An encounter at a railway station sets the course

The New Apostolic Church in Malaysia celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, and it all began with a love story. The story takes us from Malaysia via England to Germany and back again.

It is an afternoon in 1958 in the middle of spring break. The main railway station in Bremen in Germany is very busy. A man with a full beard and a turban stands out. His name is Harbhajan Singh Chhabra. This attracts the attention of a young woman. Waldtraud and he begin to talk, they exchange addresses, and a friendship develops. Before long it turned into love. And it was to be the beginning of the New Apostolic Church in Malaysia.

In Malaysia there were no New Apostolic Christians at the time. Then as now a large part of the population are Muslim or Buddhist. Since the country had been under British colonial rule for many years, however, there was some Christian influence.

From Germany to Malaysia

Harbhajan Sing Chhabra came from West Malaysia. He was a Sikh, a monotheistic religious group known also in Malaysia. He went to England to study, where he soon began to take an interest in Christianity. During a semester break, which he spent travelling through Europe, he met Waldtraut.

When they got married in Malaysia, Harbhajan converted to Christianity. Soon the young couple moved back to Europe. In Delmenhorst in Germany they attended services in the Anglican Church and came into contact with the New Apostolic Church. They immediately felt at home and attended the services more and more often.

In 1965 both were sealed and a year later already, Brother Chhabra received the ministry of Sub-deacon. District Apostle Hermann Schumacher was responsible for the Church in Bremen at the time. He saw the faith and zeal of the young brother and recognised an opportunity to spread the New Apostolic faith in Malaysia. The couple agreed and so they moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1969, the Malaysian capital, after Brother Chhabra had been ordained a Priest. In Malaysia he found a job as a teacher.

Bible, chalice and offering-box

With few resources, but confidence and a firm faith, Family Chhabra began to tell the people around them about the New Apostolic faith. Seven guests attended the very divine service on 30 November 1969. Priest Chhabra led the service and his daughter sang during the service.

At the beginning it was mostly friends and acquaintances, whom Priest Chhabra invited to their home, where he conducted the services. The first three souls were sealed on 27 October 1971, and the pastoral care of the members in the country was entrusted to the New Apostolic Church Canada/USA, then under the leadership of District Apostle Michael Kraus, who was responsible for Canada. The membership grew and so did the number of congregations.

The first congregation was established in Rawang, 30 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur. Soon, Harbhajan Singh Chhabra was ordained a District Elder, and on 17 April 1991 Chief Apostle Richard Fehr conducted a divine service in Kuala Lumpur. He was the first Chief Apostle to visit the country. This service was attended by about 600 brothers and sisters who had come from all over the country. Some took a day off from work for the long trip by bus.

Fifty years later

Today, there are 18 congregations with about 600 members in Malaysia. Since 2009 the congregations have been cared for by the District Apostle Area South-East Asia. The district was led by District Apostle Urs Hebeisen until his retirement in 2018. Since then, District Apostle Edy Isnugroho has been responsible for the pastoral care of the members in Malaysia.

District Apostle Isnugroho was delighted to be able to celebrate the golden jubilee of the New Apostolic Church Malaysia with all the members of South-East Asia. On account of COVID-19 he conducted the service in Denpasar, the capital of Bali. He based his sermon on Colossians 1: 12–13: “…giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” The District Apostle asked the members in Malaysia to also give thanks to the Father. He made a point of stating how grateful he was for the work being done in the Church in Malaysia and that the members there have remained faithful to the Lord in spite of the crisis caused by the pandemic.

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Katrin Löwen