Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review: The Story of the Sengoi Mission (2011) by Paul B. Means

The Story of the Sengoi Mission (2011) by Paul B. Means

Mission stories are very encouraging. Oh, may our young people (who spent hours on Facebook and social media) read and love Church history! How to stand firm in the faith? How to endure difficulties and challenges in the ministry with joy? How to not give up when facing adversaries? Read biographies of men and women of God of the past! Read stories about missionaries and you’ll see that life is more than have to worry about what food you going to eat, what cloth you’ll wear and what hairstyle suit your head! Christian life is more than just playing online games, charging phones and hearing sermons on Sunday. It got to be more useful and meaningful that these! Books like this shows that nothing is impossible if God calls us to do great things for Him.

Okay, about this book… Hidden in the deep jungles of the Malayan highland (now called Peninsular Malaysia) are a people who have lived in the hills for generations, perhaps centuries, and maybe even millennia – the Orang Asli. The largest group among the Orang Asli is the Central Sengoi of Perak, Pahang and Kelantan “and who fall into two major tribes: the Temiar and the Semai-Sengoi.” In 1930, an American couple, Paul Banwell Means (1894-1980) and his wife Nathalie, have decided to come to Malaya for missionary work. “When I first became a Christian in my senior year at Yale University, back in 1915,” recalled Paul, “I was challenged by the missionary call, ‘Go ye therefore into all the world…’ and we were told that no one could be a true Christian unless he was a ‘world Christian’ and that Christ’s message was meant for the lowest, the poorest and humblest.” With this motivation, Paul and his wife soon became the pioneers of the Christian mission to the Sengoi in 1931.

Paul Means was a scholar “missionary, linguist, translator, and literary specialist.” Together with his wife, they contributed a great deal on the linguistic and literacy developments of the Orang Asli in Malaysia. “To me,” writes Paul, “it is a blessed joy to have the privilege of telling this story of each of our workers, of their wives and families who endured every hardship and indeed much persecution in order that the light and truth and power of the Gospel of Christ might be shared with one of the most primitive tribes of Southeast Asia.” After Paul and some other locals represent later from Methodist Home Missionary Society when for exploratory trip to the jungles of Malaya to make first contacts with the Orang Asli, they then appointed Alexander Simandjoentak, a Batak guru as first Methodist missionary amongst the Sengoi. Thru many early hardship, oppositions, rejections and even the death of his wife, Alexander still stand firm in the Lord, “I have come to Malaya to work in the Lord’s Garden here in these hills.” Alexander and other Batak gurus gave their lives for this missionary cause. One of them, Sianturi said, “The Sengoi need our help and that is why I like to stay here” (the story of Napitapulu especially for me was very moving).

This is what I’m amazed about the patient and sensitivity of mission work among the Orang Asli by the Methodists in Malaya: “We proposed that our (Batak) gurus would live in the jungles with the Orang Asli to teach and preach and live the Gospel as the Word of Life and be a witness to their own faith, but conversion to Christianity and baptism would be delayed for the initial years… the Methodists would concentrate on education, health and agricultural assistance but that baptism and conversion of Orang Asli to Christianity would be delayed for 10 years so that other basic needs would receive first priority.” Wow! 10 years delayed! Paul Means and his co-workers “saw the Sengoi not as ‘objects’ of mission, but rather as ‘subjects’”, writes Rev Dr Hermen Shastri. After more than 10 years later, in 1991, the work among the Sengoi reached a point of maturity when Persidangan Misi Sengoi Methodist (Sengoi Methodist Mission Conference) was birthed.

I echo what Bishop Dr Hwa Yung wrote in the Foreword of this book: “May the Orang Asli find their rightful place not only as equal citizens under the Malaysian sun, but also as mature believers in Christ and true heirs of the Kingdom of God!” Next time when I go to Cameron Highlands or Frazer Hills again, when I see the Orang Asli’s houses and people along the road, I’ll remember to give thanks to God for His faithful servants who sacrifice their lives – energy, prayer, resources and comfort – for Christ and His precious Gospel. Praise be to God!

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