"God chose the lowly things of this world so that no one may boast before Him!" (1 Cor 1:28,29). Personally I have not come across a better illustration for this eternal truth than myself.
My birthplace is too small to be marked on the map of India. Situated near the southern tip of the country, it was named as Nazareth by the early missionaries when the villagers turned to Christ en masse. We also have a Bethlehem and a Jerusalem closeby. The Anglican Church with its bottle-shaped steeple is central to the life of the community. From time immemorial two morning and one evening services have been conducted daily in this Church, one of them being a communion service. There are five main streets in this small town. Daddy Mr. G. Rajamani came from the second street and mummy Mrs. Anbu Rajamani from the fourth street. I was born in the third street known as the Queen Street where we owned a small house.
My maternal grandmother, Jebathai (meaning, mother of prayer), was a ward-helper to Dr. and Dr. Mrs. Vedhabothagam, the founders of St. Luke�s Mission Hospital in Nazareth. Mrs. Vedhabothagam was my God-mother and she named me as Stanley after a British soldier and the famous preacher Dr. Stanley Jones. Her prayerful desires have been fulfilled in that I am a soldier in God�s army with the sword of His Word in my hand. I believe there is nothing accidental in our lives. The sovereign Lord orders everything. He knows the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9,10).
Mummy was an elementary school teacher. In fact she was my class teacher for class one. My enthusiastic parents admitted me in school when I was just four but tall, giving a false age! Today I have two birthdays�one official and the other real!! Mummy became too weak to work following a severe bout of jaundice. Daddy was a junior commissioned officer in the Indian Army. We are two boys to our parents. Christopher is two years younger to me.
Economically we belonged to the poorer section of the society. Our house couldn�t afford a proper flooring. Mummy gave it a weekly cowdung wash. The roof leaked. Windows had no shutters. When there was wind and rain, mummy would drape the windows with gunny bags. Our parents had almost nothing to spare after spending on us. Christopher and I shared a single hurricane lamp till we finished schooling. We had no slippers or shoes to wear to school. Mummy taught us to be satisfied with whatever she cooked at home and never gave us money for junk food.
Eventhough I was the class pupil leader several times, I could not every time join the annual school excursions for economic reasons. Mummy didn�t believe in borrowing. How I wish today�s parents learn this and hesitate not to say no to children! Parents� loving-strictness is more powerful than peer-pressure. Today I have perhaps travelled more widely than all my classmates! I appeal to young people not to bother their parents to spend beyond their means. A branded shoe or a VIP suitcase is not a must. Never compare or murmur. Don�t be ashamed of the humble background of your family. Jesus� dad was not a District Collector or a building contractor, but a countryside carpenter!
Because daddy was in the Territorial Army, he had left us with mummy in our hometown. He would visit us just for two or three weeks every year. But he was a good correspondent and we always enjoyed reading his newsy and affectionate letters. He gave attention to details. Both his children have inherited his minuteness.
Mummy was quite strict. She would not give us breakfast unless we had memorized atleast one Bible verse each day. On Sundays we must memorize one Psalm and a collect from the Common Book of Prayer. Those days I wondered why the other mothers in our street had not been so strict. But I am awaiting the resurrection morn to greet and bless her for filling the reservoir of my heart with the Scriptures. My grandmother taught me the twentythird Psalm. This was a privilege similar to that of Timothy (2 Tim 1:5). I thank God for mummy who drove away foolishness from my heart with her frequent use of the "rod of correction" (Prov 22:15). She would buy another cane the moment one is broken!
I can never forget my schooling years in the Margoschis High School. The headmaster Mr. S. A. Thomas and the class teachers spared no pains in shaping me. As a rank student I was their pet, but lenience they did not show. I still remember their slaps and canings, especially from the Hindi Pandit, for my mischiefs and carelessness. Several of my teachers were believers. One of them Mr. T. Michael Chellathurai had been praying for my salvation since 1956. God answered him in 1962. The privilege of each Christian teacher is admirable and the responsibility awesome.
Since there was no college in Nazareth at that time in 1962, I joined St. John�s College at Palayamkottai. Because parents could not afford hostel fees, I commuted by train from Nazareth. Leaving home at six in the morning and returning by eight in the evening was quite tiresome. I would come home exhausted because the only thing I would have eaten was a cold lunch. I used to envy my hosteler classmates who obviously had more study hours and freshness. But now I know that God had been preparing me through disadvantages and inconveniences for a life and ministry which cannot ignore ground realities. Mrs. Suganthi Jacob a family friend who lived across the street graciously let me use her room upstairs, which had an electric bulb, while I was preparing for the university exams. I again passed with a first class.
