Kuching Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church

Chai Nyuk Fah (蔡玉花)

Basic Demographic Information

Official Name: ??? Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church

Church Administrative Unit: ???

Date Officially Formed: ???

Founding Minister: ???

Church Website: ???

Current Address: ???

Date on which Current Sanctuary was Established: ???

Current Membership: ???

Kuching (古晉), with a population of 150,000 in 1983, is the capital of the State of Sarawak (砂拉越) in the Federation of Malaysia. The Chinese make up the majority of the population. The city is located along the Sarawak River. In the early 20th century, there were many Chinese migrants planting pepper, sago, cocoa, and coffee. [The following history first appeared, in a short version, in the dedication program of the Kuching Church in 1978, and then supplemented by Chai Nyuk Fah (蔡玉花) for publication in the June 1983 issue of The Last Day Shepherd’s Call (末世牧聲). In 2010 Wu Chook Ying (吳竹影) added four more pages of information.]

In 1914 Joseph Phang Soon Siew (彭順修), an Adventist colporteur, went to Sarawak to sell Chinese literature. Interest was aroused in Kuching. Soon a letter, written in Chinese and signed by quite a number of Christians, mostly members of SPG (the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel [福音宣傳會]), was sent to the Adventist headquarters in Singapore, asking for a minister to come and teach them more the Advent message. R. A. Montgomery (蒙哥美利), director of the British North Borneo Mission, carried with him a good supply of literature in Chinese and English and sailed from Singapore for Kuching on April 12, 1915. Arriving at his destination two days later, he was refused entry to Sarawak by police officers at the wharf, and was ordered to leave Kuching by the same steamer, which was to sail from Kuching four days later. In those days Sarawak was under the rule of White (British) Rajah [a Malay word which means ruler], and did not have religious liberty. The only denominations allowed to do missionary work were the Catholics and the SPG.

On July 15, 1915, Amy Chan Teck Sung (曾德雙), a Bible worker of the Singapore Mission, married Tan Soo Meng (陳樹明), a dentist, who was looking for a place to start his dental practice. Upon the advice of F. A. Detamore (戴德慕), the Malaysian Union president, the couple sailed for Kuching as self-supporting missionaries. On Sabbath days the clinic in India Street (吉寧街, now [印度街]) near the Court House became a place for worship. [Editor’s note: F. A. Detamore’s son F. W. Detamore (戴德模) was the well-known evangelist in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia in the 1950s. ]

In 1916 C. M. Lee (李創錨), the former pastor of the Singapore Chinese Church, who had resigned due to his throat problem, arrived in Kuching to set up a photograph business, Sarawak Studio (真明照相館), next to the Tan’s clinic. Mrs. Lee, nee Lily Chan Teck Soon (曾德順), was Mrs. Tan’s older sister. The Lees made a vow to be true to God, especially in keeping the Sabbath, no matter what might happen to them in their studio business. When Tan’s dental clinic became too small for Sabbath meetings, the more spacious studio became the meeting place.

On May 17, 1917, Sir Charles Brooke (查理布魯克), the second White Rajah of Sarawak, passed away. A week later, his son, Sir Vyner Brooke (溫納布魯克), more liberal than his father, was proclaimed the third (and last) Rajah. On July 22, 1918 the accession of the new Rajah was held. C. M. Lee, being a photographer, was granted a special privilege of coming very close to the installation platform for the purpose of taking pictures of the new Rajah, who proclaimed religious liberty for the first time in the history of Sarawak. C. M. Lee was perhaps the first and only man to realize its significance. At once he informed the Union headquarters to apply immediately for permission to start mission work in Sarawak. The application was soon granted. However, the Adventist Mission was permitted to work only in certain restricted areas, and the country was assigned to various denominations. After several futile attempts it was in December 1930 that W. W. R. Lake (列威廉), a British citizen and director of the Singapore Mission, during his one-hour interview, was able to obtain a verbal permission from the White Rajah for the Adventists to work in all the five divisions of Sarawak. [For his services to the Brunei sultanate, Sir James Brooke (詹姆斯布魯克), the first white rajah, Sir Charles Brooke’s uncle, was made the rajah of Sarawak by the sultan of Brunei in 1841.]

