SIBU: This town is not done with honouring its much loved and revered missionary, the Rev James Matthew Hoover.
It already has a park dedicated to his memory, but tomorrow, Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud will declare open the impressive RM20mil Masland Methodist Church Complex, also called the Hoover Project, on Island Road.
Together with Chinese missionary Rev Wong Nai Siong, Hoover’s place in Sibu’s history is linked to his role in helping the Foochows, who were instrumental in the growth of the settlement in the early 1900s.
It was Wong, also honoured as one of the town’s founding fathers, who successfully negotiated with the second white Rajah of Sarawak, Sir Charles Brooke, to bring in Chinese immigrants from Fuzhou province to open up the Rajang Delta for agriculture.
Hoover, an American, was sent to Sibu to teach and lead this group of mostly Christian migrants.
Both of them are remembered today with a memorial garden each at the place where they first landed, Sungai Merah, 5km from Sibu town.
The Wong Nai Siong Memorial is part of the Sungai Merah Heritage Walk constructed in 2001 to celebrate the centennial of the arrival of the first batch of Foochow immigrants.
The Rev James Matthew Hoover Memorial Garden was opened in 2007 by Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh, Sarawak’s Second Finance Minister, and Rev Dr Su Chii Ann, president of the Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Malaysia.
“It is the only joint project by a local council and the Methodist Church in Malaysia,” said Daniel Ngieng, Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) deputy chairman.
He explained that the 1.25ha site belonged to the state, and designated as a public park by SMC.
“We are aware that Rev Hoover contributed tremendously to the early stages of Sibu’s development. “So when the church proposed building a memorial park for him, we eagerly played our part in tribute to this outstanding missionary and his wife,” he added.
The Hoover Project comprises the church, a multi-purpose building and an open space called Hoover Square. Construction work began in December 2006.
Hoover built the original Methodist Church in 1905. It was reconstructed to meet the needs of a growing community and renamed as Masland Methodist Church in 1925, in memory of an American widow who donated US$5,000 towards the construction costs.
The interior church’s interior has been massively renovated and installed with a new audio-visual system. It can accommodate about 1,700 people.
The L-shaped, multi-purpose building has 2½ storeys for its car park, three large halls for fellowship and conferences, administrative offices and the Methodist Kindergarten and Methodist Primary School located at the back.
The kindergarten and primary school combined have 1,800 pupils. There are also 10 guest rooms for visiting pastors, outstation members and Christian travellers.
Hoover Square, which can accommodate 1,000 people, is intended for concerts, dances and workshops.
The complex is not fenced, a friendly gesture to make it accessible to the public.
Masland Methodist Church, which employs six pastors and a staff of 15, has 5,000 members who donated RM13mil towards the construction and renovation costs.
The remaining RM7mil was borrowed from the Sarawak Chinese Methodist Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Malaysia and will be repaid in instalments.
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