Mrs Madeline Kelso Dennis was born in Delaware State, USA. In 1930 she graduated from Asbury College, Kentucky and later married her classmate Rev Louise Dennis. The couple shared the same vision to serve as oversea missionaries.
As both Madeline’s father and grandfather were pastors, they were pleased and supportive when she wanted to be a missionary in China. However Rev. Dennis’ parents were not in favor of their decision fearing that as China was far from US, they might not be able to meet again. Later the parents granted consent, for missionary work was one that showed God’s universal love.
Rev. & Mrs. Dennis set out for Nan Pin, China in 1939 where they worked until 1950, a time of great political changes and upheaval. They left China in 1950 and a year later, they were assigned to Sibu. Rev. Dennis became a District Superintendent while the wife was still seeking breakthrough in her profession.
In 1952, the Sarawak government responded to the call by the Methodist Church regarding the medical needs of the local communities. So in June that year, an ordinary medical clinic and a maternity and child welfare clinic were set up in Sungai Teku and in the town centre respectively. Madeline was supervisor of the maternity clinic and child welfare clinic at the ground floor of Masland Methodist Church Youth Centre in Island Road (the present day Methodist Book Room). She represented the Hygiene Section (overseeing prevention of diseases and hygiene) during the 1st Provisional Annual Conference. In her report she pointed out that, “Start to provide health service on the first floor of the Youth Centre in June 1952, which was one of the projects by the Methodist Church, in collaboration with the District Council, Rural District Council and the Central Government Health Department.” The centre was first called “Women and Babies medical teaching centre” and later known as “Maternity and Child Welfare Clinic”. Ms Pearl Lee was her assistant. In the same period of time, three clinics were also set up at the longhouses areas and another three at the Chinese domiciled areas, providing mobile medical services. However one year later one clinic in the Chinese area was closed. During the first year, 772 expectant women and over 400 babies were examined or treated.
In her report at the 2nd Provisional Annual Conference on 2-3 December, 1953, Madeline said that the mothers and babies seeking treatment increased by more than a fold compared to that of the previous year. Because of the increase they had to increase manpower to make rounds for home visitation. During the second half of the year, they made 200 home visits. Despite the busy schedule they continued to visit the longhouses at Penasu, Bawang Assan and Sg Aup, treating women and babies. Many villagers also requested Madeline to share the gospel with them. Once someone pointed to a picture of Jesus on the cross and said they wanted to know more about Jesus and wanted to follow Him. Madeline said that they were very busy and requested that someone had to be sent to the longhouses to share the good news.
In her report Madeline also pointed out that the centre also conducted training for mid-wives. Through education and scientific methods, they taught the public about family planning. They also helped to vaccinate children with diphtheria and whooping cough vaccines and taught about immunity. They conducted physical hygiene courses at Bukit Lan Farm.
In 1954, they engaged Mdm Lau Hung, who graduated from the Johor Bahru General Hospital, to work at the centre as well as two assistants Lee Chew King and Ting Teck Seng. Every month the Sibu Lau King Howe Hospital also sent two midwife students to the centre for training.
At the end of that year, the centre moved to the ground floor of the old police station. From January to October, 3,279 babies and 6335 pregnant mothers came to the centre for check-up, 4772 persons received vaccinations and 106 women received counseling on how to make a healthy home. They also made 1476 home visitations.
Madeline said that the aim of this kind of service originated from how Jesus served while walking on earth and was the proof of Christ’s love. It was in accordance with Matthew 25: 36-40: “I was sick, and ye visited me…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” With this teaching of serving like the Lord, Madeline and her team served the women and children, preventing disaster or even death.
She also requested the government to set up mobile medical teams to visit and provide medical services, twice a week, to the Iban longhouses along the Lower Rajang River. In the next 4 years she also served the longhouses in Upper Rajang.
In 1956, Madeline and her husband, Rev Dennis, were assigned to work in Singapore for two years. They also worked in Petaling Jaya for another two years. In 1961 they were sent to work in Sitiawan, Perak. Rev Dennis met a severe road accident and took a long time to recuperate, but his movement and thought flow became slow. After that they returned to US. In Oct, 1985 Rev Dennis had a fall, had a bad head injury and passed away soon afterwards.
In 1986,when Madeline was 76 years old she visited Fujian, China and taught in the local theological school for two years. In 1988, she came to visit old friends in Sibu and taught for a year in MTS. She was 80 years old when the Chief Editor of Methodist Message, Hii Sieh Toh arranged for the writer to interview her.
From the web-site of Asbury College, we learnt that she was awarded an Alumni Award in 1991.
Madeline was greatly touched by the diligence, perseverance and confidence of the Chinese. China was such a big place, with a huge population but with so many poor people. The few churches were scattered all around. Yet God showed how He loved China through the work of the missionaries.
In 23 years, i.e. from 1939 to 1962, the couple had gone to China, Sarawak, Singapore, and Malaya to serve the Chinese communities. Madeline brought into play her professional training by servicing in the field of nursing and providing medical services.
Although, the first training centre was set up in the venue of the Youth Centre and remained there for only 4 years, till today Sibu people called the Centre ‘Wudehui’ (务德会). Today when the expecting mothers go to government’s polyclinic for check-up they still call maternity clinic as ‘Wudehui’. ‘Wudehui’ becomes a memorable and endearing term of reference for all Sibu folks. It is likely that the centre was later handed over to the government.
From Madeline’s report, we see that the Clinic had around six staffs at that time, handling 30- 40 expecting mothers and babies each day. Twice a week they travelled by boat to provide mobile medical services and they had to make home visitation. We really have to salute these early period medical staffs in Sibu for their hard work.
Because of the hard work and input by Madeline, she injected new meaning to this service, ‘Wudehui’. The Centre had benefitted all races in Sibu. ‘Wudehui’ was actually the Methodist Youth Fellowship centre (Epworth League) catering for youth fellowship ministry as well as other activities beyond youth fellowship. From the US, China to Sibu, the Epworth League youth organization had been active in activities within and outside the church and had become a strong support for church development. Youth Centre or ‘Wudehui’ and clinic are two different entities, just that Sibu people called the clinic so, had served the people mentally, spiritually and physically.
Compiled by Menglei
Translated by Christina & KT Chew