Up to the point of writing, there is no clear data as to when exactly the Tamil Methodist ministry in Johore Bahru began. Records show that during the early years the church growth was so slow that the DS thought of possible joint ministry with the Presbyterian Mission (MAC Journal 1952 January). The Tamil congregation was under Rev. George Stephens. He appealed for help from the Singapore churches to serve his local church as well as conduct religious work among the pupils of his school.
Slow Beginnings in the 1950s
In January 1953 it was reported that the church did not have a suitable place for worship service. The membership was small and there was a lack of interest in the work of the church. The Rev. V.A. Chelliah did what he could under distressing circumstances (DS Theodore Runyan). In 1957, Rev. Stephens, conducted Sunday worship services in his school – the Union English School. There were 22 Full Members. Rev. Stephens, a Full Member of the Annual Conference, requested for Location but was willing to serve as a supply pastor till a suitable pastor was appointed.
Smallest Congregation with a Membership of 5
In 1961, Mr. B.A. Thangaraj, a trained young man from the Ipoh Seminary, worked with Rev. Stephens. Wesley Seremban kindly provided his house rent for ten months. Rev. Rasanayagam was a willing worker but was greatly handicapped by lack of transport. Yet, by bus and on foot, he covered a wide circuit in Johore. (MAC Journal 1961 p. 50). In 1969 the District Superintendent reported Johore Bahru as the preaching centre without a local conference. The services were being held at the Johore Tutorial College till the end of October 1969. The 1970 TPAC Journal, reported Johore Bahru as: “Smallest of all the congregations in this District with a membership of 6 adults and 12 children…” There was no WSCS, Sunday School, MYF or Official Board.” In 1971 the adult membership was five.
Help from Singapore
In 1972, regular Sunday services were conducted with the help of a layman Mr. Philip Jesudoss from the Short Street Church. Only on the 2nd Sunday of every month, did the pastor go to conduct Holy Communion Service. The Church paid Conference Commitments in full. In 1973, laymen from the Tamil church in Sembawang, Singapore, helped in conducting worship services. In 1974, under the leadership of the dedicated layman from Short Street Tamil church, Mr. Philip Jesudoss, the church made remarkable progress in attendance and stewardship. Some began to tithe. In 1975, the Full Membership increased from 10 to 14. Attendance at Sunday service varied from 20 to 25. Members began tithing and even children paid pledges from their pocket money.
Mr. Philip Jesudoss gave pastoral help. Five days of evangelistic meetings were held with Evangelist Jeevananthan from India. In 1977, Rev. Prabhu Das Roberts of Singapore gave pastoral guidance and supervision. Singapore took this work as its outreach programme from 1976 – 1978. This arrangement could not continue due to an immigration policy concerning preachers.
Johore Bahru Receives More Ministry Attention Locally
In 1979, Brother Daniel and the District Superintendent made a few visits to this church. In consultation with Rev. Dorairaj of the Tamil Bible Institute, Johore Bahru, Miss Kirubah Samuel was requested to help with the church services. Mr. Solomon Abraham, a student from Trinity Theological College, Singapore, did his practical work and took charge of worship services. This however was not possible in 1980, due to his work load. Miss Kirubah continued to help with the church services. Rev. Noel conducted the Holy Communion Services.
Help from Pastor in TMC Kluang
Pastor AE Joseph, the Pastor at TMC Kluang, started his ministry from June 1981. Worship services were held every Sunday in the Wesley Church. The pastor conducted one worship service a month and the lay people helped on the other Sundays. From July 1982, Pastor Solomon Abraham started his ministry. In 1984, with the increase in church attendance and giving, the church was able to take Miss Kirubah Samuel as the Church Worker. The TAC WSCS gave a subsidy towards her allowance. Revival meetings by Brother Sadhu Chellapa were well attended and appreciated. The average church attendance in 1985 was 13. Outreach work was done by Miss Kirubah in Masai, Pasir Gudang, J.K.R. Quarters and the Sungei Tiram Rubber Estate.
Rev. Victor Vethamani, who was stationed in Kluang, took charge from January 1986. He conducted the worship service on the 2nd and 4th Sundays, while Kirubah the other two Sundays. Holy Communion Service was every 4th Sunday. Bible Study was started and held on Saturday nights in the home of Mr. & Mrs. Robert Andy. There was a church picnic and about 40 went to Kota Tinggi waterfalls on 8 April. A Combined Easter Sunrise Service with the Wesley and Chinese Methodist churches was held. For the first time an all-night prayer was held on 7 June. About 20 attended and found it very meaningful. The Tamil Settlement Musical Band conducted a meaningful musical service in February.
