We continue our series of paired articles on early Methodist preachers from the UK and Singapore, aiming to trace the movement of the Holy Spirit in grassroots evangelistic preaching, reminding us of the evangelistic fervour of Methodism worldwide, and demonstrating the fruitfulness of the Gospel when preached with spiritual power and integrity. The first instalment was published in MM Oct 2015 (P20-21). As you read the biographies of our Methodist forebears, may you too be inspired to preach the Gospel – not only within the church, but going beyond to reach our community.
Dr Tong Hoo Ing contributes to Methodist Message as a volunteer writer. A retired neurologist, he worships at Wesley Methodist Church, and volunteers with medical mission teams to third-world countries.
In his Advent Meditation published in Malaysia Message Nov-Dec 1950, the Rev Samuel M. Thevathasan’s theme was “The Source of Truth”. He wrote: “The greatest quest of life is Truth – persistent, changing, widening and unending quest … Truth, absolute Truth, does not change, but the comprehension of it, and expression of it does and must, with the changing circumstances of time. The quest will grow and expand, but the kernel of Truth – that by which man must live, endures. As God is unchanging, eternal, so is Truth; but man’s comprehension of it is, at best, only partial, inadequate, and imperfect.” What a wonderful philosophical and godly mind!
The Rev Thevathasan was born in Jaffna, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He was educated in Jaffna College and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Madras University – a unique achievement in those days – and obtained a Master of Arts degree from the same university.
In 1919, he was invited by the Rev J. S. Nagle to come to Singapore to teach English, Latin and Scripture to the School Certificate classes in the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS). Since then, the Rev Thevathasan’s service was entirely with the ACS and the Methodist Church.
A fellow teacher, the Rev C. B. Paul, described him as “an emblem of purity and love. Never an unkind word fell from his lips”. Another teaching colleague Mr Chew Kia Song said that, working in conjunction with the Maths Specialist Mr H. M. Hoisington, the Rev Thevathasan raised the standard and fame of the school which became a leading educational institution in Singapore and Malaya; his addresses at chapel services were an inspiration to the boys (Malaya Annual Conference Journal, December 1958).
The Rev Thevathasan served the Methodist Church as District Superintendent and Executive Officer during the very difficult period of the Japanese Occupation. While shouldering these coordinating duties, he was the Pastor of Wesley Church, meeting on Sunday evenings at Short Street as the Wesley Church premises had been commandeered by the Japanese Forces for use as an ammunition depot. When services were still held at Fort Canning, one could not help but admire his steely nerves when he calmly continued conducting a service as a Japanese soldier, pointing his gun from side to side, walked down the aisle before leaving.
He retired from teaching on 31 Dec 1940, after 21 years with ACS, Singapore, except for two years in the Methodist Boys’ School, Kuala Lumpur. In his farewell message to the ACS family, he said: “Every time a teacher teaches, he should be led to the question: Has the Truth come to you? In other words, do you live by the Truth?” (ACS Magazine, 1940)
He concluded his meditation on “The Source of Truth” by noting: “The subjective comprehension of Truth, that personal enjoyment of a life hid in God, is a most rewarding, ever expanding life experience. People sometimes talk of cynicism, coldness in spiritual fervour, as fruits of long periods of living and suffering. This should mean little, unless it is to be understood that disappointment, troubles, illness, death, too often understood only on the surface, bring spiritual dullness to those who expected a protected life, as the reward of religious devotion. No, this spiritual contact with God is a growing experience, for God never fails a true seeker.”
Having given his life to living by the Truth, the Rev Thevathasan was called home to glory on 21 June 1958, after suffering a major stroke.
Acknowledgement: Mr Robin Thevathasan provided valuable personal information on his grandfather
Photo courtesy of Robin V. Thevathasan