MINISTRY: Three Crises in the Iban Ministry

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The Reverend Burr Hasting Baughman was born on 21 October 1910 in Java, Indonesia. Both his parents were missionaries who served in Dutch Indonesia. After he graduated from both tertiary and theological colleges in the United States, he came to serve in Malaya as a Methodist pastor, a teacher and a missionary to the Sengoi people between 1932 and 1942. In 1947, he came to Sarawak to serve the Iban people of Kapit.

In1948, he was elected as the pastor in-charge of the Iban Ministry and served with Reverend Lucius Mamora, a missionary who had been already serving there for several years. With their joint effort, 29 Ibans were baptised in Kapit in 1949 during Christmas. These included three Iban chiefs: Penghulu Jugah, Penghulu Sibat and Penghulu Jinggut and their families.

Baughman also helped in the translation of the Bible and Hymns into Iban language. He also published a book on “Speaking the Iban language.” His wife on the other hand taught in the Methodist school in Kapit.

In 1952, when Baughman was the Superintendent of Kapit District, he wrote in his report that there were “three crises in the Iban Ministry”.

Firstly, the sharp increase in the number of Iban being baptised within a short period of four years to 883 people, and that the whole family being baptised was not a good sign. They were only in name but not true believers unless further enhancement in Christian teaching could be made in the near future. Or else these people would still revert to their old ways. Secondly, The Ibans had relied too much on church support and they became too dependent. They couldn’t support their own pastors and their own organisations. Thirdly, they didn’t have their own leaders to take up the work. They relied on foreign missionaries who couldn’t fully permeate their life and culture. Thus, it is the priority of local Sarawakians to educate and train Iban youths.

In 1964, Baughman was conferred the Pegawai Bintang Sarawak (PBS) by the Chief Minister of Sarawak for his contributions. Reverend and Mrs Baughman retired in 1970 and returned home to Florida, USA. After 1983 no more foreign missionaries were allowed to work in Sarawak.

Today, the Iban ministry has a history of 77 years. The Iban Annual Conference has been formed for 64 years. Is the Iban church today still facing the three challenges which Rev Baughman faced then?

At present, the Iban Church still lacks pastors to minster their own people. Secondly, they still need some outside help, especially in finance. Thirdly, though they have stopped depending on foreign missionaries, they still do not have enough leaders to handle the big task. For sixty years or more, such crises remain with the Iban church.

We are facing a very pressing challenge now with the infiltration of other faiths. More and more Ibans are converted to the national religion. In 1960 only 415 Ibans were Muslims, but in 2009, there were 30,000. Though the Chinese churches have been assisting in various ways, they still have to come up with an effective solution to motivate the Iban churches to expand and revive their own ministry; we feel the urgency for revival.

Written by Menglei
Translated by Christina

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