The Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) was pioneered by Hudson Southwell together with two fellow missionaries Frank Davidson and Carey Tolley of Australia. They boarded an old cargo steamer from Melbourne in early October 1928 bound for Singapore. Travelling with them was Alexander Henderson, a pioneer of the Southeast Asian timber trade who had offered to help establish a base on the island of Borneo. Henderson left the team the following year.
(From Left; Frank Davidson, Carey Tolley and Hudson Southwell)
( Standing left to right: Frank Davidson, Carey Tolley dan Hudson Southwell
Seated: BEM member George Aitken; in the mission-field in 1931)
On 12th November 1928, Southwell and Henderson landed in Kuching, Borneo. They were referred to the Rajah’s private secretary, Gerard MacBryan and the Rajah’s cousin and legal adviser Charles Willes Johnson. The Rajah gave permission to establish a mission in Sarawak and recommended starting in the Limbang area to the north-east. Davidson and Tolley were to join them later.
The historical setting then was the regime of the White Rajahs in Sarawak that began with the English adventurer and explorer James Brooke who set out for Borneo in 1839. His nephew Charles Johnson Brooke succeeded him in 1868. The third Rajah was Charles Vyner Brooke who ruled from 1917. The era of the White Rajahs came to an end on 1st July 1946 when Sarawak became a crown colony.
Sarawak, together with Sabah and the Federation of Malayan States came together and formed Malaysia in 1963. With the increasing use of the Malaysian national language, Borneo Evangelical Church soon became Sidang Injil Borneo or more commonly known as SIB/BEM. Today, BEM churches may be found in Sabah and Peninsula Malaysia besides Sarawak.