The finances of the Keralite immigrants were limited in those days. Most of them were struggling with their new lives in this land, having to make payments for their houses and cars, in addition to the expenses for sending their newly-landed spouses for education and career training. The conveners did not have a large budget to work with or to plan ahead. They also found it difficult to locate hotels with adequate conference halls in a short notice.
One night, toward the very end of a Saturday evangelistic service in Houston, my son Ranjith (six years old) was on his way to the rest room located several hundred feet away from the main conference hall. The large open-air hall had no walls, but only a roof made of metal sheets resting on a few concrete poles. A big dog that guarded the ranch chased Ranjith until he fell into a muddy ditch. He dragged himself out, his clothes dripping muddy water, ran toward the main stage crying: “I want my daddy. I want my daddy!” If my memory is correct, Pastors Valson Abraham and P.D. Johnson had finished their sermons and altar calls and had just left the stage. A few lay believers who were counting the offering near the podium helped my son through this ordeal.
How different were the accommodations then compared to the state-of the-art auditoriums and the modernized surroundings we have been privileged to enjoy in recent years. May I add here that in spite of our limited accommodations in Houston, some of the most stirring sermons I ever heard were delivered by our ministers in the Houston conference. So we had many blessings to compensate for the mosquito bites that lingered on our bodies for many days.
In November1982, while I was teaching in Mississippi, I received a phone call from Brother Babu George, the first president of the Pentecostal Youth Conference of Dallas (PYCD). He invited me to speak for the first official PYCD conference. On a Friday evening in December, I flew to Dallas. This was about seven months before the first PCNAK convention in Oklahoma City in 1983, conducted under the leadership of Pastor Oommen Abraham.
If my memory is correct, I had with me an old type of movie projector and also a film(reel) titled Rajamma which was based on the story of an Indian Hindu lady converted to Pentecostal faith in the early fifties. As I expected, the youth crowd in the conference was very small, not more than fifty. Most of the youngsters were elementary and middle school students. There were a few high school students though. I do not remember seeing any college students. As a matter of fact, during those days there were not many youngsters in the Keralite community beyond high school age. Most parents were in their late twenties or early thirties. I do not remember seeing a single gray-haired, bald- headed, pot-bellied Keralite parent in the crowd.
After the group watched Rajamma on Saturday morning, I ministered the Word based on the life of Moses. A brief discussion followed, presided over by Pastor T. Thomas. The main coordinator, Mr. Babu K. Iype, had already distributed note pads for the youths to write down their questions and concerns for me to answer. There were not any questions about dating or wearing of jewelry or inter-racial marriages. In those days, the youths did not even dare to raise publicly such issues that were in conflict with the culture or beliefs of their parents.
Also I remember several questions related to brother-sister conflict: “Samkutty Uncle, my brother is bothering me a lot. He sneaks into my room, messes up all my books and stuff, and even pinches me always and pulls my hair locks.” I jokingly told all the bullies to behave and leave their sisters alone. There were also questions about the theory of evolution which was taught in high school science classes. I was amazed to see that there were several questions about sharing the salvation message to Hindu school mates. Even at a young age, our youth had a passion for winning others to Christ.
About eight Keralite Pentecostal churches from the Dallas-Fort Worth area participated in this memorable meeting. This was my first Keralite youth conference in North America in which I ministered exclusively to the youths.
One thing I noticed was that the parents who assembled were gravely concerned about the future of their children growing up in a licentious society. Nobody talked about retirement or going back to India. Their chief goal was to establish churches that would give the youths a strong spiritual foundation. They thought that frequent youth meetings, talent competitions, and seminars would help considerably toward achieving this goal. The parents were ready to invest time and finances toward this goal.
However, the PYCD conference was not my first Keralite convention. About four years before this conference, I spoke in a local Malayalee convention in Dallas organized by Pastor K. C. Chacko in April 1979. A lot of non-Pentecostal Keralites attended that convention. The new immigrants who arrived in Texas were lonely, and they were also hungry for the Word of God. In later years, the non-Pentecostal crowd in our meetings dwindled because the leaders of outside churches in major cities advised their members against attending Pentecostal meetings. Many who attended our cottage meetings and conventions eventually joined our churches which had disturbed many leaders of the traditional churches.
Back in 1977, I remember visiting one of the most dynamic Keralite churches I have ever been to. It was a Pentecostal church pastored by Rev. K. A. Thomas in Chicago, the largest Keralite church in America during those days. There were more than one hundred people on that cold December Sunday morning. During those years, I lived in Arkansas and Louisiana where there were no Keralite churches. The Chicago congregation worshipped just like those in the churches in Kerala. The only musical instrument that morning was the old Indian drum that evoked solemn memories in the minds of all who were born and brought up in India. Words are inadequate to express the varying waves of emotion I felt hearing the sounds of the drum after having left my home church at Ezhamkulam about seven years before that day. (I also remember the Indian drum used in a couple of worship services I attended in Dallas and Houston in 1976 and 1977 respectively).
The old fashioned drum is no more to be heard in most of our churches. I see this shift as symbolical. Just as the drum has been thrown out through the back door, many of our good spiritual traditions are also gradually being discarded, and most of us do not even notice such things until it is too late. The Indian drum is a simple and highly effective musical instrument that greatly helps free worship, but unfortunately many of our people today speak cynically about this user-friendly tool of worship that can be played even by people with no talents or training in music. Playing the Indian drum requires no concentration, so even the player can fully engage his mind in the worship of the Lord along with everybody else.
