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Borneo: The Land of River and Palm

By Eda Green

[no place:] Borneo Mission Association, no date [c. 1909]

Chapter VIII. Response of the Church at Home

THE last chapter dealt with the present position of the Church in Borneo, its tremendous need, its appalling lack of men.

What is going to be the response of the Church at home to the call? Is it a call less urgent than that of the man of Macedonia to St. Paul in his vision at Troas, calling him on to the West? A West all unknown, full of dangers, of persecution from alien governments, full of perils by land and sea; a West of unexplored lands, of uncivilised peoples, and uncertain welcomes. Yet for him there was no hesitation. The man of Macedonia, whether St. Luke himself, as Sir William Ramsay suggests, or another, stood for the nations behind him; their mythology had failed and had proved to be but vanity; they were in darkness, and he cried "Come over and help us"

And so we read, in one of those wonderful touches of St. Luke's vividness, "immediately" they started for Macedonia; they loosed from Troas and came with a straight course to Samothracia. St. Paul, St. Luke, St. Timothy, Silas, they pressed on to carry the good tidings; no holding back and leaving Philippi to wait, even though stripes and imprisonment awaited them there. The door was open, the call had come and they must go.

Now there is the call back. We stand in the isles of the sea, and gaze towards the East. The Empires of Greece and Rome, which prepared the way for the Gospel to be brought to us, have passed away; their glory has crumbled into dust, and the Empire of Britain girdling the earth now has her day. Why should the little northern island wield her sway over millions East and West? Will our Empire, too, crumble into dust? Greece left the world her legacy of culture in literature and art, Rome her legacy of law and order, will England leave her mark only of occupation for commerce, or will she be blessed by nations yet unborn in that she carried the lamp of the Gospel afar?

And as we look and listen, right round the globe comes the voice again, "Come over and help us

Yet how different the circumstances! From the East not the West, from a country known, to a great extent explored, and where the inhabitants are more or less civilised, from a land governed by our own countryman, where there is no fear of persecution, for English rule secures order and safety; but like the call of long ago in this, that out of their darkness the people are pleading that we will bring them light.

The response which the Church at home will make is the measure of what our Faith is to us.

If our religion is to us the revelation of a higher and more blessed Faith, and if we believe that the Dyaks are as dear to His heart as we are, then we must yearn to bring those wild branches to be grafted into the true Vine, to give them the joy of the knowledge of His love, and when we hear their cry we cannot shut our ears and leave it unanswered.

The Bishops in Borneo have for so long laboured on, trying to grapple with the work of the unwieldy diocese, and forbearing to leave it and come back to stir up the Church in England, that we have some slight excuse, perhaps, for the past, in that we did not know. Evil "is wrought as much by want of thought as want of heart". But now the need in Borneo has been brought to our knowledge; we know at last and we must do or the responsibility rests on us. We cannot let the courage and the faith in which the Bishop has gone out be crushed under a hopeless task, nor let him and his clergy feel paralysed by the overwhelming attempt to do the impossible.

First, and above all, must come the prayers at home. In the words of the Bishop's commissaries: "We want to rally round the Bishop such a body guard of praying friends that he will be able to think of nothing but the volume of prayer and sympathy and help that is already gathering behind him here in England. We want him and his little band of devoted fellow-workers to feel that they have many friends at home who believe as firmly and loyally as they do themselves, that in spite of all the difficulties, even though they were tenfold greater, they are well able to go up and possess the good land in the name of Christ, and that they can depend upon those friends to do all in their power by prayer and almsgiving, and every other appointed means, to enable them to do so. 'Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.'"

It has been said "We need to learn that for the advancement of the Kingdom of God prayer will do more than preaching. Pleading with God for men will do more than pleading for God with men."

"Ye that are the Lord's remembrancers take ye no rest," or "Keep not silence". He knows the needs far better than we, and yet in some mys terious way it is our prayers which bring forth the blessing.

An American missionary, working in Eastern Equatorial Africa, wrote: "My experience abroad has brought me to the conclusion that the saint of God at home who labours with us on his knees is doing really more for the spread of the Kingdom of God in the hearts of men even than many of us who are occupying posts as missionaries abroad. One is not very long in the mission field before one realises the fact that it is a hard spiritual fight we are fighting, and that behind the evil heathen customs, which are to many eyes harmless, there is a personality, and when we missionaries attack the seemingly innocent customs we find that we wake up the forces of the evil one, showing that the whole design of it was an organisation to divert men from the truth by giving them customs which occupy their minds and much of their time. We need, then, strong spiritual forces in the work abroad to give us the necessary wisdom for our work as well as to dispel the dense darkness which enshrouds the minds of the people amongst whom we work, so that I claim the Lord's work is more hindered by lack of prayer than it is even by lack of funds."

