As early as 1846, a mission organisation
– the Borneo Church Mission Institution
– was founded in England with the specific task of evangelising the island of Borneo.
The first missionaries, led by Francis McDougall, arrived in Sarawak in 1848 (This was 6 years before Hudson Taylor first arrived in China!). Father McDougall was a surgeon by training. Seven years later, on 18 October 1855, Fr Francis McDougall was consecrated Bishop of Labuan.
The Diocese of Labuan covered a very large area. It included Sarawak, North Borneo (now Sabah), Brunei, Singapore, Malaya (now West Malaysia) and Bangkok. A large part of the ministry was to provide a chaplaincy to the European expatriates. Work also began among the Hakka Christians from Hong Kong and China. Bishop McDougall wanted to use Labuan as a base to reach out to the Dusuns in the Interior. The Church of Our Holy Saviour was consecrated in 1866, and has the longest history of any parish in the Diocese of Sabah.
Following the footsteps of Bishop McDougall were scores of missionaries. Some came as priests, and their families. Others came as teachers and medical personnel. Many of them were sent b the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG), while others by the Church Missionary Society (CMS). All of them served with the fullest dedication in the midst of every primitive conditions in olden day Borneo. We praise God for every one of them.Among the notable ones are:
- Ah Leng
– catechist from Kuching, came to work among the Chinese, in 1883.
- Fr Henry Elton
– who built St Michael’s church and founded St Michael’s School, Sandakan, in 1888.
- Fong Hau Kong
– From China, appointed Lay Reader in Kudat, in 1892. six years later, he was ordained deacon at the first Asian ordination in North Borneo.
- Fr Fred Perry
– started ministry in Keningau in 1896; and baptised some Murut boys
- Miss Evelyn Clarkson
– first lady missionary, arrived in 1899, to serve in Sandakan.
- Fr T C Alexander
– founded the Boy Scouts movement in the whole of Borneo, while serving at St Michael’s Church in Sandakan, in 1914.
- Fr Vun Nen Vun, Fr Chong En Siong, Fr Lim
Siong Teck, Fr Chin Phu Yin and Fr Lai Chun
– the only students of ‘Shin Tau Yen’ (College of the Holy Way), a theological college founded and ran by the Diocese, in Kudat, in 1923. these 5 priests rendered their services with the highest distinction throughout their lives. They found themselves with the special task of being with the people during the War years and rebuilding church life after the War. Their ministries and responsibilities, reached as far as Brunei and Kuching.
- Fr Frank Lomax
– help founded the ministry among the indigenous people in the interior of Sabah.
After 100 years of hard work, church life was slowly established in the town areas of Kudat, Kota Kinabalu (then Jesselton), Sandakan, Tawau, Labuan, Beaufort and Keningau. In the early 1950s, God began to move in the heart of one man to bring the gospel to the people in the interior of Sabah. His name was Bruce Sandilands.
Mr Sandilands was a government surveyor. During his many trips to the jungle of Sabah (then North Borneo), he saw the needs of the local people. They needed health care, education and the gospel. He shared his burden with his priest in Sandakan, Fr Frank Lomax.
In 1956, they made a trip up the Kinabatangan River and returned with a determination to start ministry among the people they met. The Sabah Anglican interior Mission (SAIM) was born. Its specific task was to share the love of God in Jesus Christ with the people in the interior of Sabah.
On 6 January 1958, the Epiphany Mission was officially opened in Tongud, by Bishop Nigel Cornwall, then Bishop of Borneo. Later, mission work began along the Labuk river, the Segama river and the Sugut river. In the next 40 years, many people were baptised, churches were planted and church workers were raised. Today, a large part of the Diocese consists of Christians and their churches in the interior of Sabah. The SAIM, as an organisation, was brought to a formal close in 1999. this was done to pave way for the whole Diocese to be involved in a wider mission, beyond the shores of Sabah.
1949 – the Diocese of Labuan became known as the Diocese of Borneo.
1962 – the Diocese of Borneo divided into 2 dioceses: the Diocese of Kuching and the Diocese of Jesselton.
1968 – the Diocese of Jesselton became known as the Diocese of Sabah.
1996 – the Province of South East Asia was formed comprising of the dioceses of Singapore, West Malaysia, Kuching and Sabah.
Being part of the Province, the mission of the Diocese of Sabah now reaches to the 9 countries of the Province with some 450 million people.
The 1st bishop of the Diocese was Bishop James
Wong; originally from Hong Kong.
The 2nd bishop was Bishop Roland Koh; from Sandakan.
The 3rd bishop was Bishop Luke Chhoa Heng Sze; from Penang.
The 4th bishop was Bishop Yong Ping Chung; from Semporna.
The 5th and current bishop is Bishop Albert Vun Cheong Fui; from Kota Kinabalu.
Throughout her short history, the Diocese of Sabah was served by very able men and women, who were deeply committed to God and His people.
Some of them felt God’s call to the ‘full-time pastoral ministry’ and offered themselves to the ministry of the church. They were trained, and later served, as evangelists, pastors and priests. The majority, however, served as ‘lay-people’. They were professionals, civil servants, teachers, nurses, business people, home-makers, taxi-drivers, vegetable gardeners, hawkers, students, etc., etc. They are the ‘people of God’. They love God and they love the people of the land. They are God’s gift to Sabah.