My Tribute to A Missionary, Father and above all a cherished Grandfather….
In the early 1900’s was born a son to a prosperous Kshatriyan Zamindar in Pacode district, Marthandam. He lived in the lap of luxury for the most of his boyhood until one day as all things come to an end his good fortune too came to an end.
Very less is known about my Grandpa’s early childhood. However, we do know that when he was still in the prime of his youth my Grandpa made a difficult and courageous decision to join the Christian Faith.
Around that time Christian missionaries flocked to India with the idea of spreading the Gospel in an alien land. A few Seventh Day Adventist Americans reached our hometown and it marked the turning point of my Grandfather’s life. As a practising Hindu; a Pujari’s Grandson and a zamindar’s son, things did not look too bright. Being the eldest son, it was a rude shock for the family, which continued in its beliefs. More than the family it was the societal pressures that could bog down a man. Although he knew the problems he would face, Grandpa converted to the Christian faith at a time when those who primarily converted were mostly those who belonged to the lower rungs of the Caste hierarchy. A switch of faith especially for a young lad of the Higher Caste spelt trouble more than you and I can ever imagine. But, if there’s one thing that we ‘Abrahams’ are proud about, it is our willingness to fight against the tide. Some may call it obstinacy, we call it Persistence. Grandpa not only completed but aced his Teacher’s Training in both Tamil and Malayalam which was commendable for the circumstances he was going through. Fluent in all three languages of Tamil, Malayalam and English he was an asset to any organisation he was associated with. Apart from being a Tamil Pundit, he was well acquainted with natural remedies and Ayurveda, a boon that has now passed on to his grandson and my eldest cousin.
Soon, Grandpa was married to a beautiful lady, my grandmother. She was blessed not only with external beauty that was worth a person’s admiration, she was blessed with a beautiful and a loving heart. She too was a devout Hindu and you are right in imagining an old- timer with her ears sagging under the weight of her gold.
Coming back, my Grandpa, Mr. Yovan Abraham began to serve as a Tamil Pundit at the Adventist school. Grandpa gifted a portion of his land to the Adventist Mission to build a church. He broke the tradition by opening the family well to all -people irrespective of their caste. He studied Theology in detail at the Training Centre at Bangalore. Soon, he was appointed as a Tamil Teacher at the Boarding School at Prakashapuram.
A capable Teacher, the American Missionaries recognised my Grandpa’s talent of Teaching and inducted him into Preaching as well. He was assigned his first job as a Church Pastor and Teacher at Karianandal. His beginning was not a smooth sailing one even in the Faith. When he reached Karianandal he was faced with stiff resistance from the Natives who did not want him to establish a Church there. For them an alien Church and faith entering the village was equal to a colonisation in itself. It took a sick child of the Sarpanch (village head) to bring these people to their senses. The twelve year old daughter of the village head was very ill. The family tried every natural remedy available. There was not a single vaid (village doctor) that they did not approach just to cure their daughter. Hospitals were a rarity and hence out of the question. Grandpa, was an unwelcome guest in the village, but out of respect was allowed to reside there till the time he did not interfere in the affairs of the villagers. But, he could not resist. Grandpa went to the Panch’s house and prayed for the child. By this time the child’s family had given up all hope. Grandpa sat near the child’s bed and prayed. While he prayed the stunned family members wondered at his chivalry to even step into the Sarpanch’s house. When he finished praying, Grandpa assured the child’s mother that the child would indeed live. As he was leaving he told the family that he would return to check on the child the next day. The family warned him that the wrath of the Sarpanch could cost him his life. That evening, the Sarpanch reached home and was told that this Christian man had come and prayed for his daughter. The anger of the Sarpanch was kindled to the extent that he sat sharpening the knife the whole night so that he would kill my Grandpa the next day, if he did come.
Grandpa arose the next morning finished his daily duties and later that evening reached the house of the Sarpanch. A few well- wishers informed him of the fatal plan that the child’s father had in mind. Undeterred by their pleas to return, Grandpa reached the house of the Sarpanch. Call it faith or a miracle, that evening, my Grandpa not only prayed for the child, he was not harmed by the Sarpanch. The moment of epiphany came when the child began to respond to the treatment and soon was as fit as a fiddle. Grandpa stayed in this very place for six long years where no Missionary stayed beyond three to six months. His preaching led many to accept the faith.
My Grandfather’s life was in danger as a lot many people attempted to kill him. Each time it was God’s grace that he miraculously escaped. But these incidents did have repercussions on my Grandmother' health. Tragedy struck hard, when my Grandfather lost his first and second born. But, his faith continued to be as strong as it had been. He accepted it as a part of the Divine Plan for him.
Soon, Grandpa returned to Prakashapuram, this time as a Church Pastor. He continued his mission service here till he was assigned to go to Lowry Memorial School, a prominent Adventist institute at Bangalore. Petty politics and his adamant attitude not to suffer injustice often- times brought him in cross roads with the authorities. My Grandpa neither succumbed to the incorrigible authorities nor did he give up the two things he loved, his ‘Faith’ and his ‘Family.’ He was blessed with six healthy and loving children. The five lads with my aunt as their only sister and the apple of her father’s eye brought my Grandparents joy even in tumultuous times. My grandmother too had by then accepted the faith whole- heartedly.
The reason I have carefully refrained from mentioning my own Dad’s name anywhere is because he is one of the youngest members of the family.
Misfortune struck the family again when my dad a young lad of twelve was struck with double pneumonia. The family had already lost another son, dad’s first cousin, earlier that year. He was dad’s best friend too. It is said that his death could have been the reason for my dad’s illness. The already bereaved family was now on the verge of losing a second son. Everyone, this time including my Grandfather believed that his life was slowly fading. However, jut a how King David prayed incessantly for his child, Grandpa too prayed without ceasing. It was a miracle that my Father survived.
A few years later, Grandpa got in touch with Pastor Skau another Adventist missionary. It was then that my Grandparents were sent to Salisbury Park, Pune. Soon, Grandpa was appointed as the Assistant-Editor of the Tamil daily Nallavalli and continued to serve as a Preacher at the SDA Church, Pune.
Soon, my aunt began to work for the Voice of Prophesy and my uncle too left for Singapore. Petty politics was something my Grandfather completely detested. In the mid- 1950’ he left Pune.
My dad was just sixteen when, one Sabbath morning my Grandfather passed away.
Apart from his preaching, this amazing man spent his time in comparative study of The Bible, The Koran and The Bhagvad Gita.
In his last sermon, Grandpa’s words resonated in the Church,
“God’s finger is ready to write, are our hearts prepared?”
I am one of the unfortunate ones to never have met this noble- heart but I am thankful to him because I have his clone in my Dad. Today we have a school established in Kanniyakumari, dedicated to my Grandpa.
His entire life my grandpa imparted Discipline, Dedication and Faith to all. These values were, are and always will be the three pillar foundation for our Family.
Most of what I have written today would have been impossible without the chronicling of the events by my Uncle and currently the Abraham family Patriarch, Mr. Jeyasingh Abraham.
Each family is rich in its history and heritage. It takes a little effort on our part to return to our roots and this is the product of my miniscule attempt.