James, Gnanamuthu Dixon (G.D. James)

1920 - 2003
Evangelist, missionary pioneer (AEFI), and author
Brethren
India
Southeast Asia

Gnanamuthu Dixon James was born on December 25, 1920 into a Hindu family in the town of Salem in South India. At the age of three, Gnanamuthu ("pearl of wisdom" in Tamil) lost his mother.[1] He was physically abused by his father, who would randomly beat him while drunk.[2] His father moved to Malaya (now Malaysia) where Gnanamuthu continued his primary school studies.[3] When his father remarried, his stepmother was cold and indifferent towards Gnanamuthu. The only love he received from family was from his grandmother but alas, she was preoccupied with her own responsibilities and was not there for him always.[4] Gnanamuthu recalled how in distress he even contemplated committing suicide but did not know how to do it.[5]

His father wanted him to have a good education so he was sent back to India to attend secondary school at a Christian mission school noted for its academic standing.[6] Before Gnanamuthu went to the school, his father warned him to stay away from the "white man's religion", a reference to Christianity.[7] Being a "good" and zealous Hindu who read the Hindu Scriptures regularly, Gnanamuthu assured his father that he would never “humiliate himself or his family by embracing a foreign religion”.[8]

Vision of the cross

One night when Gnanamuthu was in his school dormitory, he was restless and unable to sleep. He got out of bed and reached for the Bible on his desk. The page of the Tamil Bible fell open to Isaiah chapter 53. As his eyes scanned the passage of the suffering Messiah, he saw a fleeting but real vision. He witnessed the sins that he had committed and realised his condemnation before a Holy God.[9] Subsequently, a glorious second vision came to pass – that of Christ on the cross, bearing all Gnanamuthu’s sins on His own body. Gnanamuthu described that event: 

"Suddenly the room was filled with a blinding light and at the centre of the light, I saw the very form of Jesus Christ as if He were dying then and there. For the first time in my life, I realised that Jesus Christ loved me… ”[10]

That night, the life of the 17-year-old was transformed by his faith and relationship to his new Lord. 

When his father became aware of his son’s conversion to Christianity, he was outraged. Gnanamuthu experienced anger and maltreatment from various people because he had brought dishonour and shame to family and community. He left his uncle’s home (where he stayed during school holidays) after overhearing that he might be poisoned at breakfast. He spent the first night in a railway station. For a whole year, he travelled and shared Christ in the various villages and towns near Salem, South India, many a time “without food and some days… [being sustained with] a couple of bananas and cold water”.[11] 

Despite this, Gnanamuthu recalled the blessings of the early days: “But the joy and excitement of the presence of my living Lord Jesus was so real that all the privations and persecutions dwindled to nothing”.[12] The amazing thing through these witnessing experiences was that each time young Gnanamuthu, who had no theological training, shared the gospel, people – young and old – turned to the Lord. Gnanamuthu would only later learn that this was because God had given him the gift of an evangelist. Another uncle and aunt who lived on the other side of the Cauvery River (South India) and a few cousins who were sympathetic to Gnanamuthu’s new faith helped him to arrange open air meetings. At one meeting, Gnanamuthu’s dear old grandmother who did not seem to grasp much of the gospel acknowledged that Jesus died for her sins and that He is the only God worth worshiping. These were indeed the sweetest words that Gnanamuthu had heard in a long time.[13]

It was during his itinerant ministry in South India that Gnanamuthu had a clear call to leave his ambitions (he had mapped out plans to become a medical doctor), and become the Lord’s servant.[14] Even though he tried to dismiss the voice of God, he finally surrendered to the Lord’s promptings with the words: “Lord, I’m all yours.”[15]

Klang, Malaysia

In 1941, Gnanamuthu went back to Malaya from India. He had heard that there were many South Indians living there and felt that he could witness to them while being close to his family. He was surprised at how well he was received by his family, although his father tried to lure him back into Hinduism. Gnanamuthu started sharing the gospel to relatives and friends using his father's home as the base. He taught them from the four gospels each night for six months. It was evident that the Lord's presence was with him because he saw close to 30 of his relatives (including his stepmother and eventually his father) turn from their sinful ways to place their faith in Jesus Christ.

