Edward Thomas with his wife Sellamal

Photo courtesy of J. S. James.

Thomas, Edward Duraiswamy (1888–1952) and Sellamal Monickam (d. 1973)

By Cheryl Christo Howson

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Cheryl Christo Howson earned a graduate diploma in computer aided interior designing at the Dr. Bhanuben Nanavati College of Architecture for Women in Pune, India. She co-founded an interior design company in Sri Lanka and worked as a copywriter. She contributed to the morning devotional published by Women’s Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Shepherdess International Journal magazine, and the Adventist Review. She has written several plays. Currently (2020), she lives in Hosur, India while preparing for a piano exam.

Edward Duraiswamy Thomas, one of the first two national Seventh-day Adventist ministers in the Southern Asia Division to be ordained, served the Seventh-day Adventist Church as teacher, translator, editor, evangelist, and conference administrator. His wife, Sellammal, served faithfully by his side as preceptress, food matron, Sabbath School secretary, and in dispensary work.

Early Life and Conversion

Edward Duraiswamy Thomas was born in Nazareth, Tinnevelly District, South India, April 12, 1888.1 At age 20, Thomas came in contact with Seventh-day Adventists for the first time when he became a translator for Pastor J.S. James in 1908. During one service he refused to translate portions of the sermon about the state of the dead, but was immediately convinced, and that night for the first time walked slowly and fearlessly past a graveyard. 2

Convinced that he had heard the truth, two years later, on April 2, 1910, Edward was among the first 20 persons J. S. James baptized in South India. That Sabbath the entire congregation gathered for the evening service at the James’ bungalow, and together they all marched to a tank a short distance away. At the water's edge, G. G. Lowry gave a short talk. E. D. Thomas was the only Christian among the baptismal candidates, having attended the Church of England.3 His decision to be baptized into the Adventist Church greatly displeased his parents, and his family subsequently disowned him.4

Education and Marriage

Despite having failed his matriculation exams, he was a dedicated student of the Bible and assisted Pastor James in his work. On February 11, 1911, at a second baptism at Kadabakulam in South India, James baptized 16 more. One of them was a woman, Sellammal Monickam.5

Pastor James had met her, when, under his direction, a school opened on the verandah of the home of a Mrs. B. Joseph. Mrs. Joseph and her sister, Sellammal, were the teachers. During this time, Sellammal was asked to write out the Sabbath School lessons. As she did, she became impressed that they were true, and she and her sister attended James’ meetings. On the way to the baptism her friends tried to frighten her by warning that she would never be able to get a husband with her new beliefs and without jewelry. She turned to say, "God will provide." Witnessing her fortitude, E. D. Thomas determined to help her obtain a good husband, but eventually became her husband.6

Thomas married Sellamal in 1912 and established one of the first Adventist homes in South India. Their eldest daughter, Grace, was born in 1913.7 Mr. and Mrs. E. D. Thomas had a total of three daughters and two sons. The youngest, Gloria Gnanapushpam Thomas, was born April 1, 1925, at Tuticorin.8

Career and Ministry

E. D. Thomas continued assisting Pastor J. S. James as a language teacher and translator, and helped him in building the mission station and school. The Tamil Day and Boarding School at Nazareth Post-Office, Tinnevelly District, South India opened in 1912, and in 1913, the mission put Thomas in charge, assisted by seven Tamil teachers.9

As evangelism in South India continued, Thomas began to participate more actively in the meetings. In 1915 he conducted an evangelistic series at Nazareth that resulted in the baptism of 11 new Sabbath-keepers.10 Between 1915 and 1927 he baptized 69 individuals.11 The next year he organized the first Sabbath School in Kerala at Pullikottukonam, now known as Adventpuram, meaning “Adventist village.”12

The work of the South India mission sustained a loss with the transfer of Pastor J. S. James to Shanghai to act as vice-president of the Asiatic Division Conference. G.G. Lowry took over as superintendent of the mission.13

Pastors I. F. Blue, G. G. Lowry, and W. W. Fletcher ordained Thomas on June 9, 1917, at the South India Mission meetings. A week later the Bengal Mission meetings ordained Lal Gopal Mookerjee. The two men were the first Indian nationals to receive ordination in the Southern Asia Division.14

In 1919 when the Tamil Mission was organized, Pastor Thomas became its first superintendent.15 Beginning in 1922 and for the next 20 years, no matter where he went and what he did, Thomas also served as editor of the Tamil Signs of the Times and Herald of Health. 16

Leadership transferred him to the South India Training School (Spicer Adventist University) in 1928 as assistant to the business manager until 1932. During the last year he served concurrently as secretary for the home missionary department of the South India Union.17

In 1933, after 25 years of service, Thomas took his first three-months' leave.18 That year the E. D. Thomas family moved to Salisbury Park, the division headquarters, to assume the duties of the division Sabbath School secretary.19 He also served as the assistant educational secretary (1933-1935), home missionary secretary (1936-1950), field secretary (1946-1952), and temperance secretary (1952). At different periods he was acting president of the Western India, South India, and Northwestern India unions.20

Later Life

During the first week of April 1952, Pastor Thomas accepted the invitation of the Northwestern India Union committee to attend the annual meetings held in Toka. While assisting in them, he suffered two severe heart attacks. Although immediately transported to Dr. Coyaji's nursing home in Poona for treatment, four weeks later he peacefully died on Sabbath, May 3, 1952, at 6:45 p.m.21 He was buried at Salisbury Park.

