Bible College – Early Days

… Continued from “Establishing the Ministry – Bible College…”

Rev Carl and Bertha Graves

While the work spread to key cities, Colombo, Jaffna, Galle and Kandy, it was in the work of Rev Carl Graves that the first evidence of a Bible School is seen – initially as modular type classes for workers in Galle, in the early 1940’s. Thereafter Rev Graves rented a building for the purpose and his work was further developed by Rev Alfred Cawston. By 1947 there were nine students, but growth of the Bible School was constrained by meagre funding. The school shifted to a rented building at 15, Melbourne Avenue, in Colombo 4. Rev Clifford, who had come to the country as the first official Assemblies of God missionary in 1924, joined Rev Cawston as a teacher and served until they left in 1948.

When the Assemblies of God of Ceylon was incorporated in the State Council of 1947, it is significant that due mention is made of the Ceylon Bible Institute in the Incorporation Ordinance.[2] Rev Graves who was out of the country at that time made it a point to be there at the first Graduation service on 25th March 1949. He stayed on for the next six years, as the founder Principal, while simultaneously serving as Chairman of the Assemblies of God of Ceylon. He left an indelible mark on the theological training of the Assemblies of God of Ceylon.

Most of those who were trained have gone on to accomplish much in the development of the Assemblies of God of Ceylon.

Among the first graduates were: Mrs Rosamund Goonetilleke, Miss. Beryl Mendis[3], Calvin Wickramaratne, Gnanam David, Miss. Dorothy de Silva (her father, J.J.B de Silva planted the church in Jaffna), Sis. Muriel, and Mrs. Samuel Muthuveloe. Clinton Wickramaratne also studied at CBI.

1950 student body, Colombo 3

In 1950, eleven more were following classes: Vincent Abrahams, William Allagakoon, John Edwards, Ronald Peiris, Stephanie Guruswamy, Earl Loos, David Smith, Colton Wickramamratne, Eddie Thirumalai, and Sam Sumaiya.

Teaching was in the capable hands of Rev Carl and Mrs Bertha Graves, Bro C V Newman, a gifted teacher from India, Rev Derrick and Mrs Dorcas Hillary, and was expanded to include Rev Harold Kohl, Rev Ralph Elmore and Miss Mollie Baird. Miss Rosa Reineker was visiting lecturer and Miss Gunasekera taught Sinhala.

The next to join CBI were Jacob Perera, A.R Thangiah, Lewellyn (Lyn) Jansz, Paul Arumanaigam, Johnson Wilson, Tiddy Senapathiratne, Miss Ila D’Alwis[4], Miss Beulah Mendis and David Arumanaigam.

It is also significant that students from India too came to the Ceylon Bible Institute for their theological training, but by July 1952, with the establishment of the Southern Asia Bible College at Bangalore, this was no longer necessary.

CBI Dedication October 1953

The growth of the school and the impetus it was having on the growth of the work in Sri Lanka, created the need to move from rented premises to a permanent facility. Rev Graves raised the funds, and the Assemblies of God of Ceylon purchased an 80 perch property with a residential house and adjacent bare land on it at 75 Watrappola Road, Mount Lavinia. Dick Ephraums, a blind piano tuner, whose vision for the gospel in the country was bright, donated the funds for the adjunct ‘L’ shaped building which would be home to the Ceylon Bible Institute. The building was dedicated in October 1953, and was put to use immediately.

The first intake of students at the new building included, Miss Ruth D’Alwis[5], Miss Rita Morel[6], Freddie Perera, Andrew Wickramaratne, Mrs. Mercia Wickramaratne, Marshal Karunapala, Joseph Kevitiyagala, and Miss Grace Arumanaigam.

When the founder principal, Rev Graves, completed his term and left the country in 1955, his successors in office, Rev Ralph Elmore, Rev David Smith and Rev Nalliah, were able to serve in the position of principal only briefly, causing a leadership crisis.

This was the time when the nation was swinging towards the national languages, and it was decided to take a bold step to shift the medium of instruction to the vernacular. The leadership of the school was handed to Rev Colton and Mrs. Susanne Wickramaratne (April 1958 to March 1959) and thereafter to Rev Elphege and Mrs. Ila Fernando (April 1958 to March 1960). But it became clear that the transition to national leadership was further ahead in God’s plan.

At this time, the Southern Asia Bible College had been established in Bangalore as a regional school of the Assemblies of God. The education there was in English and its facilities were more attractive, so students from Sri Lanka opted to go there, and the focus shifted from the CBI at Watarappola Road, and its work ceased. The house which had been the principal’s residence, was given for the use of the last official foreign missionary serving in the island, until he left in 1963. Thereafter it was separated from the rest of the property and sold. Plans were even considered for turning the classroom block into cottages which could be rented.

This was a time of bleakness, but it could also be seen as the ‘chrysalis stage’ which preceded the reawakening in 1971.