January 2023 | The True Vine and The Soon Coming King

Life with Appachen and Ammachi - Just the Remembrance Brings Blessings !

Life with Appachen and Ammachi - Just the Remembrance Brings Blessings !

Mr. P C Thomas

While a Marthomite, he was saved at the age of six.  Nurtured in pietistic ways and seeking to serve God wholeheartedly, he plunged into serving people through church and social work, graduated from India's first Protestant seminary, where he won a gold medal for essay writing and played on the soccer team, and set out for a life of adventure in soul winning.  

Those who have known the late Pastor P.T. Chacko would recall him as a loyal friend, a voracious reader, a musician, a writer and editor, a personal coach and mentor, a caring pastor, a gifted teacher, a cheerful individual with a zest for life, but most of all as an intrepid evangelist who lived out Romans 1:16, “...I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

When you consider all his life experiences-rigorous theological training, vast knowledge gained from extensive reading and interactions with movers and shakers, travels abroad, and a sharp mind that he constantly exercised-you would think that he was cut out for the ivory tower of college teaching or  a cushy job of a denominational administrator, either of which he could have easily had and done well.  Instead, he found his greatest thrill standing on a sidewalk and lovingly initiating a conversation about eternal life with a pedestrian, or stooping low to enter a hut in outcasts' ghetto and telling them “the old, old story of Jesus and His love.”  

To Appachen, evangelism was not a project or a program that needed elaborate publicity, budget, or administrative staff. To him evangelism was a way of life, and this lifestyle of articulating the evangel in the language and idiom of his listeners was his forte, his specialty-the P.T. Chacko brand, to use a modern marketing term. I have not seen anyone do personal evagelism so naturally, so lovingly, with such urgency, and so deftly as I have seen my father do it over and over again.  And what valuable training in authentic evangelism my siblings and I, our nephews and nieces, and our Secunderabad Philadelphia Church members have received from my father's example and enthusiasm! 

Also, his evangelistic zeal was not confined to streets and huts.  He neither pleaded for nor needed a pulpit to present the gospel.  He easily found avenues to share the gospel.  In a sense, he created his own pulpit because he acted as if his environment was his parish.  And so, when he learned that President Rajendra Prasad was vacationing in Hyderabad, he sought an interview with him and presented the gospel.  He did this with a Governor of Andhra Pradesh in his mansion.  

And toward the sunset of his life when he was confined to his home, he insisted on having a chair placed at the outside of the parsonage's gate, where he sat and passed out gospel tracts to passersby.  During his final months, when he was bed-ridden and getting physical therapy from a Hindu therapist, we used to hear Appachen quizzing us with the Telugu words,”Kabatti ippudu” (“Therefore...now” in English), thereby prompting one of us to recite Romans 8;1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  By doing this, Appachen was affirming his own assurance of eternal life, as well as letting the therapist come under the sound of the gospel.  See, you couldn't keep a zealous evangelist quiet even on his death bed, and he passed into eternity with no trepidation. 

Appachen's ministry went beyond meeting the immediate spiritual needs of people.  Often he spent many hours counseling individuals about health and educational aspects of life.  A church member, one sister Annamma, introduced to Appachen a rickshaw puller with whom Appachen began an evangelistic conversation.  Realizing that this man was an illiterate, Appachen took on more than what most evangelists would have.  Now formally known as Pastor K. Samuel, and lovingly identified by many of us as “Rickshaw Samuel,” he recently recalled those early encounters with my father.  “Chacko ayyagaru embraced me with his divine love,” this brother said, adding, “and he taught me alphabets.  With great patience he made me learn the Telugu alphabet on sand [drawing alphabets in sand].  And after some time I was sent to Gunadala Bible College by Chacko ayyagaru.”  

This former rickshaw puller who now shepherds a congregation of believers, had more to share:  “We were 24 children to my father…and I was the only one who got saved in the entire family.  In due course of time, all other relatives got saved.”  Pastor Samuel also recalled a time when he and Appachen “were going on foot from Regimental Bazar to Koti [a distance of a few miles]….The reason why we were on foot was lack of money in those days.  We even used to share one bun and one tea to kill hunger.”    

 Travelling with Appachen used to be like an impromptu workshop on evangelism.  We would be travelling by train, and Appachen would strike up conversation with fellow-passengers.  The initial topic could be any current issue, but if he saw someone close to him smoking, gently he would gravitate to that health issue. Without offending the smoker, he would say, “You know, if God intended for humans to smoke, He would have created us with a chimney our our head!”  After hearing such a disarming quip, the smoker would chuckle and drop the cigarette to the floor and squish it with his sandal, to which Appachen would say, “Oh, now you have littered the train.  That belongs in the trash bin.”  The smoker would pick up the extinguished cigarette and throw it out the window.  All these interactions would break the ice, and Appachen would nicely and naturally begin talking about God's plan for humanity, His provision for sinners' salvation, and on and on.  Before long we would see not only those sitting closest to us, but also everyone within our earshot, listening intently to Appachen's gospel presentation. 

