Niles, Daniel Thambyrajah (1908-1970)

Sri Lankan evangelist, ecumenical leader and hymnwriter.

“D. T.” was born in Sri Lanka 4 May 1908, and died Vellore, India, 17 July, 1970. He was the son of a lawyer and grandson of a pastor and poet. Educated in Jaffna, he studied at Bangalore (1929-1933) became SCM national secretary, was ordained to the Methodist ministry (1936), served as a district evangelist and took part in the IMC Tambaram Conference (1938) where he disappointed C F Andrews by his Barthian sympathies.

After being YMCA evangelism secretary in Geneva (1939-1940), he was in pastoral ministry and general secretary of the National Christian Council of Ceylon (1941-1945). He spoke at the WCC inaugural meeting (1948), was chair of the youth department (1948-1952), and evangelism secretary (1953-1959). Instrumental in the founding of the East Asia Christian Conference in 1957, he was its first general secretary and chair from 1968. He compiled the EACC Hymnal and his hymns are found in other collections.

He travelled widely including several visits to New Zealand, the last being to speak at an ecumenical youth conference in Hamilton in 1966. His archives include letters home to his father in Sri Lanka, written by admirers in countries around the world who asked what they could do and were given the answer that his father at home would love to know how his son was doing. They are a fascinating indication not only of the impression Niles made, but of ethnic perceptions even as prejudices were breaking down.

John Roxborogh