In 1919 Chan Thiam Hee (曾添喜), a successful ministerial worker for many years, and his wife, with their grand children, came to visit their three married daughters and their families in Kuching. Their two elder daughters, Lily Chan Teck Soon and Amy Chan Teck Sung and son-in-laws, C. M. Lee, and Tan Soo Meng, were then lay workers for the Adventist church. The arrival of Chan Thiam Hee was purely a personal visit. Because of failing health, he went to Sarawak to live with his children and he planned to retire there. He also had the care of his oldest son’s children after their father’s tragic premature death by drowning. [Chan Thiam Hee’s oldest son, Seng Teck (勝德), was once a worker in the Singapore Mission.] However, shortly after his arrival, Chan Thiam Hee, nearly sixty years old, began to work as a voluntary preacher. Soon he was employed as a mission worker and ordained in 1923 to become the second national ordained minister in the Southeast Asia. As a Hakka, he primarily preached to the Hakka migrants. In particular, he reached out to the farmers in a Hakka settlement, called Heng On (興安), four miles from the mouth of Sarawak River. [In Kuching the third married daughter of Chan Thiam Hee was Maggie Chan Yu Teck (曾又得), whose husband was Tan Eng Giok (陳永玉).]

“When I was a young girl,”an elderly member of Kuching church recalled, “I saw with my own eyes Pastor Chan cleaning the farmers’wounds. He did not mind getting his hands dirty. His three daughters were active members too. They taught illiterate women to read and sing hymns. They sincerely entertained those inquirers who came to worship in their home. Because of their love and enthusiasm, Chan and his daughters deeply moved many farmers, who threw away their old idols and worshipped God the Creator.”

In the early days, the Sabbath services were held in the second floor of a rented shop-house in Gartak Street (牙達街) near the riverside market, (where Sunday Market was being held in 1978 when the article was first written). There was then no public bus or taxi. Those worshippers who lived in Heng On settlement had to walk as far as 4 miles to the market place. After the services they walked another four miles to go home. Their enthusiasm truly makes our generation ashamed today.

About 1920 a church school was opened at the Gartak Street chapel. In July 1921 F. A. Detamore paid a visit to Kuching. During the trip Detamore baptized 29 believers and organized the first church in Sarawak with 39 charter members. G. J. Appel (愛培爾), the interim director of the Singapore Mission, of which Sarawak was a part, was chosen elder of the Kuching Church. Chan Thiam Hee was ordained deacon, and Mrs. C. M. Lee, deaconess. [G. J. Appel came from China in June 1921 to be in charge of the Singapore Mission after J. W. Rowland (羅蘭) left for America in May for furlough.]

In his report of the visit, Detamore added, “By the blessing of God, the government has granted us a piece of land for a burying ground. This came in time for two aged sisters, recently came into the church, to be buried in our own cemetery, one dying three days after the grant was made. This has strengthened the faith of many, for they had been told by enemies of our cause that they could not be buried in any other Christian ground. One brother replied that he would remain in the truth even if he had to be buried in the heathen cemetery. We now have hopes of getting a piece of land in a good location for a church and school. Thus the Lord is opening the way before us, where doors were closed only a short time ago. To Him be all praised.” (Asiatic Division Outlook, September 15, 1921, pp. 5, 6; Review and Herald, December 8, 1921, pp. 10, 11.)

In a letter to F. A. Detamore dated September 23, 1921, Chan Thiam Hee wrote, “Regarding the newly-baptized folks I am very glad to inform you that they are truly the chosen people of the Lord. Since their baptism they have been more firm in the truth and in the Lord. Some have been tempted in various ways and have come out victorious. Amid trials they appear to be much stronger. They go visiting each other when one is in trouble, and whenever there is an important work to do they all come and take part. Many people wonder and cannot understand why these brothers so loved each other as they never did before. Truly this is a good testimony, is it not?

“Concerning our church school, after careful consideration and consultation among the brethren here, we have started a temporary one in the third mile, so as to prevent our children from going to other schools. Two shop houses were leased about two months ago at a rental of $2.00 per month. All repairs are to be borne by us. For two weeks our brethren did all they could in repairing and making furniture for the school. The total expense up to date is only about $50.00. The enrollment is 21, which we hope will be double by next year.

“There are four persons awaiting baptism and it is hoped that Elder Appel will come and visit us in the near future.” (Asiatic Division Outlook, December 1 & 15, 1921, p. 5.)

