Mill Hill Missionaries in Sarawak, Malaysia (3)

Mill Hill Missionaries in Sarawak, Malaysia (3)

A photographic exploration: Bintangor

Philip Odhiambo Obaso mhm

Philip Odhiambo Obaso mhm (Kenya) serves in the parish of Bintangor. During a recent visit I asked him his view of current pastoral and missionary priorities in this parish and in the diocese of Sibu as a whole.

A summary of our conversation:

Educating the people in their faith and helping them to deepen it is a priority. This also involves empowering the laity. Philip and a number of volunteers (mostly pensioners, teachers; there are no paid catechists in the parish) regularly visit longhouses to give talks on the sacraments, the commandments – stressing the commandment of love.
Bringing the diverse communities, Iban and Chinese, closer together. Their cultures are vastly different and prejudices are rife, but closer cooperation and integration are on the agenda.
Youth ministry. This is proving particularly challenging as young people often move away from the parish for secondary studies/ university. Finding suitable leaders is another difficult task. Philip is trying to get the older youth to initiate the younger ones during the holidays.
Missionary outreach. There are still a number of longhouses which remain attached to the traditional belief system. But their is an openness and interest in Christianity. Inviting them to come closer to the gospel is an ongoing missionary challenge.
Inculturation. Christian faith and traditional beliefs and practices go hand in hand particularly in times of crisis, or on the occasion of significant events such as laying the foundation of a house. People will ask for a blessing but will also sacrifice a pig or fowl. How to accept what is not in opposition to the gospel and rule out what is clearly in contradiction?

Pastoral visit to longhouse.

We went to a longhouse in an area called Skim B for an evening Eucharist. When we arrived there I heard the sound of the traditional gong band playing and was not a little surprised when Philip whispered that that I was going to get the official Iban welcome given to an important guest. And sure enough there were two girls in splendid traditional dress waiting at the doorway. When I entered an older lady poured a glass of rice wine which I was supposed to drink in one go (they call this 'Ai baso kaki' – water for washing the feet) and then, after Philip had also been welcomed in this way, we both danced (in a manner of speaking in my case) the dance of the hornbill. After that we were lead in procession along the veranda to the place where the altar had been set up and Mass could begin.

After Mass there was the usual common meal. Then 'tuak' – rice wine; and conversation flowed.

Philip has developed a keen pastoral sense. These visits to longhouses are a choice opportunity to meet the people. In no time he got into a real pastoral dialogue with a group of men and some women about fidelity in marriage (can you have mistresses? Some of the women present chipped in: some of the men here do!) and, of course, traditional beliefs. "People often share very deeply on these occasions. You really get an understanding of their thinking, much more than when you meet someone at the church or in the street", he told me.

(Notes from my diary. Fons Eppink mhm)

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