The Methodist Church in Singapore goes back to 1884 when, on James Thoburn’s initiative, the South India Conference appointed William F. Oldham as pioneer missionary to Singapore. Thoburn headed the party which sailed unheralded into Singapore harbor on 7 February 1885. Evangelistic meetings were followed by the first Quarterly Conference on 23 February.
Thereafter, the mission initiated a number of related activities: schools for boys and girls established by Oldham and Sohia Blackmore, with hostel accommodation; churches organized in all the main local dialects (Malay, Tamil, Hokkien, Cantonese and Foochow); and William Shellabear’s Mission Press and pioneer scripture translations and publishing work.
Following the initial thrust in Singapore, work spread to the towns and rubber estates in Peninsula Malaya. Town churches were twinned with schools which provided important support for the churches. Expansion and growth graduated the mission to the Malaysia Annual Conference in February 1902.
Equally significant were the planting of Methodism in the Philippines in 1900 and the settlement of Foochow Christians in Sarawak and in Sitiawan (Malaya) after the Boxer War. This was followed by Java, then Sumatra. A Tamil and Chinese evangelists were engaged from Ceylon and South China.
By the end of World War I, young people who had studied in the schools, attended the churches, Sunday Schools and Epworth League had matured. Local leadership was, however, expressed mainly in churches using the Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil.
The Jubilee in 1935 reflected the development of human resources through the rapid growth of Methodist schools in number and quality, the success of the youth and women’s work, all forming a local talent pool.
With the collapse of Singapore following the outbreak of the Pacific War and the suspension of American missionary support, local Methodist leaders carried on under trying circumstances. A turning point had been reached, and profound change had begun to take place. When hostilities ended in 1945, a period of physical and psychological reconstruction began.
The founding of Trinity Theological College, the fruit of ecumenical prison fellowship and a significant cradle of local and regional church leadership, was an important milestone. The other was a new relationship in the U.S. Methodist Church with the constituting of the South East Asia Central Conference in 1950, and the American mission.
Led by maturing local clergy and lay leadership, the church has grown significantly.
Methodism came to Sri Lanka on June 29, 1814. The mission was led by Rev. Dr. Thomas Coke who died on his way to this country near Bombay. Five others, however, landed on our shores. Many other missionaries have come from Britain and Ireland and made a rich contribution to the life of the church. Missionary teachers and principals have left an indelible mark on the history of education in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Church became autonomous in 1964.
The oldest Methodist Church in Asia is in Colombo and it celebrated its 180th anniversary in 1995. The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka consists of 3 districts and 32 circuits. It has 75 active ministers, 54 evangelists and 20 lay workers in full time ministry. Three missionaries of our church serve in England, Germany and the West Indies. Nine missionaries from Germany, Korea, England and Holland work in the church. The total Methodist community in Sri Lanka is 28,000.
The ministers receive their theological education at an ecumenical theological college in Pilimatalawa. Two evangelistic training centers have been established for training evangelists in Tamil and Sinhala. The church manages two schools, Wesley College and Methodist College. The church has been actively involved in education since 1814. There were over 120 Methodist schools managed by the church when the government took over mission schools in Sri Lanka. It has now gone into pre-school education and has set up 150 pre-schools, nurseries and day care centers. More are for the poorer children and include nutrition programs.
The church runs 17 children’s homes for about 1,000 children, assisted by Kinder Nothilfe in Germany. With the country in a state of civil war the church has been challenged to care for the victims of violence. Churches in the combat zone have organized refugee camps, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, and counseling of those who have faced trauma of war.
The Church has training programs for electronic technicians, motor mechanics, mechanical engineering, pottery, sewing, agriculture, a center for training in the printing trade and training in its City Mission for carpentry, metal work, catering, and janitorial services. About 400 young people benefit from these projects.
Over 50 evangelists are trying to establish a Christian witness in frontier areas. Last year new work was begun in 30 village communities. The church is experimenting with new forms of worship, introducing creative, indigenous models of worship.
The peace and reconciliation committee of the church is involved in a peace education program to educate the youth to understand the need for multi-ethnic co-existence. Exchange programs for young people belonging to different ethnic communities are being organized as a contribution to peace education. It has tried to mediate between the conflicting parties in the war and has urged them to take steps towards a negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis.