Divine madness sees faithful teacher honoured

Joseph Smith

When Sylvia Jeanes told her family she wanted to be a missionary, they thought she had gone mad. 

Forty years later, Canon Sylvia Jeanes has been honoured at the recent Synod of the Diocese of Sabah in Malaysia for 40 years of faithful and fruitful service.

Many of the ordained clergy at the Synod have been taught and heard the gospel from Sylvia as small boys in the jungle mission school in Tongud, where she had been a teacher and then principal. 

Many have also trained to be ordained at Sabah Theological Seminary, where Sylvia has been a lecturer, mentor and friend to many of these clergy.

A video in the vein of "This is Your Life' was shown on the evening to document Sylvia's contribution over 40 years. There was thunderous applause in the room as Sylvia stood to receive her thanks.

Trusting God through sickness and lonlieness

Despite her family's disapproval, the Brisbane-born missionary began preparing for her life's work through Sydney's Deaconess House in 1964 and 1965. On January 5, 1967 Sylvia boarded the Fairsky for Sabah, Malaysia.

Sylvia has given most of her working life in God's service to the people of Sabah, initially teaching with colleagues at the primary school in the remote village of Tongud.

During this time, Sylvia faced her share of challenges. She was frequently ill, once close to death from malaria.

When many missionaries were forced to leave in the 1970s Sylvia's responsibilities expanded to management of a whole mission district for six years with pastoral oversight of 22 churches.

However, Sylvia's faithful work in exhausting circumstances bore fruit. When the country’s Chief Minister visited Tongud in 1979, he was so impressed that he helped Sylvia gain permanent residency, a status rarely given to foreign workers.
Syliva says receiving permanent residency was a great acknowledgement of the value of her ministry.

“Before that it was difficult to have a permanent outlook on the work, thinking any day it would come to an end. That letter helped settle my mind about the future and to know I would be around for a while yet,” she says.

In 1981, Sylvia moved from primary teacher to Bible teacher and for three years drove from place to place, loaded with Bibles, books for sale and training materials. 

She received further official recognition in 1986 when she was awarded with the Government Honour Star, equivalent to the Australia Day and Queen's Birthday honours in Australia.

Sylvia says the the lonelines she has experienced as a single woman has been a challenge.

“This one painfully gnawed at me for at least 30 years. I’m glad it no longer bothers me. In fact now it’s almost the opposite!”

In 1988 Sylvia became a member of the teaching staff of the then newly-founded Sabah Theological Seminary where she still works today.

Sylvia lectures in the Malay stream at the seminary in New Testament, Greek, missions and evangelism.

She also teaches in the Anglican Church and is engaged in an outreach ministry.

Sylvia currently lives and works at Kota Kinabalu, located on the western shores of Sabah on the coast of the South China Sea. It is expanding rapidly and is home to a growing and vibrant church. 

Sylvia says she is most thankful to God for giving her strength and perseverance. She also greatly appreciates the support of CMS.

“They believed in me more than I believed in myself and stayed with me all these years,” she says.

“To them belong much praise and thankfulness under God who trusted me with the work of his gospel and never never gave up on me even in my rebelliousness and sinfulness at times.”



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