Lessons from Longsuffering

The year was 1950 and Communist guerrillas were causing havoc in Malaya, then a British Colony. To break the supply lines of the insurgents, General Sir Harold Briggs decreed the creation of ‘New Villages’ which rehoused the Chinese into communities with barbed wire, strict curfews, and guarded entry and exit gates. When Sir Gerald Templar became the British High Commissioner of Malaya in January 1952, he invited the CIM/OMF ‘to send personnel to live in the New Villages and proclaim the life-changing gospel of Christ.’ Though the General’s motives were probably largely political, God used these circumstances to open the door for evangelism.

And so CIM/OMF missionaries arrived in Malaya. Some lived in the New Villages, taking every opportunity to teach God’s Word and model Christ to the people. A few of the missionaries taught in schools in smaller towns, using lunch breaks to tell gospel stories and school holidays to run Bible School meetings and evangelistic events. Others in the New Villages helped improve literacy through Bible classes. Missionaries who were placed in central towns were responsible for visiting nearby New Villages. They also helped with Sunday Schools and Bible classes in the local churches.

The first ten years of ministry were very tough with meagre fruit. Suspicion of foreigners was common during this time of socio-political instability, especially from the adults. The young people, however were more interested and friendly.

In later years, OMF workers started to reach out to those educated in English. Missionaries held monthly conferences to provide fellowship and teaching to English-speaking young people. Working in partnership with several churches and Christian groups, missionaries spoke at youth gatherings, were actively involved in Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade activities at an Anglican school in Kuala Lumpur, served in churches as pastors and teachers, and promoted the reading of Christian literature. They started Evangel (Christian) bookshop, a Bible correspondence course ‘Upward Path’ (that was later handed over to Scripture Union) and also the Rawang Christian Centre.

The quiet labour of the missionaries after many years resulted in many young people receiving Jesus. They were touched by the missionaries’ serving ministry, open home, listening ear, dependence on God and obedience to God.

Not only did the missionaries lead the people to Christ, they trained and discipled emerging leaders, taught them how to evangelise, encouraged them to read Christian literature, taught God’s Word enthusiastically and modelled a prayerful life. They also challenged the young people to give their lives to God’s ministry.

Malaysia achieved independence in 1957, and in 1966  a ‘10 year rule’ was announced: foreign missionaries could stay a maximum of 10 years and must work themselves out of the job by training a local person. By 1967, the Malaysian government refused to issue any more new missionary visas. Several of the young people who had been discipled by missionaries responded to the call for full-time Christian work, so the Malaysian church continued to grow despite this rule.

The University of Malaya was located in Singapore until the early 1960s. There was a vibrant group of students at the University Christian Fellowship who invited OMF missionaries to speak at their meetings. One Malaysian dental student, David Gunaratnam, was converted in his second year and attended the prayer meetings at the OMF headquarters. Sitting at the feet of Bible expositors like Oswald Sanders and Arnold Lea, his faith deepened. Paul Contento, a gifted evangelist, helped him to bring other students to faith, modelling how evangelism might be done. Michael Griffiths inspired him to give his life totally to God. Together with his fellow students at the university they felt called to use their professions and live out Christianity in the workplace, especially in locations where there were hardly any churches.

Many of the missionaries did not see the fruits of their labour. But the seed of the gospel that was sown bore fruit years later.

Dr David Gunaratnam went on to become a government dentist in a remote town in Johor and he faithfully worked, taught God’s Word and led people to Christ. Transfering to another small town, he continued to lead many people to faith and mentor them. When the OMF Malaysian Home Council was formed in 1978, he became its first Chairman, serving for 24 years.

Many young people from the New Village and small town churches migrated to the bigger towns for education or employment, becoming active members and leaders in churches. The influence of the OMF missionaries to reach out and make disciples was passed on to my husband and me as we were mentored by Dr David Gunaratnam. Today we serve as lecturers, also discipling dental students and graduates in Cambodia. Those ‘young people’ in the early days in Malaya are at present between 55–75 years old; they have built up the Malaysian church, reached out in missions and are now stepping back and encouraging the next generation.

Many of the missionaries did not see the fruits of their labour. But the seed of the gospel that was sown bore fruit years later. The locals who came to Christ continued to be witnesses of the gospel. Under the sovereign hand of God, the work of the missionaries, like a stone dropped into a pond, had created ripples that continue until today.