PATTERNS FOR PRACTICE
Ms. Aliamma Cherian
“Trust God for your needs” was the basic motto of our home. Early in my life, I was exposed to the reality of God’s provision for his own. The Word of God and its propagation was always given top priority in our family. We started the day around the reading of the Scriptures. Not a day passed by when the family did not go by the routine. You might be facing the university final or the annual convention might be in session, which means you go through at least three services during the day.
Irrespective of your schedule, all the inmates of the Faith Home participated in the morning devotions. It was a time for singing, discussion of the scripture passage read and prayer. Multi-lingual residents in the Faith Home used Malayalam, Telugu and English Bibles. Our home was a perpetual learning center for aspiring ministers. The ambitious Kerala novices needed practice reading Telugu and English. I myself learned to read the Malayalam Bible around the family altar. It was a true language laboratory. You never got away with a mis-pronunciation or accent on the wrong syllable, when appachen was around. Above all, it was the time spent together around the family altar that fostered my own personal relationship with the Lord.
The needs of the gospel were generally given precedence over the basic needs of the family. For example, my parents felt it more important to buy Kerosene oil for the petromax lamp in order to conduct services three nights a week than buy milk for the family with growing children. They walked six to eight miles to conduct cottage prayer meetings for new converts when the city bus fare was a mere 6 naya paisa. Yes, through privation and hardship they served the Lord, when there were other options available. Their commitment was deep and they would not trade their “election and calling” for material gain.
In the area of personal evangelism, Appachen had amazing success often unknown to him. I remember the afternoon when a stranger appeared at our door in Mettuguda. He introduced himself as one who travelled with Appachen on the train bound to Nizamabad. During the journey, as Appachen witnessed to him, the Holy Spirit convicted him. He accepted the Lord as his Saviour and months later came to tell of his conversion.
Appachen has a special aptitude for communication. He can simplify eternal truths to a child’s level of understanding. Personally, I received my first lessons in oral reading, public speaking and knowledge of the living Saviour from appachen. When I was seven years old, it was a common practice to take the family out for street-preaching. After the singing and introduction, he would announce one of us as the next speaker. With a crowd waiting to hear, one had to begin narrating stories from the Bible.
If you said that you did not know your way around the city, appachen readily drew road maps for you. His directions, both verbal and written were correct to the last detail. As a willing volunteer to run errands for the family, partly due to my aversion for chores around the kitchen, I often used appachen’s maps. Evangelists north-bound to New Delhi or south-bound to Kerala, usually stopped in Secunderabad. The program for a week of special meetings was made the day the preachers arrived. In the early 1940's there was little or no money to have the announcements printed. Quite often, it was my responsibility to go from house to house inviting people for the meetings. On many of these occasions, appachen’s road maps came in handy. Several years later, while living in the United States, I worked as a substitute teacher for some time which required two skills. I had to find my way to a school hitherto unknown. Secondly, I needed a readiness to meet and handle a new group of students each day. On many of these occasions, I fondly recalled the maps appachen drew and the opportunities he provided me to give impromptu testimonies.
Appachen’s first love is encouraging others to become witnesses for Christ, instilling in them a passion for the salvation of souls. Year after year, he never ceased to bring recruits from Kerala hoping that new Christian workers would be trained. Appachen’s zeal for the Lord materialized largely due to the untiring efforts and personal sacrifices made by ammachi. Shopping, cooking and serving a continual stream of evangelists and visitors caused her much strain. Appachen lives too much in the realm of the unearthly, oblivious to the fact that as long as we are on earth we have basic needs. The burden of stretching the budget, often at the expense of her own needs and making accommodation for evangelists in turn took heavy toll on her health.
Ammachi’s prayer life and determination on meeting the spiritual needs of others were exemplary. Christian living for ammachi was not one of passive meditation and withdrawal from the mundane chores of life. Serving the Lord was not identical with escapism. On the contrary, ammachi was a woman of action. With remarkable efficiency she managed her household where guests dropped in at unscheduled hours. If her guests had to catch the train at 6:00 am she made sure that they had their breakfast by 5:00am and also that their laundry had been taken care of. Apart from attending to the needs in the congregation ammachi had a ministry among several ladies outside the church. They appreciated her leadership and leaned on her prayers. Ammachi’s circle of friends included medical doctors as well as the illiterate. There have been occasions when she was able to draw on the skill and expertise of her doctor friends to aid the needy and the illiterate.
Thus both by preaching and example, the dedicated lives of my parents are “patterns for practice” for others who would serve Jesus.
