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History of Seventh-Day Adventists Contact in Malaysia
Ideally, the modern Seventh-Day Adventists (SDA) Church traces its origin back to one person known as Mr. William Miller and to the 1800s. Miller, who lived from 1782 to 1849 in Low Hampton, New York, is said to have converted to Christianity from deism in 1816 becoming a Baptist, and was very dedicated to God’s word (Morgan, 2012). At the time his of conversion, he heavily relied on Cruden’s Concordance in much of his studies and came up with the idea of the imminent return of Jesus. He started to preach the gospel at the age of fifty and was focused on reconciling the apparent Biblical difficulties that were raised by the Deists. Considering that by that time heated discussions about the second coming of Jesus in the years 1843 to 1844 were going around America, it was a right time for Miller (Morgan, 2012). Therefore, he garnered many souls called Millerites who concurred with him that Jesus was about to come to the earth for the second time very soon.
After two successive Miller’s failures to predict the exact date of Jesus’ coming, a man known as Mr. Hiram Edson came to him in the morning following the second disappointment and claimed that he had seen a vision of Jesus entering the heavenly sanctuary (Morgan, 2012). He then deduced that Miller was right in his preaching on the coming of Jesus but was never accurate with the place. His idea of Jesus moving into the heavenly sanctuary was promoted by Mr. Joseph Bates, a retired sea captain, who published a pamphlet that pushed James and Ellen G. White and the three became the driving forces behind the SDA movement (Morgan, 2012). From then, the church spread to various regions of the world depending on different histories that can be retrieved. This paper, however, focuses on the history of SDA movement contact in Malaysia.
History of Seventh-Day Adventists Contacts in Malaysia
In Malaysia, the SDA movement began in the year 1928 and successfully spread among the Telugu race in the states of Kedah, Perak, and Selangor. In this region, the faith's is said to have begun with pastors Prakasham and Lot, who were the missionaries from India. Later, pastors P. G. Ratham, V. Samuthran, V. N. Joseph, R. J. Mosses, and P. Benjamin among others spread the Adventists’ Gospel of the soon second coming of Jesus in Malaysia (Melton & Baumann, 2013). In essence, the SDA movement gained ground in this region owing to the high immigration of the Andhras laborers from the district of Visakhapatnam to the Malay Peninsula. These people came to meet the high demand for workers in coconut and rubber plantations owned by the British in the area (Melton & Baumann, 2013).
Besides, this community was also motivated to migrate to Malaysia and work in the plantations. It was due to the adversities that befell them such as frequent devastating floods in their homeland and the collapse of the mercantile industry, where majority sourced their income, which led to the high rate of unemployment. Thus, about forty thousand Andhras migrated to Malay from India in 1921. A majority of this community settled throughout the region of lower Perak, Kedah, and Negeri Sembilah while some of them settled in West Malay as indicated by the initial spread of the SDA movement in these areas (Melton & Baumann, 2013).
Subsequently, the Andhras community, which settled in Malay, still faced many challenges. People were treated as slaves in the plantations even though they were better off in Malay as compared to their ancestral home where there were a lot of problems.
Therefore, based on these life challenges, the Andhras were able to open their hearts easily to the gospel of the Adventists (Melton & Baumann, 2013). However, Pastors Lot and Prakasham are said to be the pioneers who brought the SDA gospel to the Telugu population. The first SDA community among the Telugu came into existence in Sungei Way in the 1920s. The gospel further moved to Bagan Datoh in 1928 as it was spread by many SDA churches, workstations and companies coming to many places during this time. There were about thirteen stations with one employee per station just before the war startedthat led to the work being significantly reduced to only three channels (Melton & Baumann, 2013).
Institutional and informal presence among the SDA believers was evident. During this period, the early converts were said to be meeting at the believers’ homes for prayers and worship, and several laymen from Sungei Way helped in flourishing the work of the missionaries to spread the gospel to the non-believer communities (Melton & Baumann, 2013). Besides, in the same period, pastor William R. Lake, who was the then the president of the Malay mission, negotiated with the real estate managers about a house of worship. It was to be built by the believers who were also handed over the Sabbath privilege exempting them from work during the Sabbath in the plantations (Melton & Baumann, 2013). Adventist enterprises consisted of worship services in local congregations as well as camp meetings. Institutional presence could be exhibited by running of schools, health amenities and charitable initiatives.
