Luering (Lüring), Heinrich L.E.

1863 - 1937
Pioneer missionary and linguist
Methodist
Malaya
Borneo and China

Reverend Dr Heinrich Ludwig Emil Luering was born on December 9, 1863 at Delmenhorst, Oldenburg, Germany. He was the second son of Adolf Heinrich Ludwig Luering who was one of the first four pastors of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Germany. 

Luering studied classical philology and theology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland for two terms and continued his studies at the University of Strasbourg in France. He completed his Ph.D. in 1887. He excelled in languages and could eventually speak almost 20 ancient, classical and Oriental languages. His keen interest in linguistics led him to start his career at the Methodist Publishing House in Bremen. Subsequently, he took up a position as a Methodist pastor in Kiel for about two years.

In 1888, Luering was invited by James Thoburn, then Bishop of the American Methodist Episcopal Mission based in India, to serve as a missionary in Malaya. Luering accepted the invitation and arrived in Singapore in October 1889. He was the second Methodist missionary after William F. Oldham to arrive in Malaya, and served there for the next 20 years. 

In 1893, he married Violet Beins (1876-1949), a young Eurasian convert of William Oldham. They had seven children: Stella Violet (born 1893 in Singapore), Adolf Le Lacheur (born 1894, also in Singapore), Carl Emil (born 1895 in Germany), Olga Marie and Otto Hugo (twins born 1897 in Singapore), Erna Frieda (born 1901 in Ipoh), and Clara Elizabeth (born 1903, also in Ipoh). The different birthplaces of his children testified to his extensive travel and relocation as a missionary.

A few months after his arrival in Singapore, Luering was sent to Dutch West Borneo to explore potential mission work there. On January 27, 1890, he and Dr Benjamin West arrived at Pontianak, a town at the junction of the Kapuas and Landak rivers 30 miles from the sea. They travelled along the Kapuas river as far as 500 miles upstream to reach Sintang where he shared the Gospel with the indigenous Dyaks, who were traditionally nomads and headhunters. During this posting, his proficiency in speaking Malay improved rapidly. Unfortunately, in December 1890 he had to return to Singapore due to the growing needs there. Luering would later report of this trip that he was “favourably received” and that they “listen(ed) to the reading of the Gospel”.[1]  

The annual meeting of the Malaysian Methodist Episcopal Mission in April 1891 discussed this report and decided to send Luering and Reverend Dr J.C. Floyd as missionaries to Borneo. This time, they ventured into Kamanis in Sabah. Luering stayed on for eight months in that hostile territory. The population was so sparsely distributed that they could reach only 500 people in a day’s journey. Furthermore, they needed to master five new languages in order to communicate properly. Overall, this mission trip achieved very little success. 

In Singapore, Luering regularly conducted “divine service” (a name for the Eucharistic liturgy as used in some Lutheran churches) in German in the first Methodist Church in Coleman Street, now known as the Anglo-Chinese School Drill Hall. Large numbers of Germans used to attend these services. The Straits Times of July 25, 1924 reported that “His address was always appreciated. Ever courteous, considerate and kind, and with an engaging personality, he was a great favourite among all classes, for he was no respecter of persons.”[2] 

At the same time, Luering also pastored the Straits Chinese or peranakan congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Middle Road. In March 1893, he took over the Methodist Church's Chinese mission and preached in the Hokkien and Foochow dialects to the locals. 

Apart from his ministry in church, Luering and his wife undertook work in the Malay, Chinese and Tamil language Methodist schools. His linguistics skills enabled him to preach in some 25 languages over the span of his life. He spoke fluent English with a distinct teutonic accent. Aside from Foochow and Hokkien, he could also speak Cantonese and Hakka. He also translated hymns into the Malay language and bought many Malay books and Jawi materials from the local publishing houses and book stores. Today, these rare artifacts are part of the Goethe University collections in Germany. 

In November 1896, Luering was transferred to Fukien (Fujian) in China. While serving there, he befriended a local minister by the name of Reverend Ling Ching Mi. Luering would later successfully persuade Reverend Ling to come to Singapore in 1897 to pastor the Foochow Christian immigrants. Three years later, in 1900, Luering returned to Singapore and was posted by the Methodist Episcopal Mission to Ipoh, Perak.

