Spirit Seeking

Spirit Seeking

Ben Engelbertink mhm

A fascinating new book by Ben Engelbertink mhm based on the diary he kept during the ten years he was active as a missionary in Sarawak, East Malaysia. This factual account is completed by a beautifully written imaginative story.

The remembrances of my blessed time in Sarawak from 1968 till 1978 have remained clear and strong. They were refreshed by a few visits which I paid to some longhouses mainly in Tatau area between 1985-2017.

Over all, many recollections and emotions have emerged through my strong connection with the Iban especially when travelling along the rivers and roads of each particular district or when staying in the longhouses with families, where I shared the pleasant domestic culture of their lives, as well as their poverty and tragedies.

My gratitude to the Iban of Sarawak, will, hopefully, resound throughout this book, especially regarding the hospitality which I have enjoyed throughout my time with them and also for the joy in everyday life which I learned from them.

During a memorable visit to Tatau in 2016, I was asked to write down my memories of the origin of the Catholic Church in that area, lest many happenings be forgotten by future generations.

Two words came to mind as being very important in the life of previous generations, namely, the Iban words ‘nampok’ and ‘belelang’.

Nampok means spirit seeking or seeking direction, trying to come to a decision at a very important moment of one’s individual life or in the community life of the longhouse. Belelang, on the other hand, is often the consequence or conclusion of that spirit seeking and means moving about from one place to another.

The Iban in general are a people on the move, trying to find new or better lands for the cultivation of rice as well as searching for new directions in their life, like whether or not to enter a new religion.

With these two words in mind I have tried to compose this new book, relying on the Dutch edition of my ‘Thoughts along the road’, and also on the later writings of my memories of happenings in the various longhouses.

An important guideline in these writings is my own story of nampok and belelang. Many events are related to the people I met, including my colleagues in the diocese of Miri, as we were exploring new missionary approaches, inspired by the Second Vatican Council and developments in our own Mill Hill Society.

(From the Preface)

“Of course I myself was also as it were ‘spirit seeking’. New horizons in the study of missionary work were given to us by the Second Vatican Council. We did not have all the black and white answers like in the old Christian adat. We were trying to find our way to respond to the great hospitality of the Iban, both in body and in mind and in the Spirit of Christ”.

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