In May 1922 C. M. Lee advanced $850.00 to secure for the Singapore Mission two plots of land at Third Mile Rock Road (大石路) in Kuching. On a visit to Sarawak in early 1923, G. J. Appel baptized nine believers, and that increased the membership of the Kuching church to 48. Of the members, he reported, “Most of these people live on small rubber estates about three to five miles from town. They depend largely on the rubber industry for a livelihood, and since the rubber slump, are finding it very difficult to earn enough money to purchase food. They are very faithful in attending Sabbath services. When they do not have sufficient means to pay railway fare, they walk all the way to the church, and the women carry the babies on their backs. Land has been purchased for a chapel and school at Third Mile station. We hope soon to be able to erect the building. These dear people are anxiously looking forward to the time when they will have a building that they can call their own.” (Review and Herald, May 3, 1923, p. 19.)

On December 15, 1922, C. M. Lee reported from Miri (美里), Sarawak, “The Week of Prayer readings reached us just in time. Meetings have been held in my new building, which is not yet finished. But our people seemed to enjoy having a place to worship just as much as if it were fully finished, because formerly they have been meeting in the corner of a shop where there was all sorts of noise. I have been here about three months, conducting my regular business and also building the two houses that I gave been planning to build for over a year…. it is hoped that all the work can be completed within another month’s time.” (Asiatic Division Outlook, March 1, 1923, p. 6.)

Up to late 1920s and early 1930s, the old Singapore Mission comprised not only Singapore, but also Johore, Malacca, Sarawak, and Pontianak (坤甸), on the west coast of Dutch Borneo (now Kalimantan [加里曼丹]). Way back in early 1910s Adventist literature reached there before living preachers. In a report for the biennial period of 1919 and 1920, J. W. Rowland (羅蘭), director of the Singapore Mission, said, “In Sarawak, where Brother Chan had been laboring for the past year [in Kuching], there is a good interest. About twenty families (Chinese), numbering one hundred in all, are in the truth of this message. Twelve of these families are direct from heathenism. All belong to the farming class.

“Twenty miles further along coast is a Dayak village. These people, the land Dayaks, are kind-hearted and peaceful, in complete contrast to the fierce and warlike sea Dyaks. They are heathen, and have very little form of worship. We should establish work among these people so as to get a foothold for a large work in the central part of that great island. Recently I made a visit to this village. One of the leading men invited me to his home. A number who could speak the Malay tongue entered, and I gave a Bible study on the second coming of Christ. In establishing our work in this place it would be necessary to open a school and teach these people to read. They already have a Bible in their language, but we must take to them the special truths of this last message of mercy and warning.

“In Pontiank the work is prospered. Here also is a large door open to the Dyaks. At the time of my last visit the Dutch authorities assured me that we were free to go and teach these people, and added that if we did not do this work, others would.” (Asiatic Division Outlook, May 1 & 15, 1921, p. 15.)

Before he left Singapore for his furlough in 1921, J. W. Rowland reported, “In the small town of Pontianak, in the territory governed by the Dutch in Borneo, there lived a Hakka brother and his family. He was very anxious that the truth should be preached in Pontianak, so he wrote to the man in charge of our training school in Singapore, requesting that some one be sent to teach the third angle’s message there. In response, Brother Tsen Shau Tse (曾紹嗣) was sent there for three months, and as a result four women, —– a doctor and three teachers of a Chinese girls’ school —– became interested in the truth, and began to keep the Sabbath. The school with which these inquirers was connected, was conducted in a heathen temple six days a week, including the Sabbath; but as soon as these teachers learned the truth about the Sabbath, they closed on Sabbath and opened on Sunday. These four have all continued faithful in serving God. Two of them are still teaching in the school. The third teacher is in the training school in Singapore. The doctor is at Foo Cha, helping care for the sick of that place.

“We send a picture of the company of believers at Pontianak, including new members added as a result of the work of other laborers. This little company has been almost a year without a worker, but recently has been made glad by the coming of Brother Lo Kee Kwong (羅奇光). Brother Lo is planning to hold some meetings, and we hope and pray that a number more will be added.” (Asiatic Division Outlook, August 15, 1921, p. 9.)

In 1922, G. J. Appel reported, “God has greatly blessed the work in the Singapore Mission during the past year. Forty-three new members were taken into the Church by baptism. I have just returned from making two trips to North and West Borneo, In Kuching especially the Lord has been working by His Holy Spirit. Although having had only one native [Chinese] worker, and that for only two years, there are about one hundred Sabbath-keepers, with a church membership of thirty-nine. It was a real inspiration to visit these people in their homes. They are living witnesses to what the truth can do when the heathen life is surrendered to God.

