Blanche Apple, born Estelle Blanche Apple, was sent as the first woman missionary to Sibu by the Women’s Division of the American Board of Missions on 11 February, 1952. By this time, the Sarawak Methodist Church had women fellowship groups in 36 churches with a total of 806 members. It was the largest women fellowship group among Malaysia and Singapore Methodist Churches at that time. Rev Dennis Louis R replaced Rev Eugene Oliver McGraw as the Superintendent of Sibu District that year.
Blanche Apple was first posted to Putian, Fujian, China in 1923, to help with the work among Chinese women. She was a very capable missionary who had lots of energy and wore many different hats. She served in the Education Board of the Methodist Henghua Annual Conference from 1925-1926 besides carrying on work a teacher of several primary schools. By 1937, she was appointed advisor of Putian Shian-I Girls’ School and Yuk Teck Primary School. She was also a committee member of the Work and Plan Committee of the Henghua Annual Conference.
Her service to the Henghua people in China covered a period of 30 years and she became very fluent in the dialect. However when China came under Communist Party rule, she reluctantly had to leave China. At that time, it was the best possible arrangement for Bishop Raymond Archer of the Malaya Annual Conference, to post her to work among the Chinese in Borneo – to serve in the women ministry of the Sarawak Methodist Church where there was a big Henghua community.
The Sarawak Methodist Church set up a Women Evangelism Committee (W.D.C.S.) under the Board of Missions in January 1951 and she was appointed to oversee this job by Bishop Raymond Archer.
Women evangelical ministry was originally under the supervision of the US Women Board of Missions. This committee came into active work when the official appointment by Miss Louise Robinson, the Secretary General of the US Board of Missions, was received in 1952. Louise Robinson had also come to Sibu for site inspection in Oct 1951.
The Building of the Methodist Girl’s Hostel
In 1952, W.D.C.S. first built a hostel for workers. By June, Paul Prince Wiant, an American construction engineer was assigned to design the hostel as well as the Methodist Girl’s hostel. The design was approved by the HQ in New York. The construction works were completed in mid of 1953 and the Dedication ceremony was held on 5 December 1953. Today the building is at Archer Road, Sibu. It was later called the Methodist Girl’s Hotel for the girl students of Methodist School,Sibu. However, after serving as a girls’ hostel for many decades, it is now a rentable property for the public.
Blanche Apple married Paul Prince Wiant in mid-1953, and in that same year they were transferred to Korea. Paul P. Wiant as a construction engineering missionary had worked in Fuzhou, China. In 1951 his wife, Hattie, was killed in an accident. By God’s will, he was assigned to Sibu to design and supervise the construction of the Methodist Girl’s Hostel in 1952 where he met Blanche Apple. They were married in 1953.
Paul P. Waint thus served as a missionary in China, Sarawak, Korea and other places for 39 years. He had designed and supervised over 400 construction projects: church buildings, schools, universities, houses, bridges and reservoirs constructions.
When working in Sibu in a period of 3 years, Blanche Apple was the pastor-in-charge of Tien Tao Methodist church, Sg. Merah, Sibu. She also taught English at the secondary and primary English schools. She also travelled by a small river boat with Martha Graf to Binatang and around Sibu visiting and training the women of the Methodist churches to become church leaders. In 1951 W.D.C.S. employed Miss Louise Hwang to assist in developing the women ministry of the local churches and organized two women ministry trainings in Binatang and Sibu. (note: Martha Graf personally used a motor boat to help her travel along the river to visit the women who lived at different locations up and down streams of the Rajang River.)
After her marriage, Blanche Apple left Sibu for Korea where her husband was sent. Annie Pittman took over her work in W.D.C.S. The Wiants served in Korea with brief stays in India, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Liberia, Congo and Taiwan before retiring in 1956.
Blanche Apple was born on 2 July 1887 in Champaign County, Ohio, USA and passed away on 17 June 1972 in Cincinnati, Hamilton county, Ohio. She was 85 years old. Her husband, Paul Waint, passed away in Cincinnati on 22 October 1973. Both were living at the Bethesda Home at the time of their passing.
Compiled by Menglei
Translated by Christina & KT Chew