I was a twenty-three year old student pursuing a Master’s degree in English Literature at Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, having received my Bachelor’s Degree in the same field from the University of Kerala (Catholicate College, Pathanamthitta) in 1970. I had a part-time book-shelving job in the Arkansas State University library, working 15 hours a week. My monthly income was 70 dollars. After separating seven dollars (tithe) for the work of God, I was left with only 63 dollars to pay for my room rent, tuition fees, food, clothes, books, stationery supplies, and all other expenses.
During those days, I managed with a couple of pants and shirts, but no belt for my pants for several weeks, because I did not have the 50 cents needed to buy a belt. My shoes were also completely worn out with holes in the soles. It was an Iranian student who cut my hair to save the barber’s charge of two dollars, and in return I cut his hair, too, without charging any labor fees.
When the fall semester started in August, I had some savings in the bank earned from my full time summer job. However, by the middle of the semester, I had used up all my savings for different educational expenses. This was the most financially difficult period in my life.
For me, this financial stringency was something new. When I was in India attending college, my father, a well- to- do rubber dealer, regularly sent me a money order at the beginning of every month to cover all my educational expenses, including my hostel fees which covered three meals a day and a 4 o’clock snack. He used to send a little extra money, which I used to buy extra snacks from the coffee shop near the college. As normal for most growing youngsters, I had such a big appetite and quick digestion during those teenage years that I could eat an elephant and still feel hungry in a couple of hours.
But at the campus in America, I did not have the money to buy any extra snacks, even though I studied up to midnight regularly. I ate supper at the university dining hall, which regularly closed at 5:30 pm. Studying late in the nights, I always got hungry around nine o’clock, my old appetite still in full force. Many students in the dormitory used to take a break from their studies around nine o’clock and would get hamburgers, hot dogs, and other snacks with coffee from the vending machines. It was an eight- story dormitory. The smell of coffee and the hamburgers being warmed up in the microwave ovens filled the hallways. I would start salivating, my empty stomach growling, and I had no money to approach a vending machine. So I used to step out to the hallway, fill my empty stomach with fresh tap water, and start back for another three hours of studying. (Now, I do not consider this a big deal when I think of others who cannot afford even a single decent meal a day. But my belly in those days did not grasp all such Gandhian philosophy).
The fall semester continued like this—financially struggling, but still moving forward. The university closed for Christmas holidays during the second week of December. To start back to school in January, I needed five hundred dollars in advance payment for tuition fees and boarding. Another 3,000 dollars was needed later in the semester.
Unfortunately, I did not even have fifty dollars. I didn’t personally know any Malayalees in the whole state of Arkansas other than my uncle (mother’s first cousin) who was about 200 miles away. He was a philosophy professor, having only an average salary. Further, I did not want to depend on him financially, having already borrowed money from him for emergency needs in previous months. Also, my uncle did not have much money to spare, having to make residence accommodation for his wife and daughter, who had joined him in America just a few months back. In addition, my dignity and pride did not allow me to approach anybody for finances repeatedly.
In those days, scholarships and loans were not available for foreign students at the university. The spring semester registration had already started in the first week of January, and I had no cash in hand. My education was put on hold--my hopes and ambitions almost crushed. I couldn’t take off for a semester because, according to the immigration rules, a person on student visa will be deported if he is not registered every semester in an accredited institution. I thought of temporarily stopping my education for a few months in order to work full time and save some money for the following semester. However, the immigration rules allow full time work only in the summer months. If I broke this rule, that could become another reason for the cancellation of my visa and immediate deportation.
I didn’t even think of approaching my local church at Jonesboro for financial assistance. I regularly attended the Church of God congregation. It was a small church with less than fifty members, ninety percent belonging to the lower middle class with respect to their income level. The pastor himself had only a moderate salary from the church, and his wife was a student at the university with only a part-time job on campus. I had no human sources to turn to.
I was on my knees from the second week of December to the first week of January, praying and crying out to God, seeking divine intervention, so I could continue my education. I also spent the Christmas holidays writing Christian articles and preparing a few chapters of my first Malayalam book, SZASTRAVUM BIBILUM(Science and the Bible) refuting arguments advanced by the atheistic organizations of Kerala. Fortunately, the foreign students were allowed to stay in the dormitory during Christmas holidays.
In spite of my earnest prayers day and night, I did not feel that God was moving on my behalf. I had never felt dejected and hopeless like that before. Classes were just about to begin in one week. I did not register for classes because I did not even have a fraction of the amount needed to enroll in any course.
One morning, someone from the dormitory Director’s office came to my room on the seventh floor. He informed me that the Director had received a call from the Office of the Registrar asking me to contact her immediately. I did not have a phone in my room because I could not afford it.
Without delay, I went to the Registrar’s office. The lady in charge of the Registrar’s office handed to me a sheet of paper with a name and a telephone number. This was what she told me: “This morning, Rev. Curt Tull, Senior Pastor of the Church of the Disciples of Christ in the city, called this office. He requested me to find an Asian or Indian professor or student at this campus who could speak for a seminar arranged for the Men’s Club in his church.”
Indeed, at that time, there was an Indian professor at the university who was a well known scholar and speaker, a few Asian professors and several Asian and Indian students in the computer division and science areas.
The office lady explained further: “ I searched through the list of foreigners at this campus, and it was your name (Samkutty Chacko) that caught my attention first. Are you willing to go to speak at the church club?”
I agreed, then thanked her for mentioning my name to the pastor.
