Someone Must Go So The Chief Goes

Eight months after the chief got saved a messenger came into his hut. The man who looked tired after his long journey, handed the chieftain a little package carefully wrapped in broad green leaves, already turning brown. A few brief questions and Sulidan knew immediately that the carrier was from the Bandau country, fifty miles deeper in the interior.  From the small leafy parcel, Sulidan eventually extricated a letter.  He opened it, and scanned it, obviously finding very real difficulty in deciphering it, for he was not very good at reading in Malay.  The following was the substance of the request which the unexpected letter contained.

“We have heard that you Sulidan, the chieftain, have become a Christian. All our village here are perplexed as to the true way to live, and concerning the right things to believe. We think our idols and our customs need to be changed. Are they not our ruin? What kind of Christianity is yours? Can you not come to us brother, and tell us of your faith?  “With Salutations, “Your sister … of Tcgare, Bandau.”

As Sulidan folded the letter he knew what he would do. Of course, the journey was considerable but he must tell them.  Just two or three days later the old man with his wife and their son, a youth in his twenties, set out along the trail for me Bandau country. The way was hot and the atmosphere humid. There were long stretches of jungle and leeches in the undergrowth.

Snakes rustled into the bush. They waded through streams and clambered up and down the trail pouring with perspiration, their entire bodies strained and exhausted at the end of each day. On the third or fourth day they stumbled into the distant kampong and enquired for the home of Sulidan’s sister. As she greeted him, she looked at him almost excitedly. It had been years since they had met and now Sulidan had not failed. He had answered their call.

Once refreshed Sulidan began to speak. How little he knew of Christian doctrine. How hopeless and inadequate he felt for the task of representing the Most High God to these, his fellow countrymen, who were as ignorant as he had been just a year ago. But he spoke what he knew and one can give no more eloquent a sermon than that. After a few days talking, the miracle suddenly happened. Certain people began removing the idols and the charms from their houses.

There was a deep stirring in the kampong. Sulidan watched with wonder. This was his God at work. In the Name of Jesus the very demons that he used to serve were falling as he preached. In all, three families abandoned idolatry in favor of the Christian ‘customs’. Others also said they would ‘follow but did this mean they were really turning to Christ? Had they understood who Jesus was? Or what He had done for them? Sulidan was perplexed. He knew not how to go on.

He decided he must return and get help from those more experienced in the Faith than he. Thus, after only a short while in Bandau, he returned, accompanied by one or two who were yearning after the true God.  The very first Sunday he was back in Teginambur he stood up before the assembled church and made his report, uttering an impassioned plea, for helpers to go at once to Bandau. The harvest was white, the people were turning, they waited now for more news of the Saviour.

He had told them what he could. Would no one return with him to Bandau? The old man’s voice died away in the leafy chapel-but no one moved. How could they go? There was so much to be done in the fields. Their own village must work to eat. How could any of the men be spared?

So the call went unanswered. Sulidan, sad at heart, said nothing.  He had not returned to Teginambur to criticize and anyway he was just a babe in Christ. Perhaps others knew better than he, but for himself he was sure the work at Bandau must go on.

So a few days later there was a whisper going from hut to hut.  “Have you heard the news? They say the old chieftain is moving out of the village to go and live permanently at Bandau? You can hardly believe it. You would think a man of his years and influence would have more sense. The spirits will retaliate without a doubt-deserting the village of his ancestors like that.  They say, too, it’s all to do with this Jesus doctrine!” Thus gradually the news spread and a great astonishment arose in the community, but Sulidan departed, caring little for the atmosphere of amazement he was leaving behind.

Once it was known that Sulidan had come to live in Tegare and that he was no longer just a visitor but a resident, the headman of the Bandau district became perturbed. What were the motives of this ex-chieftain taking up abode in his area? It was not long before this headman, an ardent Moslem, came to realize that there was an aggressive Christian witness expanding in the village under his jurisdiction. Sulidan now began to meet his severest opposition. Every attempt was made to extradite him but in as much as many years ago he had been permitted to live there a short while, a precedent had been established and it was impossible to endorse such an order with any legal authority.

