Welcome to the Jungle

Head hunters, jungle treks and “Selamat Datang” – Senior Resident Houseparent at St Peters Lutheran College, Indooroopilly, Quuensland, Michael Hauser, discovered the Malaysian province of Sabah can be an open-armed wilderness in need of the basic supplies of life which we take for granted. Along with Dominic Rainsford, a teacher from Crossways Lutheran School Ceduna, Michael worked as a volunteer for the LCA on a fact-finding visit to prepare a report for the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia (BCCM), for their “Water Project” in the jungles of Borneo.

With some embarrassment, I must confess I’m not entirely certain whether I have read an issue of Border Crossings. There are also a number of other reasons why it is strange that I find myself now writing an article for its pages.

Travelling the world has never been high on my priority list. I’m a sit-at-the- beach-and-go-fishing kinda guy, not the touristy-take-photos type. However, during the past year, I have had the opportunity to go overseas twice – to Papua New Guinea on the Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) Teacher Study tour in June/July; and, more recently, to Sabah, Malaysia (The Land Below the Wind). Isn’t it funny where the Lord blows you?

I guess the reasons for my taking these opportunities have been quite simple. Behind the travelling lies a purpose, a Christian mission, a desire to help others in need. This purpose was enough for me to immediately say “yes” to a request made by my travelling companion, Dominic (Dom, a teacher from South Australia) to go along as support to help out with the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia’s (BCCM) water project. I had no idea about Malaysia, let alone Sabah, a province on the island of Borneo.

I had still fewer idea’s about the local indigenous population and their culture. The learning curve proved to be as steep as the slopes of Mt Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in South East Asia.

My first impressions of Sabah can be summed up in two Malay words. “Selamat Datang” (welcome) seems to be the catch phrase of the land. Those two words stand out on nearly every entrance and sign post in Sabah. The local people are extremely friendly and accommodating and bend over backwards to make sure you are comfortable and your needs are met.

For a few days, Kota Kinabalu (KK) was our base, before we headed into the wilds of the ‘interior’, as the locals called it. Dom and I visited remote villages in the interior, set along winding, fast flowing rivers which looked like hot chocolate being poured through high, sloping, dense jungle valleys. We were told the river systems had been like that for a 100 years, since logging of the jungle began.

More recently, land clearing for palm oil production has become another visible factor behind the muddy river system. With the massive amounts of water which fall in a tropical-monsoon climate, together with Sabah’s soft clay soil, it doesn’t take long for erosion to take place in a big way. Landslides are a common sight when taking a boat trip along the windy, sometimes treacherous rivers. Added to this erosion is the pollution from the ever-increasing populations of the villages set along the rivers.

Villages have simple toilet structures whose waste run off eventually flows into the river. Combined, all of these elements mean the river is not a viable source of quality water without the expensive filtration systems which remain out of reach for a still developing country. Quality water, is currently obtained from common streams/waterfalls, which run into the rivers via a simple poly pipe system commonly used in agricultural irrigation. The water is piped directly to village housing, providing the people with drinkable/potable water. However, a number of issues affect this water supply often making it unreliable and unusable.

It was fantastic to visit these indigenous communities and experience their culture firsthand. Personally, this was perhaps the most rewarding thing for me, having had experience with Australia’s own indigenous peoples, and being able to relate issues to what happens back at home. We met many villagers and, despite not being able to communicate properly, it was surprising the things we could deduce. It was interesting to learn that the Murut tribe were head hunters but, even more interesting, was the Gospel’s role in the renouncing of their ‘animalistic ways’ (as one villager put it).

During our Sabah stay, we slept on some pretty hard floors, ate some meals which you would rather not think about, and travelled on some hairy roads and rivers. We hacked our way up slippery jungle trails to beautiful waterfalls, went fishing with bamboo rods – and actually caught something – and then relaxed and took in the slow pace of village life. It was quite a trip and I couldn’t help but feel blessed in all of our experiences, even with a mild case of food poisoning!

We were asked to share and speak at fellowship services on several occasions and, just before the first, I came across Psalm 133 which basically sums up our entire experience in Sabah. When we come together as brothers in Christ, working together, God blesses us. I wonder where the Lord might blow me in the next 12 months? I don’t know exactly, but I do know he will ask me, and continue to give me opportunities, to step outside of myself and help others. I also know that when I am obedient, even if it calls for self sacrifices (like not being able to hang at the beach and go fishing), the Lord will pour out his blessings. That is something to look forward to.

This story was also published in the April 2009 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/