Cha Kaw

1863 - 1948
Bible woman (Woman's Foreign Missionary Society)

Cha Kaw was born in China in 1863 and became a well-known “Bible woman”[1] when she moved to Malaya in 1903. She married Reverend Kwan Sek Wan and was popularly known as Kwan See Nai (wife of Kwan) in the Cantonese dialect. Their three children — a daughter named Chin Poh, a son named Thean Poh, and another daughter who died of tuberculosis when she was a child — were born in Guangdong, China. 

Cha started preaching from a young age and trained as a Bible woman at the Basel Mission in China. The Basel Mission was founded as the German Missionary Society in 1815, and it reached China in 1847.

In the history of Christian missions, a Bible woman was a local woman who supported foreign female missionaries in their Christian evangelistic and social work. The work of Bible women can be gleaned from the minutes of the Malaysia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church from 1902 to 1925, although the accounts are few and far between. Bible women were not highly educated but they received basic training from the Bible Women’s Training School, either in China or India. They were taught the Old and New Testament, Bible and church history, church doctrine and polity.[2]

Initially, they were financially supported by the foreign missionaries who trained and worked with them. From 1936, they worked for churches under the Chinese Annual Conference (Methodist Church), which supported them. Their numbers ranged from 10 to 20, but rose to between 20 and 26 after World War II. They worked mainly in the bigger towns like Singapore, Penang, Taiping, Sitiawan and Malacca.[3]

These Bible women were bold and fearless for the Lord and spent most of their time reading the Bible and teaching the word of God to illiterate women and children in their vernacular language. They were taught to read and write, regardless of their social status. The early Bible women usually travelled by foot as they could not afford the rickshaw fare. They frequently visited families to build friendships. Besides sharing the gospel, they provided pastoral care such as counselling, prayer and basic help in times of need.[4]

Cha represented a host of other Bible women who supported and worked alongside pastors in the Chinese churches. Her first assignment was to assist Sophia Blackmore who established the Nind Home, a girls' boarding home, in Singapore in 1890.  

She was then transferred to Penang to work with Clara Martin and Mrs Amelia Pykett, missionaries from the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS).  She served tirelessly in the church for 15 years and was a great help to pastors as she could communicate in several Chinese dialects and was also fluent in the Malay language. The pastors she assisted were: Reverends Ng Oo Tiew, Khoo Chiang Bee, Teh Pek Tatt, Ong Oan Lai, Ng Khoan Jiu and Khoo Cheng Hoe.[5]

In 1919, she relocated to Malacca where she stayed with her son Thean Poh who was the headmaster of Anglo-Chinese School, Malacca, from 1912-1917. He then resigned to be manager of a rubber estate. Tragically, he was shot dead when he was waylaid by robbers after withdrawing money from the bank to pay his staff.[6] Soon after, Cha moved to Seremban. She was posted to Ipoh a few years later to work for Mrs. W. E. Horley of the Wesley Methodist Church. After serving faithfully for 40 years as a Bible woman in the WFMS and the Methodist Church in Malaya, she retired in Penang.[7]

Cha remained active in church ministry after her retirement. Whether in the church or at home, she played the piano and sang loudly with great passion in her worship and adoration of God. During the Japanese Occupation, her favourite song was “God Save the King”. Her daughter, Chin Poh, would protest but she would reply: “You play for the praise of me, I play for the praise of God. This hymn is asking God to bless the nations.”[8]

Even in her old age, she was still exuberant and enthusiastic in her worship of God.  She would amuse and cheer up children with her antics and with the German songs that she learnt during her training at the Basel Mission in China.[9]

Cha died in Penang on June 30, 1948 at the age of 85. She was survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Reverend Khoo Cheng Hoe of Penang, and her daughter-in-law, Emma Chuah of Malacca.[10]


  1. ^ Ernest Lau, From Mission to Church: The Evolution of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia, 1885–1976 (Singapore, Genesis Books, 2008), 48.
  2. ^ “Minutes of the Twenty-fourth Session of the Malaysia Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church held in Singapore, Straits Settlements, January 1st to 6th, 1916”: 128-139.
  3. ^ Lau, From Mission to Church, 48.
  4. ^ Lau, From Mission to Church, 49.
  5. ^ Methodist Message, August 1948, 19.
  6. ^ “The Origin and Growth of Malacca Anglo-Chinese School”, in, Accessed September 12, 2021.
  7. ^ Methodist Message, August 1948, 19.
  8. ^ Methodist Message, August 1948, 19.
  9. ^ Methodist Message, August 1948, 19.
  10. ^ Methodist Message, August 1948, 19.

Ewe Poh Lai, Elaine
The writer is a retired missionary serving at OMF in Malaysia. 


“Basel Mission”. In Wikipedia. Accessed February 20, 2021.

Doraisamy, T. R. Heralds of the Lord: Personalities in Methodism in Singapore and Malaysia. Singapore: The Methodist Book Room, 1988.

Genealogy, Cha Kaw. Accessed February 19, 2021.

Genealogy, Kwan Thean Poh…. Accessed February 19, 2021.

Lau, Earnest. From Mission to Church: The Evolution of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia, 1885–1976. Singapore: Genesis Books, 2008.

Malaysia Annual Conference. 24th Session. Minutes. Methodist Episcopal Church, 1916.

Methodist Message. Singapore: The Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia, August 1948.

“Pengetua-Pengetua”. In SMK Methodist (ACS) Melaka website. Accessed September 12, 2021.