Happenings

How the early Chinese of Singapore became Christians

May 2008    

Missionary William Thomas Kensett, MD, tells us of a little known aspect of early Methodist medical work in Singapore started by Dr B.F. West in 1889, the cradle of Telok Ayer Chinese Church. As a medical attendant on the HMS Orion, he was attracted to Methodist evangelistic work in Singapore and decided to become a missionary, first as a teacher at ACS in 1890 and doing door-to-door evangelism, then preparing himself with a US medical degree. Returning in 1895, he served in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur (where he built the Methodist Church and headed the Methodist Boys’ School) and Penang, but sadly had to return to the US in 1902 because of his wife’s failing health.

‘IT IS now six years since Dr B.F. West, our first missionary to the Chinese of Singapore, began his labour of love … He was anxious to open a dispensary for the treatment of the Chinese poor, using his medical experience as a means by which to accomplish his chief aim – that of preaching the Gospel.

On Friday, March 15, 1889, the front room of his home was opened as a dispensary. In this house, at a rental of $4 (gold), he and his family lived, began the Chinese work, and saw the nucleus of what is today a flourishing Chinese mission.

The money used in the purchase of drugs and surgical instruments was given by members of the Singapore English Methodist Episcopal Church and by others interested. Even up to the present time all monies received for the purchase of drugs, etc. have been given by friends and no assistance whatever has been received from the funds of the mission or Missionary Society.

Dr West prayed to God to give him one convert by the close of the Conference year, and with this prayer on his lips continually, he did his part and trusted God to do the rest.

Patients would visit him, and while their medicine was being prepared he talked to them about the great love of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and His power to save them from sin. It was a new story to them. They had never heard of the Christian’s God.

He did not work and pray in vain, for at the next Conference, Bishop Thoburn baptised 13 converts, 12 men and one woman. The names of these converts are found in the dispensary register. During the first year about 3,000 patients entered the dispensary and received assistance …

One patient was a confirmed opium Missionary William Thomas Kensett, MD, tells us of a little known aspect of early Methodist medical work in Singapore started by Dr B.F. West in 1889, the cradle of Telok Ayer Chinese Church. As a medical attendant on the HMS Orion, he was attracted to Methodist evangelistic work in Singapore and decided to become a missionary, fi rst as a teacher at ACS in 1890 and doing door-to-door evangelism, then preparing himself with a US medical degree.

Returning in 1895, he served in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur (where he built the Methodist Church and headed the Methodist Boys’ School) and Penang, but sadly had to return to the US in 1902 because of his wife’s failing health.

How the early Chinese of Singapore became Christians smoker, mistrusted by his friends, confided in by no one. An opium smoker is the last man a heathen person will trust. But he became a Christian, and because he did so his former companions pounced down upon him, beat him, and made him pay dearly for having changed his heathenism for the worship of the true God. He, however, soon recovered from this attack and lived a Christian life until he was called home.

On his dying bed, he told us that he claimed the promises of God as his very own, and after testifying to his greatness, fell asleep to awake on the resurrection morn. His is not the only case in Singapore where converts have had to suffer for their convictions. Many have been beaten, persecuted, insulted and otherwise ill-treated for having exchanged heathenism for Christianity.

The next year Dr West left for China to learn the language and I was appointed to take charge of the work. Not being then a physician I was unable to treat patients as had been done during the previous year, but I was careful to keep by me some remedies which I knew could do little or no harm, and used them to the best of my ability. During this year some hundreds of patients were treated and at the close I had the pleasure of seeing the membership considerably increased in numbers.

After being away a year Dr West returned to take charge of his former work until he went on furlough … and the Chinese mission was then put in the charge of the Rev H.L.E. Luering, Ph.D who did very effective work. Many souls were converted and joined the Church.

At the beginning of this Conference year 1895-96, I was appointed to the work and in taking charge resumed the medical feature of the work.

Since February 1895, over 2,000 patients have entered the dispensary. About 20 of them were taken in as hospital patients. Many visits have been made in the homes where the sick people were living. Many of these people are now probationers in our Chinese mission, and we hope soon to baptise them and receive them as full members.

Those who are converted through the influence of our medical work generally prove to be the best members of the Church. By means of our medical work many thousands have heard the Gospel and have been able to test the sincerity of our purpose and love for them. If we but had a hospital building and a constant supply of drugs there is no knowing what might be accomplished for the Master …’– Gospel In All Lands, May 1896, p. 219- 221 (shortened and slightly edited).

􀂄 The MCS Archives and History Library is open from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5.30 pm except during lunchtime from 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.

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