Handmaidens of the Pentecostal Church in India
Ms. Starla Luke
Church history is dotted with narrations of the caring ministry of women that helped the early church grow, even amidst persecution.
"What women these Christians have!" exclaimed the fourth century pagan Libanius, when he admiringly referred to Anthusa, mother of the famed preacher John Chrysostom.
Saul, the persecutor of the early Christians, "began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison."(Acts 8:3) Students of Christian history can say the same of numerous women who have endured affliction and died for the sake of their Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.
Fewer than 200 women have been mentioned in the Bible, as compared to the almost 1500 men. However, the contribution of women has been significant in Bible times and thereafter.
Pentecostal churches were birthed in Kerala in the beginning of the 20th Century. The spirit-filled women were as committed to evangelism as the men. Their passion to witness within their communities, often without much formal training, was instrumental in establishing local churches in the early days.
The work of India Pentecostal Church of God (IPC) started in Kumbanad in the year 1930 - the same year a prayer meeting was started by a handful of women in Hebron, Kumbanad – Saramma Eapen, Annamma Mammen, C. Mangalasseril Mariamma, Keeprayat Annamma and Saramma met under the leadership of Mrs. Annamma Abraham (Mrs. K. E. Abraham). These women were the pioneers of the Sodari Samajam, the ladies' wing of the India Pentecostal Church of God.
Today, the Sodari Samajam's essential function is to serve or assist in the growth and healthy sustenance of the church, by and for women, through spiritual activities and charitable works.
The methods followed by the women workers in the early days was very different from that of today. Besides prayer meetings, the sisters visited homes and evangelized the sisters. They wanted to reach out to other women at any cost, for which they even helped in agricultural work, laundry, cooking - just so that they could spend time with the women folk to encourage and pray for them and teach them the Word. Many women and their families have come to the pentecostal faith and churches established through the sincere love, efforts and prayers of a handful of sisters.
Women evangelists were always the labor force in most places where the IPC started its work. Their intercession, house visitations, and inviting people to the church were major reasons for church growth. The early IPC congregations grew because of their consistent efforts.
As per the HANDBOOK released during the Platinum Jubilee of the IPC, in the year 1999 – IPC had 214 full time women evangelists across 7 states/ regions of India.
This article draws your attention to the life and contribution of a few women in ministry who have influenced me.
Mrs. Annamma Abraham, beloved wife of Pastor K.E. Abraham, was known as the 'mother' who welcomed and extended hospitality to thousands of people who were visitors at Hebron, Kumbanad, the headquarters of the IPC. The warmth with which she entertained guests was indeed heart touching. She played an important role in maintaining the "solidarity of IPC and unity of God's people". Annamma did not spend a thought or rupee for her own needs or comfort. She did not think twice about giving up what she could have rightfully claimed for herself. Her every thought was the expansion of the Lord's work.
She handled all her God-given responsibilities with ease - be it encouraging women from the Word of God or cooking a quick meal for unexpected visitors or washing the clothes of the servants of God. One vivid memory of my paternal grandmother is the dignity with which she walked around the Hebron Bungalow with a coconut broom stick in hand, sweeping away dry leaves.
Her faith was immense. Personal prayer life and utmost devotion to God's Word were her sustenance. She desired neither gratitude, praise nor recognition. She did everything wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord. She was blessed with a good sense of humor. She admonished and corrected people using her sharp wit and wisdom - all of which was received very well.
Annamma actively participated in all spiritual activities. Having been an elementary school teacher she understood the importance of teaching the Word. She traveled within Kerala conducting meetings for women and holding camps etc. She initiated and ran the very systematic, practical and effective training course for ladies at Hebron Bible College, preparing them for full time ministry. Between 20-25 sisters were trained each year. Senior pastors of the IPC taught them various subjects. She served as President of the IPC Sodari Samajam for several years. She motivated women to become intercessors. She was promoted to glory on 31st May, 1980.
