A pictorial exploration. Kapit on the Rejang River
It is not a question I ask lightly: " Are you happy and fulfilled here?" The answer comes at once and without hesitation: "Yes, I am!" Mathews Olili mhm from Kenya is one of a 'new breed' of Mill Hill missionaries working in Sarawak, Malaysia. He was the first African Mill Hill missionary to come to this region when he arrived four years ago. Several others from a variety of African and Asian countries have followed him since then.
I feel privileged to be able to visit him and get a closer look at Mill Hill Society's missionary involvement in East Malaysia. Mathews certainly has taken to his new social and church environment like a duck to water. Fluent in the local Iban language and well on the way to reach the same level of proficiency in Chinese he relates to all sections of the local church community in this upriver town of Kapit with consummate ease. (The inhabitants of Kapit affectionately refer to their town as 'Ulu Kapit' or U.K.). At the impressive parish church strategically situated on a small hill overlooking the town Sunday Masses are in English, Iban and Chinese.
"Meet the people where they are and accompany them to where the Gospel calls them", is a well known missionary dictum.
My impression of Catholic Church communities in Malaysia after only a short acquaintance is one of vibrancy and healthy self- affirmation. Where else would you find T-shirts proudly proclaiming: " I am Catholic"? There is a strong awareness of being a Christian minority in a predominantly Muslim country, even though the proportion of Christians in East Malaysia (the federal states of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo) is much higher than on the mainland.
So what are the missionary challenges in this prosperous, largely Muslim country with its solid Christian minority?
Mathews is unequivocal in his assessment of the missionary challenges ahead. " I think we have an important contribution to make to the Church in Malaysia first of all in the area of empowerment of the laity. Quite in general you could say that our Church is too much priest-dependent and priest- centred. I think the way forward in this parish is to foster the building of Small Christian Communities with vibrant leaders and a missionary outlook. The SCCs in Bintulu (diocese of Miri) are a shining example to us here and I intend tap their experience and expertise to energize our communities here.
Our Christians still need to grow in the awareness of their missionary calling in the spirit of Pope Francis' inspiring encyclical ' The Joy of the Gospel'. We need to reach out more to the non-Christian inhabitants of the longhouses all along the river and elsewhere. The community spirit which comes to people here almost naturally because of their communal style of living is a tremendous asset."
Fons Eppink mhm