Samuel Abraham was born in Jaffna, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) to parents who were Hindu. He embraced Christianity at the age of 14.
He was an illustrious preacher who had been ordained by the Jaffna Mission of the American Board of Commissioners. In 1899, he was invited by Reverend W.G. Kensett to join him in his work among the Tamils in Kuala Lumpur. Two years earlier, Kensett had been sent by the Singapore Methodist Mission Conference to Kuala Lumpur. There, he met many educated Tamils who worked in business offices and in the public service, and there appeared to be great potential for opening a school and church.
In July 1897, Kensett founded the first Methodist School for boys and a small Tamil church in a shophouse in Batu Road in Kuala Lumpur. In the absence of a Tamil teacher, he taught English at the school and preached in English at the church while praying for a qualified minister. Abraham, a native Tamil speaker, accepted the invitation and became the first headmaster of the Tamil school in 1899. He quickly reorganised the school with four teachers and re-named it the Anglo-Tamil School as most of the students were Indian. Under his dynamic leadership, he managed to build a solid reputation for high academic standards.
He oversaw both the school and church, which grew rapidly. A brick church building called the Tamil Methodist Church was constructed at Malacca Street in 1899 with help from the English congregation. In 1900, Abraham was made a deacon of the Conference. Two years later, he was ordained an Elder, the first Tamil to be a full member of the Malaysia Conference.
In 1901, he passed the baton to Reverend William Horley who was transferred from Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur as the new principal of the school. As the Batu Road shophouse was too small to accommodate the increasing number of pupils, a vacant pork-market at Malacca Street was used as its temporary premises. Funds were collected to build a permanent school and the Wesley Church next to it on a piece of land bought by Horley at Petaling Hill. It was there that Horley established the Methodist Boys School (MBS). The Anglo-Tamil School was merged with MBS which was open to other races.
The year 1904 was a turning point in Reverend Abraham’s ministry. It was clear to everyone that his pastoral work was getting more effective and bearing fruit as the congregation had increased to 61 full members, 18 probationers and 21 baptised children. The Tamil Church requested that Abraham be relieved from school work to focus on pastoral work. Once the request was granted, he went about his church work with gusto, constantly travelling and preaching. He soon earned the nickname “Tamil John Wesley” among his co-workers.
He travelled extensively throughout Peninsular Malaya to conduct evangelistic meetings in churches and even in the living quarters of Indian labourers. He recruited local preachers who also doubled up as school teachers. In 1909, he reported 17 preaching points in Selangor, four preaching points in Negeri Sembilan and three in Pahang. Like Wesley, he believed that “the world is my parish”. He quickly started church services in Klang, Taiping, Sitiawan and Seremban and visited Tamil labourers working in tin-mines and rubber estates. The prospects were indeed promising.
Abraham was always busy solving problems at the many churches that he oversaw in different locations, ranging from church finances and congregational differences to challenges faced by pastors. These congregations, large and small, took up much of his time and energy. He was constantly away from his family in Taiping which served as his base.
In 1913, in recognition of his dynamic leadership, Bishop J.E. Robinson made him the first Asiatic district superintendent of the Tamil District, which extended from Upper Perak to Malacca. With his active involvement, the Tamil District saw astounding growth, and the number of quarterly conferences increased from seven to 26 in 1915.
Abraham was a stickler in following Methodist discipline which caused uneasiness among the preachers who had to undergo continuous training to renew their status. Financial matters were strictly managed as his contention was that “unless we have good men trained in the Methodist Doctrine and Discipline, we cannot expect to do justice to Methodism. We will only build up congregation for other denominations at the cost of Methodist money and time.”
He was concerned about the social well-being of individuals and advocated for Christians to be given a rest day on Sunday to attend church service. He highlighted the exploitation of Indian labourers and the rampant toddy palm liquor addiction.
In the Conference, he boldly requested that the Mission Sanatorium be opened to Asian preachers and not remain the exclusive domain of Westerners after noticing many cases of sickness and deaths among his fellow workers. Although his proposal was rejected, his compassionate heart for the needy was made known to all.
In his final report dated 1918, he also propounded the idea of self-governance from the foreign mission agency: “Whatever may be the weakness of the Asiatic races, when they are entrusted by the higher authorities with the conduct of their own affairs, one thing is sure, and that is the rapid progress of the Tamil district.”
On October 3, 1918, Abraham passed away suddenly at the age of 58. It was a shock to everyone, especially those who knew him within the Malaya Annual Conference – Tamil, Chinese and Europeans alike.
The 1919 Malaya Annual Journal said: “His death was a great loss to the Church and community. He was like Wesley, he was a great traveller – he was indeed a travelling preacher. His district extended from Taiping to Malacca, and he ceaselessly travelled, preaching the Gospel, holding his Conferences and dispensing the sacraments”.
Abraham was survived by his wife and three sons. William, the eldest, was a health inspector and preacher while his second son, Charles, served as a doctor at the Tanjung Rambutan Mental Hospital in Perak (later renamed Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta) and Sungai Buloh Leper Settlement in Selangor. His third son, Thomas, was a teacher and headmaster in a government school.
- ^ Doraisamy, T. R., Heralds of the Lord: Personalities in Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia (Singapore: The Methodist Book Room, 1988), 22.
- ^ Lau, Ernest, From Mission to Church: The Evolution of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia, 1885–1976 (Singapore: Genesis Books, 2008), 38.
- ^ Means, Malaysia Mosaic, 80.
- ^ Means, Nathalie T., Malaysia Mosaic: A Story of Fifty Years of Methodism (Singapore: The Methodist Book Room, 1935), 80.
- ^ Journal, Malaysia Annual Conference, 1917, 57-62
- ^ Journal, Malaysia Annual Conference, 1918, 207.
- ^ Nesaratnam, E. Vijesurier, A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Historical Record of Key Pastors in the Indian Churches in Malaysia and Singapore (Selangor: Council of Churches of Malaysia, 2011), 17- 22.
- ^ Doraisamy, Heralds of the Lord, 22.
- ^ Journal, Malaysia Annual Conference, 1919, 339-340.
- ^ Nesaratnam, A Great Cloud of Witnesses, 23.
Doraisamy, Theodore Royapan, Heralds of the Lord: Personalities in Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia. Singapore: The Methodist Book Room, 1988.
Fellowship of Indian Denominational Churches Singapore and Malaysia. A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Historical Record of Key Pastors in the Indian Churches in Malaysia and Singapore. Selangor: Council of Churches of Malaysia, 2011.
Ho, Seng Ong, Methodist Schools In Malaysia. Petaling Jaya: Board of Education, Malaya Annual Conference, 1964.
Journal, Malaysia Annual Conference, 1917, 57-62
Journal, Malaysia Annual Conference, 1918, 207.
Journal, Malaysia Annual Conference, 1919, 339-340.
Lau, Ernest. From Mission to Church: The Evolution of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia, 1885–1976. Singapore: Armour Publishing, 2008.
Means, Nathalie T. Malaysia Mosaic: A Story of Fifty Years of Methodism. Singapore: The Methodist Book Room, 1935.
Nesaratnam, E.V. and Vijesurier. “Rev. Samuel Abraham” in A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Historical Record of Key Pastors in the Indian Churches in Malaysia and Singapore. Selangor: Council of Churches of Malaysia, 2011, 11- 23.
“History of Tamil Methodist Church Kuala Lumpur”, Tamil Methodist Church Kuala Lumpur. http://tmckl.org/history/.