What a veritable agony then of remorse should be ours to feel that by our neglect of prayer we are not only not helping, but are actually dragging back, the work of those in the field, that we are like the "people of the land" who weakened the hands of the Jews in building up the temple. What a tremendous thought that we, even the weakest, may yet be fellow-workers; what an honour that by our prayers we may be permitted to help on the work of God, to strengthen the hearts which are weary, that when some danger threatens or some difficulty looms large it may be lightened because "some one was praying at home". Such a thought must send us to our knees like Daniel three times a day to add to our other prayers earnest intercession for the work in the whole mission field, and most specially for Borneo, in the words of the beautiful prayers drawn up for the diocese, for the Bishop and his fellow and for the Association at home. This is the first charge laid upon us, and we must not betray our trust.

Our prayers must be for the whole work, laying it all before God, and asking that He will give just what is needed, and then, in particular, for men and means.

How is it that for two months the Bishop made his appeals, all through England and part of Ireland, for men, and yet went out alone? How is it that the younger clergy can be content to stay at home? Even on a lower ground, do the romance and fascination of Borneo which inspired Rajah Brooke make no call to the men of England now, and still more on the higher ground, is there no true romance in being pioneers of the Church, in laying down foundations, in building up the waste places, work which needs the deepest wisdom, perception and tact? Why is there no response? Are we content to say "We have sent Borneo a good Bishop, and that is enough; it is nothing to us that the clergy, who have so patiently for years gone on doing their best in their multiplied districts and who looked with eager hope that from 'home' men would come out with the Bishop, were to have their hopes dashed to the ground. It is nothing to us that when the Bishop arrived he was to feel the disheartenment of saying to the people in the vacant stations: 'There was no one in all our great country who would come to you'; that he was to feel the care of thousands committed to his charge, for whom he can do nothing, because alone he cannot reach them, and no men have gone; that he is to go on waiting, waiting, mail by mail, hoping each will bring offers of service and yet none come, even of the eighteen needed to keep up the work already begun, let alone the new fields white unto harvest?"

The Bishop of Bombay, speaking of what a serious effort on the part of the Church to evangelise the world would cost, has said: "It would cost the reduction of the staff of clergy all round. It would cost the laity time and personal service. It would cost some people the difference between a larger house and a smaller one, and others, that between frequent holidays and rare holidays, and so on through all the comforts and pleasures of life. It would mean the marks of suffering all over the Church. It would mean everywhere the savour of death, and what we have not yet faced, death as a Church, renunciation of spiritual privileges and delights. I call upon the Church to lay down its life in some real sense for the missionary cause." At present we let those who go out lay down their lives from the overstrain, while we sit at home and enjoy our spiritual luxuries.

It is easy to say there are 6,000 Christians, and we reckon one clergyman for a parish of 2,000 in England, therefore three should suffice for Borneo. Picture the conditions, villages far apart up the rivers, scattered in the jungle and on the hills, to be reached only by paddled boats or by dangerous paths. Under present conditions a missionary has to travel for three days to reach some of his most distant villages. If he stays a week in one village how far can he teach the untrained minds about the things of heaven, of which the very meaning of the terms used must be explained to them? The facts for which their faith is asked must be patiently gone over and over as absolutely strange ideas. The love of God! a new conception--that He wants them to love Him and to be good, and that He should have died for them--still more wonderful! Only in the evenings can the people be gathered together, for they are busy outside through the daylight hours. And after a week the "tuan" must go away, rowing or walking to the next village, and these people are left alone to remember what they can of this strange new hope, till, months after, it may be, the missionary comes again, and then he may find that the people have chosen distant farming land for that year's crop, and are scattered about the jungle living in little palm-leaf huts. They need some one to live near them and teach them patiently day by day. But even to approach this ideal, a small army of native workers is needed, and a sufficient European staff to keep them under constant guidance and influence.

What will they think, those wistful Sarebas, who, when the Bishop's boat is seen coming up their river, will crowd down to the banks and wade out into the water to clasp his hand and to welcome him, when he has to tell them "Yes, I have come, but I have no one to leave with you when I must go away"? How can they think that England is a Christian country? So many millions there, all Christians, and not one to go to them! Christians in name, but in practice put to shame by Mohammedans.

