Lee Bee Jin was one of the earliest single ladies who came to work among the Ibans in the hinterland of Sarawak. She later married Rev Lau Kuok Ding, son of the Rev Lau Hung Ang. She was the elder sister of Lee Bee Teck, wife of Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung of the Methodist Church in Malaysia.
Bee Jin, who was also known as Lilyc Bee-Jin Lau, was born in 1933. Her maternal grandfather and father migrated from Zhuan Tou village, An Hai town in Quanzhou, Fujian, and settled down in Taiping, Malaya. Later, they moved to Penang. Her grandmother was the first believer in the family. At that time, their family was rather poor. When her grandmother saw their neighbours offering chicken and duck as part of ancestral worship, she decided to become a Christian, mainly with the initial intention of saving some money by doing away with ancestral offerings.
Her grandmother then persuaded her 18-year-old daughter (Bee Jin's mother) to become a Christian. Bee Jin's mother refused, saying that such an act would leave no one to worship her late father and he would become a “hungry ghost”. But she later became a Christian after a year of learning how to read the Bible from a lady pastor from a Methodist Church in Taiping who would come to her house and teach her. When Bee Jin's father proposed to marry her, she set a condition that he must become a Christian.
Thus, Bee Jin grew up in a Christian family with three younger brothers and three younger sisters. She was much influenced by the faith of her grandmother, who would lead her to kneel and pray by the bedside every night before going to bed. When Bee Jin was four years old, she learned about God's love gradually from the song “Jesus loves me” which her mother would sing. After singing that song, her grandmother and mother would pray together with her. At 14, Bee Jin confessed her sins, placed her faith in Christ and vowed to follow Him all her life. She found new meaning in her life, and did not quite mind her parents’ strictness. She knew God loved her.
When Bee Jin turned 17, she became a Sunday school teacher. From the Sunday school material, she learned about the natives in Borneo, how they lived in longhouses, and how most of them were non-Christians and practiced pantheism.
Tussle over mission work
In 1952 when she was 19, Bee Jin attended a retreat for 1,700 youths from Singapore and Malaya. During the retreat, she was deeply touched and heard God's call for her to serve in Borneo. Bee Jin wanted to share the gospel with these former head-hunters. She realised that she needed to equip herself with theological education.
When she returned home and shared her wish to go for mission work among the Ibans, her father was not happy. He wanted her to take over his business of importing bicycles and sewing machines, as he was having health problems. Bee Jin thought that she could help her father for a few years while confirming God's calling.
She helped her father in his business for the next three years and looked after the company accounts. Her father was suffering from gastro and intestinal diseases and after his third operation, he asked her to choose one of the three men arranged by a matchmaker, so that there would be someone to take over his business. She prayed fervently for her father to recover so that she would be able to go to Borneo. Meanwhile, she took up a Bible correspondence course to get to know God better.
As her parents kept stopping her from going to Borneo, Bee Jin embarked on 40 days of fasting and prayer. While her family ate three meals a day as usual, she would eat only one. On the 40th day, as she was taking her family members home from work, her mother suddenly asked her if she was serious in taking up theology.
She replied, "Yes." Her mother then said, “If so, your father wanted you to go back, eat first, and stop fasting.”
The tussle stopped there. Bee Jin finally went to Singapore Trinity Theological College from 1956 to 1958 and obtained her Diploma in Theology.
Arrival in Borneo
In January 1959, Bee Jin went to Sibu in Sarawak as a missionary of the Malaya Annual Conference with a monthly salary of $200. From Sibu, she went further upstream to Kapit by motor launch. That was her first trip to the deep interior of Borneo. After lunch in Kapit with Donald Moore, the missionary who was serving there, she was left alone while he rested. She was lonely and when she retired to her room, she stared at the ceiling and started to cry.
“Why did I come here?" she doubted. A few minutes later, a picture of Jesus which her classmates had given her came into her mind, as if Jesus was saying to her, “You are welcome, why are you afraid?” That comforted her and gave her strength and joy.
She started off working as the girls' hostel superintendent in Kapit. After two to three months of living with the Iban students, she could communicate with them in the Iban language. The following year, she taught in the Methodist school and took charge of the Christ Hospital rest house. Every fortnight, she would go with missionary Lorraine Gribbens to teach Sunday school further upstream and conduct Sunday service. They would also bring along three or four students in the long boat.
She married Rev Lau Kuok Ding on November 19, 1960. In 1964, after they returned from further studies in the US, she taught English and music over Radio Sarawak which had a very effective education programme. Good teachers were employed to teach their subjects over radio and schools all over Sarawak followed the lessons.
Bee Jin was a music lecturer in Rajang Teachers’ Training College, Bintangor, when Rev Lau was posted there. In 1970, she was a lecturer in the Batu Lintang Teachers' Training College, Kuching. She taught English composition and music in St. Teresa's Secondary School from 1976 to 1978.
She and her family moved to the US where she continued to teach for 21 years before she retired. Bee Jin passed away at the age of 87 on December 4, 2020.
- ^ “Lau, Lilyc Bee-Jin and Kuok-Ding”, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Obituaries, December 20, 2020, https://www.ajc.com/news/obituaries/lau-lilyc-bee-jin-and-kuok-ding/2TVUHPBBL5BS3IP3OMSWDWXGJ4/