Rachel-Grandma (2)

Martha Padan@Buad Aran (left) from the Kelabit tribe, praying with friends and relatives at her family longhouse. All photos courtesy of Pastor Rachel Bulan.

As the first glimmer of dawn breaks over the hills of Bario, Sarawak, a Kelabit woman raises herself out of bed and begins her day.

She makes her way to the prayer altar of her family’s longhouse. There, at 5.30am every morning, she meets her Lord for a precious hour – and sometimes more.

Though slower, older and with wrinkles across her weather-beaten face, her prayers are as fervent as they were in 1973, when revival first broke out among her tribe in Bario.

For 50 years, Martha Padan@Buad Aran has entered God’s presence daily without fail.

Ps Rachel with her grandmother.

For 50 years, Ps Rachel’s grandmother, Martha Padan@Buad Aran, has met the Lord every morning at the prayer altar of their family’s longhouse in Bario.

“I always know that there is someone who brings my name to the altar every morning. That’s my grandmother. She prays for all of us by name – her 10 children, even more grandchildren and every great-grandchild,” said Pastor Rachel Bulan, co-lead pastor of Cornerstone Borneo.

Gathering of the tribes

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Bario Revival.

In October, a celebration will be held at the Miri Indoor Stadium. Organised by Tribal Gathering, the three-day conference will be filled with times of worship, prayer and intercession. More importantly, it will mark the passing on of the baton to the next generation.

Ps Rachel (centre) with those involved in the Revival Tour.

Since 1973, annual services have been held in Bario every October in commemoration of the famous Bario Revival. These services, Ps Rachel said, have traditionally been focused on refreshing and alignment.

From 2002, services were also organised in Miri to cater to the growing population who had moved down from the mountains for work.

But in 2018, the organisers handed it over to the next generation, in particular Ps Rachel and a few of her cousins, under the umbrella of Tauh Tinih, a next generation Kelabit movement. They were from different churches by then, so Tribal Gathering has become a largely inter-denominational movement.

Ps Rachel with some of her cousins under the Tauh Tinih umbrella: Pr Roy Agan, Mervin Garawat and Fiona Supang Peter. The group took over the Bario Revival Anniversary services in 2018.

“When we took over, we renamed it Tribal Gathering because we believe that the Bario Revival overflowed to many other tribes through the years, and we wanted to open it up to the other tribes,” she explained, before recounting how it all began.

“We didn’t want to be in the way, or to make revival and experiencing God exclusive to the orang ulu (mountain tribes).” 

A spiritual heritage 

In 1973, the Holy Spirit fell on a teacher and a group of students of the Kelabit tribe in the remote highlands of Bario. 

The winds of the Spirit swept across other mountain tribes, with one community after another turning to Him in repentance.

Fully convicted of their sin, God’s holiness and the nominal form of Christianity they had been living, they cried out for mercy and salvation.

Soon, the winds of the Spirit swept across other mountain tribes (Saban and Berawan), with one community after another turning to Him in repentance.

Over the next decade, God moved among the Sarawakian tribes in four waves.

As an entire generation turned to the Lord, there were physical manifestations: Tree leaves transformed into sources of light for missionaries lost in the jungle. Water and rice turned into oil and flour. Fireballs fell from the sky. Angels baked bread as food for people in the jungle and taught illiterate people how to read.

Prayer before worship at the monthly meeting.

Signs and wonders were taking place, and chains of alcoholism, family feuds and hypocrisy were being broken. Bario had nine longhouses then, and every longhouse had its own church. Fervent prayer became a mark of the revival.

Ps Rachel Bulan of the Kelabit tribe in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, believes the time is drawing near for Southeast Asia to experience fresh revival.

“The practice of prayer had begun with the Australian missionaries who brought the Gospel to us, but the revival brought about fervent prayer among my grandparents and parents. It’s a different level,” Ps Rachel declared.

“This is our spiritual heritage, and now it’s up to this generation of Borneans to carry it forward.”

Unique calling over Borneo’s people

Shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, the island of Borneo is the largest island in Asia and the third largest in the world.

She believes this season is about a restoration of tribal identity and destiny for her people and every tribe represented in Borneo. 

According to Ps Rachel, the island is known as the lungs of Southeast Asia and home to some of the most diverse ecosystems of flora and fauna.

“It is one of the oldest rainforests on this planet, and that speaks of our heritage, our roots. There is a unique calling over Borneo and her people,” Ps Rachel said.

She believes this season is about a restoration of tribal identity and destiny for her people and every tribe represented in Borneo. A time of harvest, she said.

“This is about every people group of Borneo coming into who they are, walking in their God-given identity and importantly, empowering each other as they come into that identity. It’s all of us saying to one another, ‘We believe in you, we support you and we’ll do whatever it takes for you to experience God for yourselves and to come to your full potential.'”

From tribal to global

On the local front, this movement may look like just a harvest of the tribes, but Ps Rachel explained that there is also a global vision.

In 2016, Tom Hess of the Jerusalem House of Prayer All Nations released a word over Southeast Asia, in which he proclaimed that three nations – Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia – would bring in the fullness of revival and the Gospel.

