I don’t have a gift for languages but I am a bilingual. To be a true bilingual one has to not just speak but write well in two languages. In Singapore I only preached thrice in Malay in my 6 years there in two Indonesian services. Now back in Sabah I have only spoken twice in English but with more than 200 sermons in Malay over 5 years. That makes me by God’s grace a true bilingual. I have written many lectures notes in Malay and have taught in seminaries in Malay for 5 years. Now I am into chapter 12 of John’s gospel commentary, all 60,000 words and counting in Malay. Last Sunday I preached in Malay as I have always preached in Sabah for 19 years. I did not miss a beat. When the anointing flowed, my Malay is as good as my English perhaps even more so because Malay is a very direct and impactful language.
Obviously with my knowledge and reading of the Indonesian Bible, I used Indonesian Malay perhaps 2% or 3% of the time in my sermons. But I try to speak pure and proper Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Melayu whenever possible. Only that in Sabah it is baku which means the intonation is different from that spoken in West Malaysia. It is a Bornean type of Malay but pure Malay nonetheless. It is close to Indonesian in some ways though Bahasa Indonesia has seen much change and evolvement in the past 10 or 15 years. Sometimes I can’t explain why I chose to remain in Sabah. Perhaps the adage is right, “it is better to associate with the lowly” or the gospel version by Jesus in Luke that the Gospel is preached to the poor. I told my friends that the natives or indigenous peoples in Sabah are generally a humble lot. It is just the few who have somewhat risen in position or power either in secular or religious circles who go against the culture of true humility and gentleness among the tribes of Borneo. I did not realise that in the last month of June I had preached on 3 Sundays and conducted a day long seminar on Saturday. It makes me look busy in my enforced holidays or sabbatical at the moment. All these sermons were delivered in Malay to the natives of Sabah. And many had responded with appreciation and as for me their love and honour for this unworthy servant of God is sufficient reward in itself.