First Time a Resident Pastor
Rev. Emanuel Rajahser took charge from January 1987. He was also the pastor of the Kluang church. The worship services were held alternately on Fridays and Sundays. A choir was formed. Fasting and prayer was held every week on Thursdays. Due to poor response, the WSCS stopped meeting. At the outreach ministry in Pasir Gudang, services were held twice a month. In 1988, for the first time the church had a resident pastor, when Rev. Emanuel Rajahser was appointed the sole Pastor of Johore Bahru. A man with a big vision, he brought a new sense of identity and confidence. He personally trained his members to do the various ministries.
A New Rented Premise Saw Church Growth
The Church moved to a new premise for their weekly worship service. This was made possible by a very generous donor. About 50 – 60 people attended services and the number was increasing. There were five cell-groups where weekly Bible Study and prayer sessions were conducted. The WSCS was revived with the assistance of Mrs. Jean Kovilpillai, the Conference WSCS President. About four families met at the Pasir Gudang Outreach. Four evangelistic meetings were held and there was good response from the members. The church experienced good numerical growth with an addition of 30 new members. There were also 17 Affiliate Members and 40 Preparatory Members. However, as both the place of worship and parsonage were rented, a major part of the church income was spent on rental of properties.
Reaching out to Pasir Gudang and Kulai
In 1990, worship services were held on Sundays at 6.30 pm in a rented place. An average of 70 adults attended the worship service. Outreach ministries were held in Pasir Gudang and Kulai. The weekly service in Pasir Gudang was held on Fridays in the homes of members. There were about ten families. They met on Tuesdays as a Prayer Cell. The work in Kulai began this year. Worship services were held every Tuesday in the homes of members. The Full Membership grew from 78 to 126. The addition was mainly from transfers. The majority of the members were from the various Tamil Methodist Churches in the country. Attendance in the worship service was poor due to the nature of work of the members.
The Church saw significant growth when Rev. Rajahser became the sole pastor of the church but was greatly affected by his transfer due to his ill health. Rev. Sadagopan, as the District Superintendent covered Johore Bahru from December 1991. Mr. David Rasahpandy, a seminary student, also helped from January 1992.
Move to a shop-lot in Taman Perling
In 1993 Rev. S. Duraisingam was appointed the Pastor. Under his able leadership, both the membership as well as the church attendance increased. About 80 – 90 people attended the worship service. The Church shifted to a shop- lot in Taman Perling. This was the fifth time in the history of the church where the place of worship was changed. The church’s Full Membership was 116. In Saleng, a wooden chapel was constructed costing RM 3,000. The Church Building Fund reached RM 45,000.
Finally a Place of Their Own
In 1994, a double-storey corner shop-lot was purchased at a cost of RM 288,000. The church raised RM 68,000. TAC Churches gave soft loans totalling RM 80,000. An AEC loan of RM 107,000 was taken. TAC adopted this Church Building as a Conference Project for the year.
Rapid Expansion in Ministry and Growth in Membership
In 1995 about 100 people attended the bi-lingual service every Sunday at 9.00 am. The Full Membership was 138. The new church building was dedicated by Bishop Dr. Denis Dutton and declared open by the Conference President Rev. David Tharmakan on 4 December 1994. In 1996 an average of 120 people attended the worship service. The Full Membership was 169. The MYAF was officially formed on 11 February 1996. The Church paid a monthly instalment of RM 2,300 towards the AEC Building Loan. In 1997 about 120 – 150 people attended worship services. Full Membership stood at 179. There was a vision to organise a separate worship service for Saleng, Senai and Kulai from January 1999. In 1998 the Full membership was 175. The Church completed paying the AEC Building Loan of RM 100,000 and all the soft loans were also settled. The Church launched the Parsonage Building Fund which had RM 35,000.
In 1999 the Full Membership stood at 181. There were two worship services – 8.30 am in Skudai where 80 – 100 people attended and the other in Saleng at 10 am where 40 – 50 people attended. Saleng had a Full Membership of 66, which made up 1/3 of the total church membership. The local Conference on 18 September and the District Conference on 23 October unanimously recommended Saleng to be formed into a Local Conference from 1 January 2000. The Annual Conference unanimously accepted this proposal on 26 November 1999. This however did not take place.