In spite of such official hostility Sulidan stood his ground and through sheer determination of faith, weathered the storm to continue his work of witnessing to Christ. One year, two years, three years passed.

It had been hard but now there were twenty-five definite believers in the Lord Jesus Christ in Bandau. Surely the time had come to return to Teginambur and once again ask for a Bible Teacher to come and establish the work.  Sulidan, now well into his sixties, took the trail again. As evidence of the fruit of his labors two converts accompanied him adding weight to his plea. They desired to be baptized and Salidan decided to take them to the church at Teginambur and from thence to the Kadamayan river. What memories rose within the old man as he watched these two young believers from Bandau stand where he stood those years before and go down into the waters of the river.

Again he knew that he was doing what no mere man could do. God was working through him to the salvation of his people, some of whom he himself once ruled, but could never have saved from sin and fear. When Sulidan stood this second time under the leafy roof of the Teginambur chapel, he was full of hope. He told of the developments, of the opposition, and yet of the triumphs of God. Would no one come? He could hardly believe there was no response. As a chieftain, everyone had obeyed him without question. Now he spoke as a Christian to Christians, but nobody seemed to care what he said.

Again he added nothing, but with that same earlier determination possessing him, and fortified with a growing spiritual maturity, he set his face once more to the task.  On arriving back in Bandau he re-doubled his efforts, willing to spend the very last days of his life wholly for his Lord. The demands on him were tremendous. In the following six months, the breath of God swept through the little kampong. From twenty-five, the number of believers grew to ninety. They built their own leaf shelter for their meetings. How could he teach them, a deaf old man failing in strength, with no Bible in the Dusun tongue and so poor a grasp of written Malay? His heart yearned to see these young believers established in Christ.  Would nobody come to their aid? Would no one join hands with him and unfold to them the unsearchable riches of Christ?

With heart aflame the old man took his last fifty-mile journey back to Teginambur.  As he stood for the very last time in the leafy chapel he was more frail than before. Perhaps his voice was not so strong but the power of the Holy Spirit was with him. Who could withstand the call of God to go into the Bandau country? His request was large. “We want a missionary,” the old man cried.  “We want a Bible School. We want a Christian schoolteacher for the children.” He was determined that the breach in the enemy’s lines should be exploited to the full and that he might see the full overthrow of Satan in the district of Bandau. This was his vision. Sulidan did not wait for a response. He immediately returned to finish his work. Very soon it was Easter time in the year 1959 and in the strength of the Risen Saviour, one of the deacons of the church at Teginambur, together with a number of believers, decided to answer the call and reach out to Bandau.

Their legs were younger and stronger than Salidan’s and they made the journey without undue difficulty. Through the glades and into the open stretches of the kampong they came, their hearts rejoicing in the prospect of strengthening the hands of their aged brother and joining him in the work-but he was nowhere to be seen.

They enquired for his home and found it but all was strangely quiet. They mounted the steps of the crude hut and pushed open the door. On a rough mat in a darkened corner Sulidan lay very ill with pneumonia. There were few comforts. There was no medical aid. He had given all for the Kingdom. As Sulidan sensed the presence of his visitors he opened his eyes and recognized his friends and brothers from Teginambur. A light filled the tired and faded countenance. “I have been asking God,” he said, “to let me see your faces .. . and now you’ve come … He’s heard my prayer … I am ready if He calls me now.

The evening shadows slanted down through the coconut palms and night fell once more over the distant jungle. The young men kept watch over Sulidan. The torch was being passed on. The light of the Gospel would not fail. God’s own relief had come and now the old man slept. The next day all was hushed in Sulidan’s hut. No one spoke.  It was the moment of a great departure. Men’s eyes were too full of tears for words.  Sulidan stepped into the presence of his King.