Rev. Christopher C. Tomlinson has a special affection for China and the Chinese because his parents were missionaries to China and he had a memorable and happy childhood there.
He aspired to evangelize to the Chinese when he grew up and he worked hard to equip himself. His aspiration came true when he was appointed to do gospel ministry amongst the Chinese in Sarawak. However his hard work in learning Chinese for one full year was not paid off because he was appointed to be in charge of the English gospel ministry. In 1967 he was appointed to be the Pastor in charge of Wesley Methodist Church, an English speaking church in Sibu.
Seeing the needs of the Sibu youths when he was in charge of youth ministry and the English ministry, he introduced the Boys Brigade (BB) and established the First Sibu BB Company.
When the First Sibu BB Company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, in his capacity as the first Captain, Rev. Tomlinson was invited to the celebration.
BB influenced him deeply
Rev. Tomlinson was born in 1935 in Plymouth, England. His parents, Harold and Clarice, were missionaries in Ningbo, China. They met in Ningbo in 1926 when they were missionaries. In 1934 they return to England on furlough, married and were later blessed with their eldest son — Tomlinson.
Shortly after birth his parents brought him to China to continue their missionary work. He spent the first six years of his childhood in Ningbo. His father was doing missionary work while his mother worked as a teacher in a girls’ school. They were both busy and Tomlinson spent a lot of time with the Chinese nanny. During the Japanese invasion, the Chinese nanny would bring him to hide in the bomb shelter whenever there were air raids by the Japanese bombers.
During the Second World War, from 1941 to 1945, missionaries were ordered to evacuate. Young Tomlinson and his China born sister went to New South Wales, Australia with their parents. In 1945 they took the transport ship back to England. Their mother passed away in Australia.
Although both of his parents were missionaries of the Methodist Church, his involvement in BB helped him greatly in the foundation of his faith. One BB Captain had influenced his life greatly too. “BB helps to train youngsters to live a disciplined life, to read Bible and to be self disciplined. It helped me a lot and I believe that the same is true for the young people today.”
He admitted that he learnt more about Christ through the various activities in BB and that laid the foundation for his faith. “I can’t imagine how my life would be without Christ in my life. I am so glad that Christ is in my life.”
Rev. Tomlinson wanted to be an artist when he was studying in Shebbear College in Handsworth, England. He heard God’s calling when he was attending his national service. To equip himself, he entered the Shebbear College of Art for two years. He joined Handsworth Theological Seminary from 1958 to 1961. Then he spent a year at Selly Oaks preparing for mission work in Sarawak.
Because he lived in China for six years, he loves China and Chinese. His father wanted to return to China to serve but did not have another chance. Rev. Tomlinson was called to go to Southeast Asia to spread the gospel to the Chinese.
Youth ministry in Sarawak
He married Janet in January 1962. The couple sailed from London to Kuala Lumpur in August. They spent a year studying Chinese in a government language school.
They came to Kuching, Sarawak in September 1963. It was the time of the formation of Malaysia. It was also a year of political confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia.
They were appointed to shepherd Chin Fu Methodist Church, a church of Chinese-dominated congregations in Kuching. However there were also Indians, Eurasian, British and Americans so they started an English speaking church and he became the pastor in charge.
On top of the pastoral work in the church he also cared for the Methodist students in the government’s teacher training college and was also the chaplain of some Christian soldiers. He was then a little frustrated because the Chinese language which he spent so much time learning was not put to use.
Rev. Tomlinson also acted as the coordinator between the missionaries from UK, America and the various government departments.
Their sons Andrew and Bruce were born in Kuching.
In 1966 he returned to UK on furlough for a year. In 1967 he was posted to serve in Wesley Methodist Church, Sibu. Wesley Methodist Church was established in 1958 and the meeting place at the time was in the auditorium of the Methodist Theological School. That gave him the opportunity to meet the Chinese and Iban theology students in MTS.
A youth centre was then set up to cater for the needs of the youth. Mr. Neil Varnell was appointed to be in charge of the centre. Rev. Tomlinson initiated the BB ministry in Sibu in 1967 to 1968. He still cared for work among the youths when he was on temporary transfer to Kuching.
During his stay in Sarawak the most challenging thing he faced was the unstable political situation because the local people were struggling for independence. Because of that it was dangerous for foreigners to move around. As a pastor he still led the congregation as usual.
When the Malaysian Methodist Church became an independent entity, many missionaries and Rev. Tomlinson believed that they should slowly move out and let the local pastors and church members run the church.
By the way, Rev. Tomlinson was ordained by the Bishop of the American Methodist Church, Rev Robert Lundy. The American Bishop acted on behalf of the English Annual Conference in the ordination ceremony.
Passion for the gospel continues
Finally Rev. Tomlinson and his wife Janet returned to the UK in 1971. In the UK, he shared about his ministry in Sarawak. Starting from May 1972 he served as the Chaplain of the British Army for 20 years. He travelled to different parts of the world with the army and the assignments were from 6 months to 3 years. His family stayed in Germany.
Rev. Tomlinson was then assigned to help the survivors and the families of the deceased in the 1987 “MS Herald of Free Enterprise” ferry sank incident. He was later awarded the O.B.E. by the Queen of England.
Rev. Tomlinson retired from the army in 1992 and served as the rector of Richmond area in the North of England with a church and six preaching centres. Rev. and Mrs Tomlison served in the area for 4 years.
Rev. Tomlinson served as rector of the Cornwall district in the southwest of England from 1996 to 2001. In addition to the Church there were 21 preaching centres. Of these, 7 were directly under Rev. Tomlinson and his three assistants. He retired in 2001 and continued to preach in 2 centres.
Rev. Tomlinson lives for the Lord and he is not afraid of aging. He said that by coming of age one can witness the birth of more young people. He is deeply influenced by the enthusiasm for the gospel of the older generations. Therefore he hopes that the younger generation can also experience his enthusiasm in the gospel so that the enthusiasm for the gospel will become a legacy.
Interviewer: Menglei Interviewee: Christopher C. Tomlinson Recorder: April Translator: KT Chew