by Jan van Regteren
Sharing with the Iban Community on Sunday, 19th. June 2005
It is my privilege and pleasure to be with you today. It is always good to experience that our Christian faith is not limited to nationality, race, or culture. I am glad that so many of you are here, and hope that we all will have a good time together, in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me start with introducing myself. My name is Jan van Regteren, and-as you can see- I am no native of this country. I was born in The Netherlands, in Europe, in 1957, which means I’m 48 years of age. By education, I am an electrical engineer, and joined Shell in 1982, and have worked for them ever since, in variety of jobs, mainly to do with drilling oil and gas wells. I moved to Brunei in 1983, and lived there for almost 7 years. It is there that I met my wife, who in actual fact is a Malaysian Chinese from Miri, so I feel very much part of the local community. We got married in 1989, and have one son, who is now 11 years old. Following Brunei, we had further overseas postings to Scotland, Venezuela and The Netherlands, and finally arrived in Malaysia at the start of 2003. We anticipate staying in Miri for approximately 4 years.
My Growth as a Christian
I am blessed to have been raised in a Christian family. Both my parents are Christians, and they themselves come from Christian families. So in many ways, I have never really experienced life in the absence of God. I realize that this will be significantly different for many of you who, most likely, will only have learned about and received Christ much later in your lives. I was baptized as an infant, as was the tradition in our- Dutch Reformed- church. Ever since I can remember, we prayed before and after each meal, we prayed prior to going to sleep, the bible was (and still is) being read every day after dinner. I attended Sunday school as a child, and became very familiar with all the popular stories and events in the bible. As a teenager, I attended bible study and developed a good understanding of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Every Sunday, with my parents, sister and brother, we attended church. So at the surface, we were living our lives as a model Christian family, at least in the sense of the traditional church. I did not, however, experience good fellowship, did not have any good Christian friends, and did not share of my faith with others. I did not hide from them that I was a Christian- it was not that I felt ashamed of being a Christian- but neither was my walk with God such that I felt a great need or desire to share the gospel with those people around me.
So whilst all these activities (of church, bible study and the like) are important to shape one’s life, develop a moral framework, and increase in knowledge of God and the Christian faith, it takes a lot more to have a ‘personal relationship’ with God, in a way that impacts positively on the community where you live, that people are being challenged and attracted to your ‘walk with God’.
My faith was – for the first time- really being challenged when I moved to Brunei. Whilst it was relatively easy in Holland to go through the motions, in a certain way act as a ‘submarine Christian’, pop up to go to church on Sundays, and then submerge again in everyday mediocrity during the weekdays, this was challenged in Brunei. In a certain way, it is both strange and wonderful, how-in a Muslim society-my life as a Christian changed considerably. For those of you who know Brunei, especially in the 1980’s, it is a small country with little to do, few distractions, few activities, and no television programmes of any interest (we did not have satellite television in those days). This provided an ideal environment to develop very intimate friendships, as one tended to spend a lot of time with friends. Shortly after my arrival in Brunei, I went to a Baptist church, and was admitted into a wonderful group of Christian friends, with whom I spent a lot of time in the following years: we had great fellowship, a lot of sharing, praise and worship, and bible study. It was during that time that I began to develop a personal relationship with God, in that God became much more part of my everyday life- in a sense-He became more ‘real’ to me.
I started to study the bible a lot more seriously, spent a lot more time in prayer, and became more aware of God’s will in my life.
I began to read many Christian books, which-until then-I had not done before.
I was encouraged to participate in evangelistic events.
I began to give much more generously of my money to the church and other Christian organizations. As it says in Matthew 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I learned more and more to trust in God. Again from Matthew 6:31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
About a year ago, my wife’s brother in-law became very seriously ill with massive brain hemorrhage, and a coma. My wife and I took the opportunity to pray for him in the presence of his children, all of whom are non-Christians. God did not answer in a manner that we had desired, in that He did not heal him (at least in a physical sense); he passed away the following day. We do trust however, that God’s way are perfect, and hope that-indeed- even on his deathbed, he may have accepted Christ as his Saviour, such as to obtain spiritual healing, and salvation. Why am I telling you this? It is because God very much wants us to be His disciples, not to sit back and relax, but to step out of our comfort zone, trusting that God will do His work in and through us.