Essentials

Borneo Revisited

Tony Nichols rejoices over what mighty things God can grow in half a century, even from small and threatened beginnings. Bishop Tony Nichols ministers at St Lawrence’s Dalkeith, WA

From 7- 9 July, 12 former CMS missionaries returned to St Patrick’s Tawau, at the invitation of Bishop John Yeo, the present Rector, to join over 3,000 current parishioners in the spectacular Centenary celebrations.

The remote small trading post surrounded by dense jungle on the border between British North Borneo and Indonesia that I had known, is now a major city of Sabah with a population of over 600,000. But the church and school ministry which was restored in the 1950s by the vision and energy of CMS missionaries, especially Canon Walter Newmarch and Principal Jim Power, has matched the growth of Tawau itself. Praise God for the faithfulness of their Sabahan successors, many of whom were converted at St Patrick’s School.

It is difficult to describe the emotion of sitting down with 1500 ex-students, many of whom had flown in from other countries. Nowhere else in Malaysia would one witness Christian and Muslims (in full Islamic garb) embracing each other and recalling old times together. However, I confess, after 55 years, it was a challenge to recognise many who eagerly came up to reintroduce themselves!

The Saturday night Confirmation and the Sunday night Thanksgiving services were marathons, with choirs, indigenous dances, high tech special effects, sermons translated into three languages—all wonderfully encouraging. The St Patrick’s ‘House of Prayer for All Nations’ seats 2,500, but there was an overflow of at least 500 on the Sunday night. I was invited to join in the confirmation of the 325 candidates, along with the seven Asian bishops present. Bishop Melter Tais, the first Kadazan Bishop of Sabah, preached a fine biblical sermon. The 40 I confirmed were all Malay speakers. I was also asked to preach on Sunday morning in Bahasa to about 200 Christians at Merotai, one of St Patrick’s 12 church plants. Five of these plants are across the border in Indonesia, pastored by men whom Judith and I taught in our retirement in Bandung.

The CMS contribution was honoured and I was asked to convey that to the CMS Board. It was great that Jim and Betty Power were able to be present, escorted by Dr Barnabas Khoo, a former student. Such was Jim’s impact as an educationalist that a street is named after him—Jalan James Power. His esteemed Indian successor, K.M. George also flew in from Kerala. K.M. was a CMS bursar at Moore College in 1948!

Other former CMS missionaries present were Michael and Christine Corbett-Jones, Ray and June Pearce, Sylvia Jeanes, and Ken and Janet Goodlet. Also present were David Newmarch, his two brothers and Mrs Judith Savage, daughter of the Rev’d Ken Perry. Presentations were made to them in honour of their parents’ ministry in Tawau—a lovely touch.

When I returned to Sydney at the end of 1963 to prepare for ordination, the future of the region was very uncertain. The march of Communism in Indo-China and Malaya seemed relentless. There was much social unrest, Communist groups in most schools, growing Islamic pressure, serious attacks by pirate bands from the Southern Philippines (I recall 14 pirates being hanged down the road), and Indonesian guerrilla groups and gunboats. President Soekarno threatened to crush the new federation of Malaysia. One wondered whether the church was just a colonial remnant that would not survive.
Furthermore, Sabah Christians experienced a baptism of fire in the 1970s when Chief Minister Tun Mustapha expelled foreign missionaries, penalized Christians, rewarded converts to Islam with land grants, and allowed a million Muslims to immigrate from the Southern Philippines.

But the church was purified and grew. And in the Anniversary celebrations we were privileged to witness the fruit of God’s word and of prayer, not only in the huge numbers, but also in the vitality and faith of our Sabah brethren. Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed was very much in our minds together with the exhortation of the prophet Zechariah: ‘Do not despise the Day of Small Things’.

Self forgiveness

Frances Cook relates how God gave her something precious and healing in the words of Paul.
Frances, a missionary of CMS SA/NT, works in the Pastoral Studies Centre (CEP), Theological College of the Anglican Church of Chile.

Sometime after the deaths of my parents, I went through a period of feeling very deeply my failures in relation to them. I tormented myself with questions: Why did I do this or not do that? Why did I say that but not say this?

I had never had much time for the idea of self-forgiveness. I was not aware of any hint of that in the Bible and, anyway, it seemed logically silly. Forgiveness implies an offended person and the offender – two people, not one. However, as these questions tormented me, I really felt the need to forgive myself. My theology said I just needed to trust more in God’s forgiveness, but I felt very deeply the need for self-forgiveness.

It is a really lovely thing that in the discipline of daily Bible reading, God speaks to us freshly. I was reading 1 Corinthians 4, where Paul, defending his apostleship, says that he is concerned for God’s judgement, not that of his readers. In v 3, almost as a throw-away line, if the Bible could have such a thing, the apostle writes these words which were so precious and healing to me, I do not even judge myself.

