Roland Sylvester Fernando served as pastor-evangelist and executive officer of missions and unions in India, Bangladesh, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Early Life, Education, and Marriage
Roland Sylvester was born in Moratuwa, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), on November 1, 1910, the youngest son of Stevan Sylvestri Fernando, a Methodist preacher, and Wannakuwatte Elizabeth. His early schooling was at Angulama and the Prince of Wales College. His mother passed away when he was eleven. At her funeral, two of his father’s former pupils, who were Adventists, spoke with him about Christ’s second coming and the resurrection. Fernando’s father agreed Saturday was the biblical Sabbath, but disowned him when he chose to join the Adventist Church. Fernando was baptized on Christmas Day in 1926 by H. A. Hansen.1 He enrolled at the South India Training School (SITS) in 1928, supporting himself by canvassing in summers in Ceylon, and graduated with a junior diploma in commercial studies on March 27, 1931.2 While at SITS, he met Mercy, daughter of Pastor E. D. Thomas. The two were married on April 10, 1933,3 in a ceremony solemnised by the bride’s father. Their eldest son Emil was born in Lucknow in 1934 and the following year twin boys, Merlyn and Noel, were born in Poona.4 Mercy Fernando taught the three boys at home until they went to Assam Training School in 1946.
Career and Ministry
Fernando began his service to the Adventist church in 1931 as an office secretary at the South India Union headquarters. That year he also assisted H. A. Hansen with evangelism in Colombo.5 The following year he accepted a call to work at the Northeast Union office at Ranchi.6 After their marriage in 1933, the couple moved to Lucknow, headquarters of the Northwest Union where Fernando worked as office assistant for two years after which he was appointed Book Depot Manager. He was transferred to the Oriental Watchman Publishing House (OWPH) in 1936,7 and appointed a board member of the OWPH in 1937. In the beginning of 1939, Fernando also substituted part time for T. Killoway, secretary-treasurer of the South India Union.8
Later in 1939, Fernando was appointed treasurer of the Northeast Union, which at that time included East Bengal (Bangladesh).9 The Fernandos moved to Ranchi and served there for seven years. During that time Fernando was instrumental in the establishment of Khunti School.10 At Ranchi, one day Mercy Fernando’s clothes caught fire from a coal stove resulting in both she and her husband suffering serious burns.11
In 1946, preparatory to independence for India and Ceylon, Ceylon was taken out of the South India Union Mission and attached directly to the South Asia Division. Fernando was appointed secretary-treasurer in 1947, which included responsibility for the book depot treasury.12 He also engaged in several evangelistic meetings. In 1951, he chose to devote himself to full-time pastoral ministry. During this time, he was instrumental in about fifty persons joining the church.13
In 1952, Fernando was appointed president of the East Pakistan Mission. Upon his arrival on a September Sabbath at a constituency meeting in Gopalgunj, Fernando was ordained to the gospel ministry by S. K. Haldar, O. W. Lange, and P. C. Gayen.14 The earlier success of his evangelistic experience continued. During his five years of leadership, the membership of East Pakistan grew faster than before or after.15 Fernando is also associated with the introduction of Adventism among the Garos of Bangladesh.16 His departure coincided with the East Pakistan Mission becoming a part of the reorganized Pakistan Union.
Fernando was relocated to Ceylon by the South Asia Division. After temporary ministry at Matara, he resumed full-time pastoral work based at Jaffna. Following attendance at the General Conference Session in 1962, he served as pastor in Moratuwa where he remained until 1967. During his time at Moratuwa, Fernando also served as Sabbath School and stewardship secretary for the Ceylon Union.17 In 1967, Fernando was transferred to Kandana, but though he left the Sabbath School department, he continued as a member of the executive committee of the Ceylon Union. The last year of his service he was appointed stewardship secretary for the union.18
Fernando retired in 1970, but not before he and his wife donated their property to the Adventist church in Ceylon.19 He died on November 19, 2007.
R. S. Fernando was renowned for his incredible memory of events and dates in world and Adventist history, and for his active participation in pastoral-evangelistic activity. He also wrote numerous articles and reports for church magazines and papers. In retirement, he continued ministered to many at personal events.
Baroi, N. K. and G. C. Baroya. “Constituency Meeting in East Pakistan Mission.” Eastern Tidings, March 1, 1953.
Ceylon Union Committee Minutes. February 5, 1970.
Fernando, R. S. “’R.S.’—A Portrait in Words.” Unpublished autobiography, 1993.
Lowry, G. G. “News Items.” Eastern Tidings, May 1, 1932.
Marak, D. C. “Good News from our Garo Believers.” Eastern Tidings, October 15, 1953.
Northeast Union. Executive Committee Minutes. September 18, 1952.
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1963-1970.
Shanon, J. L. “Wedding at Krishnarajapuram.” Eastern Tidings, May 1, 1933.
Southern Asia Division. Executive Committee Minutes, 1937-1946.
“The Spring Meeting of the Division Committee.” Eastern Tidings, April 1, 1932.
R. S. Fernando, “R.S.—A Portrait in Words,” (Unpublished autobiography, 1993), 11-12.↩
J. L. Shanon, “Wedding at Krishnarajapuram,” Eastern Tidings, May 1, 1933, 6.↩
“The Spring Meeting of the Division Committee,” Eastern Tidings, April 1, 1932, 2; G. G. Lowry, “News Items,” Eastern Tidings, May 1, 1932, 3.↩
Southern Asia Division, Executive Committee Minutes, July 15, 1937 (# 59112), 1502.↩
Southern Asia Division, Executive Committee Minutes, January 2, 1939 (# 6485) and July 6, 1939 (#6745).↩
Southern Asia Division, Executive Committee Minutes, September 3, 1939 (# 6770), 1767. Nine days later, on September 12, the committee voted that he should leave as soon as possible. In his autobiography, Fernando recalled beginning his service in the Northeast Union in 1940 (Fernando, 16).↩
“R. S. Fernando to Ceylon,” Southern Asia Division, Executive Committee Minutes, October 15, 1946 (# 9628), 2622. Fernando recorded the move as actually taking place in 1947 (Fernando, 20).↩
N. K. Baroi and G. C. Baroya, “Constituency Meeting in East Pakistan Mission,” Eastern Tidings, March 1, 1953, 8.↩
Ibid, 7-8. See also “Ordination Examination Committee,” Northeast Union, Executive Committee Minutes, September 18, 1952 (#6690).↩
The membership data in the SDA Yearbooks reveals an increase of about 120 members in the five years before R. S. Fernando arrived. During his five-year tenure, membership increased by about 300. Following his departure, the membership increased by about 100 in the next ten years. Local pastors have attributed rapid growth to Fernando’s evangelistic leadership.↩
D. C. Marak, “Good News from our Garo Believers,” Eastern Tidings, October 15, 1953, 4.↩
“Ceylon Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1963), 221.↩
“Ceylon Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1963), 233.↩
“Property Gift of R. S. Fernando,” Ceylon Union Committee Minutes, February 5, 1970 (#70-21). The property included a partially completed structure and the deal included a life tenancy.↩