Miss. Annamma Mammen, a native of Kumbanad, was educated and had traveled extensively. She was very courageous even as a teenager and endured affliction for the sake of the gospel in different parts of India and other countries of the world. Many Malayalam hymns have been composed by her during the painful times she endured for the sake of the Gospel. Her fluency in the English language made her a proficient preacher of the Word in many nations even as early as the 1950's and 1960's. I have heard her speak confidently in Telugu. The Lord used her powerfully to fearlessly take the Pentecostal truth and share her experience in many places. She abstained from marriage and her life was an inspiration to many other women who wanted to serve the Lord as full time evangelists.
Mrs. Annamma Chacko, as a young school girl at the well-known Nicholson Girls’ School, Thiruvalla was seated in the lap of Miss. Nicholson herself and said, “Annamma, you should become a missionary”. This prophetic utterance was realised years later when Annamma faithfully toiled in the mission field alongside her beloved husband Pastor P.T. Chacko from 1936.
Annamma Chacko was an extremely understanding, hard working and hospitable lady. The circumstances were frugal but were lived out with dignity. She attended to all the domestic work and spent time for intercessory prayer - for the work and workers. She visited the sick and needy at home or hospital and did this with diligence. Her fluency in English and Telugu languages was a blessing for the ministry in the city which she used to share the Full Gospel at Ellore and Secunderabad.
Annamma conducted Women's meetings at the St. Thomas SPG Cathedral, Secunderabad in 1943 and 1944, following which a few ladies from other denominational backgrounds attended the Kumbanad Convention, obeyed the Lord in taking water baptism and were filled with the Holy Spirit. After every outdoor preaching she would return home to pray for the seed that was sown - the Lord honored the efforts and gave a rich harvest. She was promoted to glory in 1964.
Other powerful women used of the Lord in Andhra Pradesh were Mrs. Mariamma Samuel (Wife of Pastor P. M. Samuel), Mrs. Mariamma Thomas (Warangal), Mrs. Rushiamma John, Miss. Rosamma John, Mrs. Joy Abraham Samuel etc.
Pennamma ‘sanyasini’ (meaning ‘ascetic’) served with the IPC for the last seven years of her life. Chinnamma sanyasini from Niranam, Sosamma sanyasini and Mrs. Aleyamma Oommen (mother of Pr. Reji Mooledom) are some notable women whose ministry contributions cannot be forgotten.
Mrs. Mary Abraham – or Marykutty, was raised as the oldest child of the pioneer Pentecostal missionary couple, Pastor P. T. and Annamma Chacko, who moved to Andhra Pradesh from Kerala.
At Eluru and later on in Secunderabad, their home was the first IPC Faith Home in Andhra, where no needs were ever mentioned except to the Lord in prayer. All the water needed for their use had to be hand carried from a roadside tap.
Eleven year old Marykutty’s biggest challenge was trying to pick up Telugu at school. She was the only Malayali among 800 students. She picked up Telugu language well enough to speak at the school assembly and surprised her teachers who gave her extra coaching - all within three months! She was an outstanding teenage translator –inside the church or on street corners, from English and Malayalam into Telugu for her parents, Pastors P M Samuel, Evang. P M Philip and other men of God who lived at the Faith Home. Receiving and serving missionaries was undertaken by her at Eluru, Secunderabad and Kumbanad – mostly sacrificing personal time, space and resources.
Mary and T. S. Abraham were married in 1950 and she continued as a High School teacher, Headmistress and Inspectress of schools in Andhra Pradesh for over 33 years - most of her income was used for the needs of the local church and the developing ministries around the city. Almost every evening after school hours, she along with sisters from church went house visiting and praying for the needy, which brought new souls to the local church.
