Terima kasih for the joy of teaching

The first Bahasa word I learned during my visit to Borneo was ‘awas’ meaning ‘watch out’. I saw it again and again on signs along the highway of the island’s north coast, warning of impending dangers. Sometimes, when there is an especially sharp turn, or rise or dip in the road, ‘awas’ is preceded with an exclamation mark! My name, Greg[ory], has the same meaning in Greek. In the story of Gethsemane where Jesus urges us to ‘watch and pray’, that similar meaning helped the students of Protestant Church Sabah – Luther Seminary to remember my name.

Our LCA International Mission team works with the church in Malaysia towards a deeper appreciation of Lutheran heritage. In 2017, impressed by the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the seminary in Sabah added ‘Luther Seminary’ to its name. This year, I was invited to do some teaching on Luther’s catechisms to the diploma class and spent a week as a guest of the seminary.

Tucked away in a side street of a community in northern Borneo, a three hour drive north of Kota Kinabalu (and 40km south of Kudat, which was the capital of Borneo in the late 19th century), the seminary resembles a village, including homes for staff, dormitories for single students and families and guest houses for visitors. The community is a three-hour drive north of Kota Kinabalu.

I was welcomed by Principal Sulihbai and his colleague, Josip. Josip’s wife, Quelen, was to be my translator during the week. On the first Sunday morning, the whole community was present (70-80 people, including 14 children) at the service, where the children participated by presenting an action song. The wonderful singing during worship was in the Rungus dialect. Later, in the afternoon, the community gathered again to take graduation photos at a new church on the highway. The church was built by the government for the Rungus people at a cost of 1.5million Malaysian ringgits. How people love taking photos and selfies, especially dressed up in their finest!

Classes began on Monday morning, concentrating on the catechisms and their Biblical basis. Each of the 15 students had a Bahasa Bible and a Small Catechism which provided a good basis for teaching. We devoted Monday to the Commandments – which my Australian Lutheran College colleague, Pastor Bob Kempe, describes as ‘guardians of God’s gifts’. On Tuesday we focussed on the creed, on Wednesday the Lord’s Prayer, while Thursday was divided between baptism and communion. Most of the students were single but one couple were accompanied by their newborn!

On Wednesday evening, Quelen asked how I felt about winding up classes the next day, so she and Josip could take me for an outing in Kudat on Friday. Josip had been pastor in Kudat for some years, so one happy memory from that day was how we could hardly walk a few steps without someone spotting him and coming over for a chat. It was a hot day but very pleasant thanks to the shaded streets and a breeze. The following day, a New Testament teacher, Fonnie and her husband, Franky, took me to the tip of Borneo which overlooks the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea.

Late on the last Saturday, I was invited to preach the next morning.  Bearing in mind the words of one of our Lutheran forefathers, ‘the Christian religion is, in a word, a religion of gratitude,’ I chose the Bahasa words for ‘thankyou’ (terima kasih) to reflect on God’s gifts to us as they are set out in the catechisms.

When Malaysians wish to express gratitude, they say terima kasih, meaning literally, ‘(I) accept (your) love!’ That was just how I felt too, for the privilege of this teaching experience. These people have been transformed by the gospel!

This story was also published in the April 2020 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 http://www.lcamission.org.au/category/join-gods-mission/volunteers/