Two brief visits to our LCA partner church, the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia (BCCM) in Sabah on the island of Borneo, can hardly qualify me to write with any authority on the BCCM. However, the church – the people of God – active and passionate about the mission of God is what I treasure […]
Two brief visits to our LCA partner church, the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia (BCCM) in Sabah on the island of Borneo, can hardly qualify me to write with any authority on the BCCM. However, the church – the people of God – active and passionate about the mission of God is what I treasure most about this dynamic and diverse gathering of people. Two distinct language groups, the Hakka-speaking Chinese and the indigenous Bahasa Malay-speaking members of the BCCM, live and breathe the mission of God in all they do. Mission is not an added extra in the life of the churches, bishops, pastors and people there: mission is all of life for them.
Let me share with you a few snapshots of the varied expressions of mission in the people who are part of the BCCM…
Congregations planting new congregations
One Sunday morning in August 2007 a line consisting of pastors, church members and the former bishop of the BCCM simultaneously cut a red ribbon at a special celebratory worship service to mark the recognition of the Kingfisher congregation as the newest church in the BCCM (more have followed since that day). Several rooms on two levels of a shopping complex in the suburb of Kingfisher on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu (capital of Sabah) are now home to the Kingfisher congregation.
The congregation had its genesis five years earlier when ten members of the Menggatal congregation were sent out to begin a ministry to the children in the new housing area.
From those early days the congregation has grown to over 70 regular worshippers and the members purchased, re-designed and renovated the rooms in the shopping complex to provide a worship area, Sunday school rooms and offices.
This infant church is already taking on the role of planting new faith communities: Kingfisher has already started a student fellowship with students from the nearby university. Forty-eight students are involved in the ministry, many of them being new converts to faith in Jesus Christ.
As well, this community of believers is paying the salary of their pastor, giving 10% of its offerings to mission in the BCCM, 5% to support theological training, 5% to support financially weak congregations and 50% to pay for their local needs.
When I asked the chairman of the Chinese Council how often these celebrations happen in the Chinese church of the BCCM, he replied, “Well, this year we have not had that many; we have only had three this year.” The day concluded with a fundraising dinner for the congregation, with 1000 guests in attendance. It was an inspiring day, to say the least.
Leaders in mission beyond borders
Looking beyond the borders of their island, the leaders of the BCCM have begun a mission to the Chinese-speaking people living and working in Madagascar. They responded to a call four years ago to come over and help the Chinese Christians, who were struggling to witness to the growing number of Chinese workers moving into the area. (The factories in Madagascar employ many Chinese workers as cheap labour.) This mission began as a Bible study with workers in a garment factory.
The church community is growing and there are now over 60 Chinese people worshipping. Plans are now under way to construct a church building on land they have already purchased.
The Madagascar mission is a key focus for overseas mission for the BCCM, together with their mission to China.
One of the key areas of the ministry and mission program of the Bahasa Malay people in the BCCM is their program of youth ministry, with a key focus on the National Youth Camp.
In 2007 over 500 young people (including 60 young people from Indonesia) attended the camp held at the foot of Mount Kota Kinabalu. This camp provides a unique opportunity to encourage young people to consider full-time ministry.
The LCA has been privileged to share in this ministry by providing funds for the program each year. New initiatives in leadership training for young people focus on: the Christian faith and Islam; relationships; and involvement in ministry. They also conduct pretheology courses for young people – one week at the seminary and one week of practical work to give young people an understanding and insight into ministry.
Pastor’s job description with a difference!
Many of the people from the former Murat head-hunting tribes living along the rivers in the Sapulut region in the interior of Sabah (northern Borneo, also known as East Malaysia) are embracing the Christian faithead-hunting was outlawed under British rule. However, much of the tribes’ lifestyle and many of their practices remain the same with their lives ruled by the rice cycle and hunting expeditions. They live as tribal groups in long-houses bordering the often fast flowing rivers.
Pastors who work among these people need to have the knowledge and ability of a skilled boatman and to be acquainted with the river and its dangerous rocky outcrops and unpredictable rapids. Because of this requirement, all of the pastors in this rugged and isolated region in which the BCCM works to share the Gospel are men who are themselves from the Murat tribal group. Their life and work is tough and isolated. New churches continue to be planted and to grow in these regions.
Imagine a life without an identity… a life with no rights to education, no legal rights to exist in a country. Welcome to the world of the “undocumented” children of Sabah! These children have arrived in Sabah with their parents… illegal immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia, who travel to Sabah in search of work. Most of the children will remain in Sabah until they are about 12 years of age, when they will be sent back to their home country.
The BCCM has seen the plight of these children, and together with the Presbyterian Church of Korea has established two schools: the Grace Centre on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu and the Good Samaritan school in the interior near Keningau. Over 200 children crowd into three classes on the second floor of a building tucked away in the back streets of Kota Kinabalu, and a further 207 students fill the three classes held in a small clean classroom in a makeshift village surrounded by thick bamboo and water-filled rice paddies on the outskirts of Keningau.
The parents of these children come from diverse faith backgrounds. They are aware that the schools have been established by the Christian church and that their children will be exposed to the Christian faith. Despite this, they are so thankful and eager for their children to gain an education. The schools are unable to provide for the vast number of children who desperately want to join their classes.
When the children leave the schools and return to their home countries they do so with the advantage of an education (limited though it may be) and the seeds of the kingdom of God planted in them through the teaching they have received in these centres of hope.
These snapshots give only a small picture of the BCCM, one of the overseas partner churches of the LCA that we have much to learn from as we travel together in mission.
This story was also published in the February 2008 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.
Many of our partner churches are working in new territory for the kingdom of God; therefore, spiritual attack is their everyday reality. As a member of a congregation, school, or family, or a couple or individual, you are invited to commit to praying for our partners in mission. For regular prayer point updates, go to www.lca.org.au/international-mission/act-now/pray
Read more stories about our partner churches in Malaysia (Sabah) at http://www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/international-partners/malaysia-sabah/