Major Crisis with Resignation of Pastor
The Local Church went through a major crisis due to the resignation of Rev. S. Duraisingam. The first six months of 2000 was a period of uncertainty. The Full Membership dropped from 181 to 48. A total of 134 members were removed by Local Conference Action. Rev. D.B. Laurence took charge and served as Pastor from 1 July 2000 till the end of the year.
A New Pastor a New Beginning
Rev. C. Paul was appointed Pastor from January 2001. Once again the church saw an increase in membership and church attendance. The Full Membership rose from 49 to 139. 11 members were added through Confession of Faith, 52 were transferred in and 29 came from other denominations. Ulu Tiram was now the church’s only Outreach with 35 Full Members. In 2002 the church’s Full Membership was 219. Church Worker Pattian assisted the Senior Pastor. Ulu Tiram’s Outreach membership was 53 and Kulai Outreach had 42 members. Tamil Methodist Church Kuantan financially supported the Ulu Tiram ministry and similarly the Tamil Methodist Church Kuala Lumpur supported Kulai. The Full Membership further grew to become 240 in 2003. The church organised a very successful “Fire Conference”. There were 240 participants from churches all over Malaysia.
Pastor’s Resignation Causes Another Crisis
The local church suffered another crisis with the resignation of Rev. C. Paul, effective 31 August 2004. Rev. Victor Vethamani, while continuing as the Senior Pastor of the Kuala Lumpur church, was also appointed Pastor of Johore Bahru from 1 September 2004. He quickly reorganised the church and managed to arrange for a Local Church Conference on 4 October 2004. Pastor John Mathuni, who was stationed at Ulu Tiram and Mr. Edward Subramaniam, the local church lay leader played vital roles in keeping the members together and in the rebuilding of the church.
A Motherly Care for a Hurting Church
The remaining congregation took time to pray for healing. In this the Local Church appreciated the work of senior member Miss Harriet Sinnathamby. She was a tower of strength and supportive of the ministry during both crises periods. The Southern District moved that her significant contribution be recognised at the following Annual Conference Session.
Decreased Membership Causes Financial Challenges
Rev. Mark Subramanyam was the Pastor in charge in 2005. The average attendance in Skudai’s worship service was about 50. Full Membership at the end of 2004 was 104 and in June 2005 it was 116. The financial position of the church was in a very bad state. The Conference sent RM 10,000 to help pay the pastor’s salary. Other commitments included paying the Supply Pastor, the rentals in Ulu Tiram and Kulai and the monthly loan for the van. The church had two outreach ministries in Kulai and Ulu Tiram. Apart from financial constraints, the church was also affected by divisions. In 2006, the average attendance was 70 in the Skudai worship service, about 25 at the Kulai Outreach and about 35 in Ulu Tiram. The Conference’s monthly subsidy, together with donations from the Tamil Methodist churches of Kuala Lumpur, Tamil Settlement, Sentul and Petaling Jaya, helped the church to partly settle the previous year’s outstanding payments. The church still had another RM 17,000 to settle.
Slow but Steady Move towards Recovery
Rev. Jonathan Jesudas took charge as Pastor in 2007. He had the assistance of Church Worker Solomon Thangaiah. The average attendance at Skudai was 80 and there were always new comers to the worship service. The Full Membership in June 2007 was 122. The finance improved and the church managed without Conference subsidy. The church also settled the outstanding debt of RM 38,000. TMC Sentul and Petaling Jaya were appreciated for their financial support. The church launched a Parsonage Project – to buy a double storey house costing RM 159,437.25. They raised RM 68,000. Rev. Dennis Raj took charge in 2008. The Full Membership was 222. This increase came about because 45 members from TAC and 24 from non TAC churches were transferred in. The church recommended Mr. Devarajah Balayah for fulltime ministry. The membership grew steadily and in June 2009 was 253.
Ulu Tiram Outreach Grows
Rev. Dennis Raj, the pastor in charge, left for the UK for his doctoral studies in October 2010. The formation of the Provisional MYF in Ulu Tiram marked the first stage of their effort to become a Local Conference. The parsonage building after much delay was now completed. Rev. Silvester Louis Martin became the next Pastor and served from 2011 to 2018. He was assisted by Pastor Salomon Thangaiah and Church Worker Mercy Rani. New Outreach work was started at the Gelang Patah area. A combined Thanksgiving and Confirmation Sunday was held after a break of nine years. A total of 270 members attended. Full Membership stood at 279.
