Saturday, April 11, 2009

STOMP 2008

Students Together on Mission Partnership, June 2008.

Organised by the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) Malaysia in collaboration with the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) church, Kuching/Pantu.


STOMP was about courage; it was about overcoming our fears; it was about knowing and trusting the God of the mission. This picture, taken on the last night, says something about that. Luke (pictured here) was once afraid of the dark, but that changed when he came to know Jesus.

"Jangan seorang pun menganggap engkau rendah kerana engkau muda. Jadilah teladan bagi orang-orang percaya, dalam perkataanmu, dalam tingkah lakumu, dalam kasihmu, dalam kesetiaanmu dan dalam kesucianmu." ~ 1 Timotius 4:12

I’m not referring to my journal as I prepare this report. How STOMP was during STOMP, I’ve written in daily entries and on scraps of paper here and there. But one month down the road, what does STOMP still mean to me?

When everything fleeting fades away, what remains?

In the following pages, I hope somehow to convey a little of the spirit of STOMP and a lot of the enduring impressions it has left on me. I have employed in this short volume the device of 'stations' or 'pictures at an exhibition'; always pairs of a photograph and a reflection.

One: Preparations

Of the 15 days of STOMP, we spent six in training for the mission. As we went into the mission, I realised just how valuable the training was. We had time to get to know one another through discussions, games, group activities and certainly during our 'time out' sessions.

In Kuching, we underwent our training in the premises of Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Central Avenue. The boys were lodged there, while the girls stayed across the road at the new Antioch Church, which also occupies lots on the second floor.

The guy leaning on the car is Joshua Juan, son of Pastor George Pandong who was the pastor for Team A. He is an officer at the Wildlife Conservation Society and taught us basic Iban. It was really thrilling to meet a fellow ecologist and I look forward to perhaps collaborating with him someday.

Two: Stopover in Pekan Pantu

On 20 June, we left Kuching for Pantu. Upon our arrival, we had lunch and our final briefing at the SIB church in Pekan Pantu (Pastor Engan’s church). And then most of the boys napped.

It was really like a cowboy town, with practically only one street and a short one at that. There was a playground at the end of the row of shophouses, and most of us had a go at reliving our childhood and savouring our last few moments in a so-called developed environment.

Three: We Are Embarked

Eventually we left, amidst fears that the water level wouldn't be high enough at some parts of the journey and that we’d have to get out of the boat to push it in shallower waters. Christopher said they did it last year, but as it turned out, no such need arose this time around.

Ray (wearing a hat and holding an oar) and some members of his team (Team C) inadvertently left their luggage in the wrong boat, and so the running joke upon our arrival was that he might have to settle for the loincloth. Peter postulated that Ray was so busy trying to think of how to control the rowdier members of his team, that he forgot all about his luggage.

Four: Tuai Jonny

As it turned out, I rode in the boat steered by the village head of Kampung Ensiap, Tuai Jonny. It was an enjoyable hour or so chatting with him in the boat (as I was sitting closest to him), and I learnt that one of his children participated in National Service--he was wearing the NS cap. His oldest child, a son, is presently a pastor in Betong.

Five: Into Another World

I will never forget this; the photograph cannot begin to do justice to the experience of paddling the boat through the jungle as we neared the village. Having branched off from the main river (which is called the Batang Skrap), at some point the engine died. So with Tuai Jonny paddling at the rear and Bert working an oar in front, we kept moving. Donna, Luke and I had some fun wading with our slippers in the water, although I highly doubt it helped the boat move.

It was an awesome experience, entering a rather dense jungle (for what appears to be a secondary forest) by boat, without the sound of the engine to distract from the ambient noise. It was a journey undertaken in silence (save for the birds, insects and perhaps a stray mammal or two) for the most part--and it was quite relaxing!

Six: Devotion by Candlelight

Because there was no supply of electricity in all the villages we visited throughout STOMP, and because the generators were only turned on at night, we did our morning devotion by candlelight.

I bring this experience back with me in a very strong way. Waking up early every morning was no problem for me; in fact, most of the time I was the first to rise (at least among the boys--I don’t know about the girls). The experience of stepping out into the cold morning long before sunrise reminded me of how Jesus himself used to rise really early to pray (Mark 1:35), and I realised at STOMP that it was a practice I would do well to keep back in university.

