MINISTRY: Joy and Pain of THE Iban Ministry

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IN the past, the Chinese in Taiwan called the indigenous people of Taiwan, “Fangzai” which has racist connotation. Though the indigenous groups couldn’t speak or understand the ‘Minan’ dialect, they were very sensitive to this name. The natives loved to bring the locals to visit their community, but the cordial atmosphere would be destroyed once they are called or mentioned them as “Fangzai”. Their displeasure could be seen immediately as they were frank people who wouldn’t hide their emotion through facial expression.

Start from salutation
These incidents often happened accidentally but those who heard them felt hurt. This is similar when we address our Iban friends as ‘Lakiang’. Though we might not have any bad intention in mind, our Iban friends would feel uncomfortable. The Ibans had long stopped their head-hunting practice, why do we still tag them with this inferior salutation, treating them as uncivilised? Wherever Jesus went, he brought changes to lives. Zacchaeus the tax collector, the Samaritan woman at the well and His follower, Peter, had their lives changed when they met Jesus. When we evangelised to the Ibans, we also have this in mind, hoping that their lives would be changed by Jesus too. Thus, we must also get out of the old habit of labelling or addressing them.

My husband and I have been serving the Iban community for many years. I have also met some Ibans who were unwilling to change and I felt sad about that. The spirit would comfort me saying that ‘there is still room for improvement.’ I empathise with the Chinese churches which have greatly helped the Iban churches. And I too have felt sad when the Chinese congregation felt disappointed when they saw poor results. However, I would like to appeal to them to please keep doing so and not be disheartened, proclaiming that God is at work and would transform them! Give them affirmation, calling them indigenous people instead of ‘Lakiang people’. Let’s start from the children of God, to respect our good neighbours who are created in the image of God just like us. Put ourselves in their shoes, we won’t enjoy being discriminated against as well.

Bound by traditions
Although many Ibans called themselves Christians, they are still bound by their traditions. For instance, the Ibans of many longhouses have to kill a pig before they can move a corpse into their longhouse. Those carrying the corpse have to walk over the pig carcass to get into the house. Though pastors have told them to stop this practice, they still refuse to let go. They also place the belongings of the deceased at the cemetery to rot and would not instead give them away. In the past, the personal belongings were clothes, pillows, mat and so on but now they even put the amplifier and sofas out there. Perhaps, in the future it might be television, computer and other modern compliances at the grave site for the deceased.

Sometimes, as my husband and I reflect, some Ibans are poor partly because they hang on to their traditions. Some of these traditional beliefs drain their financial resources.

All I can do is to pray for them and hope that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes and change their hearts.

When some Christian workers are in despair, they ask, “Are the Ibans hopeless?”

Not really! God has endowed them with special gifts which we do not have. They have strong immunity. The children can play in the rain and they don’t get sick. At one time, I was shouting at them when they were playing football in the rain at the church compound, to go back and change. They looked at me with strange stares. They enjoyed more and played more enthusiastically when the rain got heavier. They didn’t get sick after that! Besides, they have no problem drinking unboiled water or swimming in rivers.

They are very adaptive
They are adaptive to environment well. They can live in slum houses which the Chinese have abandoned. They don’t mind wadding in the smelly flood. There was once when Sibu town was flooded; Chinese bosses were very troubled not knowing what to do but the Iban children were in bliss, swimming around as if in a swimming pool.

From the above incidents, I could say that God endows people with different gifts. Thus, we should respect and appreciate each other, letting go of discrimination. Let’s have empathy for our fellow people and love them as Jesus commanded us to.

By Wu Xiu Juan, Missionary from Taiwan
Translated by Christina

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