1962 is an unforgettable year in my life. Since I was not too good in Chemistry, I avoided meeting the Chemistry lecturer Mr. D. P. Gnanadurai outside the classroom. Moreover he appeared to me too religious! But one evening he tight-cornered me on a street. Taking out his pocket Testament he preached to me a short sermon which I could not evade. A deep conviction of sin fell on me. I refused supper and told mummy I wanted to pray. I was ashamed when I realised that I had been a white-washed tomb. I confessed my sins to God and got reconciled with him. The peace of His forgiveness flooded my soul as I believed on Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. It was November the 18th. I was born again!
I began attending the prayer fellowship regularly which met in the red sandy desert outside Nazareth under the leadership of Mr. Michael and Mr. Gnanadurai. Daddy used to go to this place of solitude to prepare his sermons with fasting and prayer. Most of the members of this fellowship were students. Soon the Lord filled me with the Holy Spirit in one of the evening gatherings. As high Anglicans we were anti-pentecostal. It was strange I was speaking in tongues! Yes, God shows no favouritism. Since that time I have been preaching that the Holy Spirit Baptism is a transdenominational blessing bestowed by Christ on those who hunger and thirst for a higher, deeper, broader and wider understanding of God�s love. Prayer and Bible meditation were no more a duty but a delight. With passion I started sharing with my friends and classmates the gospel that "lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire ...and put a new song in my mouth!" (Psa 40:2.3). My unconverted friends would not crack filthy jokes any longer in my presence. Mummy and her prayer partners like Mrs. Pushpam Koilpillai and Mrs. Jemy Jacob rejoiced in the Lord for saving me.
One of the exercises emphasized much in the Nazareth Prayer Fellowship was reconciliation with the wronged. We were taught that getting right with men was as important as getting right with God (1 Jn 4:20,21). The necessity to maintain a clear conscience was stressed in the messages and meditations. This Fellowship had an influence of the ministry of Brother N. Daniel of the Laymen�s Evangelical Fellowship. Unfortunately the teaching of reconciliation and restitution is hardly heard from pulpits these days. According to Revivalist Charles Finney, this is one of the basic reasons for the shallow conversions of the day. When Christ entered the home of my heart, I started like Zacchaeus to set matters right with people. I apologised to parents, relatives and teachers for cheating them or talking against them. I confessed to the headmaster how I once had copied in the class test. I paid some money to a Hindu gentleman from whose garden I had stolen some sappota fruits (Ezek 33:15). I had been postponing this matter until I could not resist the Spirit�s prompting any longer. When I got married eight years later, I was excited to find that my father-in-law had a big garden of sappota trees wherefrom I could eat as much as I wanted!
I preached my first sermon in May 1963 in a CSI Church at Virudhunagar where we had been vacationing with mummy�s unmarried elder sister, Miss Mary Sundaram, who was a famous nurse-cum-midwife in the town those days. She used to take me to the local Brethren Assembly where Missionary T. Brown was the elder. I was greatly benefited by his teaching and that of visiting preachers like Mr. A. H. Roberts, the father of Mrs. Nirupa Jebaraj of Bethel Ministries, Chennai. I am yet to come across a Bible teacher like Mr. Roberts. These men have left some indelible marks on my life, especially in the area of Biblical understanding. It was in Virudhunagar which was his hometown where I first met Brother A. Jeyaraj in the sixties. He became my Tamil translator from 1972. Marvellous are the ways of God!
After his premature retirement from the Army, daddy was appointed as the Security Officer in the Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering & Technology in Karaikudi. He desired both his sons to become engineers. But we stood very little chance because most of the seats were allotted on community basis. However the Lord overruled the circumstances and gave us seats in this same college.
Of all the six Engineering Colleges in the State under Madras University, students would have Karaikudi as the last option. It was a dry place and had a deserted look. I was starving for fellowship. For nearly a year my prayer was that God would give me atleast a couple of prayer partners in the campus. I kept claiming "streams in the desert" (lsa 35:6b). My first fruit was Mr. S. R. Ebenezer, a student of the Polytechnic. We met daily for prayer and meditation near the bushes around the Campus. Both of us were staying in a village named Kottaiyur at four kilometers. Daddy had bought for me a very old bicycle which was so warped that the two wheels would not go aligned. By seeing the parallel tyreprints anyone could say that Stanley had bicycled that way!