At least three decades had passed since I settled in North America. Two individuals from far-flung corners of the globe crossed my path on separate occasions,years apart. One was a Mathematics professor from Alabama, formerly a native of Kumbanad. The other was a practising dentist from Australia, also from the same village. After exchanging the usual pleasantries they both had identical comments “Your father visited me when I was a college student in Madras.” The professor’s parents were neighbors of my grandparents. The dental student was a relative. The encounters mentioned above quickened my memory. I recalled my time with appachen in Madras in April 1962. We visited a young relative and a former student whom he had taught at Hebron Bible School some thirty years ago. Traveling by train from Kerala to Secunderabad during the Fifties and earlier, there was always a lay-over of eight to ten hours in Madras. Appachen would look up young men from among extended family and friends, giving them gentle reminders of their faith and heritage. All the four individuals mentioned above were non-Pentecostals. For evangelistic purposes his field of operation was often outside the church.
Teaching, A Way of Life
When you walked along with him on the road, you would notice his efforts to keep the path safe for those who follow. Sharp objects and rough stones were pushed out of the way with his foot. Alert, looking for a chance to teach, he would seize the moment to enrich our lives. Often we had pleasant surprises.
This happened during World War II – sometime in 1944. Loyal subjects of the British Empire served Allied Forces on all fronts. The Secunderabad Cantonement area housed units of soldiers from many countries of the empire. Appachen happened to see some African soldiers in town. Truly, a rare sight in pre-television age. He brought them over to our home just to give us, his children and ammachi, the unique experience of meeting native Africans. These soldiers wore blue uniforms. They were from Kenya or neighboring country. Appachen had them pull out their frizzy hair to show us the length of the tight curls around their heads. Missionary work was a familiar theme in our home. The Congo Evangelistic Report was a favorite magazine we read. It kept us informed about missionary work in Africa. Often there was intercessory prayer for missionaries.
It was remarkable that appachen exercised his teaching skills even during his last days. We were all aware that the end was near. He wanted to be assured that my faith and hope was anchored in the Lord and His Word. He would quote part of a verse and ask me to fill in the blanks with the reference. “Ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope” was the verse he quoted. Again he quoted John 14:2 “In my father’s house are many mansions…” He wanted me to complete the verse. He knew that I had traveled a great distance to be with him. The legacy he was leaving for me was the faith and the Word. “We have a reunion. We will have a fellowship” were his last words to me, full of hope.
During my junior and pre-teen years I was very sensitive to parental correction and reprimands. I would break out in tears sobbing. If the weeping continued, appachen would admonish, “Well, if you’ve decided to weep, you might as well think of the perishing souls and weep for them.” In subtle ways he would communicate profound truths. No loss is as great as the eternal damnation of a soul.
Opposition to Legalism
Proclaiming and experiencing healing through faith in Christ has been a vital part of the Full- Gospel. During the early years of IPC the importance given to divine healing promoted the radical view that seeking medical help was an indication of lack of faith. Some preachers condemned doctors. Those who used medicine were excluded from the Lord’s Table. Appachen vehemently opposed this form of bigotry. He became unpopular with faith-healing preachers because of his views.
Women in Ministry
Appachen encouraged the participation of women in evangelism and ministry. During the pioneering years there were few men who could lead in the Responsive Reading of the Psalm in Telugu during the Sunday worship service. Appachen would have one of us girlsdo the reading. As he geared up to take the congregation for street-preaching, his favorite verse was Psalm 68:11 - “The Lord gives the word [of power]; the women who bear and publish (the news) are a great host.”(Ampl. Version) New Rev, Telugu and Malayalam translations have women) He provided ample opportunities for us to be involved in witnessing and teaching. It was a standard practice for one of us to translate his sermons into Telugu.
In January 1945 Appachen and Ammachi celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. We were living at 5782 Regimental Bazaar. It had been five years since we had been in Secunderabad. Apart from actual church members quite a number of friends always attended and supported our meetings. Mr. Manasseh, a well-respected leader in the Wesleyan Church presided over the special meeting. He lived across from the post office in our neighborhood. It was a Thanksgiving service for our parents 25 years together, for their obedience to the call and vision to step out in faith to serve God in the twin cities. There were no decorations, gifts or food items. The Second World War was still going on. All basic food items were rationed. Even the availability of kerosene oil was limited. We had no electricity in our building. There were testimonies, felicitations, affirmation of God's promises and fervent prayer for future blessings. We worshipped in a rented facility.
Something positive, of eternal significance came from that celebration. Appachen and Ammachi set aside their thank offering towards the Church Building Fund. The present Philadelphia Church building, parsonage and property can trace its history back to that anniversary offering. The long-lasting impact of a celebration !! If all our celebrations had a kingdom-goal, is there a limit to what can be accomplished?
I was inspired to write this after reading part of a speech by Pope Francisa couple of months ago while he was in Ecuador.
"May you never lose the ability to protect what is small and simple, to care for your children and your elderly who are the memory of your people, to have confidence in the young and to be constantly struck by the nobility of your people and the singular beauty of your country."