In the Autumn of 1996 Sally and I were in our then partner diocese of Sarawak engaged in a teaching tour, arranged by Bishop Keith and Bishop Made Katib. Towards the end of our stay, the Archdeacon of North Sarawak and Brunei, Bolly Lapok (who later became Archbishop of the Province of South East Asia) insisted that Sally and I visited the parish of Niah.
In Niah we found the vicar’s wife, hard at work in her kitchen cleaning pieces of translucent bird’s nest material. This solidified saliva from swiftlets is made into bird’s nest soup which is a very expensive delicacy indeed. The swiftlets nested in their thousands in the caves at Niah. The Rev Rentrap was not only vicar of the parish but also a qualified guide for the caves, and when he offered to take us round we eagerly accepted.
The Great Cave is the third largest in the world. As we entered the cave we could just see in the semi darkness fragile bamboo poles and frameworks stretching high into the ceiling. Mr Rentrap said men risked their lives collecting the nests using these flimsy structures. Then he simply said “Follow me” and we moved further into the darkness.
After a while, we came to a narrow path with a rock face to the right and a drop down to the left. There were tiny orange lights on the floor below, which I assumed were made by some sort of glowworm-like insect. “Stay very close to me” urged our guide, as we peered over the edge. I asked him what the lights were. He told me they were small fires lit by men digging the fertilizer guano (bird and bat droppings) at ground level. There was a sheer drop of hundreds of feet to the cave floor below!
Suddenly I wanted to stay very much closer to our guide than before!
If you are interested find this site on the Web for a very short video about bird nesting in the Niah caves).
“Swiftlet Bird’s Nest | Eye On Malaysia 3”
Jesus would often say to people “Follow me” and those two simple words take me back our adventure. The memory of our visit to the “Great Cave” at Niah is a personal parable making me realise that we cannot follow Jesus in a casual way. The journey through life is sometimes dark and dangerous, like our time in the Great Cave at Niah. Following Jesus step by step, means staying very close to Him, and obeying his instructions.
The last verse of J.E.Bodes hymn ”O Jesus I have promised to serve thee to the end” sums this up well.
Oh, let me see Thy footmarks,
And in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly
Is in Thy strength alone.
Oh, guide me, call me, draw me,
Uphold me to the end;
And then to rest receive me,
My Saviour and my Friend.
Now when I think of Jesus saying “follow me” I know it also means “Stay with me…stick close to me…trust me”.
Only in this way can I be safe in the darkness and step into eternal light.
Roger M. Vaughan