The history of the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia began on the Island of Borneo in December, 1882, when an initial group of 100 Hakka Chinese Christian laborers from mainland China landed at Kudat, a town in the northern part of North Borneo. Many groups followed within the next few years.
In this new land the Hakka immigrants worked hard on their land for six days and rested only on Sundays. On Sundays they gathered in one of their own homes for worship.
Groups of Hakka immigrants arrived at North Borneo. A large number of them located on the west coast where railway construction had commenced. New towns with a majority of Chinese were set up along the railway line. The Hakka Christians who came along with the other immigrants set up their own worship places on the west coast and other parts of Sabah.
The Hakka Christians set up their own churches wherever a few families were gathered together. They set up schools as well to educate their children in Chinese.
The Church was first called the Basel Church. After independence in 1925, she was named the Borneo Bagel Self-Established Church. Meanwhile, the Basel Church in GuangDong and Hong Kong adopted a new name, i.e. Tsung Tsin Church in 1924. The Church did not follow suit because of her root and origin. In 1963 Sabah was freed from the British colonial rule, and became a state within the Federation of Malaysia. The Church was then renamed The Basel Christian Church of Malaysia and the church officially became a member of the Lutheran World Federation in 1973.
As early as the 1950s, the BCCM was involved directly and indirectly in the Basel Mission’s cross-cultural mission to the Rungus people in Kudat. The BCCM had shared both the joys and struggles in the process of growth of the PCS since its birth in 1951.
In 1967, the BCCM took over the mission work among the tribal people along the Labuk River in Murok, Sandakan. This was a ministry founded by a foreign medical doctor, Dr. G. Christopher Willis. He had to leave Sabah in that year.
Active outreach towards the Bumiputra actually began in 1974, when two zealous members from the congregation at Inanam, Chong Yun Leong and Paul Chung, first launched the campaign of “Preaching the Gospel to the Natives.” This ministry was first sponsored by the congregation at Inanam. A sub-committee was formed to plan strategy and raise funds for the mission. In June 1975, Gasin Guntidong, a young Kadazandusun, was engaged to do surveys in the villages. Mission began to reach out to the Kadazandusuns living in the Inanam and Menggatal areas.
In July, 1975, the first Sunday service in Bahasa Malaysia was conducted at the old BCCM Inanam church building with an attendance of 16 people.
The outreach was stepped up and many villages like Kg. Kokol, Kg. Piniang, Kg. Binaung, Kg. Munsiang, were reached.
In July, 1976, the first Bumiputra chapel was built at Kampung Peniang. The first baptism service for the Kadazandusuns was held on Ascension Day of 1976 with 76 persons baptized.
The mission among the Bumiputra expanded quickly and spread out. It was taken over jointly by the Kota Kinabalu Parish and the Central Council. Outreach was not only directed at the Kadazandusuns in the west coast but was extended to the Muruts in Pensiangan District in 1978.
The mission to the Muruts began when a Christian brother was on official duty to Pensiangan in 1972. He saw that thousands of Muruts were living and dying without the gospel. They were victims of their social systems and traditions. Their need for the gospel was conveyed to the BCCM Central Mission Committee and a team was sent to survey the possibility of a mission there in April, 1978.
In 1978, Richard Angang, a half-Murut pastor, was posted to Sapulut with his family. A month later, a young Bible school graduate was sent to join him.
By 1993, there were altogether a total of 20 young Bumiputra pastors, and 11,000 Bumiputra members worshipping in 80 churches, chapels or gathering places since BCCM first began its cross-cultural mission about three decades earlier.
As more and more Bumiputra congregations and places of worship were set up, the BCCM felt the constraints of manpower in the field and leadership for the newly established congregations. The BCCM Central Mission Committee felt that it was time to establish a center to provide basic training both in Bible knowledge and leadership for the Bumiputra laity in Bahasa Malaysia.
In 1980, a BCCM Bible Training Center in Kota Kinabalu (Pusat Latihan Alkitab Kota Kinabalu or PLAKK) was set up at the location of the BCCM Kota Kinabalu’s old church building on Signal Hill. Two old buildings of the Lok Yuk Secondary School were converted into classrooms, hostels, dining hall and teachers’ quarters. In its early stage, the Bible Training Center provided only one year of training with an initial admission of ten students supervised by two full-time teachers, the Rev. Thomas Tsen and the Rev. Daniel Taie. In 1981, another twelve students joined the program.
As the need for better equipped full-time pastoral workers in the Bumiputra congregations continued to grow, the Church felt that it was time to further up-grade the Bible Training Center to a full seminary in order to provide a regular program of theological studies toward Diploma and Bachelor degrees in theology. The inauguration of Sabah Theological Seminary was proposed and adopted during BCCM’s Synod in 1985. Sabah Theological Seminary became the first seminary in Malaysia to use Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction.
Today the BCCM has a total of 35 Chinese congregations and 80 Bahasa Malaysia congregations. Three secondary schools, fourteen primary schools, and more than fourteen kindergartens have been set up in the major towns in Sabah.
The BCCM, being a predominantly Hakka Chinese church in the last century, launched its mission to the Bumiputra, primarily the Kadazandusuns on the west coast and the Muruts in the Interior Residency in Sabah in 1975. Since then, BCCM has experienced tremendous growth in its Bumiputra membership.
In 2002, the BCCM-BM has around 18,000 church members in six parishes, Paroki Tuaran (15 congregations), Paroki Kota Kinabalu (10 congregations), Paroki Sandakan (12 congregations), Paroki Tawau (3 congregations), Paroki Pedalaman I (13 congregations), Paroki Pedalaman II (7 congregations). Sunway Kuala Lumpur and Kudat are two new congregations established in 2000 and 2001 respectively to cater the needs of church members of BCCM-BM who have migrated and work there respectively. There are altogether 46 full-time pastors serving in BCCM-BM in 2002. Besides, there are 4 part-time pastors and 8 theological students who are still studying at the Sabah Theological Seminary.
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” ( Mat 5: 14-16, NIV). It is our prayer that the BCCM will be the Light not only in Sabah, but also in other parts of the world!