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In Rubber Lands
An Account of the Work of the Church in Malaya

Edited by C.E. Ferguson-Davie, M.D., B.S.

London: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1921.

Chapter VII. The Future of the Church in Malaya

WHAT is to be the development of the Church's work in "Rubber Lands" in the future? That is a difficult question to answer at a time when the future of the whole world, and particularly the future of Asia, seems more uncertain than it has been for centuries. That the Church of Christ will increase no Christian can doubt, even though history tells of temporary and local losses by the Church just as it does of grains steadily acquired on the whole. So to forecast how the increase is to come is more than ever difficult just now. Indeed, it is only the belief that the Holy Spirit of God is working His purpose out which enables hope to exclude depression.

The European work is not likely to alter much. The acquisition of hill stations in Malaya may make the period of the Europeans' stay longer than it is at present. The opening up of fresh land for rubber, especially on the east side of the Peninsula, may increase the number of Europeans slightly. But in the main no big change can be expected in European work. The clergy must be continuously recruited from Europe. We hope that as the shortage of clergy in Great Britain diminishes, Malaya may again have her full complement, and that the European residents, even in the outlying parts of the diocese, may have the ministrations of the Church regularly in their midst by resident or visiting clergy. The establishment of the Diocesan Pension Scheme, already begun, and the opening up of Bukit Fraser as a sanatorium in the near future may enable European clergy to stay out for longer periods at a time, and for a total number of years larger than has hitherto been the rule. The advantage of this is very obvious. Otherwise there is not any considerable change to be contemplated in European work.

If more workers could in future years be obtained from among the Eurasian members of the Church, it would be a gain to the Church. The Eurasian community is growing in power and independence. We may hope that from amongst them may come many who will devote their gifts to the work of the Church. Their special knowledge of Asiatic languages would give them a special value for this work, and we should look forward to fellow workers, both male and female, from this community for our schools and Medical Missions.

But it is on the Asiatic side that the largest increase may be expected. The first thing for which we must hope is the increase of the Asiatic ministry. In the middle of 1918 the Asiatic clergy had risen to nine compared with the two who were working in the diocese in 1909. This is a step in the right direction, and its. effect is shown in the strengthening of the congregations of Tamils and Chinese. It is the natural step in the growth of the Church that all the branches should produce their own ministry and should support their own clergy. As an illustration of this there is no more hopeful mark of the stability of the Church in South India than the fact that the Indian clergy now form the greatest part of the ministry there, whilst the English clergy (at least in the case of a diocese like Tinnevelly) are only a small proportion of the whole. The. consecration of an Indian in 1913 as Bishop of Dornakal, and the great amount of financial responsibility willingly accepted by the Indian Church, are most welcome signs of progress.

In the Diocese of Singapore we have not reached that position yet; indeed, the weakest point of our work is the small number who have been ordained from among those who have been born and brought up in our midst. Nearly all Asiatic candidates for ordination have hitherto been men born and brought up in India or China.

Again, the position of a catechist should be that of a candidate for ordination. The profession of catechist should not be regarded as one of a lifelong character. It should be rather a stepping-stone to the ministry, except in cases where a teacher adds the work of a catechist to his duty as a teacher. Here the question naturally arises, can we expect a theological college for the diocese soon? It is very desirable that theological colleges should give in each diocese the opportunity of training men for the ministry, and there are few more important kinds of work for which an English priest can offer himself in the Mission Field than that of training candidates for the ministry. But in some parts of the world the idea has been carried too far, and there are in those parts small theological colleges for each diocese, whereas far better results would be obtained if a few dioceses would work together and have one strong college for them all.

In our case the language difficulty makes it practically impossible to have a theological college. A man surely needs to learn his theology in a language he knows quite thoroughly. As our catechists speak at the present time five Asiatic languages, the staff of a theological college in the diocese would need to be enormous. It would be impossible, in fact, to maintain an adequate one. For some time, therefore, we must contemplate sending our Indian candidates for ordination to the Tinnevelly Diocese, and either training our Chinese candidates by attaching them personally to experienced priests, or sending them to South China for part of their training and then bringing them back here for the final months before ordination.

A new set of circumstances is being brought into being by the increase of the knowledge of English. It is true that at present English is mainly used for commercial purposes, but it is probable that as the number of young men who can speak English increases, it will be used much more as their ordinary medium of communication. This will be more particularly the case in families where both the man and wife speak English, as happens when both have been educated in a Mission school. In such instances there may be some who, in a few years, will know sufficient English to receive theological training in that language. At the present time a Chinese Christian from here is arranging to go to King's College, London (at his own expense), for the theological course. That is the first Asiatic candidate for ordination in our diocese who has had a sufficient knowledge of English to profit by such teaching. One swallow does not make a summer, but it tells that summer is near even if there may be some frost still left.