And so we must pray that Bishop and clergy may not have the sickness of hope deferred, and that God will put it into the hearts of the best men to offer themselves for Borneo, and that the way may be made clear for them.

Here comes often the responsibility of women's influence. To hinder God's work, to mar a man's life by keeping him back from the work to which the Master calls him, is surely a selfishness which must bring its own reward. "We needs must love the highest when we see it," and if a woman has any vision outside her own life, and can see and love what may be the highest for her sons or brothers, how can she not want them to have the honour of being called to that? The sacrifice of parting with them becomes ennobled in the joy of a willing offering, and in the thanksgiving that God has made them noble and worthy to be entrusted with His highest service.

We seem sometimes almost to glorify ourselves for what we are doing in mission work, as we give thanks for the increasing interest shown in it. Far rather do we need a sense of deep penitence and humiliation for what we are failing to do. Listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury at the S.P.G. Meeting in April, 1909; "It was said that for every Anglican Christian in China there were eleven who were not Anglican, not taking the missions of Rome into account. In the South Seas the proportion was one Anglican to fourteen others. These were facts which they were bound to remember both for their shame and for their stimulation to effort and to prayer. The Missionary Review of the World which he had recently consulted, showed that out of five million sterling given every year in England and America for missionary work, the Anglican Church contributed much less than one million, and of the money subscribed in England for foreign missions considerably less than one-half came from the Church of England. America contributed more than England, and of the sum which was given in America less than one-thirteenth was given by the Anglican Church. Of ordained missionaries in heathen lands only about one-seventh were, according to the paper in question, Anglican, and of native clergy, only about one-tenth. He mentioned these facts because it was a call to Church people to remember how inadequately they were bearing the part which they ought to bear in the common Christian endeavour to evangelise the world."

Look where we may the Roman Church is in the forefront. She has no lack of priests, of teaching brothers and sisters, of nurses, to go wherever they are needed (and this is especially true in Sarawak).

Among the Moravians one in every fifty-eight communicants is a missionary. In the Church of England Year Book for 1909 the number of our communicants in 1908 is given as 2,142,039; the returns in this book are professedly not quite complete, so that the actual number should be rather more than less, but taking the number given, a proportion equal to the Moravian would mean that we should have 37,114 missionaries. In the same year the European workers, ordained and lay, men and women, supported by S.P.G. and C.M.S.--were 2,122.

Is it not cause for deep shame that this should be the proportion sent out by the State Church of the greatest Empire in the world? Will her candle stick be removed like that of the Church of Carthage because she has failed to carry the Message?

Prayer then should be ours that men and women now may hear and respond to the missionary call, that the homes of England may become missionary centres where the spirit of vocation shall be instilled and fostered, that the quest of money and of ease may give place to the quest of God's service, and that the disgrace of the Church may be averted, for with the disgrace of the Church at home, is linked the peril of the Church abroad.

The native Christians and the heathen stand out in the attractiveness of their character and the picturesque romance of their life, but there must be an appeal to many hearts at home for our own countrymen, for the fine young Englishmen who, in the service of the Rajah or of the Company, are not only introducing modern civilisation, but also standing for English justice--young fellows from cultured English homes, who have gone out with all the excitement of life in a new country before them, and then have come the long days and months and years, often of dreary isolation in the jungle, far from other white men, and the depression and temptations which such isolation brings. They, too, need the means of grace, need a straight word from the "padre" now and then to encourage them to stand firm in the Christian upbringing which it is too easy to forget, and to help them to keep bright their witness for Christ in the heathen darkness around them.

And after our prayers for men must come prayers for means.

To sum up, after carefully weighing the facts the Bishop estimates the needs thus:--

"If the waste places are to be built and the work for which the Church is responsible is to be consolidated there must be three things:--

More Workers
More Money
More Prayer

The mission work that can be done, and the extension that it may be possible to undertake, will depend entirely on the response made to the appeal."

