INDIGENOUS MINISTRY: Encountering the Penans

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I remember that I first encountered the Penans around twenty years ago. At that time, both men and women were half naked. As I had never met them before, my curiosity was aroused by this group of people. I was ignorant that there was such a group of people, living in the forest and away from civilization.

I run a grocery shop. Whenever they came to my shop and bought groceries I felt sad as they did not know how to “use” money to buy things.

They did not ask for the price. All they
did was to take all the money from their pockets and handed the money to me without asking any question.

They trusted me completely. That was the first time I encountered such an incident and I was taken aback. I felt sad as I wondered what would happen to them if they encountered unscrupulous businessmen who would manipulate their ignorance and gullibility. The incident made an indelible impression and it often plays on my mind until today.

When I learnt that they made their living by selling “fragrant wood”, bear heart and paw as well as jungle products, I began to worry that they would be manipulated and deceived by greedy buyers who would buy their products way below reasonable prices. Once in about every three or four months, they would come from their villages and do their shopping. Sadly, their method of payment did not improve even after a few years. After many years, a short term mission team went to a Penan village. I was one of them.

The journey to Long Adang was tough. When we visited them from home to home, I was devastated. I never thought humans could live a life of such spartan simplicity. Their houses were not even houses to me. They were supported by four to five tree trunks as the pillars. The floor was paved with tree branches. The roofs were no better. They were crudely covered with big leaves and big plastic bags. Their kitchens and rooms were not separated. Each shabby tent was merely ten square feet. A few stones were stacked up to be their cooking place and their cooking pots were black.

At that time, a sick toddler of about three years was lying on the floor. When I asked the mother if she had sent the sick child to a clinic, she just smiled shyly. It was drizzling at that time. I wondered what would have happened if it rained heavily. Their different way of living kept me wondering. We are all humans, yet our lifestyles are so different. How I could help them, I wondered. It was so heart wrenching.

The impact of what I had seen was so great that I could not forget what I had experienced. However, most of the time, we were unable to help them even if we wanted to. All I could do was to pray for them, hoping God could help them.

Years passed by. I saw young Penans who came out to work in the logging industry. I saw changes when they came to my shop to buy groceries. They not only bought groceries but also cigarettes and alcohol. I became more worried. If they are not guided and educated, what will happen to the next generation?

For a few years, I have been receiving the short term mission teams to Long Adang, so I never stopped caring for this group of people. Prayers always produced miracles. God responded to our prayers when a few team members were strongly burdened to serve the Penans.

After several discussions, one of the team members Mr. Su successfully purchased a piece of land for the purpose of Penan educational development.

The “Lawas Care Center” was thus set up. Now, Penan kids have a place and opportunity to receive education in an appropriate and conducive learning environment. “Man proposes and God disposes.” The Almighty God has His own plans and time to answer our prayers. He does not forget or neglect the minority groups.

Love makes us support each other and becomes a channel to bless others. Love brings hope. Do you want to take part and contribute your life to improve the lives of the minority groups?

Written by Lydia Tan
Translated by Grace Chan
(First published in the Commemorative

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