Full Membership further grew to 308 in 2012. Church worker Mr. Shanmugam helped until June 2013. Bible Study from the mother church was telecast live to Ulu Tiram and Kulai. Friday prayer was attended by about 40 people. The Anbin Peruvilla Christmas program was started to help the needy by giving school supplies and groceries. The first was in 2012 at Ulu Tiram, the second was in 2015 at the Temenggong Flats, Kulai and the third was in 2017 at MYDIN Taman Pelangi, Johor.
Giving Birth to TMC Ulu Tiram
In 2013 through the Multimedia Ministry, they telecast all worship services, Bible study sessions and special services. 9 new converts were baptized. One couple, Pastor Joshua Subash & Miss Grace Anisha, committed for fulltime mission work. The Pulai Jaya two storey terrace house was sold for RM 185,000. The new parsonage was renovated for RM 55,000 and was dedicated by the Southern District Superintendent Rev. A. James Ravindaren on 14 July 2013. The church employed a fulltime Evangelist, Mr. Devasitham, who served from 2013 till 2018. Mr. & Mrs. Joshua Subash committed for fulltime mission ministry with MMM. Then the church launched Meetpar – their own Youtube TV Station. The CD Ariyanumeh was launched in 2014. It was the first song production of TMC JB. The Ulu Tiram Outreach became a Local Conference on 15 March 2014.
In 2015 Mr. Kelvin Paul Raj (One Year Practical Student) assisted from June – December 2015. With the formation of Ulu Tiram into a Local Church, the membership stood at 227. The Gelang Patah Outreach was launched on 1 March 2015. About 50 – 60 attended the worship service. A new PA system was purchased and the total revamp exercise cost about RM 24,000. At this time, Mr. Steven Vimal went as a ministerial student. There was a Nationwide Prayer Drive, the first was in 2016 when there were 8 members. In the second Drive in 2017, there were 7 members. The third Drive was in 2018 and it was to Putrajaya after the General Elections and there were 8 members. In 2017 The Full Membership on 1 January 2017 was 270. A new ministry among the Orang Asli community was started at Kampung Orang Asal, Gelang Patah. This ministry is still under the TMC JB Mission Team.
In 2018, Mr. Lourdinathan helped as part-time Local Church Evangelist. The church identified and accepted two local lay preachers and they were Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Jeevananthan. The Full Membership was 287 and on 31 December 2018 it was 295. The church has ventured into a second Tuition Centre for poor children in Kangkar Pulai. A new 3 storey shop lot building was purchased for Kulai Outreach for the sum of RM 400,000. It is to be noted that Rev. Dr. Eddie Thoraisingam has helped in the ministry of the church since 2000.
For 2019, Rev. Samuel Periathamby is appointed the pastor-in-charge. Mr. Vivegar is the Lay Leader and Mrs. Thiruselvi Thomson the LCEC Chairperson. The current Full Membership is 289. The membership in the Agencies is as follows: MYF (28), MYAF (40), MSF (26) and MW (28). There are 40 – 45 children and 9 teachers in Skudai and 35 – 40 children and 9 teachers in Kulai.
A new ministry has begun in Kangkar Pulai, as the church’s latest Preaching Point. Worship services are on Wednesdays and about 30 attend. Tuition is taught for about 25 children. New people continue to come. Two new Small Groups were started in Taman Tan Sri Yaacob & Kangkar Pulai. There are two Outreaches – in Kulai and Gelang Patah.
Rev. Silvester first opted for Voluntary Location but resigned from the Methodist Church with effect from 10 February 2019. This came as a result of his transfer out of Johore Bahru. 13 members withdrew their membership.
Conclusion: This local church has a long history of ups and downs. It had humble beginnings, and is the only Tamil church that had thoughts of a possible union with the Presbyterian Church. It experienced two major crises, with the resignations of Pastor S. Duraisingam and Pastor C. Paul. Johore Bahru being near Singapore has a constant flow of people seeking employment and settling in that vicinity. The church has more than survived the crises, she continues to grow. The Lord, who helped them through, would surely take them on to greater heights for the glory of His name.
1. Methodist Journals – MAC, TPAC, TAC
2. Feedback from Local Church