During the first decade of the 20th century, a group of brethren coming from Britain and attached to business houses and plantations in Sri-Lanka, met in a rented house named ‘Pendleton’, in central Colombo, for worship. ‘Pendleton’ was about 500 metres from the present Bethesda Gospel Hall. A Chinese lady by the name of Isabel Amelia Loos started attending these meetings. Mrs. Loos was an Anglican, and the widow of a well-to-do attorney, Mr. Frederick Charles Loos. Mrs. Loos attended a meeting taken by a missionary and as a result she was saved. She quickly offered to build the believers a meeting hall. She purchased the land, built and furnished the hall that was called Bethesda Gospel Hall at 21 Dickman’s Road, Colombo-5. It was dedicated to the Lord’s work on the 3rd of April 1919.
The first full-time worker in the country from the assemblies was Arthur F. Witty of New Zealand who began his work in 1899. While serving the Lord in Colombo he came into fellowship in the assembly. While on furlough in 1905 he married Miss Florence Frith, a missionary from India, and they returned to Sri- Lanka with the commendation of Eden Hall, Auckland. Since Mr Witty returned to New Zealand in 1920, there have been no further assembly missionaries serving in Sri-Lanka.
Prior to independence in 1948 many brethren from the U.K. assemblies, who worked as civil servants or naval officers, were able to serve in the assembly. Among them were John Kennedy and H. R. Ogle who was an elder from 1929 to 1948.
After 1945 the work was taken on by local brethren, including Fredrick (Fred) Collette. This was due to the fact that the Second World War came to an end and many of the workers returned home. Fred Collette was a Hansard reporter to the Parliament but retired early to devote all his time to the Lord’s work. His wife Valerie ably supported him. After many years of faithful service, he found himself almost the sole surviving elder and having to carry the heavy burden of the assembly. He left Sri-Lanka to join his two sons who had settled down in Australia. Fred served as an elder at Bethesda from 1952 to 1971.
The assembly was now reduced to just a handful and there were no elders. A few dedicated believers, mostly sisters, looked after the building and premises, while meeting together regularly and praying earnestly that the Lord would send more servants to serve Him at Bethesda.
The Lord graciously answered their prayers through the coming of George Nicholas, who was a Chartered Architect by profession. He was saved in 1971 through the witness of William and Elsie Kimber, formerly missionaries to India, while he was studying in Aberdeen, Scotland. He returned to Sri-Lanka in 1972 and while looking for a suitable church to go to, one Sunday evening he walked into Bethesda Gospel Hall. He came into fellowship and was recognized as an elder in 1978 along with three other brethren. By 1980 he was to become the sole surviving elder as the other three had moved abroad.
In 1979 Emmaus Bible School was established for the first time in Sri-Lanka and many of the assembly members helped to correct and distribute the courses across the country. The English course books were systematically translated and printed into Sinhala and Tamil. This enabled the courses to reach all the ethnic groups in the country. Many have come to know the Lord through this assembly ministry. The main office has always been located within the assembly premises since the inception of this ministry but now regional offices for Emmaus have been established in Batticaloa, Vavuniya and Hatton.
In 1981 a youth meeting was started by the assembly which proved to be very popular among the youth in Colombo. They would gather every Saturday afternoon for a time of in-depth Bible study and fellowship together. In 1992 the AWANA children’s programme was introduced in Sri-Lanka at Bethesda Hall. It proved so popular that today over sixty children meet together every Saturday to study the Bible.
During the ‘80s and ‘90s a Tamil and Sinhala language ministry was established at Bethesda. Now there are services in all three languages every week.
In 1990 Charles and Rani Arasathayalan were married at Bethesda and commended by the assembly to the Lord’s work in Vavuniya. They established the Kurumankadu assembly in Vavuniya which has around 100 believers in fellowship today. Presently there are nine assemblies across Sri-Lanka in places like Jaffna, Trincomalee, Valaichenai and Batticaloa, all of which were established within the last fifteen years.
During the last two decades, due to the civil war and the unstable situation in the country, hundreds of believers who came into assembly fellowship have moved overseas. However, the assembly at Bethesda has continued faithfully to teach New Testament church principles, knowing that the seed that has been planted will bear much fruit.
After the tsunami of December 2004, many new areas of witness have opened up for the assembly. In 2005 the assembly has established carpentry workshops, brick- and block-making factories, nurseries to teach young children and a computer training school. Many have come to know the Lord as their personal Saviour as a result of these ministries and also through the assembly building programme which provides help for those affected in the tsunami.
After thirty-three years of faithful service, George Nicholas was called home in June 2005. Stanley Mather, who was recognized as an elder in 1998 is carrying on the work of eldership with S. Yoganathan, Rex Rodriguez, S. Mahendran, Rajeev Nicholas, Gerard Manoharan and Ajith Pieris.
Some of the brethren from overseas who have helped in the work of the assembly on a short-term basis were: Wilfred Wilcox (a former Principal of Clarence School in Coonoor, South India), Handley Bird, A. C. Rose, Silas Fox, J. M. Davies, Ernest Childs, William Stunt, Peter Ferry, James Naismith, Bill Reid, Dennis McKinnon, Bruce Kerr, Jon Vaught, Vic Flaming, Charles Wigg, S. V. Ramalingham, Don Fleming and others.
Currently the assembly has about seventy believers in fellowship. If you would like to visit us or know more about the work at Bethesda, please write to: [email protected]