His wife, who had worked constantly by his side, first as preceptress and food matron at the Prakasapuram school, as Sabbath School secretary for the Tamil field, and in dispensary work in Tamilnad and at Krishnarajapuram, continued to live in Pune with her daughters Grace and Gloria after his death. She actively took part in church duties during her long stay at Salisbury Park, and faithfully attended church until her death on August 14, 1973.22

Contribution and Legacy

Thomas served tirelessly for 44 years, first as a pioneer evangelist in India, and later as an administrator. In memory of his contribution, the church named the E. D. Thomas Memorial Higher Secondary School, Kudikadu, Tanjore, Tamil Nadu, in his honor. It officially opened July 30, 1953.23

Sources

Christo, Gordon. “Taking Root--The First Indigenous Pastors.” New Southern Asia Tidings (1910 Heritage Special Issue), November 2010.

Fowler, John M. “Gloria Gnanapushpam Thomas.” Southern Asia Tidings, March 1, 1980.

James, J. S. “South India First Fruits.” Eastern Tidings, April 1910.

Mattison, O. O. “A Dream Come True.” Eastern Tidings, October 1, 1953.

Pierson, Robert H. “Until the Day Break.” Eastern Tidings, June 1, 1952.

“Sabbath School Work in Southern Asia.” Southern Asia Tidings, July 1, 1979.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Second rev. ed. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996. S.v. “Thomas, Edward Duraiswamy.”

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1914, 1916, 1918, 1920.

Solomon, Margaret Selvi, and Samuel Raj. Sustained by God’s Grace. 2016.

Southern Asia Tidings (Diamond Jubilee), June 1, 1965.

Notes

  1. Robert H. Pierson, “Until the Day Break,” Eastern Tidings, June 1, 1952, 8.

  2. Southern Asia Tidings (Diamond Jubilee), June 1, 1965, 3.

    Gordon Christo, “Taking Root–The First Indigenous Pastors,” New Southern Asia Tidings, November 2010, 23, 24.

  3. J. S. James, “South India First Fruits,” Eastern Tidings, April 1910.

  4. From an interview with Grace Prasad Rao, taken from Margaret Selvi Solomon and Samuel Raj, “Origin,” in Sustained by God’s Grace (2016), 64.

  5. Margaret Selvi Solomon and Samuel Raj, Sustained by Grace, 65; ARH, May 11, 1911, 8; Eastern Tidings, March 1911, 3-5.

  6. Southern Asia Tidings (Diamond Jubilee), 3.

  7. Solomon, Margaret Selvi and Samuel Raj, “Formative Period: The E.D. Thomas Years,” Sustained by Grace, 80.

  8. John M. Fowler, “Gloria Gnanapushpam Thomas,” Southern Asia Tidings, March 1, 1980, 16.

  9. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Second rev. ed. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), s.v. “Thomas, Edward Duraiswamy.”

  10. “Survey of the Field,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1916), 262.

  11. Margaret Selvi Solomon and Samuel Raj, Sustained by Grace, 80.

  12. “Sabbath School Work in Southern Asia,” Southern Asia Tidings, July 1, 1979, 3.

  13. “Survey of the Field,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1918), 245; “India Union Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1918), 154.

  14. Christo, “Taking Root”; Pierson, “Until the Day Break.”

  15. “Southern Asia Divisional Section,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1920), 277; “Thomas, Edward Duraiswamy,” in Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Second rev. ed. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996).

  16. Christo, “Taking Root”; Pierson, “Until the Day Break.”

  17. Christo, “Taking Root.”

  18. Pierson, “Until the Day Break.”

  19. Fowler, “Gloria Gnanapushpam Thomas.”

  20. Pierson, “Until the Day Break”; Christo, “Taking Root”; “Thomas, Edward Duraiswamy,” in Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Second rev. ed. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996).

  21. Pierson, “Until the Day Break.”

  22. Southern Asia Tidings (Diamond Jubilee), 3; Margaret Selvi Solomon and Samuel Raj, Sustained by Grace..

  23. O. O. Mattison, “A Dream Come True,” Eastern Tidings, October 1, 1953, 6.

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Howson, Cheryl Christo. "Thomas, Edward Duraiswamy (1888–1952) and Sellamal Monickam (d. 1973)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AAMX.

Howson, Cheryl Christo. "Thomas, Edward Duraiswamy (1888–1952) and Sellamal Monickam (d. 1973)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Date of access June 18, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AAMX.

Howson, Cheryl Christo (2021, April 28). Thomas, Edward Duraiswamy (1888–1952) and Sellamal Monickam (d. 1973). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AAMX.