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

The book, “Pioneering in Dyak Borneo”, clearly depicts God’s grace upon the author – this young “good for nothing” who “had no gift of speech or tact.” Truly, “this boy who had gone through a thousand trials and come back to life from the dead must have been a vessel kept for the Lord’s own use” (Page 21). How wonderful it is that the Lord chose to call “such a stammering fellow” for the glorious work of preaching the Gospel and winning souls: “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Cor. 1:27-29).


In his own inimitable way, the author successfully conveys to the reader God’s special work of grace upon one so dull and despised. We are thus reminded not to despise the weak and base things of the world for the Lord may call such to serve Him. Those whom He calls, He enables by His grace to be made useful for His glory so that no man may “glory in his presence”.

Missionaries, especially those from the West, are often highly regarded as God’s servants who have sacrificially given their all for the Gospel’s sake. This book, however, opens the reader’s eyes to the true colours of these self-promoting “servants of God”, who “came to China in style” and possessed “that white man’s superiority”. Serving self rather than others, “they made it a palace like Herod the Tetrach’s – to rule over their parishes” and had many servants to wait upon them. The author cynically calls them “the haughty sons of heaven” whose doctrines “were far removed from Bible truth” (Page 36).

The author shares very personally his struggles in the ministry – his “explosive temperament” (“I knew full well such a state of affairs was detrimental both to my status and work as a minister of the Gospel” – Page 56), marital conflicts, irregular hours, undernourishment, illness, separation from family, persecutions, financial hardships (“due to lean stipends”) and constant temptation (“All the young girls of marriageable age who met a new comer, whether they knew him well or not, would unshamefacedly seek love from the dauntless visitor” – Page 61). Through all these trials, the pioneer missionary had to exercise discipline and keep himself from sin. Let all who are intent on pioneer work take heed to these warnings from one who had gone before.

It is encouraging to read the interesting accounts of how the author and his wife made the most of their negative circumstances – “poverty begets adaptation, and adaptation understanding” (Page 62). To survive on their small stipend, they reared fowls, planted crops, fished (“with book in one hand and fishing rod in the other” – Page 62), picked firewood and made their own furniture. He used this latter skill to teach the Dyaks about “in house construction and building churches” (Page 62). Truly, necessity is the Mother of Invention. From this, we learn that God works in a wonderful way, equipping His servant with survival skills so that he could also teach others.

Another useful skill the missionary couple acquired out of necessity was that of midwifery which was used to help many during their ministry with the mountain tribes – “Thanks be to God, I got a secret midwifery formula, and with God’s unseen help I have not only had an expeditious record, but also an attainment of seeing all my deliveries each one grow in health and loveliness” (Page 146).

It was not easy to win the simple-minded, docile Dyaks to the Christian faith. Amongst other things, the pioneer missionary had to contend with “Pilihan” – a heathenistic tribal ceremony, their promiscuous culture, “their irregularity of character” (Page 135) and “traitors from within” (Page 134). However, the book encourages the reader with testimonies of the Dyaks’ faith. One incident concerned a village chief who was “so scared by the deaths” – caused a raging plague – “that he tempted some dangerously ill with the prospect of giving up their faith or of secretly exorcising the evil spirits and demons” (Page 138). Rejecting his offer, the believers replied: “Our lives are in the Lord’s hand. Life and death are predestined. How could we take such unconscionable and unreasonable measures for the sake of our temporal bodies and sin against the Lord – to drop out half-way, to lose the everlasting bliss of our souls? We are getting nearer heaven now. Please don’t disturb us, lest we be found wanting” (Page 138). Praise God for the great faith of these simple tribal folk!

In Chapter 9 aptly entitled, “Kinsmen according to the flesh,” the author recalls with fondness, his wonderful relationship with a young Hokkien couple, Mr Gui Beng Kim and his wife who proved by their “loyalty, sense of righteousness and … respectful treatment of others” that they were true friends. Linn paid them this tribute: “In all the world there was only this young couple who could receive correction from one of another province with such indulgence and obedience” (Page 183). We can all learn lessons of humility from these gracious friends of Linn.

In the last chapter, the author laments the poor efforts of the church toward the Great Commission. The Gospel has come to Asia, yet the saving of souls is viewed as “some secondary and unessential thing … Thus, countless perishing souls who daily follow after their carnal lusts are tragically drowned in the abyss” (Page 226).

The book ends with a wake-up call and a challenge to young believers “excellently endowed to be messengers of the Gospel” to “give yourselves whole-heartedly to the Lord” and “with one heart and soul to receive this Great Commission to preach the Gospel to the whole world” (Page 227).

This is one missionary story that is well worth reading. This book will be an excellent reference for those who have been called by the Lord to serve Him in foreign mission fields. May the Lord use it for His glory and the blessing of His people. Amen.

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