As a minimum and simply to "keep things going" there should be:--

For Sarawak six priests and nine laymen, or twelve priests and three laymen. There are six mission stations with houses and churches already built, now mostly given over to the ants and the bats. And round about these stations there are Christians crying out for the Word and Sacraments. Two men are needed for each station; it is unfair to leave a man alone in the isolation of the jungle, and the jungle of Sarawak is no place for a married man with wife and children. The clergy, like the Government officers, should be unmarried men, but they must not be left to live alone, therefore twelve men at least are wanted. There are many ways in which laymen, too, could render excellent service: they could give such teaching as is necessary in the schools, and help in ambulance work; there is a great and most interesting work waiting to be done also in superintending the Mission estates, which must be developed by the industry of converts, and valuable industrial work should be carried on in teaching natives to make better use of the jungle. Mere theologians or students, whether lay or cleric, would not be happy in Borneo; the men needed are strong, zealous, sensible men of action, full of sympathy and in the very highest sense of the word Christian gentlemen.

For North Borneo there should be two if not three more priests to minister chiefly to Europeans, though they would at the same time find many opportunities of mission work among the heathen.

For Kudat there should be a priest able to speak a Chinese dialect or dialects.

This plea takes no account of work among women, of the extension of our schools in the jungle or of sorely needed medical work.

2. Money

A sum of £10,000 should be spent on necessary buildings including repairs, and a sum of £1,000 on developing the Mission estate.

The amount may seem very large, but to spend less the Bishop considers will be unsound finance, a kind of penny-wise and pound-foolish policy which will entail the appeal for more money at no distant date.

Then there would be the maintenance of the new workers asked for; this would come to £2,000 a year, and if the services of the catechists are to be retained their stipends must be increased.

Living in Borneo is enormously expensive and prices are rising rapidly. It is said by old residents that the cost of living has increased by fifty per cent in the past fifteen years.

For many reasons it would be well if the work could be organised on community lines. A Borneo Brotherhood is a development continually prayed for, but a religious order cannot be made to order. Every such "order" has come from the devotion of some man or woman whose heart God has touched. We pray that some priest in England may feel that Divine touch and go out to give his life for this poor neglected diocese; he would be warmly welcomed by white and brown alike.

3. Prayer

To end as we began. It is obvious that if the Church is to make any effective advance she must depend not on the might of numbers, not on the power of money, but on the Spirit of God. Neither men nor money will be forthcoming without prayer, and without prayer neither men nor money will avail.

Some of our readers may like to use the Intercession paper drawn up for the Diocese as an effective way of rendering real help.

The special funds which are in more immediate need of help are:--The Girls' School and Bishop's House Fund.

2. The Boat Fund. To provide a proper launch for the Bishop, and boats for mission stations on or near the rivers.

3. The Bishopric Endowment Fund. At present the certain income of the Bishop is only £270, for the rest he is dependent on annual grants which may at any time cease. Legacies will be given to this Fund.

Draft form of bequest: "I give and bequeath to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts the sum of £__ free of legacy duty, which I direct to be paid out of such part of my personal estate as by law I can charge there with for charitable purposes, to be applied to Church purposes in the Diocese of Labuan and Sarawak, and the receipt of a Treasurer of the Society shall be a sufficient discharge for the same".

The Rajah helps the educational work of the Mission by grants to the schools, but except for this the whole expenses, as mentioned before, have hither to been defrayed by S.P.G. (save the £270 of the Bishop's stipend). If the work is extended as the Bishop hopes, the S.P.G. grant must be largely in creased or supplemented by other help.

To bring all those interested in the diocese into corporate union, Dr. Mounsey, as we saw above, established the Borneo Missionary Association, in connection with S.P.G., that by prayer and gifts the members might take their share in the work. (See page 167 for list of officers.) The Hon. Secretary will be glad to receive help in kind or to send boxes and cards for collecting small sums. Schools and families can defray the entire cost of educating a boy or girl in the Mission at a charge of £6 per annum, and in this way help to train the missionaries of the future.

Friends of the diocese can give no better help than by undertaking to act as "Local Correspondents" for the Association.

What is going to be the response of the Church at home?

"The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest."


1. Is there any parallel between the famous cry of the man of Macedonia (Acts xvi 9) and the cry from Borneo to-day?

2. Why should we not leave the Malays, Chinese, Dyaks, to their old faiths and ways?

3. Can we plead ignorance?

4. What response can we make?

5. What evidence can you give as to the value of prayer for foreign missions?

6. How does the Bishop of Bombay estimate the cost to us of seriously and thoroughly preaching the Gospel to the whole world?

7. Why are more workers imperatively needed by Bishop Mounsey?

8. How can women at home help to gain more workers?

9. What statement was made lately by the Archbishop of Canterbury as to the relative position of Church of England missions?

10. Is it the natives in the diocese alone whom we are neglecting?

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