Dennis, Louis R.

- 1985
China Sibu

Rev Louis R. Dennis was born in Salisbury, Maryland, USA. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Asbury College, a Bachelor of Theology from Asbury Theological Seminary, and a Master of Theology from Drew University.

In 1930, he married his classmate Madeline Kelso who shared the same vision for overseas mission. So after graduating in 1935, they applied to be missionaries overseas. At that time, the US was facing an economic downturn. The church was short of funds and delayed plans to send missionaries overseas. Rev and Mrs Dennis were sent to pastor a church in the state of Delaware instead. The experience helped them greatly in overseas mission work later. 

In 1938, Rev Dennis was told that the Overseas Mission Board planned to send a missionary and nurse to China. He was asked if he and his wife would be interested to go. He was still pastoring a church while Madeline was working in the rural public health department. They felt that their professions met the requirements and that it was the right time to become missionaries. His parents who felt that China was too far away were opposed to the idea. But they later relented.

In September 1939, the couple set sail for China on a cargo vessel and arrived in Shanghai three weeks later. On arrival, they attended a nine-month intensive course on Chinese languages, and also observed and learned from other missionaries how they worked. In 1940, they were sent to Nanpin district in Fujian province, then called the Methodist Church Yenpin Annual Conference.

Rev Dennis was at one point the district superintendent for Fujian and visited and supervised many church and school building projects in the Yenpin area. Madeline worked as a nurse in the Nanpin Church Hospital and set up a mobile team with other nurses to provide medical services to people living in remote areas. They worked in Nanpin for 10 years before returning to the US in 1950 for a year of sabbatical leave during which they furthered their studies at a seminary.

When the Communist Party took over China, missionaries were forced to leave. The Dennises' hearts were still with Asia. So, the Overseas Mission Board sent them to Sarawak to work among the Chinese. In September 1951, Rev and Mrs Dennis left for Sarawak, arriving a month later. He replaced Rev Eugene McGraw as the superintendent and preacher of the North district. 

The year 1951 was when the Sarawak Methodist District Conference was in transition to become the Sarawak Provisional Annual Conference. It was also when many foreign missionaries were transferred from China to Sarawak.

At that time, the Sibu North district covered the northern and southern part of Sibu district, from east of Salim to the Cantonese settlement and to Kanowit, an area of 15 miles from north to south and 60 miles from east to west. The waterway was the major means of transport in these areas. The churches were Sing Ang Tong at Sungai Merah; Tian Dao Church at Hin Hua Settlement; Shiuan Daw Church at Bukit Assek; Fu Ling Methodist Church at Salim; Kang Men Tai Kung Preaching Point (today Tien En Church); A-Sing-Ba Giu Sie Methodist Church; Doh Ang Methodist Church at Sg Assan; Toh Ing Methodist Church at Pulau Kerto; Huat Hu Kang Cho Fu Methodist Church; Sg Pui Tieng Lee Methodist Church; LianHeYuan Preaching Point; Ik Ong Methodist Church at Kanowit; and the preaching points of Upper Salim, Rukouk, Giling Gulu, Sg Papu, Naman, Tamin, Tung Kiew.

In his 1952 report to the Annual Conference, Rev Dennis reported that Dennis White, the Resident of the Third Division, and the district officers of Sarikei and Kanowit had requested that the church should increase its manpower so that more areas could be developed. However, because of financial constraints, it was impossible to do so. Dennis expressed the hope that more youths would join the ministry and that a seminary would be set up in Sibu.

Madeline had set up a maternity clinic and an infant centre and later, five rural health clinics were set up, two in the Iban rural communities and three in the Chinese villages. These were joint projects among the Methodist Church, the Sarawak government and the Rural District Council. Madeline was the superintendent in charge of public health.  

During this time, Rev William Overholt, who had worked on agriculture projects in China for many years, came to Sibu to assist the Chinese in farming while Rev Thomas Harris was in charge of helping the Ibans.

When Rev Dennis became the district superintendent in 1953, the Tuai Rumah (longhouse headman) of the longhouses at Malasan (or Bawang Assam, downstream of Rejang River) came to see him and told him that the Ibans would like to accept Christ as their Savior and were willing to be baptised. Rev Dennis visited and taught them and baptised Guanak Baring, the Tuai Rumah, and 258 Ibans. Within half a year, there were over 400 baptisms.

The Iban leaders set up a committee to scrutinise the conduct of the adults and the consent of the children's parents before allowing them to be baptised. A new believer offered her land to build a church, parsonage and primary school. The villagers donated most of the building materials and labour. Rev Jaleb Menurung, an Indonesian Batak pastor, was posted to the church in December that year.

In 1954, Rev Dennis reported that the Women Mission Board and the Overseas Mission Board had jointly set up the Methodist Theology School and enrolled its first batch of students for a three-year course. The Methodist Theology School built its first school which included a hall, classrooms, an office, library, temporary boys’ hostel, a dining hall and kitchen. A one-week, short-term mission course was conducted in September and 13 Iban pastors and lay preachers were trained.

In 1956, Rev Dennis and his wife returned to the US on sabbatical. In 1957, they were transferred to Singapore where they served for two years. They were later posted to Petaling Jaya, Selangor, for two years and among their duties were translation and publicity work for the Southeast Asia region. In 1961, they were posted to Sitiawan, Perak, where Rev Dennis was badly injured in a traffic accident. After a long period of treatment, he recovered slowly but his physical movement and thinking ability were impaired. They later returned to the US.

Rev Dennis passed away after a fall in October 1985.


© 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 minor 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.]