The Main Thing is to Serve God: An Interview with Archdeacon Lidis Singkung (Part 1)

The Ven Lidis Singkung is the Archdeacon of the Central Archdeaconry in the Diocese of Sabah. Hailing from Kampung Sualok in Beluran District, he attended Holy Cross Mission School, Kuala Sapi as a boy. He was the first Kadazandusun to be ordained as an Anglican priest and has served faithfully in various mission districts and parishes over the past 32 years. In this interview conducted in his office at St Luke’s Mission, Telupid, he tells us about his childhood and how he became a Christian. He also shares about how he responded to the call to full-time ministry while originally pursuing a different dream, as well as about his theological training and ordination.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up in Kampung Sualok?

I was born into a non-Christian family, so most of my early years of childhood had nothing to do with the Christian faith. My kampung was quite far from the mission school which I went to later on. So I grew up in that environment, knowing nothing about Christianity until I went to school.

Q: How far is your village from Kuala Sapi?

We had to travel by boat on the Sungai Labuk. Back then it was very far, but now the journey only takes about 30 minutes. Thankfully when I went to the school we students stayed in the hostel provided for us, which helped very much.

Q: When you went to Holy Cross School, had any evangelism been done in Kampung Sualok yet?

I don’t think so. I can’t remember anything until later when the priest in Holy Cross made visits. Later on we built a church there.

Q: So you accepted Christ while you were studying at Holy Cross?

Actually, I accepted Christ in All Saints’ School, during a Youth Camp. I think it was 1976 when there was a youth camp there, and that’s the time I accepted Christ.

Q: What did you do when you first left school?

After I completed my secondary schooling, I worked as one the election officers at the local constituency, which was Beluran. I was in politics for quite a short while, almost one-and-a-half years. What I wanted to be was a politician.

Q: So what happened? How did you move from one thing—pursuing a political career—to pursuing full-time ministry?

Well, I was always active in church when I went to school. I joined Sunday School, and I even scrubbed the floors of the church using coconut husks and candle wax. I also joined the choir. That was my life in primary school and at All Saints’. Besides that, I was involved in youth work. But at the time that I finished Form 6, I wanted to be a politician. However, I went to another youth camp in the early 1980s, and there the challenge was given to dedicate one’s life to full-time ministry. And so I accepted that full-time calling.

Q: When you started your full-time ministry, what did you do?

I became a youth worker at St Michael’s Church, Sandakan. Bishop Yong Ping Chung was the rector at the time, and I worked under him. I helped out with both the English and BM services. I even preached at the English service. I remember Archdeacon Yong [as he was then] asked me for the full transcript of my sermon! But it was very helpful.

Q: What happened after your time at St Michael’s?

I went to Trinity Theological College, Singapore and spent four years there. It is an inter-denominational college, and I stayed at St Peter’s Hall, the hostel for Anglican students.

Q: Sounds like you had a unique experience. You were part of an inter-denominational seminary but you also had your Anglican community, right?

Yes, once a week we had what we called chapel services for all the students. But mid-week we had our own Anglican Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. One of the emphases was to have all the Anglican students experience the inter-D environment as well as to know our own tradition.

Q: I’m not sure if it had changed by the 80s, but TTC in some years previously was known to be quite liberal?

Oh, yes. Before my time and even in my time, it was liberal in the sense that they were very academic. You didn’t find that kind of teaching we have at ATI (Anglican Training Institute) today. And so if you were a new student who came straight in without any local church experience, I think you would have found yourself lost. Biblical studies, especially.

Q: At that time, I think, is it true that you were studying in TTC but there were others studying in Singapore Bible College at the time?

Yes, that’s right.

Q: How did you or the Diocese choose to send you to TTC instead of SBC?

I knew that SBC was more, what we call, biblical. I had read the prospectus. I knew that TTC was more liberal but I felt it was more like exposing yourself to what the world was saying about various issues. When I spoke to Bishop Luke Chhoa, he agreed, so I submitted my application to TTC.

Q: What happened when you came back after four years at TTC?

I was ordained deacon in 1987 and priested the next year.

Q: When you first joined full-time ministry, did you already feel the call to be a priest?

Actually while I was still in primary school, one of my so-called icons was [Revd] Arnold Puntang. He used to bring me along when he made outstation visits. I looked at his life and I was so attracted by it. Because I was also involved in the church, I suppose it was quite natural for me. I don’t know whether I wanted to be a priest or just a Christian serving Christ. But that time there were no other options. If you wanted to go into ministry, the the only channel we had was as a priest. So I choose to be a priest. If I was a young man today, perhaps being a priest might not be my Number One option. I could be just a lay reader or a pastor, and I would be happy. But I always wanted to serve God. That is the main thing in my mind.

Q: So, as it were, it was less that you decided that, “I’m going to go for this,” but you offered yourself and they sent you to that?

Yes, actually all that was in my mind was that I wanted to serve God. But when I spoke to my priest, he said, “You want to serve God? Good. Go for priesthood.” [elicits laughter] That was the only thing available.

Q: In the USA—let’s say before Barack Obama became president—a young African American might think, “I want to be the first black president.” But I don’t think you set out saying, “I want to be the first Kadazandusun priest”?

Oh, no, no, no.

Q: But you did end up being the first Kadazandusun priest. How did it feel to be given this opportunity?

It’s a coincidence. I never wanted to be the first Kadazandusun priest. And because that was not what I planned, when I became it, I felt nothing. Yes, people outside will say, “Well, you were the first one.” I’m not saying that I’m not proud to be the first, no, but I didn’t plan it. I just wanted to serve.

In the next part of this interview, Archdeacon Lidis tells us about his early years of ordained ministry and reflects upon the changing nature of full-time ministry in the Diocese, as well as how he sees his own ministry evolving as he approaches the mandatory age for retirement.