In Ipoh, he served under Reverend William E. Horley, the English missionary associated with the founding of 27 Methodist schools in the country. The local Chinese were mostly tin-miners who spoke Hakka and Cantonese. Luering became very fluent in conversing and sharing the Gospel with them in these dialects. He was also possibly the first European to speak the Sakai (Sengoi) language of the local aborigines located at Ulu Kampar near Ipoh. In fact, he managed to baptise a Sengoi woman.

In 1903, on behalf of the Methodist Episcopal Mission, he negotiated and signed an agreement with the Perak government to recruit 1,000 Foochow Christians from Fukien, China. They were to be resettled in Sitiawan for the dual purposes of establishing an agricultural settlement as a source of future labour supply and to cultivate rice to meet the demand of the rapidly growing population arising from the tin-mining industry in Perak.

Luering arrived in Foochow on June 6, 1903 with his friend Reverend Ling who originated from this province. The intense heat and circulation of a “poison pen” letter aimed at sabotaging the project made their task very difficult. Nevertheless, on August 4, 1903, they managed to set sail on the Glanfalloch with 484 potential settlers. When they finally arrived at Sitiawan on September 9, 1903, only 363 people were left. Seventeen died of cholera along the way while 104 absconded when the ship stopped over in Singapore. He continued to oversee the resettlement plan while based in Ipoh from 1903-1906, and from Penang in 1907. From this first generation of settlers, the Foochow community has grown tremendously in numbers and significance, producing many well-known personalities in Malaysia’s political, commercial and religious spheres. 

In 1906, Luering took his long overdue furlough and travelled extensively in Europe and the United States, giving lectures on mission work and mission opportunities in Malaya. On his return to Malaya, Luering served as the principal of the Methodist Boys School in Penang and also district superintendent of Penang Methodist schools from 1907-1909. In September 1909, he received a cable from the Methodist Seminary at Frankfurt am Main to return to Germany. He was highly respected by his contemporaries. In a farewell address published in the Perak Pioneer and Native States Advertiser, W.H. Phillips, a resident of Taiping, described Luering as follows:

“Dr. Luering was a missionary ordained of God, and not of man. Hence we found in him those qualities which rightly belong to the genuine servant of God, but which, alas are deplorably rare in a majority of his brother missionaries. The Dr. was no respecter of persons. The white brethren and the black, the yellow and the brown, were all alike to him, and he had a righteous scorn for all racial and ethnological distinction which is the curse of all the missions in the East. His profound scholarship never made him a pedant, nor his religious zeal ever make him a fanatic. As a preacher he had few equals.”[3]

On his return to Germany in September 1909, he assumed the position of professor at the Methodist Theological Institute in Frankfurt. He lectured on a variety of subjects including dogmatics, mission studies, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Luering was also active in academic circles around Frankfurt, especially in the Society of Natural Sciences and Society of Oriental Languages. He wrote many philological and ethnographic articles on the Dyaks, Malays and Sakais and also taught Malay, Chinese and other languages. For the next 25 years, he was active in all these works before retiring at the age of 70 in 1933.  

Luering passed away on October 14, 1937 after a long illness. At his funeral service in Frankfurt on October 18, 1937, Bishop Dr. Melle, who gave the address at the graveside, fittingly chose the text from Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” to describe the life of this great servant of God.

 

Notes

  1. ^ “Travels in Western Borneo”, Straits Times Weekly Issue, April 8, 1890, 8, retrieved from NewspaperSG, https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/stweekly18900408-1.2.58?ST=1&AT=search&k=dutch%20luering&QT=dutch,%20luering&oref=article. 
  2. ^ “The Late Dr. E. Leuring”, The Straits Times, July 25, 1924,10, retrieved from NewspaperSG, https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19240725-1.2.69
  3. ^ Holger Warnk, “The Collection of 19th Century Printed Malay Books of Emil Lüring”, Sari - International Journal of the Malay World and Civilisation 28(1) (2010): 99-128, accessed on January 22, 2021, http://www.ukm.my/sari/images/stories/SariOnline/Journal/28_1/sari_28_1_5.pdf

Tai Kim Teng

The writer, an orthopaedic surgeon and the former executive director of OMF in Malaysia, is the executive director of DCBAsia.

 

Bibliography

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“Travels in Western Borneo”. Straits Times Weekly Issue, April 8, 1890, 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.  https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/stweekly1890….

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