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A visit to the Archdeaconry of Upper Sarawak

The Revd Johnny Libar and Archdeacon Andrew Pahah.
The Revd Johnny Libar and Archdeacon
Andrew Pahah. © ABM/John Deane 2013

ABM’s Executive Director, the Revd John Deane was in Malaysia for the East and South East Asia Regional Forum of the Anglican Alliance. Although ABM has a long history of relationship with the Anglican Church in Malaysia we don’t often have the opportunity to hear news from this close neighbouring country. Here is John’s account of a visit to the Archdeaconry of Upper Sarawak:

At the invitation of Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok (Bishop of Kuching and Primate of the Province of SE Asia) today I accompanied Archdeacon Andrew Pahah on a visit to three of the seven parishes in his Archdeaconry of Upper Sarawak. Our first stop was at his own parish of St James Quop – about an hour South West of Kuching towards the Indonesian Border.

The parish has a number of outstations and Archdeacon Andrew and his assistant, the Revd Johnny Libar are kept busy ministering to the needs of this rapidly expanding parish. At Quop the original wooden church built in 1865 still remains. It has been designated a significant historical building and heritage listed but as yet the parish’s request for some government funding to maintain the building has fallen on deaf ears. The new church building which seats about 400 has now reached overflow capacity with chairs outside the church to cater for those who can’t be squeezed in. Even the font has had to become movable!  The old wooden church, despite its leaking roof, continues to be used for Sunday School and other groups. Each Sunday more than 100 children crowd into the Sunday School.

Our next stop was to St Paul’s Bunut where we met the Revd Handi Ipoh who is in charge of the parish and the Revd Tony George who was from the neighbouring parish of St Philip’s Padawan. After a general discussion about the ministry in the parish which has also been blessed by significant growth in last few decades the Revd Handi arranged for us to visit the local longhouse in Bunut.

Longhouse at Bunut.
Longhouse at Bunut. 

Longhouses are the traditional style of building for many of the indigenous tribal groups in Sarawak and Sabah. These vast stilted buildings made from wood and roofed originally from bush materials were once a communal home to numerous families. Over the years the longhouse at Bunut has had some of its length removed but it was still long enough to remain impressive! The ceremony hall which is called a Baruk and is still used by the community remains in good repair although I found the skulls which hung in several spots – a reminder of the days when these communities were feared head hunters – somewhat unsettling!

After leaving Bunut we travelled to a housing development site where 4 kampongs (villages) from the Revd Tony’s parish of Padawan are to be resettled. While looking over the site and checking on the progress Revd Tony explained the situation to me. The population of Kuching has expanded quite rapidly and needs more water. The Government has decided to build a dam and has compulsorily acquired the land on which these kampongs are located. The inhabitants have not really had much say in the matter. Their semi-jungle environment is being replaced by a semi-urban one. Their community life is being disrupted as these four distinct kampongs are effectively becoming one settlement. There is also an economic impact as some of their sources of income – gardens and fruit trees – will be lost. There has been new accommodation and relocation assistance provided but it does not really seem to be adequate. The Church has and continues to play an important role as an advocate for these communities trying to ensure appropriate compensation and a fair and timely relocation. The Revd Tony also well appreciates that the Church will have to provide much pastoral support to these communities as they settle in to their new homes and environment.

Inside St Mary's Chapel, Kandis Lama.
Inside St Mary’s Chapel, Kandis Lama.

The final stop of the day was St Mary’s Chapel at Kandis Lama which is an outstation of Archdeacon Andrew’s parish. This Chapel is located in a semi-jungle setting and the natural beauty of the rainforest and the silence apart from the birds and cicadas were refreshing after the extensive travelling in the morning. The Chapel is also a relatively new building, having been consecrated about 2 years before, again as a replacement for an older building which was far too small for the 250+ congregation. The one somewhat surprising feature of the Chapel is that is painted bright yellow on the outside!

After this it was time to return to Kuching and as we did I asked Archdeacon Andrew what he saw as the greatest need at the moment. He replied that there was a shortage of people to minister to this growing church and that our prayers for an increase in vocations for ministry would be appreciated. The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few!

The Revd John Deane
July 2013

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