recounted by Elder Mah Chin Kwang
Our church's beginning may be traced to an evening service that started in the mid-80s when a group of brethren from Grace B-P Church felt the need to have a ministry to complement the morning worship service. Right from the outset, the attendance had been low. After several years of faithful service, the brethren heeded the Lord's prompting to launch out as a group distinct from the morning worship. The group was fully committed to a new work to evangelize and serve in another community. About 30 members and friends from Grace prayerfully accepted the challenge to launch out to set up a witness in Katong.
On March 5, 1988, the work was commissioned at the inaugural service in one of the function rooms in Duke Hotel, Meyer Road. Rev Timothy Tow who commissioned the work at mother church, Grace B-P Church, some 12 years earlier, was there that evening to bring the Word. The work started off well, with about 40 attending the worship service each Sunday. With much fervour, the brethren made countless evangelistic outreaches to the homes in the community of Tanjong Rhu, Katong and Kallang.
Barely one year later, in early 1989 a severe problem erupted within the B-P family. Our little church was not spared. Like the sudden Sumatra wind that we experience occasionally in Singapore, Gethsemane was hit in April with such a force and swiftness that like a young tree that was just taking root, the greater part of the tree snapped and was torn apart. Three quarters of the congregation chose to leave Gethsemane. However, its roots were still firmly embedded in good ground. Praise the Lord. So while the ministry was severely ravaged, it was not decimated. The brethren laboured on. As the months went by, it became painfully clear that sustaining the work with no more than 10 members was extremely difficult.
Grace Session decided that the group should consolidate her strength by returning to worship in the premises of mother church. The ministry thus entered a new chapter of her history with the return to Grace Church on October 1, 1989 to resume as an evening service. Bro Abednego from Ghana, studying then at Far Eastern Bible College, was graciously provided by FEBC to help in the work. Bro Abed, as he was affectionately called, stayed on with Gethsemane until late September of 1990 to further his theological study in London.
Through the better part 1990, Grace Session agonized over the slow progress of the work. The Session was undecided on the future of the church. Should Gethsemane press on or should the group break up and be assimilated into the main stream? Much discussion, tears and prayer ensued and again with graciousness, the Lord intervened. He moved Grace Session to implement the recommendations made in a paper to re-vitalize the work. The paper prepared on August 25, 1990 ended with a threefold vision - a vision that Gethsemane would:
• evolve into a distinct group with her own identity, culture, outlook, emphasis and programme
• step out in faith into a new location
• become an autonomous Bible-Presbyterian church
As always, the Lord was gracious, granting fruition of this vision exactly five years later. Very shortly thereafter, the Lord again showed His graciousness when He moved Rev Timothy Tow to offer Bro Prabhudas Koshy, at that time a final year BTh student with FEBC to serve in Gethsemane. Bro Das came over to serve in December 1990. He went on to complete his BTh, followed by his MDiv. He was ordained a minister and pastor of Gethsemane in September 1994. While serving in Gethsemane, the Lord blessed him with a wife, Sis Carolyn, and 2 sons, Cornelius and Andronicus, and a daughter, Dorcas.
The work consolidated through 1991. In the last quarter of the year, Gethsemaneans felt it was time to move out to a new community to serve the Lord more effectively. The brethren prayed in earnest over the matter. One particular afternoon, we came across an advertisement notifying the availability of a bungalow in Harvey Avenue, near Simei HDB estate. After our weekly prayer meeting that Wednesday evening, several brethren went to the site and peered across the fence of an old single-storey bungalow within a large garden. The building looked dilapidated with long grass and unkempt bushes in the garden. The previous occupant had not taken care of the building and garden very well. However, everyone who was there saw beyond the physical condition of the building. They could see the potential of the bungalow; envisioning a place where children could play in the large garden, and adults could meet in the large hall. They saw the many terrace and semi-detached houses, and the tall HDB apartments of Simei, a stone's throw away, as their ready harvest field.
Grace Session members came later to view the place and gave its mandate to make contact with the owner to express our interest. Praise God the discussions progressed smoothly and we were able to secure the place on reasonable terms. Rev Tow came over on a Saturday morning to dedicate the new place for the Lord's use. We will recall with joy the labour of love and commitment as brethren pulled the tall grass with bare hands, cleared the rubbish and repainted the walls to transform the dilapidated building to a place fit for worship. The ministry began in the new location on the first Sunday of December 1991. A Daily Vacation Bible School (DVBS) held almost immediately drew some children, from which a children's ministry meeting on Saturday afternoons was started. From the evangelism effort among the HDB homes in Simei we made contact with some families, who decided to pay us a visit and chose to be with us to this day.
Our stay in Harvey Avenue holds fond memories for many of us. We would have liked to continue with the work there much longer. However the Lord had other plans. After exactly one year, the owner gave notice that he wanted to tear down the old building. We had to move by end-January 1993. We had no choice but to look around again. As the days got nearer to the deadline to move, anxiety set in for some of us. Once again, the Lord was merciful. In the eleventh hour, we came across the availability of a bungalow in Opera Estate. The cost associated with running the ministry was expected to be very much higher than that in Harvey Avenue. The brethren, however, felt that they could trust the Lord to provide for their needs. With much faith and the full support of Grace Session, the brethren moved forward. The ministry entered another chapter of her history with the move to Opera Estate in February 1993.
1993 was a year that saw Gethsemane growing in small numbers but larger in faith. Towards the end of the year, she indicated to the Session of mother church that she was likely to be financially independent in the following year. Grace Session gave her blessings. Gethsemaneans were thus committed to the Lord as a financially autonomous ministry during Grace Church's ACM in February 1994.
The brethren felt that they needed to exercise greater faith - that of seeking registration with the Registry of Societies as an independent church. The brethren thus overtured the pastor and session of Shalom B-P Church to allow Gethsemane to worship as an evening service in her premises in Loyang Besar Close, to facilitate the application for registration. Praise God for the spontaneous support from Shalom. On August 28, 1994, Gethsemane started yet another new phase in her ministry when she held her first worship service in the evening in Shalom Church. The congregation sang with unbridled gusto to the Lord in the beautiful sanctuary of a church once again.
Work on redrafting the Church Constitution, based on Olivet B-P Church's Constitution took several months. It was thus with some relief and joy that we handed in the neatly typed document, a product of many hours of thoughts, discussion and prayer, together with the relevant application forms on December 6, 1994 to the Registry of Societies. Within 2 weeks, the ROS with characteristics efficiency, sent us a four-page letter listing 30-odd difficult questions and suggested changes to our proposed Constitution. With God's grace, we answered each question truthfully yet firm on our Biblical stand. No further questions followed. In the meantime, we reorganised the Constitution, while retaining the essential parts almost in its entirety.
The redrafted Constitution was submitted on April 22, 1995. Over the next 2 months, we did not hear from the ROS. Many of us accepted the silence as a normal practice of the authorities to carefully study the redrafted Constitution, and were prepared for more work ahead. Praise God that His wonders never cease. On June 14, Pastor Das opened a letter from the ROS. With great excitement and joy, he read the wonderful news.... that our application was approved in principle. All that remained to be done was to make some minor amendments to the draft of our Constitution and to re-submit 2 fresh copies, which we did on July 3. Exactly 10 days later, in a letter dated July 13, 1995, the ROS advised that our application for registration of Gethsemane B-P Church was approved. Almost 5 years to the date, the Lord graciously granted the third part of our vision. In the eyes of the authorities and as clearly confirmed in the Singapore Government Gazette, we were a legal entity.
All praise to the Lord!