The moment the lists of new students were put up on the notice board, Ebenezer and I would rush to see whether there were any Christian names. The next year�s list had the name, A. Lionel. I searched for him in the hostel. He was rather scared when he saw me because he thought that I had come to rag him! I invited him to our bush prayer cell to which he instantly agreed. Now we were three! But after a month when the ragging season in the campus was over, Lionel became irregular to the prayer gatherings and he began to dodge eventhough he already had had a rebirth experience. I kept following him up for nearly a year. At that time I didn't understand why I was passionately praying and trying to win this young man. The Spirit fell on him and soon he became another leader for our cell. I discerned that God would use him to lead thousands into the baptism with the Holy Spirit and encouraged him in that direction. I rejoice in my spirit that my labour in the Lord has not gone in vain. All these years he has been my first associate preacher. As a co-founder of the Blessing Youth Mission he is more than my right hand. I thank God for giving him to me to bless my life, my family and my ministry.
The campus prayer cell in Karaikudi was the training ground for my future ministry. There were students in this cell not only from the Engineering College but also the Colleges of Arts, Physical Education and Teachers Training of the Alagappa Campus. After our classes in the evenings each of us would spend atleast half an hour in personal prayer and meditation in the shades of trees and assemble at seven. The meditations especially from the New Testament epistles would throw us into rapturous worship. Sometimes the Spirit of God would burden us unusually to intercede for India with tears. Little did we realise then that the Lord had been preparing a team of leaders for nationwide ministries. "Who can despise the day of small things?" (Zech 4:10). Zerubbabels and Joshuas were in the making!
Our fellowship was named as Gospel Team. We were after the perishing souls. We prepared a tract titled Good News of Deliverance in 1965. This is one of the most popular evangelistic tracts in India, available in ten languages, now titled, Blessing for You! We went on bicycles to nearby villages to preach the gospel, cast out demons and heal the sick. The books and tapes of missionary evangelist T. L. Osborn impacted us terribly. We visited a leper colony weekly with eatables bought with our pocket-money for these untouchable poorest of the poor. How we used to jump with joy if one of them would say he had regained sensation on his dead flesh! We also conducted midweek cottage prayer meetings in some selected Christian homes to strengthen the believers.
My daddy collected money from friends and built the first Church in Kottaiyur and affiliated it to the Church of South India. The members of the Gospel Team were invited to preach to the congregation. There could not have been a better on-the-job training for the college students.
The Karaikudi Campus cell is still growing strong in its 39th year (2002). It keeps sending into the world hundreds of Spirit-filled engineers! Some of them have founded great ministries. I remember Karaikudi every time I read John 15:16, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain."
The Lord honoured me in my studies. I never missed first class though a major portion of my time was spent in prayer gatherings and ministries. This was His sheer grace. Though daddy was particular that I chose Mechanical Engineering, I took up Civil because I felt led so. The principles of building construction are precious in Kingdom building also (1 Cor 3:9-15; Zech 4:10; Mt 7:24-27). I graduated in 1968. Employment opportunities were plenty those days. But I wanted to enjoy student life for some more time! I told the Lord of my desire and applied to the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology and College of Engineering in Chennai for my postgraduate studies. I attended the interviews without any recommendation. To my surprise I got selected in all the three! In fact I stood first in the selection list of two Institutes! The Lord reminded me of Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you!" "Grades" and "seats" added!
I was in a dilemma to choose between Chennai and Bangalore. The garden city was attractive but when I sought the Lord for His will, He guided me to Chennai to join the IIT. I chose Foundation Engineering as the branch of study. Coming from a small town like Nazareth and dry place like Karaikudi, the German-aided IIT Campus with its about 200 acres of fertile land, thousands of deer, huge trees, beautiful roads and multistoreyed buildings was a different world to me. This was my first hostel experience too. The furnished single room was another luxury. Daddy could not send me much financial support because he had to spend for my brother also who was in the prefinal year of his electrical engineering degree. My aunty from Virudhunagar and Mr. A. Sivapragasam of Madurai helped me occasionally besides the monthly stipend of Rs. 250/- from the Institute. I had to manage with just two sets of clothes during the two year course.
The two years, 1968-70, in Chennai gave me a good exposure to various ministries. Each Sunday I would attend the service at the Apostolic Christian Assembly of Pastor G. Sundaram and then the Zion Gospel Prayer Fellowship of Sister Sarah Navaroji. It was in one such service I met Brother K. Ponraj Isaac and we became thick friends. Being away from home, I enjoyed very much the Tirunelveli lunch his wife and mother would serve me after the services. In the evenings Ponraj and I would attend any of the public Gospel meetings. The city of Chennai was and is known for "special" meetings with preachers of "international" repute almost every week. It was good to attend so many programmes but sadly the personal devotional hours were stolen. Believers were getting evangelised again and again rather than being edified.