At that time, a New Zealand couple – the Brewertons who were sent to minister to Indians – encountered Gnanamuthu and recognised God’s hand upon this young man. Unknown to Gnanamuthu, Mr and Mrs E.V. Brewerton were earnestly praying for an Indian missionary to come and help them gather the harvest among the Indian rubber plantation workers. The Brewertons had the joy of baptising some of Gnanamuthu’s relatives and they also invited Gnanamuthu to join the Klang Gospel Hall where he was eventually commended as a full-time worker in mid-1941.[16] From here on, he became known as G D James (or GD, affectionately, to close friends).

At the end of 1941, the Japanese army invaded Malaya and Singapore. During the approximately 2½ years of occupation, GD suffered privation and was in constant fear of being imprisoned or murdered by the Japanese soldiers. Despite it all, the Lord enabled him to escape several close calls and continue serving faithfully. The Lord's words of assurance: “I am with you" provided strength and stability to GD during these dark times.[17] The leadership and shepherding responsibilities of the Klang Gospel Hall fell on the local workers because foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country. This posed a problem – GD rarely ministered in English prior to this. But he rose to the occasion – in preparation for this new phase of ministry, he would get up at 5am most mornings to study and master the English language.

In August 1943, two years before the surrender of the Japanese forces, GD married Roseline Simon (affectionately known as Rose), a Malayan Indian girl who came from a well-known Christian family. It was an auspicious occasion as Elder Lim Chin Kheng officiated at the wedding in the company of family and members from the surrounding Brethren assemblies.[18] God blessed GD and Rose with six children. According to Elder Dr Lawrence Chan of Singapore, GD’s success in his family life in raising all his children to love the Lord is mainly attributed to Rose who played “a crucial role” as she impressed on the children to cleave to the Lord.[19] Four of their six children were born in Klang while the remaining two were born in Singapore after GD received a “Macedonian call” in 1951 from various leaders, including a medical missionary, Dr G.P. Bardsley, to relocate there and eventually serve at the Bethesda Gospel Hall (now Ang Mo Kio Assembly) as a commended worker.[20]

To Singapore

Using the Bethesda Gospel Hall as a ministry base, GD preached tirelessly and became well known in the Brethren assemblies in Singapore and Malaysia. Invitations soon came from other denominational churches for GD to conduct gospel and Bible teaching meetings. His evangelistic gift was recognised and greatly appreciated, and the Gospel Hall released him to conduct crusades and rallies in India, Indonesia, and other Southeast Asian countries. He continued to travel to Malaya regularly, sometimes with a male voice choir from Singapore headed by Robert Tan of Bethesda Gospel Hall.

During one of these visits to Malaysia in 1960, GD sustained a heart attack and was rushed to Singapore’s General Hospital. While in hospital, GD took stock of his ministry before the Lord. One night while still in hospital, he saw a vision of people hastening to a Christless eternity and he sensed that the Lord was prompting him to train others instead of merely serving as an itinerant evangelist.[21] GD realised that the best way forward was to form a national mission organisation to train Asians to reach Asia. Despite all the obstacles and with less than $50 in the bank account, GD founded the Malaysia Evangelistic Fellowship (MEF) in August 1960. Nine leaders from various evangelical churches formed the first committee, including S. Dhanabalan who would later join the Singapore government as a Cabinet minister.[22] 

The work of MEF then spread to Indonesia and India in the early 1970s, so the name was changed to Asia Evangelistic Fellowship (AEF). Local evangelists like Tan Kok Beng were enlisted to preach at Gospel rallies, initially in Singapore and later in other parts of Asia, while Peck Hock Cheng, his wife Suat Mui and Herbert Woon were sent from Singapore to Brunei as missionaries.[23] Even so, GD’s vision was for Asian nationals in their own countries to reach their people in culturally sensitive ways. He continued to conduct gospel crusades in the key cities of Asia and saw large crowds gathering and hundreds coming to Christ. In India and Indonesia, churches, Bible colleges and preaching bands came into being because of his crusades. The Singapore ministry continued to grow as specialised evangelists were added to the ranks to reach out to children, young people, and the dialect-speaking Chinese communities.

