Dalam Yesus Kita Bersaudara

What were our experiences in meeting young people and observing youth ministry in Sabah?

We were challenged to learn new skills and build on established ones. We spent time with both the youth and their coordinators, sharing, through our translators, the similarities and differences between youth programs in Sabah and those in Victoria (eg Christian Life Week [CLW], Kids Camp, etc).

It’s difficult to sum these up in such a small space; our general impressions, though, were that their youth programs are much more intensive and frequent. In one community we visited, a group of about thirty to forty youth (aged maybe 13-17) would spend the better part of every Sunday together in fellowship, and CLW-style camps would be run in the greater district every few weeks. They told us that they were aiming for 1000 attendees at an up-and-coming mega youth camp!

Our fellowship activities, with the different youth groups, were varied. At times we led singing or performed for them (eg Bible stories, Australian folk songs) at evening gatherings, at other times (where there were words to read off) we did our best to join in sing-a-longs in Malay, we participated in Bible studies, and helped lead at youth camps/gatherings. Overall, we were really inspired by what we saw in the youth communities and how they were coordinated. Apart from the impressive scale on which youth ministry is run in Sabah, the youth themselves have a vibrant faith. It was a real blessing to spend time with them.

Wherever we went in Sabah, the locals always welcomed us as special guests and were generous in their hospitality towards us. At a community meal we’d always be asked to serve ourselves first, before the locals. In churches, whether it was for a Sunday service or a mid-week fellowship night, we were always asked to sit together in one of the front pews, even if it was the custom for men and women to sit on separate sides of the aisle.  Upon arriving at someone’s house, we were usually served hot, sweet coffee and/or Milo, often with small packets of plain sweet biscuits.

At one longhouse we visited, women representing seven families each brought out a tray with a jug of coffee or Milo, two cups and a bowl of biscuits. Graciously accepting such a welcome meant – as our guides explained – drinking and eating as much as we could, making sure we kept the consumption fairly even between each tray so as not to offend any families. Since there were five of us Aussies, plus our two guides, we had the equivalent of a jug and bowl each to try to finish! This one example is indicative of the wonderful hospitality we received.

Wherever we went there would be worship in some capacity, whether a Sunday service or an evening fellowship time with the locals. For the most part, the elements were familiar: songs sung together, prayers, a sermon, and an offering. Music ministry is a huge focus of the BCCM, with young people assisted to learn musical instruments as a way of encouraging the next generation to play an active part in leading worship. Musicians ranged from a lone guitarist to a full band with multiple vocalists.

A sermon, based on a Bible text, could always be counted on, but sermons never seemed so long to us as they did when in Malaysian! Prayers in worship were a highlight; a worship leader would lead prayer, and people would begin saying their own prayers aloud all at once, until the church was full of the sound of people praying, including our own voices added to the mix! We had anticipated that worship would be different in some ways, and that we probably wouldn’t understand most of it as it would be in Bahasa Malaysia. However, we hadn’t realised the full implications of this for us. Essentially, we had three weeks of regular and frequent worship without being able to understand any of it, except for a few times when parts of the worship were translated for us.

We didn’t know what we were singing; we (usually) didn’t know what Bible passage was being preached on; we prayed alongside others without knowing what they were praying. Also, some elements of the Lutheran liturgy as we know them, were absent. The effect was that in spite of participating in worship so regularly, and even having our own daily team devotions and prayers, we felt as though we missed church!

However, worship was also a time to see the depth of faith of those around us, the warmth of the communities we visited, and the passion for Christ and for ministry that our guides had.

A major practical challenge was the Malay-English language barrier, although, as we soon found out, there was plenty we could share and come to know about each other in spite of this. We did learn some basic Malay, and many of the locals could speak some English, some even spoke it very well, but in most cases our multi-lingual guides (different Sabahan tribes usually speak different dialects) – Pastor Francis and/or Pastor Jonius and/or (youth worker) Tony – did a great job translating for our group as required.

One of the ways we were able to overcome the language barrier was through the presentation of dramas and Australian songs with actions, during ‘cultural nights’ and church services. Through these presentations and other fellowship activities, we really felt God working through us in a way that we didn’t expect and, indeed, find diffi cult to articulate. In fact, the range of activities we participated in without the need for a great level of verbal communication was surprising. Whether we were playing games with the children in the villages, or showing photos of our family, friends and country from photo albums and books about Australia, or giving the aforementioned presentations, or sharing in/receiving these from our hosts, there was a deep sense of fellowship, joy and identification between us.

The mission trip on the whole, then, was an incredibly rewarding one. We intend this to be but the beginning of an ongoing relationship between the tertiary youth of Victoria and the Basel Christian Church Malaysia. We will be encouraging and will ultimately assist a group/s from our own community in the preparation for possible visits in the future, so that this relationship will continue to grow. Through the generous support of people from around Australia, and particularly from the Victorian community, we were assisted in covering a part of our own financial costs, and have been able to donate a substantial amount of money to contribute towards a building project for an interior (jungle) neighborhood that we visited, and a van to assist specifically in youth ministry. We feel that this relationship has been, and will continue to be, a blessing for both of our communities. Reaching out and sharing Christ’s love with his universal family is something that every congregation has the capacity to do in one way or another. The lyrics of the greeting (hand-shaking) song we came to learn well – being sung by nearly every congregation we communed with in Sabah – rings true: ‘Dalam Yesus kita bersaudara’ (In Jesus Christ we are all family), and indeed, it is a call to action.

This story was also published in the October 2008 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

If you would like to consider the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in mission, serving in practical ways, teaching English, teaching in the seminaries and institutions of our partner churches, or in local churches, you are invited to phone Nevin on (08) 8267 7300 or email nevin.nitschke@lca.org.au. For more information, go to http://www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/volunteer/

Read more stories about volunteering at www.lcamission.org.au/category/join-gods-mission/volunteers/