It was a dark night than usual. I walked along the path that was visible in the cut of the torch lit by my Pappa between the coconut groves. As a guide for both of us, Philip walked in front of us, chanting ‘It’s not much longer’. We settled there because my mother was a school teacher in that village. I was studying in 6th standard. After work in the office, in the evening, Pappa was engaged in friendly conversations with his friends in front of Saidalavi’s shop, which sells foreign fabrics, when a black and thin young man came in front of Pappa. When asked his name, he said Philip, to Pappa’s surprise. He had come from Tamil Nadu for wage labour. Philip was very excited as they introduced each other as Christians. As Philip said, ‘Oh, one day we must come to the place where we live, and there is no one who knows Christ’, we are walking towards the house where the Tamil workers live, in the middle of that big coconut grove in the evening.
We reached the end of the winding road in front of an old thatched house. In those days of voltage shortage of electricity in Malabar, I was amazed by seeing the discolored walls and dusty roof of the house, lit only by dim electric bulbs. “Please come inside” Philip called again. Once inside, Philip spread the mat that had been rolled up on the wall on the ground. Along with my father, I sat on that old mat. I looked around the room. The cloths are tied and spread in one part. One of the two kerosene stoves smells of boiling rice and the other of some kind of curry. About eight people live in two or three small rooms. The mats were rolled up in many parts of the room where we were sitting. Suddenly a small crowd formed in front of us. The arrival of two Malayalees at their residence has surprised the Tamil Nadu workers. They stared at me and my father as if we were aliens. “Sir has come to talk, please everyone have a seat,” Philip said humbly to his friends. In the middle of listening, everyone spread the mat and sat on the ground. Pappa has no Tamil side at all. After a while he said to them slowly. ” Malayalam will be fine sir, we know it well”. Pappa was relieved. Pappa then told them that he had come to tell them about Jesus. He asked everyone’s name.
When a person in front said his name, I listened to him. His name is Nandagopal. Homeland is Mayiladuthura. Everyone will call him Gopalan. I felt something special about that young man with a big beard, glasses and shabby clothes. In a short time, the father finished telling the birth and death of the Lord Jesus and the salvation of the soul by believing in Jesus. As soon as my father had finished, Philip sang a song that began, “To my Jesus, a thousand thanks”. Some clapped along with the song. I noticed that Gopalan was one of them. When I arrived at church the following Sunday, I was surprised to see Philip there. And there was Gopalan, a little shy.
Their friendship with my father was growing. In the evenings, Philip and Gopalan would come to the house where we were staying. Sometimes Gopalan comes alone. Later I started seeing a Tamil Bible in Gopalan’s hands. He used to come to church regularly and ask for my father in the evenings. As the days went by, Gopalan’s changes surprised me again. His beard disappeared. Gopalan started wearing clean white clothes instead of dirty clothes. He, who was always used tobacco to chew, gave up that habit altogether. One day when I saw Gopalan in church, he was wearing pants and shirt. His appearance has changed. His face always radiated confidence. He led many people with him to the Christian faith. He received baptism from the church priests and changed his name to James Nandagopal. The village was surprised by the change in James and his appearance. It was the first time in that village that a laborer was seen walking around in clean clothes, trousers and a shirt with a Bible in his hand. He didn’t care about those who mocked him. Even Pappa was surprised by his interest in studying the Bible and his zeal to evangelize. Once James announced that he was going to get married. That time when he came back from the country, he came with his wife. He married a young woman who was a teacher with MA education. I never saw my father give James money or anything else. All he got was light from the gospel. It was through the life of James Nandagopal that I learned how the gospel transforms a person, inside and out.
When I heard that recently in Narayanpur, Chhattisgarh, tribals were attacked and kicked out of their homes for accepting the path of Christ, I was reminded of James. I can only imagine how the gospel must have transformed those poor people. The information shared by people like Father Johnson Thekkadayil who returned from visiting Narayanpur validated my thoughts. The change in tribal communities where the gospel was accepted was amazing. Many have been freed from the habit of drinking. Children started getting better education. A literate generation grew up. They realized that they were being cheated of not getting proper wages for their work and began to ask decent prices for their crops. Since this was questioned, the conflicts started. Finally, many people were severely beaten for the sake of faith, for the truth they knew and accepted. Villages were driven out, children’s education stopped, places of worship closed.
Let us pray that God will raise up many James in the light of the gospel, that the power of the gospel that enlightens the primitive may spread in hearts, and that the Christian believers’ association, Ecclesia United International , join with those who are suffering because of the gospel all over the world.