January 2022 marks the very first Tamil Heritage Month after a recent unanimous vote by the London Assembly to recognise it as such. It offers a chance to spotlight and celebrate the contribution of the vibrant Tamil community in the UK. It also gives us an opportunity to highlight some of the history that has contributed to this community including tracing back the origins of the Tamil Christian community of which I am a part of.

Proverbs 22:28 teaches us not to remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set” and one way in which we can do this is to ensure we remember those whose lives and actions have contributed to who we are today. I believe there is much to be gained from reflecting on my heritage as a British-born Tamil Christian.

Most Tamils in the UK can trace their origins back to Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Singapore and a few other countries too. Whilst the majority of Tamils are Hindus, there is a sizeable worldwide Tamil Christian community, who like the Sinhalese Christian community, can trace their origins to a handful of American and British Christians. These disciples of Jesus set sail to South Asia from the early 1800s onwards with a desire to practically serve the local people who, let’s face it, were very different to themselves in their culture, outlook and surroundings.

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We may have heard more stories of people such as Amy Carmichael and William Carey, and how they witnessed to the gospel in India, yet the stories of Christians who came to Sri Lanka are generally less familiar but no less significant. By revisiting their stories and some of the hardships they encountered, we can learn so much. Let’s take a look at just three figures whose names you most likely would have never heard of and grasp what we can learn from their lives:

Dr Samuel Green went over to Sri Lanka from the US, and revolutionised medical treatment there by setting up hospitals, translating medical dictionaries by hand into Tamil and even opening Sri Lanka’s first medical school. Despite his pioneering achievements, he exhibited great humility throughout his life; his tombstone simply read Samuel Green, Medical Evangelist to the Tamils, Jesus My All”. His sense of purpose was unerring too – when his family had found out he had become very ill and urged him to return to the US, he wrote back saying he couldn’t leave his life purpose half fulfilled and decided to stay on.

Jane Carter only lived up to the age of 30, tragically passing away while giving birth to her third child. But in her short life she was responsible for setting up an English-speaking school for girls in Jaffna, Sri Lanka in 1896, a time when education for girls was pretty much non-existent there. Setting up the school was definitely not part of her plans (as she had planned to support her husband who had recently set up a neighbouring boys school) but some gentle persuasion from a Christian friend led her to start with a school of nine people in her own house. Fast forward to today and that same school has grown beyond recognition, is highly regarded throughout the island and now schools hundreds of pupils and has schooled thousands of former pupils including my mother and late grandmother!

Dr Thomas Coke was a Welsh Christian who was commonly known as John Wesley’s right hand man. He had been on many trips abroad sharing the gospel and had a real heart for the people of South Asia but was regularly dissuaded by others from going there. In spite of this, he gathered a small group of Christians from the UK, helped train them and set sail to go to Sri Lanka (Ceylon as it was known then) in 1813. He sadly didn’t survive the journey but the rest of his team spread out throughout the island after arrival and set up various churches and schools in the years to follow, forming the initial Methodist roots that have grown throughout Sri Lanka up until today.

These are snippets of the life stories of just some of the people who set up hospitals, schools and churches in Sri Lanka. Many of them took their coffins with them, expecting never to return. During their difficult times, the words of 1 Corinthians 15:58 were, I’m sure, never far away from their thinking:


“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

The exponential fruit of their labour is still very evident today, with the Tamil and Sinhalese Christian diaspora communities thriving throughout the world. I can only be filled with gratitude when I think of their incredible efforts that helped bring the gospel to my ancestors, leading many generations since then to become practising Christians. Let’s all be inspired by their courage and boldness to pioneer new projects and their willingness to give up all they had for the welfare of others. These relatively unknown ordinary people were the first stones in the water that God used to produce gospel ripples in Sri Lanka – ripples that are still being seen after 200 years and counting!