“And it is all coming together. The Indonesian church is an army so anointed with worship, solid in their relationship with God and reflecting the persecuted church in Revelations 2. The Singaporean Church, being the Antioch of Asia, has shown great maturity because of its global standing, significant reach and impact.

“And in Malaysia, we have been tilling the ground with the Malaysia United Firewall (MUFW), a nationwide prayer movement birthed in Covid-19 that’s still going strong.”

Themed Spreading the Ambers, the Bario Revival 50th Anniversary will see Christians from various Borneo tribes coming together in Miri, Sarawak this October. The hope is for every people group of Borneo to walk in their God-given identity and empower each other along the journey.

The 50th Anniversary will see representation from all three nations, as well as different generations, speaking, leading worship services and sessions of intercession and prayer.

The team is praying that through this movement, the Lord will ignite a move of God that will sweep across Southeast Asia and to the rest of the world.

Going to the ground

In order for this to happen, Ps Rachel is convicted that the revival mandate in Borneo must be handed down from the mountain tribes to the Ibans (Sea Dayaks) and Bidayuhs (Land Dayaks), the two largest tribes of Sarawak.

“The Ibans’ warrior spirit and identity, when redeemed, will be used mightily by God as a strong evangelistic force.”

It is not a new prophecy, she said, as words have been spoken over these tribes through the years.

The Ibans comprise more than half of Sarawak’s population and are known for their fearsome reputation as headhunters in the annals of history.

At a personal silent retreat earlier this year, Ps Rachel unknowingly checked into an Iban-themed resort where the Lord deeply impressed upon her heart the spiritual destiny of the Ibans.

“That night, the Lord brought the Ibans to my heart. God loves that they are warriors. The warrior spirit and identity, when redeemed, will be used mightily by God as a strong evangelistic force even to the ends of the earth,” she said, adding that her heart’s cry is for ancient chains and intergenerational curses to be broken.

50 Years on, is the Malaysian Church ready for another revival?

Malaysians are looking forward to the three days of revival services in October, but Ps Rachel makes it clear that the anniversary event will simply be a continuation of what God is already doing.

Christians in Miri have been gathering once a month to seek the Lord, wait for His revelation and prepare the ground for what is coming.

These meetings, Ps Rachel said, are the fundamental building blocks of what will take place in October.

At Tribal Gathering’s monthly prayer meetings in Miri, generations are gathering in unity to seek the Lord for revelation and prepare their hearts for what He’s about to do.

But is the Malaysian Church ready for revival?

“The answer is no. But we are being prepared,” Ps Rachel said.

She quotes Isaiah 40:4 – that “every valley shall be exalted, every mountain brought low, rough grounds will be made level and rugged places will become plains”.

It is a beautiful picture, the Kelabit pastor added. For decades, the highlands of Bario have been synonymous with revival.

“Our fathers and mothers have been faithful and sowing, it’s now up to us to bring in the harvest and carry on the legacy.”

But its unfriendly terrain, limited accommodation and short airport runway have prevented many from attending its yearly services.

The solution is therefore to bring revival to the city, to level the ground so that people from every tribe and tongue can experience Jesus Christ and walk into the fullness of their God-given identity.

And from a spiritual perspective, the goal is the same.

“Those of us who are higher up (thinking we are important or superior) in God’s plan must come down lower, and those who think we are lower must pick ourselves up, rise up and stand tall,” she said.

“It’s a levelling of people. Our fathers and mothers have been faithful and sowing, it’s now up to us to bring in the harvest and carry on the legacy.”

An outflow of the Spirit

“The global pandemic has set the stage for a global revival,” Ps Rachel said after some thought. Our hearts may cry out for revival, but only the ones who will get to see it or be used by God to birth it are the ones who are willing to wait – and to wait in unity.

“The only the ones who will get to see revival are the ones who are willing to pray, wait and come into unity.”

Sharing from Acts 2, Ps Rachel said that just 120 individuals were found in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit fell. But in 1 Corinthians 15, it is stated that Jesus revealed Himself to more than 500 people. Only 120 obeyed and waited.

“Revival isn’t a miracle. Yes, it suddenly happens but the ‘suddenly’ comes in a very intentional way. They were intentional to pray, wait and come into unity,” she said.

How can the Southeast Asian church – Christians in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia – get ready? It all starts with hearing from the Lord for yourself.

She said: “Hear from Him and obey His Word. Come hand in hand with other believers and wait upon the Lord or fly into Miri and join us for one of our monthly prayer meetings.

“What we see in October is just going to be an overflow of what’s happening right now.”

The 50th Anniversary of the Bario Revival, themed Spreading the Ambers, will be held at the Miri Indoor Stadium in Sarawak from 5-7 October 2023. To find out more, click here.

Tribal Gathering is seeking support to cover the operational expenses of the revival services. To find out more about partnering in this way, please contact Laura Chang (+60-1684-5723).


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About the author

Michelle Chun

Michelle Chun believes in the power of the pen (or keyboard) to inspire conversation, influence change and impact people. She believes that everyone has a story, and her prayer is for every heart to discover the joy of knowing God.