Sharing from The Pastor of Chin-Fu Methodist Church – English Congregation (1974-1979)
By Pastor Larry Kalajainen
“In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” (Col. 1:3)
Back in 1994, when the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church asked us if we would be willing to be the English-language pastor at a church in Kuching, Sarawak, our response was “Yes…where is Sarawak?” We had to go home and look it up in the atlas.
Our great adventure began in November of that year when we stepped off the plane in Sibu, after a long and tiring journey from the States with two small children, Kristi, aged 3 Katie, aged 3 months. We were greeted at the Sibu Airport by Rev. Eugene Teng, who was then president of the Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference. On the way into town to attend our first of many memorable ten-course feasts, Rev. Teng told us that we were going to meet a very important layman in the Methodist Church, Datuk Yao Ping Hua. “I know you Americans like to be informal and call people by their first names,” Rev. Teng said, “but Datuk Yao is a very important man, and you must show great respect. You should address him as Datuk or Mr. Yao.” Wishing to make a good first impression and not be thought of as a hairy barbarian, I did as Rev.Teng suggested when I was introduced to Datuk Yao. However, Datuk Yao strode across the room toward me, his hand extended, and a huge smile on his face, and said, “Oh, don’t be so formal. I’ll call you Larry, and must call me Ping Hua.” I knew at that moment, that things were going to be all right for us in Sarawak.
During our six years as pastor of the English-language congregation at Chin Fu, we were privileged to meet people who have made a permanent impact on our lives. Rev. Ting Daik Choung, who was pastor of the Mandarin-speaking congregation, was very gracious and kind to us, and I could always count on him to be a good-hearted and patient colleague. Our affection and mutual respect for each other helped our two congregations to grow and flourish without any rivalry and with excellent cooperation. He taught me to “burn the earth” in order to grow my vegetables successfully; I taught him a new method of raising chickens. He also helped me understand what was going on in church board meetings when things happened that I didn’t understand.
Mr. Hwang Jun Hien, who was chairman of the church for the last four years I was in Kuching, taught me a great deal about how to develop a consensus in a meeting. He was a remarkably skillful leader, as well as a deeply spiritual Christian, and we still enjoy keeping in touch with him and his family at Christmas each year.
During those six years, the Tuesday evening Bible study developed and became a fixture of our community life. Many important friendships and a great deal of spiritual growth took place in those evenings we spent together studying the scriptures.
Perhaps the most important part of the ministry for us was the MYF group. Being the resource person for the MYF was my responsibility, and we had only one group for the young people of both congregations. Those Saturday evenings of signing, studying, praying, laughing and sharing together will always be some of the memories I cherish most. It was in that group that many of you who are leaders in the church now began your serious Christian journey. It was in that group that the faith of Mary Foo was nurtured, so that when she went through her great ordeal with cancer some years later, she was able to become a faithful witness and source of strength and inspiration to so many others. It was out of that group that Lee Hie Tee felt called to missionary service herself, and we treasure her newsletters from Algeria where she and Jussuf serve so faithfully. It was from that group that the Rev. Angela Ting and Tsan Khoon Leng went into the ministry of the church. Two year ago, we spent an evening in London with Lisa Lee, Hie Tee’s sister, who with her husband has a wonderful Christian witness as a nurse. The influence of that MYF group at Chin Fu has literally been felt around the world.
It was a natural and logical evolution for the English-language congregation, which grew strong in those years, to launch out and forge its own congregational identity in the years following our tenure as pastor. We shared your joy at the founding of Trinity church and your move to Ellis Road. Now 15 years have gone by, and you are a lighthouse of hope and faith in Kuching. Carol and I rejoice with you!
We hope that within the next few years, we’ll be able to visit Kuching again and renew our friendships and affection for all of those who are still part of the church fellowship there. Meanwhile, we are still missionaries. That way sound strange to talk of being missionaries in the center of what is often considered the most beautiful city in the world – Paris. Certainly the building of the American Church in Paris and community center don’t look like a mission station. Our gothic church with its lovely stained-glass windows and great pipe organ and our 150-year history of ministry and service to the English-speaking residents of Paris make us appear to be a deeply-entrenched Parisian institution. And in many ways we are. Yet, the people we serve, expatriate English-speaking people who live and work in Paris, as well as many French people who are spiritually hungry, look to the American Church to provide them with a Christian community, spiritual nourishment, and a cultural “home.” Each Sunday, 500-600 Christians of more than 30 nationalities and denominational backgrounds gather together here to worship God as one body in Christ. Throughout the week, about 1000 people per day use our community center building for a variety of ministries such as Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups, nursery schools, Bible studies, classes for mentally-handicapped children, etc.
So we invite you to come visit us on your travels. We’d love to see you and welcome you to Paris. God bless all of you as you labor in the vineyard of Christ in Kuching, and may the ministry of Trinity Church continue long into the future as a lighthouse of the gospel.
Note: This article was published in the TMC 15th Anniversary Magazine in August 1999.
Rev. Dr. Larry Kalajainen started his position as senior minister at First Parish Church , Brunswick Maine, in August, 2003. Prior to First Parish Larry served the American Church in Paris, the oldest and one of the largest international congregations in the world. Prior to Paris, he served United Methodist churches in New Jersey following six years as a missionary pastor in Sarawak, East Malaysia.
Rev. Kalajainen received his Ph.D. in New Testament & Christian Origins from Drew University. He also received graduate degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary and a bachelors degree in Secondary Education - English from the University of Pittsburgh.
Larry and his wife Carol have two adult daughters Kris and Kate. For more than thirty years, he has cultivated a serious interest in fine-art photography. He is also an avid reader who enjoys modern fiction, and has been known to indulge in late-night reading of spy novels and murder mysteries. Both Larry and Carol share a love of music, dance, and the arts.