THE Telugu people are an ethnic group primarily located in the south-eastern state of Andhra Pradesh in India, and Telugu is the official language spoken by them. Telugu is the second most spoken language in India after Hindi (including non-native speakers) and one of the 23 national languages of India.
It is also spoken in Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji, Mauritius, Trinidad, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, South Africa, Britain and the United States among other countries around the world where there is a considerable Telugu diaspora.
Drama, art and folklore make up the essential fabric of Telugu cultural and traditional richness. Telugus celebrate Ugadi as their cultural festival, which marks the beginning of the Telugu calendar or a Telugu New Year.
The Telugu world has been experiencing significant advancements in the area of science and technology, education, agriculture, manufacturing, health, and information technology and systems.
Hyderabad, which is the capital city of Andhra Pradesh, is known as a hub for the IT (information technology) and BPO (business process outsourcing) industries, and currently attracts hundreds of firms for investment.
The Telugu people started coming to Singapore mainly for work in various sectors, i.e. from the IT industry, banking and finance, health and medicine, education, engineering, shipping, construction and the hotel industry. Besides this working community, students also show keen interest in the high standards of education and training at theological colleges and universities.
It was during the mid-80s that those friends who came to Singapore and who associated well with fellow Indians were invited to worship at Tamil Methodist Church in Short Street. Initially, it was just three or four Telugu brothers who gathered for a time of prayer and fellowship in Telugu, besides worshipping with the larger Tamil group.
Language was a barrier and the church sensed a need for a worship service in the Telugu language. On April 21, 2000, Good Friday, the first official Telugu Fellowship started at Tamil Methodist Church with 15 Telugu members present.
The Rev R. Prabhu, who was then Pastor-in-Charge of Tamil Methodist Church, pioneered and encouraged the small Telugu worship group with the Word, prayers and support.
Gradually, the group started to grow and Telugu-speaking believers, who came to know of the fellowship, joined in. Those who were initially involved in the ministry started to provide leadership. From the beginning, the Rev Prabhu and Mr Watson, a Telugu leader, rendered strong support. We praise God for them and are grateful to them for their contribution.
In Singapore, the Telugu population began to grow steadily over the past five years. Most of the Telugu people come from Godavari, Vishakapatnam, Krishna and Guntur districts of coastal Andhra, besides a few from Kurnool and Cuddapah of Rayalaseema and Hyderabad and Karimnagar of Telangana regions.
For these Telugu-speaking friends – there are more than 30,000 of them in Singapore today – the Telugu Fellowship is now a place for them to belong, grow and serve.
Among the events organised by the Telugu Fellowship were:
◆ Thanksgiving Services and celebrations marking the National Days of Singapore and India;
◆ Evangelistic rallies, held regularly during the Chinese New Year and other public holidays, at which well-known preachers from India shared the Word;
◆ The Community Dinner after the Sunday service, a wonderful way for members to relate with one another and foster friendship;
◆ Picnics and outings planned specifically for building up bonds of Christian friendship and brotherhood;
◆ All-Night Prayer held every year on the eve of Deepavali;
◆ Christmas and Watchnight services; and
◆ Monthly Expatriates Family Prayer Fellowship at parishioners’ homes.
The Telugu Fellowship also organises cell groups and is active in the ministry of social care and concern.
It runs a bookstall with the sole aim of making Telugu Bibles and devotional literature available to the members.
Growth and membership
The Telugu Fellowship grew gradually in numbers from baptisms and the arrival of newcomers. The sailing has never been smooth, yet God has never let us down. We could see Him doing wonderful things in our midst, for which we are grateful.
As the number of Telugu worshippers kept increasing, Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) sensed the need and prayed for a full-time pastor to shepherd the flock.
In 2004, Mr Anil Samuel was brought in by ETAC to do his Masters Programme at Trinity Theological College. Apart from his studies, he was asked to look after the Telugu ministry, especially on Sundays. He was attached to Tamil Methodist Church.
Soon after his studies, ETAC appointed him as a Ministry Staff in April 2005. He continues to render full-time service.
Currently, there are 120 regular attendees in the Telugu Fellowship. In addition, a good number of Telugu families have been attending worship regularly.
The Telugu Fellowship launched a music CD entitled El-Shaddai in 2006, and the CD continues to be used as an evangelistic tool.
For the first time, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated entirely in the Telugu language on May 6, 2007. Now it is held regularly in Telugu, which is much more meaningful to the Telugu members and they have expressed their joy and appreciation.
Spoken English and basic computer classes are being conducted by the local teachers and IT expatriates for our Indian working friends.
There are milestones in every ministry and we truly believe we are arriving at our next milestone. ETAC, the leadership of Tamil Methodist Church and the leaders of the Telugu Fellowship feel that it is time to take steps to form a Telugu church.
In this regard, we are building a database to register all the members and families of the Telugu Fellowship. As the members of the Fellowship are from varied backgrounds, we are starting membership classes as well as Methodism classes to teach them the basic doctrine and to bring them into church membership.
We look forward to the day when we will establish the first Telugu Methodist Church outside India.
We do appreciate the vision of ETAC and Tamil Methodist Church, which has been instrumental in planting various churches. We are grateful to Tamil Methodist Church for its prayers, care and support for the Telugu ministry.
We give all praise and glory to God for His leading.
Anil Samuel, a Ministry Staff of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference, is in charge of the Telugu Fellowship at Tamil Methodist Church.