agreed although they admitted they felt inadequate and ill-equipped. We told them that all they would be required was to honestly share their personal experience as husband and wife and as parents and to describe how God has led them in times of difficulties.
We arrived in Kuching two days before the camp to speak in a village church Gereja Bethel BRS pastored by Florence’s cousin Ps Samson Sangoh.
Before speaking we met the congregation who prepared a dinner for us, using hollowed bamboo to cook rice over a charcoal fire. We tasted dishes of jungle ferns and leaves. Much to our delight we also met a Sarawak “ring lady”, only one of four such ladies left in Kuching who use rings around their hands and legs for decoration. She graciously posed for us after her cooking.
Famous Sarawak pepper
On the way to the camp we visited Florence’s kampong, several miles out of Kuching. We were welcomed by her parents who gave us a conducted tour of their farm where they grow pepper, bananas, pineapples, etc. It was interesting to see how the world famous Sarawak pepper is grown and processed. The parents enthralled us with the tales of their former tribal life. As we listened to how our tribal kampong Florence eventually became a professor in the university, we joined the family to give thanks to our God for His wonderful blessings.
The Church Camp
The BEM Lighthouse Church has a multi-racial congregation. with Chinese and other tribal members worshipping under the leadership of three elders. The lead elder is Dr Lim Khwang Thong, a pediatrician, Elder Benny Inggit Chapi is an Iban and works in a bank, Elder Chris Lee is in marketing with a pharmaceutical firm. Dr Lim & his wife Siew Kim, who had served as the senior medical administrator, provided us with very warm hospitality in their lovely home. When the church grew the Elders decided to invite a pastor to help minister to the growing congregation. Unfortunately this ended with a church division and a portion of the church was painfully torn away. While the members grieved over the departure of their beloved brethren, the remaining members have become more and more united. There was an atmosphere of love as they saw almost the whole church, including the teens, attending the annual camp. We appreciated their keenness and enthusiastic responses to the things of God as well as their sharp sense of humour. They encouraged us by responding eagerly to our sharing and we learnt a lot from them as they opened their hearts to us.
At the start of the camp we felt God said He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. The Chengs took a session with the teens and got them to open up about their relationship with their parents.
When their collective findings was reported back to the adults the parents realized they needed to put some things right. There were tears and reconciliation at the end of the session as each family prayed together apologizing to one another.
youths at camp
The Camp was held in a popular sea side resort away from the hustle & bustle of the city.
We had very meaningful worship led by experienced adult worship leaders backed up by the youthful musicians.
Unfamiliar with Sarawakian practices we were staggered that on the first night of the camp, after a sumptuous buffet dinner of exotic tasting Sarawak dishes we were treated to a BBQ prepared by the many church chefs.
Husband & wife
Asian couples are not in the habit of expressing love openly, either by words or by action. So we encouraged married couples to form a habit of communicating appreciation and love for each other. To set the romantic atmosphere we played the old love song “Have I told you lately that I love you” and showed the clip “Do you love me?” from Fiddler On The Roof. Tek and Goldie, then the Chengs demonstrated, holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes, telling each other our love and appreciation for the other. Then the other couples were ‘volunteered’ to follow suit, resulting in much tears, laughter, hugs and kisses. Hopefully this will revive the spark that may have laid dormant since courtship days. We pray that they would remember to thus ‘top up’ their love for each other.
Releasing past hurts
Knowing marital bonds cannot be strengthened if the couple does not release past hurts, we led them through the process of forgiveness. Also, knowing the church has gone through a tough time we asked them to forgive those who have hurt them. We emphasized that biblical forgiveness is unconditional. We should do our part irrespective of whether the other party does or not. We must determine to obey God and say, “I will, regardless.” Again we felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit when collectively the church released forgiveness to those who had hurt them.
We cited a survey that Christian leaders who were prayed for daily were more effective than those prayed for weekly, monthly or once in a while. Prayer that is regular is more effective than sporadic prayer. So we encouraged couples to commit themselves to pray together everyday for their families & their offspring. We hope this habit will produce the inevitable harmonious tangible results soon.
Another High Light
Queen of fish
Once we were invited to eat the Sarawak Empurau called the king of fish (at RM1000 per kg) in Kuala Lumpur but unfortunately we missed the chance as we left a day earlier.
Now in Sarawak, we were treated to the queen of fish, the Sarawak Samah which cost RM500 a kg.
It was one of the dishes amongst many worth going to Sarawak.
Resurrection power available
The last day of the camp fell on Easter Sunday so our closing message was
“It is difficult to do all that God expects you to do, and you will fail. But the wonderful news is God does not want you to do it with your own ability. He has given you “His incomparably great power ….that power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand….” Eph.1:19,20 The power He gives us is the same power that resurrected Jesus. And He will enable us to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us… Eph.3:20 We need to believe this power is available, accept it and use it.”
Too soon the camp ended. Reluctantly we packed for home. But we pray that in this church, the family building process would go on.
*Kuching (the Malaysian word for cat) is the capitol city of Sarawak, a state of Malaysia.