My problem was not that I could not forgive myself. Rather, I was standing in judgement on myself and that simply isn’t my job, any more than it is to judge others. I was not suffering from lack of self-forgiveness, but from self-condemnation, to which I had no right. With that, God healed me, beautifully! Praise be to him!

And, by the way, you won’t be surprised to hear that I found God to be a very much kinder and more generous judge than me, as he sees me in his Son who died for me.

Book Review: The Great Good Thing

A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ
Andrew Klavan
Nelson, 2016

Andrew Klavan is a successful American writer of crime fiction, young adult fiction and screen plays. In The Great Good Thing, he leaves fiction for spiritual memoir, recounting his life from his childhood in Great Neck on Long Island, to his baptism at forty-nine in a Manhattan church. I am a bit of a sucker for spiritual memoir, and I am always looking out for a good one. The Great Good Thing did not disappoint – Klavan is a capable storyteller, with a story to tell.

God’s dealing with him unfolds in the telling from his childhood in a Jewish family in a new-money Jewish neighbourhood across youthful ambition, anger, questing and despair, through engagement with literature, the Bible, love and marriage, psychotherapy and five epiphanies to his eventual conversion and baptism.

God’s words and Australian indigenous languages - NAIDOC 2017

Peter Adam looks at the effect of the loss of indigenous languages and God's desire to communicate to his people.

One of the many destructive actions of the British in taking over Australia was the suppression of indigenous languages. Superior power meant that the subject people had to dispense with their own culture, including their native language, to live in the new world of their conquerors. The policy of assimilation was a polite version of this political reality. Use of native language was discouraged if not forbidden. Children separated from their parents were raised to speak English, and forget their native language.

The loss of native language has a drastic effect on people. It means a break-down in intergenerational communication and common life. It means a loss of history, a loss of identity, and a decrease in communication. It frays family life. It is as serious as the loss of land, loss of life-style, loss of skills, and the loss of birds and animals. We have apologised for ‘the Stolen Generation’. We have not yet apologised for the stolen land, the stolen culture, or the stolen languages.

Book Review: Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship

How the Bible Shapes Our Interpretive Habits and Practices
David I. Starling,
Baker Academic, 2016

The Reformation claim that Scripture is perspicuous and is its own interpreter has come under serious criticism in the light of the plurality of evangelical interpretations. Starling provides a helpful summary of recent debates. He adds to the traditional images of the hermeneutical circle and spiral by suggesting a third metaphor of the snowball.

But his own preferred image is that of ‘apprenticeship’ by which he commends the inner-biblical practices of the writers of Scripture as a model for the contemporary interpreter. Their stance and method should be normative for us. As their apprentices in the reading of Scripture, we learn how to understand Christ in the light of Scripture, and how to understand Scripture (and all things) in the light of Christ.

Starling then illustrates such apprenticeship by examining the internal hermeneutic revealed in fourteen stimulating case studies from Deuteronomy to Revelation. In the process, he demonstrates that the claim that 'Scripture interprets Scripture' must include an awareness of the intertextual relationships between the biblical books and the interpretive work of the biblical authors themselves.

Bishop Tony Nichols, WA

Book Review: Workship

How to use your work to worship God
Kara Martin
Graceworks, 2017

The title Workship encapsulates Kara Martin’s application of Romans 12:1-2 to the whole life of the Christian, not least one’s attitudes and habits in the “secular” workplace. Many others have written on this theme, not least our own Robert Banks. The strength of Martin’s book is that it provides not only biblical principles, but also stories and practical examples that illustrate both the realities of the workplace and possible Christian responses.

Workship is presented in such an accessible way that it would be a helpful workbook for individual and group study. It is also a profitable read for pastors who need to reflect on the challenges facing many to whom they preach.

Bishop Tony Nichols, WA


Book Review: Our Mob, God’s Story

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Artists Share Their Faith
Louise Sherman and Christobel Mattingly (Eds)
Bible Society Australia, 2017

Congratulations to the Bible Society for this stunning collection of indigenous paintings from over thirty locations across the Nation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait artists were invited to submit paintings depicting a Bible story, with a short statement describing its special significance to them. Over 300 paintings were submitted, and as a result, more than 65 artists share their vision of Christ.

Safina Stewart’s beautiful “Seven Days Of Creation” opens the Old Testament section. Those based on the New Testament are introduced by Margy Adams unique figurative style and depicts key events in Christ’s life from his nativity to his ascension. Traditional styles (e.g. Kunwinjku, Walpiri, Pitjantjatjara) are mingled with more contemporary expressions, but the linguistic heritage of every contributor is supplied, as well as their personal reflections.

This inspiring collection illustrates what the recent Census indicated – that Christian faith is more alive in the indigenous communities than in the dominant white society.

Bishop Tony Nichols, WA


Subcategories