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“Pioneering in Dyak Borneo” (2nd edition, 1973) by Jason Linn
(Translated by Timothy Tow)

“Pioneering in Dyak Borneo” is an autobiographical account of a Chinese missionary, Jason Linn, who spent fifteen years of his life preaching the Gospel in the riverine jungles of interior East Borneo – “an epochal undertaking in the annals of Chinese missions” (Page 10).


The following is a quick summary of his labours in the South Seas. Although he first felt his call was to Northwest Kwangsi, China, Linn eventually went to Dutch East Borneo, going “inland to open up work amongst the half-civilised Dyak tribes”. In his fifteen years of Gospel labour, he turned 3,000 mountain tribesmen to the Lord and built over ten churches. After the Japanese surrender, he left for Java and established the first Cantonese Christian Church in Djakarta, the Indonesian capital (Page 211).

In his Foreword, Philip Teng, speaking of a general awakening in the Chinese churches all over the world, gave credit to the author: “Many factors have contributed to the spreading of this flame, one of which is certainly the influence of Rev Jason Linn’s fifteen years of pioneering missionary work among the Dyaks in interior Borneo.”

In the words of Rev Dr Timothy Tow who translated the book from Mandarin to English, “this book deserves to be read because it is the first Chinese missionary thriller ever to be published in English.” I fully agree with him because the book makes for absorbing and exciting reading.

The translator did a fine job of retaining the “flavour” of Chinese philosophy, folklore, wit and humour. This book is “commended … to the Chinese church as a Christian classic” (Translator’s Preface).

A humble man, Linn, the pioneer missionary, had felt unworthy of writing an autobiography for he regarded himself as an “unprofitable servant” (Lk. 17: 10). However, his hearers in the aborigine jungles had benefitted much from his preaching and felt that a record of his life and mission experiences would challenge others, especially young believers, to preach the Gospel in foreign lands. The book is also a salient reminder that “foreign missions” are not the monopoly of Western missionaries; and that all should go forth with the Gospel, that “many might know the unchangeable God who still works miracles in these last days” (Page 10). Certainly, this book has been written with God-honouring objectives; it is a call to the dauntless to serve  not in some comfortable city parish, but even among the uncivilised tribes; it encourages the younger generations to dedicate their lives for the Master’s service in the regions beyond for “this great and difficult enterprise cannot be undertaken by two or three men.” With this in mind, the author, through his book, hopes to appeal to “our Christian brethren in China for the people of the Southern wilds” (Page 11).

This is certainly a book to be read by those who are entering the mission field especially to the unevangelised and uncivilised lands. In the book, the author shares not only his successes but also failures. His frank testimonies, I believe, will help prepare pioneer missionaries for the challenges and demands of evangelising the lost in “the hard places”.

It was thoughtful of the author to provide many photographs within the book – of his family, co-labourers, and the people he ministered to – which provide deeper insights and understanding of his work among the savage tribes. Also included are interesting pictures of Dyak one-piece coffins (Page 106), an ox totem which forms part of the ox-spearing rite (Page 109) and “Pegantar” – a potpourri dance (Page 113). How true it is that a picture speaks a thousand words!

I find it interesting that in the first three chapters, the author wrote about himself, especially his childhood in an indirect way, often in the third person. He referred to himself as “the silent, speechless boy” who “could not even cry for his food” (Page 18).

Chapter Four – “A new thing” – relates his call to pioneer work; Chapter Five – “Strange quarry from a wild island” – is an account of his travels and the culture of the Dyaks. Chapter Six – “Rivers in the desert” – continues with his pioneering work amongst the natives while Chapter Seven – “Bruised reed and flickering lamp” – records the “painful sorrows” of the Japanese Occupation, and the turning point of his ministry. Chapter 8 tells of his pioneering work amongst the overseas Chinese.

The author portrays to the reader in a clear and amusing way, the sharp contrast between the intelligent elder brother and the younger brother (the author himself) – “the tiny tot of a dullard” (Page 17). Exasperated, the parents gave all their attention to their elder son, and “saw as wasted effort any struggle to nurture one who gave them such little promise” (Page 18). The boy’s father died when he was twelve. His grieving mother, believing that “winter’s cold would bring in the warmth of spring, the dark night soon yield to a bright day” plodded on and struggled with all her might to bring up her children. However, one by one, her children died. The only survivor was “that big good-for-nothing” who later survived a drowning accident and a severe attack of appendicitis, which landed him in hospital.

Describing the hospital episode, the author, writing with a sense of humour and dramatic irony said: “At the age of seventeen, he almost died of appendicitis. He literally lay on the hospital bed for one whole month, so much so that the doctor wagged his head in despair for him. At that time there were three such cases in hospital. The two lighter cases had ended up in being carried to the ‘dark room’. How much more this boy in a graver condition? However, he walked out of the hospital’s front door after one month and returned to his house in peace beyond man’s expectations.” (… to be concluded)

(Review submitted by Mrs Helen Wee as part of “Knowing Salvation” online course on 16th April 2010.)