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Monday, May 9, 2011

Faith, Love and Hope in Borneo. .(Book Review) - Borneo Research Bulletin | HighBeam Research

Faith, Love and Hope in Borneo. .(Book Review) - Borneo Research Bulletin | HighBeam Research



Faith, Love and Hope in Borneo :-(Theological and cultural anthropological experiences and insights among the Dayaks of Kotawaringin, excerpted from the diaries of Johann Georg Baier, 1928-1932, pioneer missionary in Southwest Borneo).

This work differs markedly from the numerous popular publications on missionary themes. The reader finds himself gripped by the narrative--the moving description of Elisabeth Baier's death in a remote jungle village is a case in point--and finds it impossible to put the book down until he has reached the conclusion. He will refer back to it again and again, especially when confronted with the charge that missionary activity is simply a vestigial manifestation of a thoroughly outdated Western superiority complex. According to this charge, attempts at proselytization are an irresponsible interference with the harmonious lifestyle of primitive tribes, an almost criminal disruption of these simple peoples' idyllic, harmonious culture.

Johann Georg Baier, the original author of these diaries, skillfully edited by his son Martin, worked as a missionary in the third decade of the last century. He found it necessary to defend himself from the attacks of literary romantics as well as ideologically prejudiced ethnologists. He writes an unvarnished report on life among the Dayaks of Kotawaringin in Borneo; he records their religious customs, then in the late stages of disintegration as a result of inner decadence as well as external Islamic and Western influences. His narrative may be taken as a telling rebuttal of the fashionable anti-missionary cliches of the day.

The son and editor of the elder Baier's memoirs focuses the work on both his father's and his own experiences and research in the fields of theology and cultural anthropology. Martin's doctoral thesis, "Customary Fines of the Ngaju-Dayak," draws on the Basel Mission pioneers' notes, augmented by his own studies and research. They are indeed a treasure trove of old Indonesian ritual--even if the macabre details on the Dayak's mortuary treatment of dead bodies may shock the aesthetic sensibilities of European readers! One useful feature of this book is the fact that obsolete and obscure terms and references are explained in the introduction, and by relevant footnotes.

The author's main aim, however, is contained in the sub-title: Faith, Love and Hope in Borneo. It is subtly chosen, seemingly misleading if the reader expected a sentimental work of edification. For one thing, this title is a deliberate allusion to Love and Death in Bali (Liebe und Tod auf Bali) by Vicky Baum, a work in which the author depicts an exotic culture in lurid colors though she has only the most superficial knowledge of the subject. For another, the author of the diary lived his life fully, indeed painfully, by the three Pauline concepts (1. Cor. 13.13). Johann Georg Baier traveled to Borneo in 1924, as one of the early pioneers of the Basel Mission on this island. He and his wife Elisabeth, a former Swiss deaconess , were motivated by Faith in the Gospel of Christ and its power to raise the Dayaks from their spiritual and moral degeneracy to a new life. His work was inspired by the Hope that even if his efforts seemed to bring very few tangible results at the time, the new faith would eventually s ucceed; a hope which, in view of the later growth of the indigenous church, was not unfounded. Above all, Baler was moved by Love for the lost souls, a commitment that never wavered. Even after the loss of his first wife, it gave him the strength to look up to his Heavenly Master, take his congregation into his heart, and to find courage to carry on, after 1932 in company with his second wife, the missionary nurse Luise nee Junginger.

Baier was also a powerful speaker, who could advocate the missionary cause in his home country. Among his effects (1988) was a small communion set, with the inscription: "Georg Baier, 1 .Cor. 11, 26--with true affection, from your brothers and sisters of the mountains," (Schwabische Alb.--here referring to the senior Johann Baier's own native pietistic community in Southern Germany).


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