By Shearn Sya, Malaysia
On January 24, 2013, I went on my first ever bona fide mission trip to Sibu, Malaysia. I kept my expectations as low as possible, in keeping with my tendency when it comes to anything I am unfamiliar with.
The first longhouse we visited when we arrived at Sibu was only an hour’s drive away from the mission centre, and it yielded an interesting experience—eating fried butterfly pupae. The thought of putting an insect into my mouth made me squeamish. But after getting over the initial hesitance, I bit into one and chewed. I was pleasantly surprised! It was crunchy and actually tasted like a Chickadees chip!
The next day was the start of our real journey to visit the Ibans. In ancient times, Ibans were renowed for practising headhunting and had a fearsome reputation as a strong and successful warring tribe. But today, a majority of them are Christian.
The journey comprises a four-hour drive to the river, and a four-hour boat ride in motorized canoes that kept getting stuck along the river bed due to the low tide. Being stuck in the same position of sitting on the floor of a narrow boat for four hours was definitely not bum-friendly.
The visits to the longhouses opened my eyes to several things. I had expected light and electricity to be lacking but the people we visited still had them on at night. Sleeping was initially difficult. Having gotten used to the busy roads in the city at night, the silence that I experienced there was something I had not been conditioned to, resulting in me waking up countless times in the middle of the night. Also, the toilets, though without flushes, were not just holes in the ground and at least had walls and ceilings.
Though I was not familiar with their cuisine, it was not as strange as I had expected. But I did not expect their choice of meat over there—heavily salted wild boar and anteater.
When I was with the Iban people, I learnt that their concept of time is different from our idea of planned schedules and punctuality. Although it was frustrating at first, it felt rather liberating to be freed from the trickling sands in my mental hourglass.
The Iban people also taught me about worshipping in a community. Their worship was not the individualistic, customized exercise that has become the norm in many urban churches today. Regardless of gender and age, believers worship together, at the same time, in the same manner. They did not shape their worship experience according to their personal preferences. Instead, they expressed their pursuit of Christ as a common longing.
Four days later, we were back in Sibu town, our skins darkened by the sun, and greatly humbled by the Iban people and their lifestyles. We flew back thankful—thankful for the protection and the provision of God, thankful for the encouragement and vision for prayer which we left with the Iban people, and thankful for the joys and pleasures we so often take for granted.
“Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayer and worn with thanks.” –Thomas Goodwin