Gripped with an intensifying passion for souls I was visiting various hostels in the IIT campus to meet with students in their rooms to present the Gospel. Some of the anti-christian hostelers started spreading a rumour that a sixfooter from the M. Tech. course was going from room to room and some money and things were missing! When Dr. Swamidoss, a Christian faculty member, told me of this, I was shocked. I went out into the woods to pray. The Lord reminded me of Matthew 17:20 to speak to that "mountain" of rumour to disappear from the campus. I did it in simple faith. The rumour died the same week! I continued my soulwinning.
During the first year�s summer vacation the Institute expected each postgraduate student to visit a major civil engineering project for study and presentation as a partial requirement for the course. My professor suggested the coastal projects in Bombay or Tuticorin. I had never visited Bombay and it would be a rich experience to spend a month in this gateway city of India. Tuticorin was after all just two hours from my native town Nazareth. But my spiritual mentors had earlier taught me that I must beware of greener pastures while making choices. When I waited before the Lord I was guided to go to Tuticorin. My friends laughed at my decision. The Executive Engineer Mr. A. George under whom I worked in the harbour project at Tuticorin was the one who later proposed his wife�s younger sister Lilian to me whom I married the following year immediately after completing my course!
Of the six students in our class, I scored the highest mark (93%) in the final semester. It was normal for the postgraduates of the IIT to go overseas for doctoral studies. Except me all my classmates applied for the same. I somehow felt that my student life was getting over and the Lord was taking me into the next phase of my life. When I was just winding up things in IIT, there was a letter from my parents that Dr. & Mrs. Muthiah Pandian of Thanjavur had approached them seeking me for their daughter Lilian who was doing senior house surgeoncy in the Christian Medical College, Vellore. I gave an instant yes to my parents because through one of my Karaikudi prayer friends I had already heard enough about Lilian and her parents. As my leaders had taught me I had been also praying for a suitable life-partner since my rebirth. Though I did have an apprehension to marry a girl from a rich family, I had an inner peace about the matter. But when my parents learnt that Lilian was a severe asthmatic they backed out. I was quite disturbed but I left the matter in God�s hands. Job�s confession to the Lord quietened me: "I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). In a couple of months, daddy of his own self decided to reconsider the proposal. I was excited. Lilian and I talked to each other for the first time on the day of our engagement, 20 August 1970. After a month of courtship we got married on the 21st of September in Thanjavur. Rev. Benjamin Selvaratnam of the Apostolic Church in Chennai solemnised the wedding. Both the engagement and marriage functions were like revival meetings! Ours is thus an "arranged love marriage" and it has been a blessing!
Shortly after marriage I was appointed as a faculty in the Regional Engineering College, Tiruchirapalli and Lilian continued in CMC, Vellore. During one of my monthly visits to Vellore, I met with Mr. C. Samuel the then Chief Engineer of the CMC Hospital who had been looking for a well qualified engineer for the Hospital�s new projects. The Director Dr. Webb and the General Superintendent Rev. A. S. Savarirayan were quite impressed with me and I was immediately absorbed. Lilian was selected for the Diploma in Child Health and thus we began our life together in Vellore.
The Blessing Youth Mission was started in 1971. Brother Jeyaraj joined the engineering department of the same hospital next year. In the providence of God he was my first assistant in the profession and is my close associate in the ministry till date. Evangeline was born in 1972. Lilian and I decided to keep our family small in view of her health and for the sake of the Kingdom. The Lord has been good to us in that Lilian�s health improved after our marriage. In fact most of those who know us for years don�t know that she is an asthmatic. God�s grace is sufficient and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
With the increasing ministerial responsibilities I had to choose between engineering and evangelism. I resigned from CMC in 1975. Daddy died in 1973 supposedly due to heart attack. Mummy was with us in Vellore helping in the ministry actively until she died of cancer in 1981. I could not have had better parents. They invested themselves on their sons and succeeded in raising a godly generation. They have left for us no big bank balance but Biblical values. Oh, for more parents like them to bless the Church and the country!
A couple of months after my heart surgery in 1996, Lilian and I had been to Nazareth for rest and relaxation. We attended the Sunday morning service in St. John�s Church, the same church where I was Christened and confirmed. What do you think I would have felt when the lesson read for the day in the service was from Luke 4:16-21? "So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. ...He found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach!" I broke into tears of thankfulness to God who remembered me in my lowly state! Hail the Carpenter of Nazareth!