Wesley Methodist Church, Sibu, 1958-2008
Why Wesley Methodist Church (WMC)?
Wesley Methodist Church, Sibu came into being out of a need for worship conducted in the English Language. According to the Sarawak Provisional Conference Report of 1955, Rev Douglas P. Coole was in charge of the English Vespers as one of the 3 services held at Masland Church. It was on the 5th of May 1958 that Wesley Methodist Church, Sibu, was officially constituted when 19 Methodists and 9 Christians from other denominations under the leadership of a Methodist missionary, Rev. David MacDonald, met in the Methodist Theological School Chapel to inaugurate a regular English worship service.
Most of the worshippers were missionaries (and their families) who served in the local churches which used various local languages and dialects. They felt the need for worship and fellowship in their own language, and to have Sunday school for their children.
The following year, 1959, saw the formation of the English Methodist Youth Fellowship, to cater for the spiritual needs of the Chinese and Iban students of the Methodist Secondary School in Sibu. As the meeting place was at school, many of the missionary teachers played impactful roles as advisors.
The Church grew steadily in importance and number under the dedicated leadership of David H. MacDonald (1958-); Rev. G.R. Senior (1959 –62); Rev. Roy Aylott (1963); Rev. Philip Williams (1964 – 65); Rev. James R. Hipkins (1966 – 1967); Rev. Chris Tomlinson (1967 – 68); Rev David Chiew (1969 Part-time Assistant ).
During this period, WMC continued to worship at the old MTS (Methodist Theological School) Chapel. The Sunday School for Secondary School students made good use of the MTS facilities and the Methodist Children’s Home Kindergarten building (for Kindergarten classes). The primary classes met for a number of years at Hoover House and also for a couple of years at the Methodist Secondary School.
In 1967, the Boys’ Brigade was formed with the help of Mr. Neil Varnell and Rev Chris Tomlinson who became the 1st BB Captain. The Girls’ Brigade was formed in 1970 under the guidance of Miss Mona Pengelley (a missionary nurse), and Mrs. Wong Bing Sing. They became the 1st and 2nd GB Captain respectively.
By 1969, WMC was attended mainly by local residents who were English-educated. As the need for a more convenient and larger place for worship grew, in August 1969, the Church obtained permission to use the then newly-constructed Fu Yuan Church at Brooke Drive. However, the Sunday school remained at MTS and the English MYF continued meeting at the Methodist Secondary School.
This period also saw the further reduction of foreign missionaries to Sarawak. Gone were the days when more than 20 missionaries and their family members would be present for the regular worship service.
A New Church Building
Soon the need for a ‘home’ sanctuary arose as Wesleyans felt that the Church could no longer function properly in borrowed and scattered premises. Rev. Lionel Muthiah (1972-76) who replaced Rev. Brinks (1970-72) in late 1972 made a request to the Joint Board of Trustees that Liling Residence (a large missionary house, where the present Methodist Message office is located) be converted to Wesley Church. The request was granted. Members as well as other Christians responded to the call for funds to renovate Liling.
The new ‘home’ included a small sanctuary, Sunday school rooms, office-study, library and Agape Room, a fellowship hall. The dedication ceremony was conducted by Bishop T. Doraisamy on Feb. 5th, 1974. For the first time, all activities of Wesley Church came under one roof.
In December, 1976, the Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference appointed Rev. Peter Chio Sing Ching to succeed Rev. Muthiah. So the first Sunday in January of 1977 saw the first full-time local pastor step onto Wesley’s pulpit. By that time, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Shields were the last missionary members of the Church. After they left in October 1978, WMC completed its transition from an English worship service catering for missionary families to providing services for local residents. With Methodist Secondary School nearby, Rev Chio started the Chinese MYF and the Chinese service in 1979.
WMC has always had a very unique outreach. Although in 1979, the regular worshipping members only ranged between 80 and 100, its outreach was much more extensive. There were over 100 Sunday School children, whose parents were mostly either non-Wesleyans or non-church goers. That year, there were 55 boys in the Boys’ Brigade and 62 girls in the Girls’ Brigade. Most of them came from non-Christian families. As these areas continued to grow in number, ‘Wesley Church’ was getting too congested!