To Sydney, Australia

In 1977, due to his heart condition, GD was advised by his doctors to relocate to Sydney, Australia (where the weather was more temperate and the pace of life less hectic). GD saw this as an opportunity to reach out to the Asians in Australia and to extend AEF’s ministry to Australian Christians. He set up the board of AEF Australia made up of key Christian leaders and professionals. Unknown to him, this was a strategic move of God to prepare AEFI to be later domiciled in Australia when the Singapore government introduced the Charities Act of 1995 whereby only 20% of locally raised funds could be remitted outside of Singapore.[24]

In Sydney, GD became an elder of the Epping Gospel Chapel and counselled Asian students at Macquarie university. He also established various ministry initiatives to the Vietnamese, Cambodian, Sri Lankan, and other Asian communities across Australia. 

GD continued visits to Singapore and other Asian countries and embarked on new initiatives such as convening the first Indian Diaspora conference in Singapore in June 1980 with 100 delegates from 11 countries.[25] In May 1985, GD and the AEF leaders organised the Conference of National Evangelists (CONE) in Singapore to identify and equip 150 emerging evangelists from Asia.[26]

In 1990, AEFI appointed GD’s youngest son Jonathan, as international director of the mission, based in Singapore. GD continued as president (a non-executive role), preaching the Word and promoting the mission. From 1989-1999, he conducted several “Love Missions” in various key cities in Asia and Australia. In 1989, he took a team of 12 Asian preachers to several cities in the United Kingdom and France for the “Love UK Mission”. Pastor Neo Ban It of Singapore, one of the associate preachers at the Love UK Mission, testified that this was a “high point” in his life and ministry – to travel to the land of Wesley and Whitefield and preach the same gospel.[27]

GD was first and foremost an evangelist. His simple and winsome messages based on the death and resurrection of Christ were powerful, anointed, and effective. Every time he preached a gospel message, there were pockets of people or large crowds that were convicted of their sin and need of a Saviour. He started his ministry as a Tamil preacher but was constrained during the Japanese occupation of Malaya to preach and write in English. GD described his efforts in learning to preach in English:

“I tried to preach using the best of phrases and words in the English language… sadly  people were impressed… but no lives were changed. I fasted and prayed, and the Lord impressed upon me the need to preach Christ in simplicity and clarity with total dependence on God – not to add anything or take away anything.”[28]

God honoured this stand as thousands of people were touched by the powerful message of the Saviour. Eternity will reveal the broad sweep of precious souls from many nations who have come to know the Lord Jesus through his faithful ministry. Australian evangelist Bill Newman described GD as a “flame for God in Asia… [and] to so many parts of our world”.[29]

There are many notable evangelists, but few were used by God to spearhead and launch missionary movements. GD’s vision for AEFI came at a time when there were very few national workers and missionaries serving God in their own Asian countries and when foreign mission agencies were not ready to accept local Asian workers to serve in their ranks. 

AEFI has grown exponentially since its humble inception with more than 200 national workers serving today in 11 countries in Asia and beyond – even reaching the shores of North America where there is a thriving diaspora ministry to Asians. AEFI is now in regions and countries such as Northeast India, China, Nepal, and Myanmar, where GD had not set foot during his lifetime.[30]

GD began writing tracts in English in the early 1950s. He then edited a quarterly magazine, The Gospel Challenge, for many years and went on to write 24 books. His book Words of Comfort written after a fiery trial brought immense blessing to many people. A medical student in India was on the verge of committing suicide but after reading the book, he gave himself to the Lord and changed the course of his life. Similarly, a corporate executive, Jacob Samuel in Mumbai came to the Lord after reading this book. GD’s signature booklet The Man You Must Confront has been printed and translated into more than 13 languages with more than 10 million copies in circulation.