Missionary Work in Spreading the Gospel
In the 1930s, pastor R. J. Moses arrived in Sungei Way Telugu where he had the old church while his gospel to the people enabled him to draw more followers to the community. On the Sabbath of 16 December 1939, nine residents were baptized by him and about forty people witnessed the baptism of the new believers (Carter, 2012). Pastor Moses visited many churches in the State of Perak and encouraged the believers to convert to the SDA faith. In 1936, pastor P. G. Rathnam came to serve the people of Teluk Intan and Bagan Datoh. He later served in Kulim district in the years 1941-1949 and after that returned to Teluk Intan and Bagan Datoh where he worked until 1957. In 1956, pastor T. C. Chin, the president of the Malay States Mission, conducted a baptism mission in Bagan Church where forty five more people were baptized indicating the interest of the public to the religion (Carter, 2012).
In a bid to facilitate the growth of the church, pastor V. Samuthram became a critical personality in the growth of the SDA church in Malaysia. His parents were immigrants from India who did not have children for a long time. At least, not until when they were crossing the Indian Ocean moving to Malaysia when God answered their prayers and Samuthram was conceived. Samuthram is a popular name in India that means ‘the ocean’. Therefore, on reaching their destination, the parents of pastor Samuthram found the SDA gospel and faith being already spread wide enough, and as a young child, the pastor grew up being aware of the doctrine. He was the first local Christian to be a pastor in Malaysian States mission making him a significant character in the church’s history.
His parents worked on a plantation farm but regardless of this, his quest for education made him graduate an elementary SDA school in Singapore and learn English as his second language. After that, he mastered in theology in Narsapur, India. On returning from his training college, he was called to serve in Bagan Datoh and Teluk churches in the year 1957. The pastor was responsible for organizing the missionary volunteers (MV) society and his enthusiasm to serve the Lord made him influence many young people to become missionary volunteers and be baptized in the church.
Statistics on the Growth of the SDA Church
Since 1956, the SDA church has grown immensely in Malaysia. Statistics indicates that in 1956, there were about 56 churches in Malaysia with about 401 people baptized (Seventh-Day Adventist Church , n.d.). The number of churches in 1957 remained the same, but there were about 4,751 new members and 618 baptized members (Seventh-Day Adventist Church, n.d.). In 1958, there were 61 churches, 5,286 new members, and 558 newly baptized persons. By 1969, there were about 101 churches in the region 13, 004 new members and 1,336 baptized members (Seventh-Day Adventist Church, n.d.). This trend continued and in 1979, ten years later, there were about 182 churches in the States with 27,218 new members and 1,503 newly baptized members. Further, by 1989, there were 241 churches, 46,801 new members, and 2,068 newly baptized members (Seventh-Day Adventist Church, n.d.). The last record of the census indicated that by the year 1996, there were 269 churches, 55,523 new members, and 2,239 newly baptized members (Seventh-Day Adventist Church, n.d.). Currently, the Southeast Asia Union membership has about 90,873 Christians who adhere to the SDA faith. The union alone has about 349 churches that indicates that many people in the Malaysian States have converted to the SDA religion (Seventh-Day Adventist Church, n.d.).
In conclusion, the history of SDA contact in Malaysia is significantly attributed to missionaries such as pastors P. G. Ratham, V. N. Joseph, R. J. Mosses, and P. Benjamin among others who set their foot first on the continent. The success of the spread of the SDA faith in Malaysia is also attributed to the Indian immigrants who occupied the state initially as laborers who came seeking for employment in European plantations. The problems that they faced made them open their hearts to the gospel that led to their conversion to the faith. Since then, the SDA religion has spread widely in the region because the missionaries and the initial converts had a passion with this denomination that led to many people joining the church with a majority of them being baptized to follow the SDA doctrines.
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