As a lifelong learner, Appachen sought to inculcate in his family and church members a desire to read good books.  During summer vacations, he would hand us books by well-known Christian authors and suggest that we utilize our free time reading them, which we did.  Additionally, now and then during our family worship time (which we had daily,  a.m. and p.m.), he would have one of us siblings read a paragraph or a chapter from a must-read book, while he would correct our pronunciation, intonation and what-have-you, in addition to explaining the meaning of words new to us.  Decades later, when I was teaching college English in USA and saw how poorly many of my students were reading, I thought to myself, “If only these students had participated in our family worship time and sat through my father's 'reading lab' !” 

Regarding my father's aptitude for teaching, Bishop P. Spurgeon Raju, President of Manna Ministries, had this to say:  “Whenever a preacher was preaching, he took notes very carefully.  After the meeting, Pastor Chacko took time correcting grammatical blunders, doctrinal weak points, homeletics order, etc., very gently and lovingly.  He did that to me when I began preaching ministry….” 

Now, if Appachen did that for (or to!) other preachers, can you imagine any of his children or grandchildren escaping unscathed - I mean unhelped!  Actually, looking back on our lives with Appachen, we are indeed grateful for the thoughtful, comprehensive and far-reaching mentoring we have all received over the years.  Perhaps the best expression of all my siblings, nephews and nieces came in the words of my niece, Starla Luke, when she wrote, “Living with Appachen in the same home, my siblings - Valson, Molly, and Shirley - and I grew up learning a lot more in our 'Faith Home' in Secunderabad than what one would in a good finishing school and seminary put together!” 

My father came under the influence of Pastor K.E. Abraham and the Indian Pentecostal movement, and he and my mother Annamma Chacko were the first missionary couple commissioned from Kerala state.  Along with their children, Mary, Joy and Aliamma, they moved in 1936 from Kumbanad, Kerala, to Eluru in Andhra Pradesh, where they set up the Indian Pentecostal Church's first Faith Home on a mission field. It was also in Eluru that the IPC was registered in 1935 as a Christian organization, of which the founding officers were Pastor P.M. Samuel, President; Pastor K.C. Cherian, Vice President; and Pastor P.T. Chacko, Secretary. 

Hand in glove with our father in all his ministry and accomplishment was our mother Annamma Chacko.  While she had a unique ministry among women in the church and in the larger community, she also knew how to stay the course and manage a disciplined, pioneering Faith Home in the pristine sense of that name.  Since we were in a joint family system for many years, we would have a dozen or more mouths to feed at each meal, not counting some unexpected guests and evangelists who would drop in for a day or two enroute to points north or south, since we lived in Central Railway's hub city.  With much God-given grit and grace, plus the helping hands of the many girls in the home - including my four sisters, plus nieces, and sometimes a servant - Ammachi ably handled everything from grocery shopping, to cooking (on open fire), to dish washing, and to even hand-washing the shirts of visiting preachers.  But most of all, we remember her as a woman of deep and tested faith and selfless service.  Of her faith, these two examples come to mind:

I was a pre-schooler, and it was a typical morning.  Ammachi had just started cooking, when I asked her if we could have fish curry for dinner.  In a matter-of-fact way, she said, “Why don't you go and pray about that.”  So off I went to my room, closed the door, knelt down, and started asking God to give us fish for dinner.  In a while I heard a knock on the door.  There I saw a uniformed peon holding a basket in one hand and a letter in the other.  He said he wanted to see my mom.  So I went and told my mom about this man, came back to my room, closed the door, and knelt down and continued my interrupted prayer.  Another interruption; this time it was Ammachi.  She opened the door and asked me if I had been praying like she had asked me to.  Then she wanted me to go and look inside the basket this peon had.  Surprise, surprise—two large, live fish, wiggling in the basket.  The note was from one Mrs. O'Leary, if I remember right, a resident of the Widows' Home in Marredpalli.  Imagine that—God put it in the heart of a widow to arrange for a timely answer to my prayer!

The second example is of my sister Joy.  When she was a student of Keyes High School, she decided to stay home on a day students were expected to pay tuition fee because our family lacked the money for it. Ammachi insisted that Joy go to school, and that she would stay home and pray about the tuition fee.  My sister went to school that day, sat in the classroom nervous and embarrassed because all her classmates were paying their fees and receiving receipts from the teacher.  After a while the teacher came and handed a receipt to my sister, and told her to be sure and thank Mrs. Janardhan, another teacher, for paying the fees.  

Here is the rest of the story.  It seems this Mrs, Janardhan, a Hindu, had a daughter who was deathly ill.  She prayed to God and vowed that if the daughter's life is spared, she would pay the tuition for any girl of my sister's teacher's choice.  And my sister's teacher chose the one whom God wanted chosen, wouldn't you say?  Later in her life, my sister Joy went on to earn an M.A. degree from a university in USA, start an orphanage and a high school in Vijayawada that have imparted education and salvation message to hundreds of children who hold responsible positions throughout India.  

Both with their life, attitude and words, our parents taught us well and put us on the right path in which we have been privileged to walk, and now we strive, trusting the same God and His faithfulness so that we may pass the torch on to our posterity. 

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