Amazingly, even though GD founded AEFI, he was not "one eyed" about the mission. He spent as much time building up and encouraging other agencies such as the Bible Society (Singapore), Keswick Convention Committee (Singapore), Haggai Ministries, OMF (Singapore Home Council), Eagles Communications and Every Home for Christ (Australia), to name a few. He encouraged younger leaders, pastors, and evangelists all over Asia and Australia. In the last five to six years of his life, he devoted his time in prayer for international Christian leaders and met with several key leaders in Australia regularly in an informal mentoring capacity.

Alan Harley (theologian and former director of AEF Australia) in his summation of GD’s life referred to St. Patrick who was known as the apostle of Ireland, Bernard Gilpin as the apostle of the North and William Carey as the apostle of India. In the same way, Harley likened G.D. James in that line of apostolic succession: “… GD began his ministry as a result of a direct confrontation with the living Lord, he was compelled to take the gospel to his own people, he has travelled the world to preach Christ, he has established a network known as AEFI from which colleges and churches have been established… and the fruit remains”. [31]

Deathbed: Final vision

G D James died in Sydney on July 24, 2003. One of his spiritual sons, David Lim (formerly from Singapore) was at his bedside in hospital and testified that GD asked for pen and paper to write something he saw. But he was too weak to write a single word. Lim shared that GD saw a vision of the Lord and the prophet Elijah but was struggling to communicate this.[32] Shortly after this incident, GD left this world, holding onto his Bible, having completed more than 60 years of faithful gospel ministry through preaching, writing, and training leaders.

Ten memorial services were held to celebrate his life and ministry in Sydney and Perth (Australia); Singapore; Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia); Auckland (New Zealand); Mumbai and Dimapur (India); Kathmandu (Nepal); Yangon, (Myanmar) and Surabaya (Indonesia).[33] In the Christian community in Singapore and in many parts of Asia and the world, he is considered a legend because of his extensive influence and prolific contribution to the missionary enterprise of the Church.

