Film / Book Reviews, Touch

A ‘must-read’ for Methodists

Our leaders at least must know how our Church evolved

From Mission to Church
The Evolution of The Methodist
Church in Singapore and
Malaysia: 1885-1976
Author: Earnest Lau
Publisher: Armour Publishing
Pte Ltd
320 pages, $25

THE story of how the Methodist Mission started in 1885, grew and evolved from a “mission” to become the autonomous Methodist Churches in Singapore and Malaysia will be available in bookshops and Methodist institutions in Singapore this month.

From Mission to Church will be sold at a special price of $20 at the Aldersgate Convention 2008 to be held at Wesley Methodist Church from May 19 to 24. It will retail at $25 (soft cover), for a volume of 320 pages. Its publication has been awaited for some time by those who have been associated with the author, Earnest Lau, who is the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore and the Associate Editor of Methodist Message.

This is a very important book, especially for all Methodist Church members in Singapore and Malaysia, as it provides a historical account of the evolution and formation of the Methodist Church in these two countries.

Our Church members, especially the pastors and lay leaders, need to know about our rich heritage. We owe it to ourselves to be reminded of our history for therein lies important lessons which are useful even today.

Taking the best part of three years of research and writing, From Mission to Church attempts to present a readable account of the strenuous work of the early missionaries and local workers.

Especially in the early days, the work of missions was totally dependent on faith -there being no assured financial support – to preach the Gospel, distribute Christian literature, establish schools for boys and girls in Singapore and Malaysia, and form preaching points which matured into local churches.

The narrative covers the spread not only in the former British-administered territories, but also to Indonesia and the Philippines – all within less than 20 years – a remarkable achievement by missionaries and laymen who did not count the cost.

Of special interest are biographical sketches of the three key missionaries – Bishop James Thoburn, the Rev William Oldham and Miss Sophia Blackmore – whose backgrounds make inspiring reading especially for those who have an interest in missions.

But of more practical interest is how and why the mission evolved into the autonomous Methodist Churches in 1968 and how the Singapore component was separated from Malaysia in 1976 to become The Methodist Church in Singapore with three Annual Conferences of its own.

In his Foreword, Bishop Dr Robert Solomon wrote: “The value of this book can be summarised in a number of ways. Firstly, it comes with rich portraits of various key people in the history of Methodism in our part of the world;people like Thoburn and Oldham, Sophia Blackmore, Thevathason, Goh Hood Keng, Chen Su Lan, and so many others.

Many of them attempted to live lives reflecting personal and social holiness in the spirit of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism … This book will help Methodists and others to have a closer look at some sections of this great cloud of witnesses.

“Secondly, this book offers a fascinating and poignant account of the missional, organisational and ecclesiastical developments in Methodism not only in Singapore, but also in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Burma, with reference to developments in America and India.

“There is a section in the book that deals with the effects of war and military
occupation on the churches, and how the Methodists by and large, rose to the
occasion by trusting in God and bearing the brunt of violence and uncertainty with
resilience and hope. That God used such painful moments of suffering to bring about His larger purposes and plans into historical reality is made evident in the

“Perhaps the most useful part of the book is its account throughout on how Methodism grew and developed in Singapore, growing from the initial stages as a fledgling new work on our shores to becoming an autonomous national church.

“Mr Lau has done a great service to the Methodists in Singapore and the larger Christian community by writing this book. I am delighted to commend this book to Methodists and other Christian friends, and interested readers outside these circles.

“If we look carefully at the details, we will find God’s whispers and fingerprints in the episodes and fabric, woof and warp of our own history. We will find how ordinary people were led to live extraordinary lives through the wonderful grace of our great and living God. Yes, we will find human failings too, for, after all, we are all redeemed sinners being made perfect in God’s love.

But the chief story is that of the awesome God of history and salvation.”