The Grace Lutheran Church Menglembu (GLCM) By Ipohbornkid
What is so special about the GLCM that it deserves a write up? Well, among the Christian churches in Ipoh, the Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and other denominations all have Anglo-Celtic influence but the Lutheran has German influence. Secondly, GLCM carried out its missionary work in the tin mining villages south of Ipoh. Thirdly, they provided an essential medical service to the people. There was only one GP in Menglembu doing private practice and he could see up to 80 patients a day. Hence, in 1957, the congregation, medical and missionary work of GLCM (herein the “Church”) began in earnest.
I came to be aware of the Church when I was in Std 6 in ACS Ipoh and I was familiar with the Christian teachings given by the Methodist Church in the school. The year 1957 has a special significance that Malaya was granted independence from British rule. It was a birth of a new nation and era.
The Church bought the premises where Lahat Road bends to the left and directly opposite a saw mill. The building was a former school house for Man Hua primary school which moved to the new “Regrouping Area (North)” opposite the house of Chong Soon Fan.
My elder sister became part of the Church youth group in the late 1950s and I can remember some of the youths at that time. Notable membership of the youth group came from the Leong family, namely Seng Yap, Seng Kee, Seng Mee, Wan Yoong and included the eldest Leong daughter who was a school teacher at Man Hua Primary School in Menglembu. Their mother, Mrs Leong, a giant pillar in the Church elder group, and was also the driving force behind the activities of the Church. Other names like Eva & her younger brothers, Esat & his brothers, Ng Tong Seng, Soong San, the Wongs (Ah See, Ah Look & her pretty sister, Wu Yan Poh, Ah Siew etc. Eva, a very pretty girl, was the organ player. Most of the youth group were in their senior high years. Seng Yap and Seng Kee graduated as Dentists whilst Seng Mee and my sister graduate with medical degrees. All these people were went through Form VI in ACS Ipoh.
There were, among the Church leaders, very interesting personalities. Pastor Koch, was the first Pastor of the Church that I remembered well. Sunday morning service was conducted in English and the evening service was conducted in a Chinese dialect “Hakka”. It was a curiosity then to observe a European reading the Chinese language bible and preaching in Hakka dialect. Pastor Koch lived in the bungalow constructed at back of the Church and opposite the Wong’s residence (whose son is now an elder of the Church). Of course, Koch is a German name. It was no coincidence that Hakka was the chosen dialect because most villages in Menglembu and south were predominantly Hakka villages.
Another unforgettable person was Dr Helmut Difenthal, a German trained physician. He was accompanied by his wife and young children. They spoke German in their residence but he was able to communicate in English and Hakka. We once went to a Kledang Hill hike with the Church group and, with his tall stature and military training he literally marched up the hill leaving us behind. Dr Difenthal later confessed that he was a conscript in the German Army near the end of the WWII, and if it had continued, he would have joined the “Panzer” division (tank brigade).
Dr Difenthal was a very dedicated medico who was ever engrossed with his work with hook worm infestation. Most of his free time was spent on the microscope looking at specimen collected in his village run for hook work infestation. Sometimes, he got in trouble with his wife for immersing himself in his work. I believe some of the youths were influence by him to do medicine and medical related work. He was a good role model for unselfish dedication in improving the health and hygiene of the local population. It is sad that he had to depart from Menglembu when his research work conflicted with the findings of the Health Department, in terms of the locality and degree of infestation of hook worm in the local population. He was sadly missed by all who had been in contact with this “saint”.
In my days with the Church, I was regarded as the naughty one (kuai chai) and was hell bent in the game of disruption. For example, I would fall asleep during Thursday night bible class and that had created some embarrassment for my elder sibling. I remember that the bible study class was conducted by an elder called Mr Chong, a no nonsense and strict personality, and obviously incompatible with me at that time. Maybe I was too young to be in the youth group because I believe they were too serious, studious and matured for me. However, I did have my usefulness in volunteering to go on missionary work in the southern mining towns from Lahat, Pusing, Jelapang, etc. I would accompany the driver on the small truck where the piano was loaded at the back. On arrival at the site, the Church people would start handing out milk powder to the villages followed by a sermon. I had no idea then why they were handling out milk powder and now, I believe it had two purposes, one to improve the nutrition of the babies in the villages and second to attract an audience to hear the gospel. There was also the travelling medical team to provide much needed medical services to the villagers. The outdoor evangelistic activities suited me more than serious bible study.
In my younger days, I was almost incontrollable. In desperation, my family decided to farm me out to live with the Leong family hoping they will influence my determination to perform better in school. I stayed with Seng Mee for 3 months prior to doing the Senior Cambridge and I managed to pass the exam. I did not have the opportunity to thank her in person but in my heart I am very much indebted to the Leong matriarch for her kindness and care. There was also a brighter side to my association with the Church that I was allowed to assist in the teaching of Sunday school for the young children.
The most unforgettable incident was a Church outing to Kampar swimming pool. Everybody enjoyed themselves except me. Barefooted, I managed to step on a bee and got stung. It was excruciating pain. The nurse, a kind European lady gave me a shot of anti-histamine in the Church clinic
The Church did played an important role in the development of the community in Menglembu. Besides a spiritual role, it has kept a steady influence on its youth group, encouraged academic excellence and kept some of the “gangster” influence out of the group during a period of gangster activities in Menglembu. I write this piece of history so future generations of youth and congregation would not forget the pioneers and particularly, the significant contributions made by Mrs Leong, a kind and gentle lady with a strong commitment to the Church.
Note: The photograph of the Church Women’s Group belonged to the author’s mother who was a member of the group. It dates from the mid 1960s.