Seven: Build

One of the most memorable experiences at Ensiap was the gotong-royong on our second day there. We dug a drain around the church (which was built by South Korean missionaries), extended the roof on one side of the church and started work on a toilet near the church. The villagers turned up en masse with their hats, spades and hoes; there was even a chainsaw used for cutting logs lengthwise.

Luke and I had a bit of fun trying to pick coconuts from some of the trees near the river; it was difficult, even for the two of us, supporting the galah (picking stick—-something like that) which was rather heavy.

Eight: River Bath

Bathing in the river was equally unforgettable. From left: Kenneth, Jimmy (our group leader), Bert, Luke, Ben and Vinod. There was a little jetty extending into the river, and it was quite pleasant just relaxing in the area after working hard.

In the background there are some rattan fish cages (called bubu in Malay and Iban). I was nicknamed bubu kutok (a two-metre long fish cage) by Nenek Suri (one of the grandmothers) at Ensiap--almost all of us were given Iban names based on herbs and elements of village life.

However, there was also a dark side to the river: the sandflies. Known locally as the kerengit, they are about the size of a full-stop but deliver a sharp bite which causes the bitten area to swell. The itch is worse than the worst mosquito bite, and the swelling lasts much longer too. My array of bites were the subject of a many a subsequent conversation, and even the locals were shocked.

Nine: Kalong's View

Cameras are like windows; they let you see others and they let others see you. This was taken by an elderly man called Kalong shortly before Sunday Service started. He collected the offering that day, and lives with his wife in the bilik (house) next to Tuai Jonny’s. Their children have all but severed relations with them and yet he continues serving. It was he who built, nearly single-handedly, the new steps leading from the longhouse to the church.

That’s Peter greeting the villagers present while Mensan, the Head of the Church Board looks on in the distance.

Ten: Sunday Service

So we conducted the service on Sunday, as we had done on the two preceding nights. Mensan said they do their best to practise the Sabbath, so no one goes to the fields on Sunday. All in all it was a joyful morning of singing, dancing (well, Luke was the one dancing most of the time!) and hearing the Word preached.

We also conducted Sunday School for some of the children.

Eleven: Prayer

After the service, we went from bilik to bilik, praying for the occupants of each. It was a stirring experience listening to the stories of the grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers and even the children. There is some subtle humour in this picture. See if you can spot it!

"Our hope is not in who governs us or what laws are passed, or what great things we do as a nation. Our hope is in the power of God working in people." – Charles Colson

The power of community and family is really strong among the Ibans; the irony is that although families often live in the same 'house' (the longhouse), yet they are rarely all together as the children are usually sent to study in boarding schools far from home and rarely see their families.

Twelve: The Line Never Ends

It is not uncommon to see never-ending lines in some restaurants and food courts. Somehow Malaysians love eating. But here, the extensive lines were made of people bringing food to the 'table'. And the Ibans place a high priority on making sure their guests are well fed--so well fed, in fact, that some members of our group noticed their clothes getting tighter as the mission progressed.

And it really is a lot, even if each bilik contributes only one plate of kuih. Nenek Suri in particular loved feeding us, and she seemed to take a particularly strong interest in Vinod, as Indians are scarce in Sarawak. (For some, Vinod was probably the first Indian they'd ever met!)

Thirteen: Celebration

On our last night in Ensiap, the villagers threw us a party, Iban style. They brought out the traditional gongs and drums, and we danced the night away. Sarah demonstrated incredible skill for a first-timer (she is the dancer in the foreground), and Luke had everyone in stitches with his 'kungfu ngajat' (ngajat is the traditional Iban dance). Needless to say, the Ibans among us (Jimmy, Bert and Kenneth) were very impressive.

Finally, because there was no water in the kitchen, we brought all the dishes out to the jetty and washed them by candlelight at midnight, before taking one of the coldest baths we'd had on the trip.

Fourteen: Ends of the Earth

Our second village was a far more modern experience compared to Ensiap--there were no longhouses and the village head was a former schoolteacher--but it was the experiences in Abok that challenged me more than anything else.

Upon our arrival, Tuai Usop took us on a tour to the neighbouring villages. Luke and I rode on the pickup truck throughout the entire journey. Here we are at an abandoned pepper farm; Tuai Usop is standing on the left of the picture.

But of all the places we visited, nothing left a stronger impression on me than the coal mine in Abok. It was also the only place I failed to photograph because I’d run out of film. Almost all the workers are contract labourers from Jiangxi, China, so we had to rely on Luke to initiate and sustain conversation on our behalf.

