BURMAH ROAD GOSPEL HALL, PENANG, MALAYSIA
Penang State has one part on the mainland of the Malaysian peninsula with the other part being an island off its north-west coast. It is linked to the mainland by the longest (13km) bridge in Asia and by ferry (transporting vehicles and passengers) at 15- minute intervals. Penang Island is a well-known holiday resort with its beautiful beaches, warm climate and international food. The population is around 1.2 million people consisting mainly of Malays, Chinese and Indians. The sharing of the gospel with the Malay (Muslim) population either publicly or privately is strictly forbidden by law so all the work is among the Chinese and Indians. The population split is Chinese 59%, Indians 7%, Malays 32%, and others 2%. In spite of the restriction, the gospel flourishes and on the island there are five New Testament assemblies with two on the mainland. The services are conducted in English. The oldest of these is Burmah Road Gospel Hall in Georgetown. It was established initially in Farquhar Street probably in 1859, when Mr. and Mrs. John Chapman left Bristol, England, with the encouragement of George Meüller, to do educational and evangelistic work on the island. They stayed for some years in Penang before moving on to South Africa and they were succeeded by Mr. and Mrs. William MacDonald (1866) also from the UK. The latter spent 44 years here. In 1888, Mr. and Mrs. Ashdown joined them.
A Chapel and Mission House were erected in Farquhar Street and the latter still stands to this day though in a dilapidated state. The assembly grew and its gospel and Sunday School work flourished so that there were by the early 1930s around 200 in fellowship.
In 1938 the Chapel (demolished earlier for the widening of the street in front) and the Mission House at 35 Farquhar Street were vacated and the believers moved to their current premises at 164 Burmah Road, where the testimony continues. The assembly also runs a Christian Convention Centre (CCC) right on the coast to the north of the island. It was miraculously spared during the 2005 tsunami though the buildings on either side of it were somewhat affected. It is used by Malaysian assemblies for family and young people's camps.
In Burmah Road there are in fact two assemblies meeting in the same building: one Englishspeaking; the other Chinesespeaking. There are around 120 in fellowship in each assembly and there is a high standard of cooperation and harmony between them. There is also a substantial Mission House and a large Sunday School annex on the 60,000 sq, feet site. The last foreign missionary to live in the House was Mr. Willie (William) Wilson of N. Ireland. Others who stayed there were Mr. Sidney S. Adams and Mr. Albert E. Phillips. It is now used as an office, library, Sunday School and meeting rooms for the assembly. Plans have been lodged with the local planning authority for the Mission House to be demolished and the existing Hall (being classified as a Heritage building by the authorities) to be upgraded. The English-speaking assembly will pull down the existing Mission House and rebuild on its site, while the Chinese-speaking believers upgrade the existing Hall and build on the annexe site.
The assembly at Burmah Road Gospel Hall has a rich heritage of history and in many cases was the first to launch projects which still continue to this very day. Some of them are no more because of certain circumstances while others are still going on. Among them was the Penang Prison Visitation with weekly gospel preaching in Chinese initiated by Mr. Adams (who spoke Hokkien, a Chinese dialect, fluently) after the Second World War. This was made possible because of his friendship with the Superintendent of Prisons when they were both interned in Changi Prison in Singapore.
In the early 50’s, there was work among the lepers on Pulau (= island) Jerajak off the coast of Penang Island. This work was first started by the Ashdowns when they came to Penang in 1888. They paid regular visits there. It was then a leper settlement. Soon with aid from Mission to Lepers, a meeting room was erected on the island where the leper-believers met. Even in the 50’s, missionaries and local workers from Burmah Road Gospel Hall paid weekly visits to this assembly of leperbelievers. They travelled there by sampan, small fishing boats.
Since 1947, the assembly also started the first annual School Holiday Bible/Family Camp which continues to this day, and the first School Prayer Group in 1948 which later was ‘copied’ by parachurch groups to be known as Scripture Union groups, and today as the Inter-School Fellowships.
In the 50’s when the authorities allowed it, it conducted ‘Sand Services’ on the beach off the coastal road by building a ‘sand church’ (consisting of a sand pulpit with rows of sand seats) there and preaching the gospel to passers-by who would sit on the sand-seats.
From 1972 to 1976 it held a twomonth Residential Bible School at CCC for all potential leaders of the assemblies in Malaysia to equip themselves for assembly leadership. Today, a modified project by the same name, run by the assemblies in Kuala Lumpur, continues to equip school-leavers waiting for their results.
On May 28, 2005 the assemblies in Penang came together to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of assembly testimony in Penang in a big thanksgiving service and dinner catering to over 700 people. For those who are interested in the history of the assemblies in Penang, visit: http://www. b e r i t a - b e t h e l - ung.com/anniversary/150thanniversaryindex.htm
Today the assembly has maintained an active testimony on the island with its other ‘daughter-assemblies’, viz. Butterworth Gospel Hall (1959) on the mainland, Island Glades Gospel Centre (1970) and Sungai Nibong Gospel Hall (1980) on the island. From these assemblies, Sungai Ara Gospel Hall (island) and Bukit Mertajam Gospel Centre have sprung up with two other outreach points at Kulim- Lunas and Kepala Batas (all on the mainland.)
These assemblies work very closely together sharing their main speakers, having joint annual Bible Camps, holding annual Assembly Fellowship Camps (for singles – married and unmarried), occasional combined Sisters’ Meetings, annual interassembly youth games, bimonthly Missionary Meetings known as Mission Night with their Mission Prayer Bulletin (The ECHOES), organizing annual or regular get-togethers for Sunday School children (Daily Vacation Bible School), and senior citizens (Penang Gospel Assembly Senior Fellowship), coming together every Easter for a combined Bible conference, culminating with a baptism of candidates from all assemblies, and for various other combined activities, including a fortnightly Assembly Bible Class for the leaders and workers of these assemblies. They also have a consultative partnership (Penang Assemblies Partnership) meeting regularly to help each other on issues, discuss common problems, organize projects for mutual benefit, and training future leaders for the assemblies.
Visitors to Penang will be warmly welcomed to Burmah Road or to any of the other assemblies meeting on the island or on the mainland.