The Work for Souls: Borneo Sarawak, East Malaysia

When John Knox McEwen (1929), was asked to outline his labors on gospel work, his words were, “I am very slow to figure in print in connection with any little God has ever done through me.” Yet, we are thankful that for the sake of encouraging others and recording the workings of God for those exercised to follow divine leading, he contributed his writing. The following sketch is but a faint endeavor to trace similar dealings by God in another land.

The Work Within

Knowing so great salvation upon his own soul, Robert Gribble (1858), of North Devon, England, often thought, “How can I be useful to the souls of others?” Another man put it this way: “In all spiritual work one volunteer is worth two pressed men.”

It was in a car moving along the narrow trunk road in central Sarawak, surrounded by vast, hilly, jungle-filled scenery, that I noticed for some time the sheer absence of, not buildings and other urban features, but, simple structures which bear testimony to gospel outreach according to the New Testament. Thus ensued a protracted consideration before God over personal wants, plans, and insufficiencies, the end of which was a simple response of love to an urgent spiritual need. Contemplation of matters before God is God’s preparation for His worker.

The Work Beginning

The work of the Spirit of God has eternal consequences, and yet, it begins most unassumingly. The heart, having been awakened to the ways of God with men in the Scriptures, learns to look for unseen things, as Samuel also learned when he stood with Jesse’s sons before him.

Here I was with no knowledge of the little town, save the realization that, over the last several months, I was much cast upon the Lord for His overruling hand to be at work. Being in an education system where the government directs where new teachers are to be posted, one only starts to comprehend what Daniel understood about His God. Praying and waiting upon the Lord to open the way, and at the same time doing what was present and at hand, the opportunity to one precious soul was soon presented.

This was in 1996 and the person in front of me in the classroom was a boy of 15. The answer to his question would have a lasting effect upon his mind and motivations. It was about the validity of the Word of God in the light of modern science. Underlying these issues is the foundation upon which he would build his world view and understanding, and form the basis of his knowledge. Growing up in an environment of superstition and belief in the supernatural, and going to school where skepticism and scientific progress dictated policies, it was the first time he heard of the veracity and value of the Holy Scriptures through all times, and in every territory of man, because its Author is the “living and true God.” The boy expressed interest to know more, together with his other friends, and I expressed my interest to reveal more from the Bible. A meeting under a little hut in the school compound was set.

More than a dozen youngsters gathered together that afternoon. They had their little booklets and pictures of religion with them. I told them to put these all aside, and I handed out copies of the Bible in the Malay tongue. All sorts of questions were asked, but I told them that my answers meant nothing if no authority for it could be found in the Scriptures. There was eagerness to thumb the pages of the Bible to find out what the Word of God said. Throughought their questions, I asked them a few in return, pointing them to the subject of sin, judgment, eternity, and the soul’s destiny. Only the setting of the sun that day decided for us that it was time to end the eventful afternoon. They had heard the gospel. Arriving back in the rented house, the Throne of Grace was the immediate recourse. The answer was in the beaming faces which returned within the next few days with news and assurance of eternal life possessed. God’s opportunities and openings are found in the path through which He takes His worker.

The Work Determined

In the desert place, the disciples once told the Lord to send the multitudes away. His reply to them was, “Give ye them to eat.” Today, the spirit of the Savior’s words remains true.

Every Sunday, the young believers gathered in our rented house. The great work was to “bring them to see the Lord.” This meant leading them from things temporal, seen, and natural, into a realm where only that which is spiritual thrives. Young children also learn by example. It was a humbling thought to know that what I did would be observed and compared with the Scriptures. Moses’ long experiences from birth to the moment he stood before Pharaoh taught patience and endurance in helping new believers learn the ways of life and of God. As with Moses, God takes time to form His servants. The necessity of laying a solid foundation early in the new believer’s life is seen today as a few of the local brethren are being used of God to become “pillars” of the work.

When the whole counsel of God is proclaimed and practised, religious adversaries will be manifest. However, God uses this to prove the reality of the conviction borne. Sound doctrine is thus vital for any work that seeks to last through the pressures of nature. It was also a delight to learn that no native background, in terms of upbringing or environment, could hamper spiritual growth in understanding when the Spirit of God is at work in a genuine heart.

This lonely and quiet work was carried out in 1996-2002 while teaching secondary school in rural Sarawak. The divine path is strange to the natural mind. The moment came when we were conscious of God leading us away from the little town back to the city, Kuala Lumpur. It was hard to comprehend how these young believers would manage. Faith learns that the Good Shepherd is still at work. Before God, there was a calm sense that, since the work was begun and determined by Him, there will be a continuation of it known only to the God Who knows His own.

The Work Developing

In 2007, the Lord was going to show us how things worked together for His good. A young sister saved only a few years returned to Sarawak. The boy, saved when 15, entered his second year of teaching in a secondary school near his home. Another young boy, who was saved through him, began his first year of teaching in another town in the same state. His burden for souls before the Lord eventually saw blessing. What he saw and experienced years ago, he could now replicate by the help of God. Another young boy who came to our house in the little town remembered the gospel very well even when he tried to live a life as far away from God as possible. He finally found himself in the jungle training to be a ranger, and realized what it meant to be “without God in the world.” God used this to his salvation. Elsewhere, a woman in an assembly had been praying that her niece, with a young family in Sarawak, would be blessed through following the New Testament pattern. Space does not permit the mention of several other individuals. The work that God was pleased to begin, is now at a stage to see a permanent establishment. There was no doubt in the hand of God directing us to return to Sarawak where He first placed us to continue something that will last for eternity unto His glory.

This is only a small token of the divine work for souls, carried out by the many witnesses who have finished their course. This work is now to be continued with and by others who will be willing to show interest in the souls for whom His Son willingly gave His life. God has a potential for your role.