I called the pastor. He came to the campus to meet me personally. He explained that for several months, the Men’s Club had been studying the major religions and missionary works in all major nations of the world. They already covered many nations of Africa. January first Saturday night was designated for Asia, particularly the nation of India. The Pastor was searching for an Asian, preferably an Indian professor or student, who could do a presentation on major religions of Asia and the impact of Christian missionary work in that continent.
I said that I hadn’t done any seminar-type presentations before, but that I would prepare a speech to the best of my ability. He responded, “Sam Chacko, do not worry about preparing too much, but just share a few things that you already know about the religions of Asia, especially India.” I was more than willing, though a little nervous about the challenging responsibility.
He came in his car that Saturday evening to take me to the seminar. I spoke on Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, and the impact of foreign missions in India. I also led a Question-Answer Session at the end and ate supper with the club members. After the seminar, I received an honorarium of fifty dollars.
The pastor took me back to my dormitory around 9 pm. As I was getting out of the car, he offered the following parting words: “Sam Chacko, I know that you are alone here far from your home land. You have no parents or relatives here. You have no car either. But consider us as your friends and relatives. If you need any help from us or need a ride, feel free to contact me.” Then he handed me his address card.
After reaching my room, I did not go to bed, but knelt by my chair, and as usual started praying that God would supply my needs so that I could register and start back to school immediately. During the prayer, I felt strongly in my heart that Pastor Curt Tull was sent to me by God as the raven was directed to the prophet Elijah. Something told me deep in my heart that the lady in charge of the Registrar’s office was also an agent of God. She spotted my name in the list before any other Asian or Indian name. To me, it was not an accident, but a divine intervention.
Early the next morning, I wrote a detailed letter to Pastor Tull explaining how I was in a standstill with my educational plans. Actually, I was at the end of a one way street. It was the first time that I had ever approached anyone for a financial need other than my family. In three days, the pastor responded to my letter: “ I have good news for you, Sam Chacko. I talked to the church committee members, and they unanimously agreed to pay all your educational expenses in advance at the university office this week, including your boarding and food.”
Pastor Tull continued: “Go ahead Sam, and register for classes today. I already talked to the Registrar and made arrangements. Not only that, my church will pay your entire educational expenses until you complete your Master’s degree. “
Most of the members in Tull’s church were well-to-do people, several of them being bankers, businessmen, company managers, engineers, doctors, and other highly paid professionals, as well as widows who inherited wealth from their deceased husbands.
After talking to him on the public phone at the corner of my dormitory hallway, I went back to my room. I couldn’t stop crying.
This miracle happened thirty-eight years ago in January 1973. As I conclude this testimony now, wiping tears in my eyes, the following Bible verse is reverberating deeply in my heart: “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and you shall glorify me.”Psalms 50: 15.
Pastor Tull invited me to attend his church regularly, but I never attended the services there, except one time when I was asked to speak again when Tull was away on vacation. The doctrines of his denomination were much different from my Pentecostal faith. Mainly, his church did not believe in the visible Second Coming of Christ. There were also other doctrinal differences. I remember the Sunday sermon I preached in his church in 1973. I had three points in my sermon. The third point was based on the visible personal Second Coming of Christ. They were tolerant enough not to cancel their financial assistance to me, in spite of the fact that I spoke openly about what I believe. I continued to attend the Church of God in Jonesboro pastored by Reverend T.L. Henderson.
I completed my degree at Arkansas State University in July 1973. Pastor Tull’s church supported me financially until I moved 510 miles away to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to pursue a Ph. D. degree. I was admitted to the University of Louisiana with a teaching assistantship, where I taught two classes each day and earned enough money to further my education and research for the next four years. I also got a tuition waiver scholarship at the new university, so never again did I have to pay fees for my education.
“Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed, Thy hands hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, O God Unto me.”
Whatever secular education God granted me, I sincerely used my knowledge to glorify God through my literary works, having published several books. My Christian historical novel PALAM THETTIYA THEEVANDI has reached 71,000 copies. My book ministry distributed close to 40,000 copies of my most recent Malayalam book BHAYAPPEDENTA (Fear Not) within the last eighteen months, most of them given out free except a small number sold through book shops. The sale collections completely went for the ministry of the book shops themselves. The ministry has also distributed upto this date close to 30, 000 copies of my 24-page booklet MANUSHYERE MADHYASTHAR AAKARUTHE (No, No, to Human Mediators). Most of them were donated to youth groups, local churches, or book shops. All printing and distribution costs in the last three years were taken from the salaries I and my wife Pushpa earned. Even though I plan to solicit help from others in the future, I have not collected a single dollar from anyone in the last three years for the book ministry, except that in December 2010, a Keralite friend(Roy Mepral) financially sponsored about five thousand New Testaments to be distributed with my books.
During my vacation in India in 2009 and 2010, I rented a minivan and personally visited sixteen hundred homes in three different villages and distributed in each house a packet containing three books and a Malayalam New Testament. Approximately sixty percent of these homes were Hindu families. About 13,000 New Testaments were distributed in other places by team members within the last eighteen months. I had to take Calcium and Glucosamine Chondroitin pills for several weeks upon my return to America in order to alleviate my knee- and- joints wearout caused by climbing steps to hundreds of houses.
During my student life at Arkansas State University, I knew a little bit of what it feels like when someone is hungry in the night, which I never had learnt at my home in India. I also had a taste of what it means to be poor. Such difficult experiences helped me to have a softer heart toward the poor and the hungry, which instilled in me a desire to do charity work on a regular basis. Every month, when I get my monthly salary cheque, I remember the poor and the needy and do what I could for them with my limited capacities.
I am not boasting. I am humbly sharing this testimony to glorify God, as well as to inspire the readers to be active in the service of the Kingdom of God by winning the lost and helping the needy [ 21 April 2011].