At the coal mine, these words came to mind: "The ends of the earth", and that is exactly how I felt; as if the darkness of the mines were the last frontier in evangelism--and especially since the workers were aliens in a foreign land.

Fifteen: Jaong

Between the pepper field and the coal mine, we had tea in a semi-completed brick longhouse in the village of Jaong, where the Seventh-Day Adventist church has an active ministry.

Sixteen: That We Grow Together

On his last night on earth, Jesus prayed that the believers may be one, and this is a prayer that has still gone unanswered in many parts of Sarawak. Tuai Usop especially has a burden for this. He is an Anglican, and in many parts Anglicans and the SIB church do not see eye to eye; he dreams of a community of Anglican and SIB believers worshipping in unity.

On our second day in Abok, we helped clean up the local Anglican church and plant trees in its yard. We did it as a fellowship of interdenominational believers, for indeed our team was comprised of members from all kinds of denominations, from a Roman Catholic and an Anglican to a Methodist and a Baptist.

Seventeen: Be Strong

Truly, strength was something we needed in carrying the 'logs' from the entrance of Tuai Usop's family's farm into the interior, after our work at the church. I think the logs were either for building huts or serving as the framework for plants to grow; or neither.

In any case, we carried them through fields of corn and pepper, and arrived finally at a large, mixed patch of all kinds of kitchen vegetables and fruits one can think of: from lemon grass and tapioca to pineapple and potato leaves.

Luke and I ate sugarcane on the back of the pickup truck. Tuai Usop's aunt, who rode with us, was kind enough to cut some of them for us.

Eighteen: Saving the Animals

As with the encounter with Joshua Juan, our visit to the Sabal Forest Reserve (which is technically perhaps closer to the village of Sabal Aping--which another team visited--than to Abok) was like a flash-forward to Luke's and my future.

A major part of the reserve is known as the Deer and Wildboar Project, and we were able to see quite a lot of wildboar roaming freely in the forested area.

Nineteen: Kitchen Work

Lunch was prepared with the stuff we picked from the farm earlier that morning. The girls spent a good deal of time tearing up the leafy vegetables and pounding the potato leaves.

Most of the time, we did our own cooking using supplies we brought along from Kuching. These were supplemented by the local produce at the villages we visited, and several chickens were even specially slaughtered for us.

Twenty: Some Riverine Fun

In the evening, we visited the river just behind Tuai Usop's village. It was a good swim in one part where the river flowed into a pool that ran still and deep enough for diving. Bert had some fun building 'sandcastles' (more like mudcastles) while Sock Lee and Vinod tried to learn to swim.

Tuai Usop's son, Wardley Twillisch, showed us some impressive dives.

Twenty-One: Solitude

One of the pleasant paradoxes of doing quiet time in a remote place is that while you are alone, you are not really quite alone, what with all the plants and animals around. One of the dogs took a special interest in me when I was reading the day's Scripture passage!

Twenty-Two: Let Everything That Has Breath

At Nikki's (Tuai Usop's niece) house down the road, Luke and I were quite thrilled to see the pet porcupine, ducks, geese, chickens and turkey. I don't know if they were quite as thrilled to see us, but I think we all loved the morning sun just the same!

The Psalms close with the words, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord", and this is what I think of when I see these creatures; I see them rejoicing in their Maker.

Twenty-Three: Tuai Usop

The irony is that they have electric instruments, computers, mobile phones and some even Astro, but no electricity. And Abok is not even remotely remote, as Ensiap was. What is even more surprising is that Abok is not far from the main road and the main power lines. All the villages we visited rely on petroleum generators for their electricity, and to save on fuel costs they only turn the generators on at night.

Twenty-Four: Bathing the Pig

Our third and final village was a place called Sungai Besai. However there are actually many villages with similar names; mainly there were Sungai Besai Ulu and Sungai Besai Asal. Our destination was the latter. There the longhouses were made of bricks and they are extremely deep, with living rooms leading into wide kitchens, and further into bathroom areas and then rather extensive backyards.

In some of the bilik backyards, pigs were reared. Luke was his veterinarian self as he stood observing the pigs, and it was fun to see this nenek bathe her pig. It shook some of the water off on us!

