SIB Grace: abounding in grace

SIB Grace English service

Elder Thomas teaching the WordSunday worship service

We entered an empty spacious basement car park of the Crown Towers, an office building. SIB Grace leased the 9th Floor auditorium and halls. There was space for 500 but a third of it was used as a fellowship area, while the rest were filled with seats. The attendance ranged from 150 to 200 every Sunday. The newly started early morning Mandarin service, and the Sunday school each has 50 in attendance. The English service started at 11.30am. After the singing and communion, Elder Thomas, taught the Word verse by verse. The topic was the stewardship of the Master’s goods and the believers’ progress. The offering was taken, notices given and a closing song wrapped up the service. There was a sense of restfulness about the service, with no one straining to pump up adrenalin, or make things happen, or worry about “Were the people touched by God during the service?”.

A stunning miracle

The lunch area overlooked a lovely view of the Sarawak river. Over snacks we met Bartholomew, a male nurse who worked in the city’s hospital. He could not attend services as regularly as he would want to because of his shift duties. However, he prayed for patients in the hospital, and had seen a few answers to prayers for healing. Improvements in leg movements and the pain of patients as a result of Jenny, Kenny, Bartholomewprayer. Other times, he prayed audaciously for patients who died to rise, but they never did……until recently. He shared with me, “The doctor had declared a sick patient dead, and the distraught family had cried over him. I was sent to get him ready for the mortuary. I prayed a simple prayer for God to raise him. To my utter surprise he came back to consciousness. The doctor was called back and was shocked to see it. Later, a church elder visited the patient as he recovered in hospital.” This was a sign and wonder. This low-key but stunning miracle reminded me of another memorable story of a brain-dead member who came back to life in the deaf fellowship of World Revival Prayer Fellowship, where I pastor.

Re-installed by grace

Elder AlexLooking for empty seats at the Kuching food festival was difficult. When we finally did, and others went to order different food, elder Alex, who does most of the preaching in church, shared with me about his journey. During the charismatic revival in Kuching in the 1980’s, St Faith Anglican church was the center of action among the Anglicans. There was so much intensity and activity during that revival. The next two decades saw many who suffered burn-out, including himself, a committed youth leader. On one of his trips to Singapore, his cousin brought him to his church, NCC. There God ministered to him through the message. When he returned to Kuching he wrote to the church and it sent him 22 cassette tapes. He studied all the messages. Alex had severe asthma so that even the air-conditioning of a car could result in an attack. After hearing the tapes, he was completely healed!

Jenny, Kenny, elder Alex, Alan, Penny, Richard

Church gripped by a message

Later, Alex met with Thomas and other acquaintances of the charismatic revival. They met above the Crossway Christian bookshop, and had energizing discussions about the books and tapes of Joseph Prince. From there the idea of starting an SIB preaching point began. That preaching point grew and after persevering through difficulties, became SIB Grace, a church that abounds with the grace of God.

(Footnote: The Borneo Evangelical Church or SIB (Malay:Sidang Injil Borneo) is one of the largest evangelical Protestant denominations in Malaysia with membership at about 500,000. SIB Grace is part of this denomination.)

Nostalgic in Kuching

at the Kuching airport

The 1960s feel

It was like going back to the 1960s when Singapore was less crowded with buildings, cars and people. Most houses and buildings in Kuching were not more than 4 storeys and were well spread out. The streets were conspicuously clean and they still have roundabouts. Modern tall hotels and commercial buildings with gleaming glass skirted the waterfront. Side by side with the modern, were charming old shop houses. The spaciousness of the small city relaxed the eye; the fresh air perked us up; the pace was slower; and it was quiet.

