The Very Reverend T.N. Koshy was born in India on December 13, 1901. In August 1936, he arrived at Port Swettenham (now Port Klang) in Malaya in response to a call for a full-time priest to serve the Mar Thoma settlers in Malaya and Singapore. So successful was his mission that he had pioneered 32 prayer centres (or congregations) in the region by the time he returned to Kerala 26 years later.
Reverend Koshy was a 36-year-old priest and a father of three serving at the Thrichur parish in Kerala when he was called to Malaya. He had two degrees — a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Divinity — and had been ordained a year earlier and given the Malayali honorific of Achen (Father).
Among the early Mar Thoma settlers in Malaya, there was a great need for spiritual counselling, preferably by a priest from their homeland to which they expected to return one day. Their pioneering zeal was matched by an unwavering faith in their Almighty God but the land they came to after leaving their homes in Kerala was not exactly one of milk and honey. They had nagging doubts about their decision to migrate and missed their families, among other things. The Japanese occupation of Malaya brought economic hardship and World War II cut off all links with their home country and their loved ones.
When the Very Reverend first started his ministry in Malaya and Singapore, the combined congregations could not sustain him financially. So he was asked to teach in the Penuel School which was started by a church member in Kuala Lumpur. After a few months, he quit teaching to concentrate on his ministry.
Three years later, Achen returned to India to bring his family over and they stayed in Klang in Selangor. In 1948, the family moved to Kluang in Johor and six years later, they relocated again to Johor Bahru.
In Malaya and Singapore, Achen travelled extensively by train, bus, car, bicycle and even on foot. He would return home after those tiring trips with swollen feet and ankles from standing for several hours in the train or bus. His health suffered as a result of the long-distance travelling to care for those in need.
In his white cotton cassock and white topi, Achen was a familiar figure throughout the country as he went about his mission, counselling and strengthening the faith of all he served. If he appeared a little harsh at times with his parishioners, it was because he cared for them.
Once, when he visited an inmate in Changi Prison in Singapore, he appealed to the authorities to allow the prisoner’s wife to visit him. They refused and threatened to throw him into jail if he persisted with his request. Achen would not give up and offered to go to jail in place of the inmate. Finally, the authorities relented, without pursuing their threat
If there was one thing he could not tolerate, it was wastage of any kind, whether money, talent or time. He had a simple rule which guided him in everything he did. He constantly asked himself and others: Will Jesus approve of this? At home, he was an affectionate father who played badminton with his children with an improvised net and racquets. According to his elder daughter Mrs Saramma Thomas, he planted tapioca and banana trees during the Japanese occupation.
In 1956, he went to Switzerland for postgraduate studies. Two years later, he was elevated as the vicar-general for Malaya in recognition of his invaluable services in encouraging and fostering the growth of the Mar Thoma Church in Malaya.
Achen returned to India in 1962 and held the two high posts of Vicar-General and Sabha Secretary (a Vicar-General is akin to a Secretary-General in international organisations while Sabha Secretary is a Congregation Secretary.) He died on October 23, 1979. At the memorial service in Kuala Lumpur, a prominent church member, Dr P. O. Thomas, paid tribute to the late Achen: “He was the founder, architect, planner, builder and organiser of the Mar Thoma Church in this part of the world.”
Brief background of the Mar Thoma Church
The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church (now Mar Thoma Church) was established in Kerala, India in AD 52 following the visit of the Apostle St Thomas there. The earliest records of the church show the baptism of babies from as far back as 450 years ago. It was known as the Reformed Syrian Church after undergoing a period of transformation and was the first Eastern church to extend eastward.
The church started its first parish overseas in Malaya and Singapore where the Malayali Christians had gone to earn a living during the Great Depression. The Malayali Mar Thomites worked as plantation workers or managers in the rural areas. Later, they served in the public sector in urban areas as teachers, doctors, lawyers, and engineers.
Their devotion to God and their church were exemplified in their contributions to the building of churches in various parts of the country. Some gave their entire month’s salaries or volunteered to hew wood and draw water in the construction of the church buildings. So fervent was their faith that despite their meagre earnings, they were able to build a school in Singapore, St Thomas Secondary School, with Reverend V. E. Thomas as its first principal.
The Very Reverend Koshy’s work in Malaya was further strengthened by Reverend V. E. Thomas and Reverend George Vergis.
In Malaysia, the community comprises 2,000 adults spread throughout the peninsula but their contributions to the nation and society surpass their numbers. Members of the church served in leadership roles in the Council of Churches, Christian seminaries, inter-religious organisations, and the Bible Society of Malaysia, among others. They are also active in spreading the Word, especially to disadvantaged groups, and providing them with educational opportunities. One such centre is the Mar Thoma Mission Centre in Pandamaran in the state of Selangor.
The Mar Thoma mother church in Kerala organises the annual Christian Convention at Marmon, the biggest in the world where international preachers like Dr Stanley Jones were invited as guest speakers. Their ecumenical reach is evident throughout the region. This Eastern church has now established churches all over India as well as in Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Mar Thoma Church in Malaysia is part of the Diocese of Malaysia-Singapore-Australia, and administered by the Church in India.
- ^ T.K.Ninan, ed., The Life and Times of V. Rev T.N.Koshy
Koshy, Ninan, ed. The Life and Times of Very Rev T N Koshy. Johor: T. K. Ninan, 1994.
Mathews, Philip, ed. The Mar Thoma Church: A Malaysian Perspective, 1986.
Mathews, Philip. Dr. V.A. Thomas of Vadaketh Family: An Autobiography. Kuala Lumpur: Lian Bee Press, 1990.
Ninan, T.K. Shining Beacons. 2010.
Koshy, T.N. A Brief Sketch of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar. Caxton Press, 1940
Ir Dr V.A.Thomas. Mar Thomites in Malaya. 2000,
Jesudas M Athyal, John J Thatamanil, eds. Mission in the Market Place. 2000.