So, in that same year of 1979, the WMC Building Committee, headed by Mr. Samuel Chiu, was formed to look into building a new church and soliciting funds. It was indeed a formidable task for a small church (but with a big heart of faith). A team of 3 ( Rev Chio, Pastor-in-Charge; Chairman, Mr Samuel Chiu; and Judy Wong, Secretary) approached SCAC President, Rev Dr Eugene Teng Yu Chi. Instruction was given to build the new Wesley Church at the missionary house (site) within the MTS compound. The land at the old Liling Residence (0.75acre) was earmarked for commercial development. The President promised a sum of RM30,000/- as compensation for the “exchange” of land. It took a few years for the project to materialize. From the initial estimated cost of RM$250,000 in 1979, it ended up as a RM$962,783.79 project upon completion in mid-1984.
The process started with fund-raising during the pastorate of Rev. Peter Chio. Pastor Su Chii Ann (1982-84) literally saw it through, from foundation laying to moving in. On 18th Nov. 1984, the present WMC at the MTS compound was officially dedicated by Bishop Fang.
From January 1985 onwards, WMC continued to be led by young local pastors as follows: Ting Chin Siong (1985), Rev Tiong Chiw Ing (1986), Rev Henry Chieng (1987-89), Rev Tie King Tai (1990-93), Rev Khoo Ho Peng,(1994-97), Rev Lau Hui Ming (1997-2003), Rev Ha Tung Chiew (2004), Rev Tai Sing Leh (2005-06) and Rev Dr Tiong Chung Tiing (2007-present). Most of them were assisted either by assistant or attachment pastors until recently when 2 full-time pastors were assigned and this year (2008) we even have 3.
1990 was the watershed year when Wesleyans responded to Rev Tie King Tai’s dream for WMC to be ‘a balanced-church reaching out to the world’, by taking big steps to support overseas missionaries. In 2002 the ‘dream’ came true when Pastor Lenita Tiong and GB officer Lau Shuh Huey were commissioned by SCAC as missionaries to Cambodia and East Asia respectively.
During the pastorate of Rev Lau Hui Ming (1997-2003), WMC moved into new areas of ministry.
Realizing the importance of capturing the youth, a group of leaders started a contemporary bi-monthly Sunday service for youth in 2001. By 2004, as the older Sunday classes were merged, the Youth Worship Service became a regular English service. We thank God for the 160 youths and that in Feb 2008, they have moved from Wei Kuok Hall back to our newly expanded chapel.
In 2002, the LCEC made another breakthrough by deciding to “adopt” Rumah Siba. Thus began WMC’s local missions into longhouse ministry. The very presence of the big team of Wesleyans making bi-monthly 3-hour trips touched the hearts of the residents. 67 of them asked to be baptized after 6 months. They began to celebrate Gawai, in their own words, “in Christian ways.”
Their changed lives aroused the interest of relatives and friends in nearby longhouses. Within 2 years 3 more longhouses were “adopted” and more Iban brothers, sisters and children have come to know the Lord.
God has indeed blessed WMC with a unique ministry for youths. For many years, both BB (about 600 boys in 2008) and GB (over 250 girls) are the largest Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades in Malaysia. The Sunday school students, MYF and MJYF make a total of another 500 young people.
In 2006, when there was a call to give religious teachings to non-Muslims in the National Service (NS) camps, a group of Wesleyans grabbed the opportunity by going regularly to Camp Bumimas. We give thanks to God that more than 100 NS participants have been baptized over the last two years.
Our Social Concerns Committee has been actively reaching out to various groups of our community. The MOM ministry serves to reach out to the Indonesian maids working in Sibu. The Cancer Support Group provides a platform for cancer patients to support and pray for one other. Through this fellowship many found new friends and experienced God’s love in a profound way before they were called to be with the Lord.
Friends of Social Club gather the disadvantaged and handicapped children and parents for social skills and activities. Members of the Mothers’ Support Group have expressed great appreciation for being able to share and learn together in raising the present high-tech children. We thank God that Wesley men have realized the urgency of God’s call to them in raising up Godly children in this crucial age. The recent formation of a Men’s Ministry is most timely and necessary.
Known for being the first English Methodist Church in Sarawak, WMC also became the first bilingual church when the Chinese worship service was started in 1979. Although it had been subject to some scrutiny especially after moving to its present church building, by God’s grace, the Chinese congregation has been able to coexist and grow together with the English congregations in various areas of ministry. We give thanks that during these 2 decades, the Chinese service has produced at least 7 full-time workers who are serving under SCAC.
As we celebrated our Golden Jubilee, we couldn’t help but look back and give thanks as we walked down memory lane and saw how God had been with us and blessed us all these years. However, let us not forget that our mission, our tasks are by no means completed. Let us always be reminded by the 4 crosses on the steeple of our church the commission of Jesus, which is “to go into the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations!”