Notes

  1. ^ Violet James, “Dr G.D. James: Gifted Roving Evangelist”, in Brethren Pioneers of Singapore, eds. Chew Pin Kee and Wilson Gwee (Singapore: Bethesda Bukit Arang,2007), 11-21. 
  2. ^ Violet James, “Dr G.D. James", 11-21. 
  3. ^ G.D. James, Amazed by Love (Epping, NSW: G D James Multimedia, 1987), 99.
  4. ^ G.D. James, Amazed by Love, 5.
  5. ^ G.D. James, Amazed by Love, 5.
  6. ^ G.D. James, Amazed by Love, 99.
  7. ^ Violet James,
  8. ^ Ibid.
  9. ^ G.D. James, Ibid, 
  10. ^ Violet James, Ibid.
  11. ^ Geoff Folland, “The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned – Dr GD James”, inGeofff: The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned - Dr GD James (geofff70.blogspot.com). Accessed March 2, 2022. 
  12. ^ Ibid.
  13. ^ G.D. James, Ibid, 11.
  14. ^ Ibid.
  15. ^ Ibid, 12.
  16. ^ G.D. James, Ibid, 23.
  17. ^ Geoff Folland, Ibid.
  18. ^ G.D. James, Ibid, 25.
  19. ^ Lawrence Chan, “Tributes by Christian Leaders: Committed to Preaching,” in GD: A Legend in our Times, eds. P. Abraham and Gordon Moyes (Mumbai: Light of LifeBooks, 2008), 124-125. 
  20. ^ G.D. James, Ibid, 18.
  21. ^ L.D. Hong, “An instrument in the Master’s hands,” in Missions on the March, ed. G D James (Mumbai: GLS,1982), 73-89. 
  22. ^ Ibid.
  23. ^ Ibid.
  24. ^ In 1997, Asia Evangelistic Fellowship International (AEFI) was registered in Perth, Australia as the coordinating body of the various AEF entities in Asia and beyond.  
  25. ^ Prabhu Das Roberts, “Introduction,” in Mobilise to Evangelise, ed. G.D. James (Singapore: FOSAC, 1980), 10-13. 
  26. ^ J.D. Douglas, “Preface,” in Tell Asia Today, ed. J.D. Douglas (Epping, NSW:G D James Multimedia,1985), 1-3. 
  27. ^ Neo Ban It, Personal communication with writer, 3 October 2004
  28. ^ Basil Jayatilaka, Devotional message at AEFI Triennial Conference, Singapore3 September 2004 
  29. ^ Bill Newman, “Tributes by Christian Leaders: Passionate Love,” in GD: A Legend in our Times, eds. P. Abraham and Gordon Moyes (Mumbai: GLS Books, 2008),108-109. 
  30. ^ Jonathan James, Message at AEFI 10th Quadrennial Conference, Singapore, 5 October 2019. 
  31. ^ Alan Harley, Heartcry for Asia: Dr G D James and the Asia Evangelistic Fellowship(Epping, NSW: AEF, 2000), 5. 
  32. ^ David Lim, Personal communication with writer, 27 July 2003
  33. ^ Jonathan James, “10th Anniversary of the death of AEFI’s Founding Father”. Report to AEFI Directors, 24 July 2013. 

Jonathan James

The writer is the youngest son of G.D. James. He was previously the associate pastor of the Swanston Street Church of Christ (now CrossCulture Church of Christ) in Melbourne, Australia and is currently the executive president of AEFI.

 

Bibliography

Unpublished

James, Jonathan. Message at AEFI’s 10th Quadrennial Conference, Singapore, 5 October 2019.

James, Jonathan. “10th Anniversary of the death of AEFI’s Founding Father”. Report to AEFI Directors, 24 July 2013.

Jayatilaka, Basil. Devotional message at AEFI Triennial Conference, Singapore 4 September 2004.

Lim, David. Personal communication with writer, 27 July 2003.

Neo, Ban It. Personal communication with writer, 3 October 2004.

 

Published

Chan, Lawrence. “Tributes by Christian Leaders: Committed to Preaching.” In GD: A Legend in our Times, edited by P Abraham and Gordon Moyes, 124-125. Mumbai: Light of Life Books, 2008. 

Douglas, J.D. “Preface.” In Tell Asia Today, edited by J.D. Douglas, 1-3. Epping, NSW: G D James Multimedia,1985.

Folland, Geoff. “The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned – Dr GD James”.

Geofff: The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned - Dr GD James (geofff70.blogspot.com). Accessed March 2, 2022.

Harley, Alan. Heartcry for Asia: Dr G D James and the Asia Evangelistic Fellowship. Epping, NSW: AEF, 2000.

Hong, L.D. “An instrument in the Master’s hands.” In Missions on the March,  edited by G D James, 73-89. Mumbai: GLS,1982.

James, G.D. Amazed by Love. Epping, NSW: G D James Multimedia, 1987.

James, Violet. “Dr G. D. James: Gifted Roving Evangelist.” In Brethren Pioneers of Singapore, edited by Chew Pin Kee and Wilson Gwee, 11-21. Singapore: Bethesda Bukit Arang, 2007.

Newman, Bill. “Tributes by Christian Leaders: Passionate Love.” In GD: A Legend in our Times, edited by. P. Abraham and Gordon Moyes, 108-109. Mumbai: GLS Books, 2008.

Roberts, Prabhu Das. “Introduction.” In Mobilise to Evangelise, edited by G.D. James, 10-13. Singapore: FOSAC, 1980.