My dear mother was an active lady evangelist in the twin cities of Secunderabad-Hyderabad even as she served as Principal of Government Schools. She was often invited to speak at Charismatic groups in Roman Catholic institutions, giving her the rare opportunity to bring the Full Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who were not exposed to the same. She initiated training of evangelists for the village ministry in today’s Telangana and personally visited the outstation work after school hours and during weekends. Any means of transportation was used to reach the villages where she stayed overnight to encourage evangelists. Her fervent band of intercessors cried out to the Lord to raise faithful workers. She labored faithfully – first alongside her beloved father Pastor P T Chacko in Secunderabad and later in Kumbanad alongside her beloved husband Pastor T S Abraham.
The diligence she showed in Christian ministry was also displayed in her workplace which earned her the President of India’s Best Teacher Award. She taught with clarity and simplicity – be it at the secular school or Bible College.
Since June 1980 she gave leadership and served as the President of the IPC Kerala Sodari Samajam. She initiated one and three day camps at district and state levels. Mrs. Mary Abraham traveled with other sisters to many districts in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, giving opportunities for others ladies to grow and take up leadership. She ensured that sisters from other states were recognised and given time to share at the Kumbanad convention. Mary Abraham was an industrious and prayerful woman of God. She taught life lessons from Bible women to the students and ignited in them a passion to serve selflessly and sincerely. She was known to keep in touch with evangelists and families – to encourage and build them in the ministry.
The fruit of her investment through her resources, teaching and intercession will be revealed in eternity.
Mrs. Annamma Mathews - daughter of Bro. A.C. Mathews and wife of Bro. George Mathew, Alummoottil, was a school teacher in Kolkata and Kuwait until she returned to Kerala in the 1980's. A very dynamic and sincere woman of God, she started her ministry involvement in the activities of the IPC Kerala Sodari Samajam a few years after Mrs. Mary Abraham came to Kerala from Secunderabad. A highly capable and committed lady with a great sense of responsibility and accountability - she managed and ran well for twenty years, the Ladies Bible School along with Mrs. Susan Abraham. She was devoted to any work she undertook. She took much pain to identify and help women in need and brought in resources which were faithfully handled. Mrs. Annamma Mathews' contribution to the Kerala Sodari Samajam is commendable where she served as its President or Secretary for 21 years and also as Principal of Ladies Bible School from 1994 to 2014.
IPC Kerala saw many women who were used of the Lord mightily. Some of them are Mrs. A. C. Mathews, Mrs. Thankamma Thomas, Mrs. Annamma George, Mrs. Mariamma John, Mrs. Mariamma Mathews, Mrs. Kunjujamma Benjamin and Mrs. Susan Abraham.
In Kerala, full time women evangelists were housed in SANKETHAMS (literally means 'refuge') and cared for by the church. Sisters who abstained from marriage for the sake of mission work and committed to living in submission to spiritual leadership lived in Sankethams. Miss. Annamma Mammen and Sis. Annamma Thrikunnapuzha, Sis. Chinnamma and Annamma with many others were well-known women evangelists who labored and served the Lord. However, it must be mentioned that the era of unmarried sisters stepping out for full time ministry has been a thing of the past. There is no motivation or interest to encourage such sisters in the church. Many women have served faithfully in and through the Sodari Samajam of the IPC - both in Kerala State and outside. Space restricts me from mentioning all the names.
Mrs. Mary Mathew, Udaipur
As a young girl, I remember reading the Cross & Crown magazine and many of the articles and experiences therein always challenged me even at that tender age.
In 1989, I had the privilege of fellowshipping with Dr. Thomas Mathew, his beloved wife Mrs. Mary Mathews. The Filadelphia Fellowship in was my local church during the time I did my B.Ed in Udaipur.
My admiration and deep respect for this passionate woman of God increased with each interaction. Despite her dimunitive size, there was determination in her stride!
She rode a two-wheeler (a very unusual sight for women in Rajasthan then) to take the gospel to the villages and also to attend classes as an external BD student. One memory of Mrs. Mary Mathews that comes to mind is of her standing by the door of the church every Sunday, greeting every person who walked in for the service. In the ten months I was there, I don’t ever remember seeing her sit through a full service. She was up and about greeting, seating or helping people. Continue reading to find out what kept her internal spark ignited …
Mary was a teenager when she received her call and vision to labor for the Lord in North India. It was a prophetical promise, “You will be a mother to thousands. Many will call you, ‘Mother’!
