Relaunching Dantai

In conjunction with the closing of the First Malaysia Union Mission Pathfinder Camporee, the relaunching of Kem Istirehat Dantai, or Dantai Adventist Retreat Camp, took place on the morning of April 11. Presiding over the Relaunching Ceremony, Sabah Mission president Pr. Ferdinand Sawanai revealed the new name, Dantai Elpizo Beach Adventure Camp (DEBAC). Further, he shared that in the past years, Dantai had been a place where many camporees and retreats took place. However, when the pandemic hit, it was left unkept, like many other properties. He also expressed his plans to make DEBAC a place for church camps, youth programs, and a beach retreat place.

A total of 10 individuals representing MAUM, Sarawak Mission, Peninsular Malaysia Mission, Sabah Mission, and DEBAC committee members participated in a tree-planting event marking the relaunching of the campground. The symbolic act of tree planting was significantly chosen because of its biblical connotation.  The tree represents an individual among God’s people. The planting implies the purpose. John 6:44 teaches that we do not come to God of our own accord. He calls each person and directs their life. May DEBAC raise workers to hasten the completion of the gospel.

History of DEBAC

Dantai Adventist Retreat Camp has a special place in the hearts of many Malaysian youths who grew up in the 90s and early 2000s. Located in the interior, Dantai was a beautiful place of adventure for local church groups. Back then, getting into Dantai was a whole adventure of its own. Reminiscing on the camporees held at Dantai in the past, I started collecting some historical information. As I interviewed the Sabah Mission president and other senior pastors, they directed me to Pr. Daniel Bagah, one of the influential pastors who was part of the team, that initiated the use of the land as a campground.

The 19.2-acre property at Kg Lok Nunuk was bought for RM7k from the village chief in 1976. The flat area was mostly swampy and heavily forested. Dantai was made up of a swamp and hills covered with big trees. There was nibong (thorny palm tree) and poisonous latex-dripping trees. Since there was no road access, one had to either track on foot or travel by boat to Dantai. It was a jungle with wild boars, wild fowls, and mouse deers in abundance.

The late Pr. James Earl Thurmon, the SAB president (1977-81), was instrumental in the early developments. He loved water skiing and the beach and even bought three large boats exclusively for DANTAI. According to Pr. Daniel, a Kota Belud local, ‘DANTAI’ originates from the Malay word “pantai.” However, Pr. Thurmon pronounced ‘pantai’ as ‘DANTAI,’ and his pronunciation stuck until today. The locals call the campsite “LOK NUNUK” or “KENUNUK.” “Lok” means ‘bay’ or ‘teluk.’ ‘Nunuk’ is the local name of a large tree (fig tree). Dantai used to have plenty of them. The local Bajaus believe that evil spirits make their homes on these trees. No locals dared to venture there because of the fears of evil spirits dwelling in the large banyan trees.

Water was supplied from a spring up in the hills. There were two wells dug in the foothills. Sometime in 1988/89, Japanese students came to construct more wells under an ADRA program led by the late Mr James Lai. ADRA also started a road project of RM12k from Batu Sisip to Dantai and the Bajau village of Lok Nunuk. An Adventist contractor, Mr Lee Pau Lai from Kota Marudu, undertook the contract.

From the beginning, Dantai was meant for youth camps, Sabah Mission workers’ retreats, and other outdoor church activities. The plenty of pine trees along the beach were where a makeshift open hall and a camp kitchen were first set up. In 1979, a Workers’ Retreat for pastors and teachers was held at Dantai. It was probably the first big event held at Dantai, according to Pr. Daniel. later that year, he attended a youth camp there. In 1989, during his term as Youth Director, Sabah Mission organised a youth camp where the campers came to campgrounds by the newly constructed dirt road.

The thick jungle was slowly conquered by Pathfinders and youth from all over Sabah as they slowly hacked their way into the grounds to set up camps further in. By 1991, Dr. Charles Gaban, the Sabah Mission President, and Pr. Daniel Bagah, the youth director, initiated building a youth hall and toilet/bathroom facility. That same year, Sabah Mission hosted a SAUM Pathfinder Camporee, which was graced by the attendance of the World Youth/Pathfinder Director, the late Elder Malcolm Allen.

Today, Dantai Elpizo Beach Adventure Camp (DEBAC) has grown into a 27-acre campsite after the Mission purchased another 8 acres of forest above the original 19.2 acres. With the larger grounds, the Sabah Mission hopes to develop DEBAC into a place where members and others can retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city while continuing to serve as a campground for Pathfinder activities.

Reported by Hazel Ginajil, Communication Department

24, April 2024, Wednesday.