Methodist Pilley Institute (MPI) was established to commemorate Rev John Allen Pilley, an American missionary to Sarawak.
Rev John A. Pilley was the son of Rev and Mrs Edward Pilley. In 1895 Rev Edward Pilley was posted to China as a missionary. In 1902, he married Emma Stone Poteet in Kobe, Japan. Emma was also an American missionary sent to Japan the year before. However, she died in 1909 in Hu Zhou, leaving behind four children. 1n 1911, Rev Edward remarried another missionary, Emma Steger, and people called her “Pilley Mama”.
John Pilley (1908-1960) was born on 15 December 1908 in Shanghai, China. He grew up and studied there till he went to America for his tertiary education. Upon graduation, he returned to China to teach. In 1931, he married Muriel Caldwell, whom we often called Mrs Pilley.
In 1935 to 1939, Rev John and Mrs Pilley taught at the Anglo-Chinese College, Fuzhou. With the Japanese advancing into China, they shifted with the school to Yangkouzhen of Shunchang County. Their first child, Robin Pilley, was born in 1939. In September the same year they moved to Nashville, USA and pursued their Master in Education Degree at George Peabody College. Rev and Mrs John Pilley were officially appointed as missionaries of Board of Missions in 1940. They were sent back to teach at the Anglo-Chinese College in Yangkouzhen, the place they had left because of war. Their daughter Gail Pilley was born there. Not long after arriving there they had to escape to Shanghai with their relatives because of the war. Later, they went to Fujian Province where they studied Chinese. (He was born and grew up in Shanghai and could only speak the Shanghai dialect). In 1944, during the Japanese Occupation, he and his father–in-law, Mr Caldwell joined the army and held the rank of Captain, working in the Office of Strategic Service. Later Mrs Pilley and his daughter were brought back to America by his father in law. In 1946, the Japanese surrendered and he went back to America to bring his family back to Foochow where they taught again for four years. Their second daughter, Marilyn Pilley was born in Foochow.
Listed as number One Enemy
Mr Ling Wen Chong, the acting principal and colleague of John Pilley at the Anglo-Chinese College bid farewell to him in January 1949 as he had accepted a post in “New Foochow” — Sibu in Borneo Island. It was the first time John Pilley ever heard of “New Foochow”.
In 1949 when the Communist Party took over China, because John Pilley joined the US Army to fight against the Japanese, he was regarded as the “number one” enemy of the people, a spy from the US.Because the situation was critical, the then Bishop George Carleton Lacy (1888-1951) asked all missionaries and families whether they would stay or otherwise. He was thinking of going to Borneo as he would be serving the Chinese too.
On 14 May, 1949, he set sail for Hong Kong on “SS Heinrich Jessen” and the journey took two days. On his arrival, he received a telegram from the American Mission Board saying that his application to serve in Sibu was granted and he was to serve as an Education Missionary. When he first arrived Sibu, he helped Rev Ling Wen Chong in the setting up of Methodist Secondary School, Sibu. Then he became the principal of the school from June 1951 to 1952. Rev Pilley went back to America for debriefing and returned to the work field. From 1953 to 1957, he went to Sarikei to set up the Anglo-Chinese School and served there as the principal. He also helped to build the new sanctuary of the Huai Ren Methodist Church in Sarikei. Mrs Pilley was working in Sibu helping out with the Methodist night school to help the students who had failed the public examinations and the poor youths who did not have educational opportunities.
Rev Pilley suffered two heart attacks while serving in Sarikei. In 1958 he went back to America to recuperate. He came back on June 1959 to work as the principal of the Methodist Secondary School, Sibu until August 1960. He died of a heart attack on 12 November that year at the age of 53. His father Edward Pilley also died at the age of 53 of heart attack in a Shanghai suburb. Rev Pilley had three children. He was buried in Sibu at the Methodist Cemetery, Sg.Merah. Mrs. Pilley died at the age of 95 in America.
Rev. and Mrs. Pilley had served in Fuzhou for around 40 years and for 11 years in Sibu. They contributed greatly to the Foochow community and their lives were closely bonded to the Foochow community. While teaching at the Foochow Anglo-Chinese School, they had an orphan student, Eugene Teng who later graduated from the Fujian Christian University. During the 2nd World War, Eugene worked as a translator for the American government in Burma, later he taught at the Foochow Anglo-Chinese School. After that he went to America to further his theological education. Because of the Communist government in China, he came to Sibu instead. From 1974 till 1980, he was selected as the President of the Sarawak Methodist Annual Conference.
After Rev. Pilley passed away, the community in Sibu set up an organising committee, Pilley’s Foundation, with Lau Hieng Ing and Ding Lik Kiew as Chairman and Deputy Chairman, to plan for the building of a school to commemorate this American education missionary. In November 1965, the Sarawak Annual Conference passed the resolution permitting the committee to set up a Chinese Private school and elected Directors for the school board.
On 23 January 1967, the school borrowed the Methodist Secondary School’s classrooms to begin classes. Due to government policy changes, it was later registered as an English private school but taught Chinese language courses as well. In 1969, the school building was completed. In 1990, owing to the government implemented new education system, the private school had to close due to the lack of students. The Board of Directors decided to upgrade the school to the Methodist Pilley Institute, an institute for higher education, providing Computer Science, Accounting and Business Administration courses.
Compiled by Menglei
Rev. & Mrs. Pilley Translated by Christina & KT Chew