Twenty-Five: Someday We Will Worship

Sungai Besai can perhaps be considered the most modern of all the villages. There were more Astro dishes here, and the house in which we spent the night (Cikgu Franky's bungalow) looks like it was plucked out of a Kuala Lumpur suburb. However the Anglican church was heavily dilapidated, and the village harbours a sad story.

It has been divided into Sungai Besai Asal and Sungai Besai Asal Baru; our hosts were of the latter. There is some division along the lines of denomination, with Baru being affiliated with the SIB church, but the main division is rooted in the families. It is the story of brothers splitting up because of disagreements.

That is why, when I look at this picture of the Sungai Besai Asal longhouse, which we visited, and when I see the mountain in the background, I am reminded of Jesus' words in John 4: someday we will worship in the Spirit, in a Kingdom that does not know the boundaries we draw up amongst ourselves.

Twenty-Six: Testify

Our night meetings gave us opportunities to share our testimonies (as Mezuen is doing here) and also perform some sketches--including the hit semi-impromptu sketch on the 10 Commandments.

Twenty-Seven: Jampung

Jampung, the father of Sungai Besai Asal Baru's tuai, Juntik. The enormous bulge on his right arm was caused by a crocodile bite.

He was once a policeman.

Twenty-Eight: At the End of Our Exploring

Ever have one of those dreams where you awake into a world stranger than any other? And then only later, you really awake to the real world? Ever wonder if the 'false' worlds could be real?

Feels a bit like that, when I look at this picture. Leaving the FES office was a symbol of leaving the world of STOMP and the place I called home for some two weeks. But the world I am stepping into, in this picture, is even more unreal. For at the entrance I am being greeted by Jimmy, Vinod and Luke. As far as real worlds are concerned, I think it is far more likely for me to find myself in the FES Office or in any of the longhouses we visited, than it is to find myself in the company of the amazing people I call my fellow STOMPers.

Twenty-Nine: A New Chapter

Sarawak was a gastronomical adventure--in Kuching as much as in the Iban villages. I had copious servings of the perennial favourite, kolok mee, which is very similar to our wantan mee here in the Peninsula. As we had breakfast together on the last day, a new chapter was dawning.

Jane Jinap (pictured here with Mezuen and Jeffrey) returned with us to the Peninsula to begin training as an FES staffworker.

Thirty: Crashers

We learnt, during the trip, to do things we never thought we'd have the courage to do. We were brave and, in Malay terms, very muka tembok (otherwise tak tahu malu). Like in this picture, we were passing by St Joseph's Church when we noticed a wedding in progress.

Murdy, Michael, Melissa and I decided to take the liberty of crashing the wedding. Try to spot Murdy and Michael amidst the guests as the bride throws the bouquet!

As I write this, I am inclined to think that's what God did too: He crashed our lives so that we could learn to live better.

Thirty-One: Not Quite Ourselves Again

I don't know if it was true in Sarawak, but I know then when I act as 'tour guide' in KL, I see the place differently. Familiar roads take on a whole new historical and cultural significance.

I wonder if, on that last walk together, our guides and hosts felt the same. Some of them bought blowpipes, and I don't suppose native Sarawakians buy blowpipes from tourist-district shops in Kuching... unless they are with non-Sarawakian friends.

Here, we are standing in the field next to the Sarawak Museum.


"Itulah sebabnya aku menderita semuanya ini, tetapi aku tidak malu; kerana aku tahu kepada siapa aku percaya dan aku yakin bahawa Dia berkuasa memeliharakan apa yang telah dipercayakan-Nya kepadaku hingga pada hari Tuhan." ~ 2 Timotius 1:12

That's the point of the whole journey, isn't it? To arrive at last. To finish the race. Bruised, worn-out, tired, weary... but with the race finished.

Praise Him.

STOMPers 2008.

* * * * *

Text and pictures (except where noted in the text) by Benjamin Ong © 2008.

Pictures resized from the original scans.

All material reproduced verbatim from the booklets I presented my sponsors.

Canon EOS 300 with 28-90mm lens.

Film and processing
B&W pictures on Ilford Delta 400 (pushed one stop), first set of colour pictures on Fujichrome Provia 100 (pushed one stop) and second set of colour pictures on Astia 100 (pushed two stops).

1 comment:

mel said...

I'm so jealous Ben.

Looking at the pictures and reading your account of the trip made me feel like I want to live there.

Thanks. Your reflections have also encouraged me. Happy Easter :)