The Harbour View hotel

We stayed in the three star Harbour View Hotel. It was clean and the rooms and service were satisfactory. Under good advice, we had all our breakfasts outside, in the three Chinese kopitiams, 2 minutes to the left from the hotel entrance. There we had our breakfasts: beef noodles, kolo mee, Sarawak laksa, char kway teow, and a Malay dish which is satay atop mee rebus. Definitely a better choice than the hotel buffet, if you want to try the local fare.

local breakfast

satay atop mee rebus

The Kuching Waterfront

The hotel was 3 minutes from the Kuching Waterfront which made for a pleasant evening walk along the Sarawak river. We saw across the river, the lighted-up Parliament building, the Astana, a fort and a Malay village. The feel of the waterfront was the Singapore esplanade of the 1970’s: the Queen Elizabeth Walk. We searched for dinner and wandered through a shopping centre that had about 40 stores and hardly any food. We ended up eating at Top Spot, a popular seafood centre atop a multi-storey car park. The food was reasonably tasty and quite affordable. We loved the local jungle vegetable from the fern, but were shocked at the Medium serving size.

view of waterfront from Harbour view hotel

Kuching waterfront

boat rides

Top Spot seafood: okay lah

Sarawak Cultural Village

The next morning’s highlight was the Sarawak Cultural Village, about an hour’s drive from where we were. It was the size of several football fields with Mt Santubong as a beautiful backdrop. The theme park, a living museum showcased the different tribal people groups: their longhouses, utensils, culture, dances and food. The highlight was a professionally-performed cultural show of about 40 minutes which entertained us with its movement, colour, sound and humour. The sape, a native indigineous string instrument produced particularly captivating sounds, and I wondered if there were local churches that used them in their worship services.

Sarawak Cultural Village

dayak longhouse

Josh

Matt and Penan hunter

checking target

Elaine

Jen

cultural show

Alan and Penny Hiu

Facebook again has proven to be a great social network tool. I was introduced to Alan Hiu by Peter Sze. We all got to know each other via today’s social media. Alan brought my wife and I to a better known Sarawak kolo mee stall for breakfast at 8.30am on Sunday. This was our first meeting and together with his wife, Penny and Richard their friend, we got to know each other. My children were sleeping in. It was amazing how quickly we gelled together because we shared a common faith in the Lord. Quickly, I learned that Alan was one of the leading back up singers with Lim Gee Tiong, the pastor of a 1,200 member Chinese church and famous composer and singer of the song, “Hold My Hand, My Lord”. He was deeply committed and served in the ministry without question. One day he received a Joseph Prince tape which, he said, just liberated him. So when he heard of  SIB Grace, he joined them. Now he is a key leader of the Chinese service there. We were so absorbed in the sharing of lives, I did not fully savour the noodles, but judging from the crowd there it must be good. The next time, I will slow down and enjoy.

St Thomas Cathedral

Alan Hiu was a gracious host and drove us around. Public transport was unreliable and taxis did not use the meter, so to have a local to drive us around was a big plus. He brought us to St Thomas Cathedral, which unfortunately had its doors locked between the morning and evening services on Sunday. We walked around the Cathedral where my maternal grandparents married in 1913. It was of course a different building then. To see my children walk around the church made me smile. Heritage is important, and I wanted them to be able to say, “I was there” to their kids. That evening, Alan brought us to the Food Fair, an annual August event that never failed to draw the locals. We pigged out with his family and Elder Alex and Richard. Following this, we had cake and melon juice at Alan’s home. This was Malaysian hospitality at its best. Somehow we Singaporeans have lost this in our hectic city lifestyle. We need to recover this biblical value, this precious and timeless virtue.

St Thomas Cathedral Kuching

city food fair - all kinds of local food

Kenny, Richard, Alan Hiu, Elder Alex

in the home of Alan and Penny and Adrian Hiu

All the way

The next day, they brought us out for a seafood lunch at a suburban restaurant with a Hockchiew chef. We loved the local jungle vegetables and the bamboo crustacean (that had to be fished out individually from the sea mud). Alan and Richard then did the second mile and sent us to the airport.

Lunch in suburban restaurant

native vegetables and bamboo crustacean