Then as regards women's work. The Chinese and Tamils have shown their worth as teachers and as nurses in the Medical Missions. Asiatic women, especially among the Christians, are bound to get more independence in the future than in the past. We can only hope that the Christian character will be strong enough to enable some of them to take posts of responsibility in the Church's work. Already one non-Christian Chinese and two Christian Tamil women have qualified at the Singapore Medical School. It will be a great gain when we have Christian medical graduates born in the diocese to work as doctors in our Missions as Miss Martha Hoa Heng (M.R.C.S. and M.R.C.P. Ed.) has been doing in 1920. But, indeed, a great deal has to be done to make the women's work equal to the men's work. This has been, and still is, a distinct weakness in the work of the diocese. The S.P.G. has begun to realize it, and that is the first step towards a better condition of things.

In the outlying parts of the diocese--Siam and the Dutch East Indies--we may hope for a strengthening of our work. In Bangkok the progress made by the Mission school and congregation augurs well for the future. In Java it is doubtful whether the work can ever attain to proper size until missionary enterprise becomes a very definite part of the work. The troubled conditions of the last few years have hitherto prevented this, for the present Java chaplaincy had only been in existence four years when the Great War started. But there is no reason why we should not soon make plans for a real advance in that fertile land.

But in Malaya there is still one race (and that the most numerous) which has not yet been touched by the Church-- that is the Malay race. The Malays have always been less accessible than the Tamils or Chinese, and the result is that, though there have been many clergy of different religious bodies working among these two latter peoples, there has only been one missionary in 100 years, as far as is known, who has devoted himself to Malay work. He had an independent Mission, and, therefore, when he died, more than half a century ago, there was no one to continue the work in which he had gained some distinct success.

The climate of the Malay Peninsula makes accuracy of thought very difficult, and so there has sprung up an idea that the Government has in some treaty or other bound itself to keep the highest of all truths from the Malays. This, one is glad to say, is a false idea, as all who have studied the treaties know. Anyone who holds the Christian faith and who really cares for Mohammedans (and they have some attractive qualities which show themselves even in the very imperfect Mohammedanism of Malaya) must wish to give the Malays what is so dear to himself. Will it be the privilege of the English Church to do this? We can only hope it will---but when God alone knows. Our hopefulness on such a point depends, not on our having at the present time any great scheme for doing this, but on the fact that our race and Church seem to have been given something of the qualities which are necessary if we are to be successful in bringing such a race to Christ.

Two points of hopefulness may be mentioned as regards the future. First there is not, in the Church buildings at any rate, the, distinction between members of different races which exists often in other countries. It is usual to see members of all races at the same service, though, for the convenience of those who do not know English, services are held, and will for a long time be held, in various Asiatic languages. This fact is hopeful, for the independence of the Asiatic is obviously growing, and he will be able to take his place of responsibility in the future Church of Malaya, not with the feeling of pride or even conceit at having just gained a new privilege, but in a natural manner as a member of Christ among Christian brethren; and the members of what has been the predominant race will not find it so hard as in some other countries to give him his right position. We may look for harmony and mutual trust among the races as the Church develops.

Secondly, as our grants from Government or from missionary societies are comparatively small and our endowment nil, we have been learning to support ourselves to a large extent. At the present time the Government supplies only one-third of the salaries needed for European work, and missionary societies supply about one-quarter of the amount needed for our Asiatic workers. This gives a strength and a general interest to Church life which is often lacking where the Church depends on endowments, and it enables the Church to escape the difficulties of its workers not receiving an adequate pay as happens in England at the present time.

On these two grounds there is hope for the future, though the great spiritual temptations of Malaya prevent us from any careless optimism. The temptation of "the world"--mainly the temptation to let the desire for wealth drive out all higher interest--is ever with us. Only a spiritual Church can be a truly successful Church. We are probably being driven to face this fact. Therein lies more hope for the future than in any wealth or organizing power. It may be that this very temptation will call out a brotherhood of clergy and lay workers (not by any means all European) who will temporarily have no money of their own, and thus preach by example the superiority of Christian life and joy to any pleasure that wealth can bring.

"Then march we forth in the strength of God, with the banner of Christ unfurled,
That the light of the glorious Gospel of truth may shine throughout the world.
Fight we the fight with sorrow and sin, to set their captives free,
That the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea."

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