During a Saturday afternoon in one of our PCNAK conferences, I was walking toward a large room in which the General Body All Male Business Meeting was in progress. I saw Dr. C. T. Luiskutty walking out of the meeting hurriedly. He was sobbing like a child with tears running down his face: “Samkutty, Samkutty, what is this? What is happening? What kind of example is this before our children? Why should we spend our money and time if this is the end result? I do not even want to be in this room.”
This was what happened!! Luiskutty had just witnessed several minutes of confusion and heated arguments during the business meeting in which a couple of brothers lost their control. Abruptly, some brother in the session shifted himself in high gear, angrily moved forward, started arguing with a couple of pastors, and pushed one of the pastors. Other brothers quickly moved into the middle and prevented the incident from progressing into a climax. This obviously shocked Luiskutty. If my memory is correct, a small number of children were watching the business meeting from the very back of the room.
Dr. Thomson K. Mathew and I comforted Luiskutty and dragged him back to the business meeting. I consoled him that in conferences like this, with delegates deciding on major issues with no guidelines on parliamentary procedures, some conflicts and skirmishes are bound to happen. Most everybody is guilty of unexpected outbursts at one time or another which lead to incidents that the individual would never want to happen. We must forgive and suggest ways to prevent such incidents in the future. Finally, Luiskutty returned back to the meeting. The outcome of the meeting was successful. Many important decisions about the future of the Keralite Conference were decided that afternoon.
During the weekend of the 1985 Tennessee conference, many participants decided to enjoy some sightseeing on Friday afternoon. My family decided to join a few brothers and sisters who were visiting the Ruby Falls near Chattanooga. The elevators took us 1,200 feet down under the mountain. We were amazed at all the waterfalls and springs at the belly of the mountain. I realized we were in a place like the Greek underworld depicted in Homer’s epic poem Odyssey.
Suddenly the lights went off. Obviously there was a power outage. I had a strange feeling as I began to shake and sweat. I felt dizzy and my heartbeat began to jump. A strange fear engulfed me completely. I felt like screaming, but resisted, knowing that I was to preach in the conference and must show courage in front of people who knew me. I told my wife secretly what was happening to me. She held me tight with her hands. I began to call upon the name of Jesus.
Within a couple of minutes, the lights came back on, and I was relieved a little bit, but was gasping for breath having become incapacitated for several minutes. I promised myself never again to get into a situation like that involving underground places. Those two minutes without lights were like two eons.
In the late nineteen eighties, I had a desire to reach the Keralite immigrant generation in all major cities in North America with the full gospel message. First I mailed multiple thousands of cassette tapes with inspiring sermons on the subject of living a happy family. The message was interdenominational in approach which could be enjoyed by all regardless of denominational or religious affiliations. This has reached fifteen hundred Malayalee families in New York alone. The responses were very positive, even from Hindus.
My next step was to reach the Keralite immigrant generation with the Pentecostal message. In the early nineties, I got from India (by sea mail) ten thousand copies of my historical novel (Palam Thettiya Theevandi) written in the background of the Pentecostal movement in India and mailed the book to nine thousand Keralite families in the United States. I collected their addresses through various secular sources.
The response was not very pleasant . Many non-Pentecostals and Hindus were irritated, especially because there is a strong voice in my book against idol worship, veneration of relics, and mediation through deceased saints. I received many anonymous threatening letters, some full of profanity. Many Hindus and non-Pentecostal readers asked me to remove their addresses from the mailing list. One person opened the envelop, read the book, sealed it back in the same envelop, scribbled profanity on top of the envelop, peeled off his address, wrote my address in the same space, and returned it with the following note above the address label: “Refused.” The United States postal authorities could have easily read the entire profanity if they knew Malayalam language!! For many months, I sincerely prayed for that person (whoever it was) that he would repent and come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
I was not disappointed with negative responses, because there were a lot of positive ones too. Somewhere I read that in the early nineties, there were approximately thirty thousand Keralite families in America, including Hindus and Moslems. If that population count was accurate, then the Lord enabled me to reach about one-third of all the Keralite families in America during that time with the full gospel message. Many shared the book with their neighbors and friends. I am grateful to many believers who supported me financially in this effort to reach the Keralites.
One of the most encouraging responses was from Pastor A. C. George (New York) who called me on the phone and said “Samkutty, I visit a lot of non-Pentecostal families as part of our outreach program. A good number of those families have received your book, and many have read it. Because they were touched by the message, now-a-days,we receive very warm welcome in those homes.” Another was from Dr. Sunny Philip:“Brother Samkutty, I was sitting in the waiting room of a government office in New York reading a Christian book. A non-Pentecostal lady who sat near me asked me “What is that book you are reading?” I showed her the title of the English book I was reading. Then she took a book out of her handbag and delightfully said that she was also reading a book. I was happy to notice that the book in her hand was your book Palam Thettiya Theevandi. The message God entrusted you with is reaching people outside our community.”
I pray that my memoirs in this article will help people to remember our past and thank God for the ways in which God has helped us to be a light in this dark world. I also hope that these words will challenge readers to do more things for the Kingdom of God. Our movement has its failures and pitfalls, but the Pentecostal message is a unique one that can free people from the bondages of sin. It is a message that shares the whole counsel of God with an emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit that enables people to freely worship God in truth and in Spirit. There is no freedom without true worship. There is no true worship where the Holy Spirit is nor allowed to operate freely. I am blessed to have been born and brought up in a local church that believed in the Holy Spirit and encouraged believers to fast and pray and even tarry until empowered with the fire that is from above.
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