Baughman, Burr H.

1910 - 1998
Missionary to Orang Asli & Ibans

Rev Burr Hastings Baughman was born in Buitzenborg, Java, Indonesia on October 21, 1910 to a Methodist missionary couple. He earned his baccalaureate from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina in 1930 and his B.D. degree from Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois, in 1938.

From 1932 to 1942, he taught in various Methodist boys’ schools in Penang and Singapore and also preached in local churches on Sundays. He also worked with the Methodist mission to the Sengoi, an indigenous people group (Orang Asli) in Peninsular Malaya.

During the Japanese occupation between 1942 and 1945, Rev Baughman was detained at a detention camp. After his release, he continued to work with the Sengoi mission until 1948. In 1946, he married Giam Tek Lin in Malacca. After being informed that he was not allowed to build a Sengoi school or residence for himself anywhere in the Malaysian jungle, Rev Baughman was transferred by the Methodist Church to Kapit, Sarawak, to work among the Ibans in late-1948. He was one of the pioneers in the Iban Methodist Church.

Rev Baughman was assigned to oversee the Iban mission and worked together with another missionary, Lucius Mamora, who had been serving there for many years. From 1948 until his retirement in 1975, he worked among the Ibans of the Rejang, travelling and preaching in Iban longhouses. He also established small primary schools in upriver areas and at longhouses. His wife, Madam Giam, taught at a Methodist school in Kapit.

On Christmas Eve 1949, Rev Baughman baptised the first group of 29 Ibans at a mission service in Panto, Kapit. Among them were three Iban chiefs, Pengulu Jugah, Pengulu Sibat and Pengulu Jinggut, together with their families. In 1952, the Iban congregations in particular showed good growth: 279 Iban children and 662 adults were baptised that year.

In a report as superintendent, Rev Baughman said that while the church in the Kapit District had grown, there were many dangers confronting them.

“The most immediate and widespread danger is that too many of our new Christians, rapidly taken into the church may turn out to be Christian in name only, and not in life. Unless we can, in the years ahead, put on an intensive programme of Christian education, we shall be lost in the darkness of a superficially Christian paganism."

“A second great danger to our Iban work is that it will come to rely too much on mission funds. It is fatally easy for the new Christian congregations to get into the habit of relying on such gifts, and not exerting themselves to support their own pastors and church organisation."

“A third danger is that of foreign leadership. We must do our best to educate and train young Iban Christians to take over, and quickly, the church and school posts. In the meantime the Christian church among the Dayaks cannot be truly their own as long as pastors, teachers and superintendents are largely American, Batak or Malayan. It will be a foreign church, dominated by foreigners and unable to reach intimately into the deep recesses of Iban life.”

Rev Baughman stated that to face all the dangers and difficulties, first of all, they needed the Holy Spirit. Only as the Spirit worked through them would they be able to accomplish anything of worth.

Secondly, they needed more church leaders. To adequately train those who had already entered the church was a task beyond the abilities of the men on the staff. To continue to reach out with the missionary spirit of Christ would demand an immediate increase in staff: preachers and teachers from Sarawak, missionaries from Malaya and America.

Thirdly, money was needed in ever increasing amounts as they enlarged their work. As new Iban preachers and teachers were added to the staff, money from Sarawak Chinese churches, Malaya and America was needed to help care for them while they trained the Iban congregations to give sacrificially to support them. 

Baughman quoted Paul who told the Philippians to have no anxiety about anything, to stop worrying about things, and to trust in the Lord. So, Baughman prayed for a deeper trust in Him who alone who could firmly establish Christ's church in Sarawak.

Rev Baughman, who worked among the natives of Malaysia for 42 years, is fondly remembered for many achievements. He promoted adult literacy among the Ibans and produced many of the materials that were needed to teach literacy, including an instructional reference text titled "Speaking Iban”. He was a member of the Inter-church Committee on Bible Translation, translating several books of the Old Testament into Iban. With Rev Mamora, he also translated hymns that are still sung in the Iban Methodist Church today. He was also a pioneer lecturer at the Methodist Theological School in Sibu. To honour his contributions, he was awarded the honorary Pegawai Bintang Sarawak (PBS) by the Governor of Sarawak in 1964.

Rev and Mrs Baughman retired to Florida, USA, in 1975. He died on December 2, 1998 at Brandon, Hillsborough. 


© SCAC. This article from Missionaries to Sarawak: Footprints in the Land of Hornbills is reproduced with permission of the Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference, The Methodist Church in Malaysia, with editing for clarity and brevity. 

[Missionaries to Sarawak: Footprints in the Land of Hornbills 1 and 2 are compiled by Wong Meng Lei (also chief editor), edited by Tumi Ngae, and translated by Christina Tiong, K.T. Chew, and Chang Yi. Book 2 translators are Christina Tiong, K.T. Chew, Chang Yi and Ting Kong Sing.]