Soon after this confirmation from the Lord, Mary completed her high school with an excellent grade. Compelled by her family to pursue secular studies, she decided to study the Word of God at the Hebron Bible School in Kumbanad, Kerala in 1964 when Pastor K E Abraham served as the Principal. She was encouraged to continue her studies at the Southern Asia Bible Institute, Bangalore. (now SABC). Soon after her graduation she was joined together in holy matrimony with a 20 year old young missionary Thomas Mathew, serving in Udaipur, Rajasthan.
The initial days in Rajasthan were extremely difficult days. With none to call as ‘fellow-believers’, they endured hardships. Lack of resources caused them to trust God for every need. Pastor Thomas Mathew sold gospel packets each day. Rental accommodation was not given to Christians. The nominal Christians kept them at a distance calling them ‘dubkiwalas’ (literally, the one who dips in Hindi). But none of these challenges deterred this young missionary couple. Instead it only spurred them to learn the local language and Hindi to be able to carry on their mission.
Most women in the then Rajasthan were not schooled. But Mrs. Mary Mathews traveled to the villages and visited hostels and schools, conducting free classes in hygiene, health, confidence building in teenage girls, tips on raising teenage daughters etc The hostel wardens appreciated these practical classes.
Special Women’s Programs were held where women were given wholistic training and basic Bible lessons. The socio-cultural aspects of the training taught the tribal women to dress and live with dignity. Young girls were led to engage in tract distribution and street evangelism – a novel sight in those days.
Mrs. Mary mentioned the exhilarating fact that the hallmark of the ministry was engaging women as frontline workers, causing them to enter the mainstream of society.
Women who received deliverance became channels of blessing to others. Even today it is these womenfolk who are powerful intercessors, generous with their time and resources and boldly declare the Word of God.The sincerity of their hearts made them recipients of God’s special grace. These women cleared the ground, made pathways into the villages, causing churches to be established.
Her one challenge to today’s young women is – Take the Lord’s Word as it is; Matt 28: 19 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. This is a blessed command. She goes on to encourage, “It is a privilege to be a young woman. Do not be fearful, instead purpose within yourself to be courageous and holy and always trusting the Word. When the Bible says, He will accomplish it, He will. When the Lord says, Pray, pray! When He says Witness, witness! Because there is much value in His word. We may not have much capabilities – but obedience, a clean life, the fear of God is what we need.”
She went on to pour out her heart, “Women must concentrate on children.” She went on to elaborate that fertilizing full grown plant is futile. Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Prov. 22:6
Teaching kids to love, fear and trust God, is a responsibility to be undertaken by women.
Mrs. Mary Mathews carries another desire within her. The LORD will make you the head, not the tail … If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD you God … (Deut. 28:13) What the Bible says is true. Our generation must take up this challenge, they should not limit themselves. Her one longing is to see our youth gaining positions of influence in the land. She urges the church to take genuine interest in the youth and raise them into Daniels.
As co-founder of the Native Missionary Movement and its associate ministries, Mrs. Mary Mathews has been used of the Lord alongside her beloved husband Dr. Thomas Mathews to traverse the difficult terrians of Northern India. Her contribution to church planting is immense. As a mentor to evangelists and women in ministry, Mrs. Mary Mathews stands tall and worthy of emulation.
All those mentioned and involved here have been women - ordinary women who may have been less than perfect. But their commitment and zeal to serve the Lord is commendable. Their dedication, and life time commitment deserves recognition. They have each made major contributions towards the building of Christ's kingdom on earth. They have allowed God to work in and through them over a period of time. It is my prayer that each of us will be inspired to commit ourselves to the Lord afresh to be used for Kingdom purposes.
Our mothers and grandmothers faithfully served the Lord and were used of the Lord who worked in and through them.
Are you and I willing to allow God to work in and through us?