“When our mission first started work in Kuching, the other missions told the people that if they joined our faith they could not bury their dead in their graveyards, neither would they permit their children to attend their schools. This would mean that they must bury their dead in a heathen graveyard, and the children would be deprived of an education, because there were no other schools except those operated by the different missions. However, God has a care for His children, and shortly we received a grant from the government for land for a burial-place. Sarawak as far as I know, is the first place in Malaysia to have a strictly Seventh-day Adventist cemetery. I am just in receipt of another letter from Brother Chan Thiam Hee, in which he says: ‘I hope you can arrange to come to Kuching again before long, as a number are calling for baptism.’

“Our work in Pontianak, though not making the progress that is in Kuching, is showing some results. A number of very substantial people are studying the truth. As a result of literature sold in the interior of Pontianak, a number of requests have come in for help in various lines. In one place there are two new houses completed which will be given to us to use free of charge if we can send a man to open a school and to teach the people the message. Our greatest need is more trained native [national] workers, and a deeper experience in the things of God for those who are already here.” Besides Pontianak, the remainder of the vast territory of the Dutch Borneo was still un-entered. (Asiatic Division Outlook, March 1 & 15, 1922, p. 2; September 1, 1923, p. 4.)

Around 1925 the Kuching church building and a worker’s home were completed. In 1926 the Sunny Hill School (真光學校) was constructed on the land adjacent to the church. And ever since, the school had been closely associated with the church that mothered it.

Though work had been done among the Chinese around Kuching, the Advent message is not to confine to one locality or to one race, as mentioned in J. W. Rowland’s report. However, work among the indigenous people was slow. It was in 1930 that the first Dayak by the name of U. R. Manju, a young man who had been a student in the Kuching church school for some time, accepted the Adventist faith.

In April 1938, Joshua Chong (張永和) with his newly wedded wife, Eunice Cho Tshin Chin (卓靜貞), a nurse, arrived in Kuching as missionaries from China. Joshua was to be pastor of the Kuching Church and a teacher of Sunny Hill School. After the Japanese occupied Sarawak in December 1941, the school was closed and the church was occupied by the Japanese soldiers. Joshua then conducted church services at different homes. In January 1946 Joshua became the acting principal of the school until he received a call from the Malay States Mission as pastor of the Kuala Lumpur Chinese church and a teacher in Teh Sin School (德新学校) in 1947. Later Joshua Chong served as principal of Teh Sin School till December 1948, for he was sent for upgrading in Philippine Union College.

Fifty years after the Kuching church was erected, the church committee decided to put down the old building and build a new one in order to accommodate more church members and expand the ministry. The new church building was dedicated on April 1, 1978.

Before World War Two the Kuching church was a Hakka-speaking congregation. The ministers and members were Hakka. But as the Hakka-speaking church members declined, the church gradually developed into an English-speaking congregation. (Most English-speaking church members were the 2nd-generation Hakka migrants, who were English-educated. There were also many English-educated indigenous people attending the church.) As a result, what started as a purely Chinese congregation is having more Dayak members attending the church services.

To overcome the linguistic barrier, the Sarawak Mission committee appointed Chai Nyuk Fah (蔡玉花), besides her other duties, pastor of the Kuching Chinese Church. Since 1980, the Hakka-speaking believers and the English-speaking congregation shared the same church facilities, but met separately. Financially they were considered as one entity. Later, the Chinese believers in Kuching formed a separate congregation by itself. There were over 50 members and they were very enthusiastic about the Chinese ministry. Concluded Chai Nyuk Fah, “Let’s pray for God’s guidance. Let us win more converts to glorify His name!”

Based on the information gathered, the following is a list of pastors who served the Kuching Chinese church up to 1979.

Chan Thiam Hee (曾添喜) 1919-1925

Tsen Shau Tse (曾紹嗣) 1926-1931

Chong Fa Min (張化明) 1932-1935

Chong Yun Foh (張永和) 1938-1947

Chu Yun Fatt (朱運發) 1948-1956

Leung Hing Sun (梁慶燊) 1958-1959

Jerry Chang Chong Wai (張仲偉) 1960-1966

D. F. Aldridge 1967-1968

Jonathan Ng Tiat Kuan (黃哲寬) 1970-1973

Sim Chor Kiat (沈佐傑) 1974-1975

Mah Chee Ping (馬志平) 1976-1977

Liang Ah Onn (梁雅安) 1978-1979

[Chai Nyuk Fah is now (2013) a member of the Vancouver Chinese Church.]