The first ordained Methodist Iban pastor of Sarawak, Joshua Bunsu Numan, left us on 21st January 2019, age 94.
Early Childhood and Anglican Mission Education
Joshua Bunsu Numan was born in Bukit Banting, Second Division,near Lingga, in 1925. His first school was St. Paul’s , an Anglican school, near his longhouse where he studied from 1938 till 1941. St Paul’s church was established in 1853, the oldest European mission church in Sarawak outside Kuching. His grandfather Belon, a Balau Iban, was a loyal supporter and part of the peace making force of the Second Rajah.
Although keen to study more, the Japanese War temporary put a stop to his education. Still a teenager, in 1943 he was conscripted like many other Ibans by the Japanese.
“Interestingly I accepted the conscription because I wanted to buy some new clothes and I did not know what was forthcoming.” He said humourously during an interview with a reporter.
The special Japanese militia or “native” force, Kyodohei, trained many Ibans like him, from Sibu, Kuching, Miri, Simanggang, and even Limbang, in Kuching for six months. Later the Kyodohei, were sent to Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) and other parts of Sabah where they were to do force labour like road construction and bridge buiding. Joshua was stationed at Tawau. At the end of the war, for months, 27 of the Iban conscripts walked all the way from Tawau, through Ranau, Jesselton, Sipitang, Lawas, Limbang and then to Bintulu, making a treacherous and historically significant trail back home. For a year they ngampar (voluntary labour) themselves with families in Similajau and helped with the harvest. His friend and co- worker was the late Temenggong Bangau. After the harvest,the two decided to go back to Bawang Assan by a hired boat. Their kind Iban hosts gave them enough rice for their journey.
Bawang Assan and His Call to Serve God
The hands of God must have been working, calling Joshua forward. The late Temenggong Bangau after having brought Joshua to Bawang Assan, encouraged him to start Sekolah Langkau Umai (Farmhouse School) in 1946, where many Iban boys came to study, including Jerry Rabbu Megong who later was a President of the Sarawak Iban Conference.
On April 16th 1953 Joshua with more than 265 other Ibans were baptized by Rev Louis Dennis, an American Methodist missionary, in Bawang Assan, at Rumah Guang, the late Temenggong Bangau’s longhouse. Later Rev Louis Dennis encouraged Joshua to study at the Methodist Theological school, Sibu.
As a pioneer Iban pastor, Joshua Bunsu was sent for further studies in Singapore, Japan and the United Kingdom.
He had many firsts in his lifetime. He was the first Iban student of the Methodist Theological School, in Sibu, the first ordained Iban Methodist Pastor, first District Superintendent of Kapit area after Rev Burr Baughman, the first President of the Methodist Iban Annual Conference. He was the first Dean of the Iban Department of the Methodist Theological School, Sibu.
He was a Sarawak delegate in many foreign conferences overseas like the United States of America and Japan.
He served the Methodist Church from 1957 in various capacities. In fact he pastored in almost all the Iban Methodist areas like Sg. Aup,Sg Penasu, Sg. Pasai,Nanga Mujong, Sg Melinau, Kapit, Sibu Jaya. He was chaplain of the Sibu Lanang Field Force Camp.
In an interview, he once told a reporter, “In the 50’s and 60’s, I have travelled throughout in Sarawak, often bare footed, through jungle paths, by long boat, by air, in the sun and in the rain. I have slept on damp grounds, on leaves, in hammocks, on planks and bamboo slats in old ramshackled longhouses, in long boats and Chinese motor launches. I was not afraid of any big or small animals, reptiles or insects, for He was with me. We pastors were told to “basuh pala” or baptize the Unchristianed. This was my mission of taking heads.”
He authored several Iban language books and was with social welfare organizations after his retirement.
He is survived by his wife, Nuai Riang of more than 60 years, four children, Madeline Bunsu Distler, Samuel Bunsu, Kagawa Bunsu, Polycarp Bunsu and seven grandchildren.
Compiled by Chang Yi,
Agape Methodist Church, Miri