Testimony: A native catechist’s account of himself

The below testimony was first published in The Church Missionary Juvenile Instructor (1860) and then in The Church Missionary Gleaner (1862).

The following account is interesting. The writer is Vedhamanikkam Sandhosham, at present labouring as an assistant catechist at Madras with our Missionary the Rev. W. Gray. It traces out the Lord’s dealings with him: how he was led out of thick darkness, step by step, into the marvellous light of the Gospel, and how, from being a devil-worshipper, he has become not only a Christian, but a teacher of Christ to others.

Map of Tinnevelly, South India, 1851

My father’s name, before his conversion, was Thalavay-thethar-appen. His native village was Satthankullam, in Tinnevelly. My mother’s name was Kaliani. Their native village was Asirvadhapuram, formerly Peikulam (Devil’s tank). They were both, so far as this world’s matters were concerned, very well off; and so, leaving to coolies their work of cultivating the soil, my father devoted his time almost entirely to the reading of heathen books, the settling of village disputes, the curing of diseases by mantrams, and the casting out of devils by sorcery. My mother was a bigoted heathen. As the name of her village, so was her own heart (Peikulam). Though she might neglect her own food, she would_never neglect the worship of the devil. So it was, that in our house there was a room, and in our yard a pagoda, for the devil’s use. My eldest brother, who is now a catechist, was then priest to the devil. In addition to these, we had, in connexion with our relatives, five other Coils for the devil’s worship. I have to relate with tears that we gave to the devil our soul, body, wealth, everything we had. We were blind. as to God, heaven’s bliss, and our own bad state. In this state of blindness, God gave to my father seven male children: their names were the names of the devils we worshipped, viz. Sudaleimuttu, Palavesamuttu, Nallakannu, Ramalingam, Kothimuttu, Perumal, and Suppean. My father sent us all, from time to time, to a heathen school. We all have bad some education.

Though our internal state was thus wretched, our external matters flourished. Therefore it was that my father, feeling that all was well, that he had property, children, &c., in abundance, and thinking that his idols were all-powerful, went on worshipping them as before. Though our affairs, as far as regards our souls, were thus dark, light had entered into our village. In the year 1840, when I was eight years of age, my mother was attacked with a severe disease. Finding no help from the native doctors, she went to the Rev. C. Blackman, who was then Missionary in the place, and he (Mr. Blackman), and another gentleman who was with him, having come to our house with medicine, first prayed, and then gave medicine. On that day, for the first time, prayer was offered to God. On that day a ray of the light of the knowledge of God shone in our dwelling. On that day was opened up a way for God to enter into our house. On that day it became known to us—shepherdless ones—that there was a Shepherd and a Saviour. This is a day for all our family to remember. My father and mother and. brothers observed with astonishment the Missionaries making prayer. The Missionaries told them at that time that all men were patients, suffering from a severe disease, and that Jesus Christ was the remedy provided for all such sinners. Thus things went on for a month. The disease abated not. My family, under the impression that only by offering worship to the devil the disease would depart, going in every direction, got ready plantains, cocoa-nuts, rice, fowls, sheep, chatties, etc. ; they wreathed garlands of flowers, and cast lots in the devil temple according to custom, to determine whether the disease would be fatal or not. The lot came out that she would die, and so they stopped the worship of the devil, and took the Missionaries’ medicine. Notwithstanding, my mother died. “My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts not your thoughts.” “Out of the eater came forth meat, out of the strong came forth sweetness.” “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” So, according to these passages of God’s word, it happened to my family. Upon my mother’s death, my father and elder brothers got exceedingly enraged with the devil, pulled down the devil houses in the house and garden, flung out all the furniture belonging thereto, cooked and eat all the victuals that had been provided for the feast to the devil, and consented that the Missionaries should come in and hold service in our house. We all sat down and listened attentively, received little books from the Missionaries, and read them.

By this means, although the devil was cast out of our house, he was not yet dispossessed from our minds. While things were in this state, the Rev. J. T. Tucker came (in 1842) to our village, to reside in it.

Rev. J. T. Tucker, CMS Missionary

Just at this time my three eldest brothers were very severely attacked with cholera, and my father having no one to help him, or to give medicine, Mr. Tucker’s care of us and kindness to us was very great, and such as we can never forget. For twenty-two days he was unceasing in his kind offices towards us. They all three of them recovered, and the idea became fixed in my father’s mind that the God of the Christians was the only true God. We began then to go to the house of God. My second eldest brother, who had just recovered, received baptism from the Missionary, and tried hard to bring us all to a knowledge of God’s word. The Rev. J. Devasagayam came next to the district, and was very kind to us, and gave us much instruction, with a view to our all receiving baptism. And so, having thus received instruction, my father and my brothers and myself received baptism. My father’s name was called Sandhosham. To my brothers and myself were given the names of Suviseshamuttu, Gnanapragasam, Samuel, Gurubadham, Vedhamanikkam, and Masillamani. My second eldest brother, who had first received baptism, had been called Pakkianadhan.

I was myself the youngest but one. My name was Perumal before. I was eleven years of age when I was baptized. To God be all praise, who magnified his mercy in pardoning us who had before lived for the pleasures of this world, and had made the devil our only god.

In 1844, the Rev. J. Devasagayam placed me in his boarding school. At that time I was twelve years of age, and I remained in this school up to 1851. During that time, God, in mercy upon his humble servant, having brought me into a school where I could get good learning, gave me also good and pious teachers, and a worthy schoolfellow, who was a good companion to me. All this was a great help to me in reading the Bible, in private prayer, and private self-examination. My lessons in school, and my private reading at this time, was chiefly the Bible. On every Saturday evening, the Rev. J. Devasagayam used to send every boy to pray privately. This was very pleasant to some of us, to others not so. On the first of January of the new year, the custom was for every boy to go and write in a small book the state of his own soul, and compare it with what it was the new year before. All this I attended to very carefully. However, I fear I did so, partly to get Mr. Devasagayam’s favour, partly to be praised by my neighbours, partly in the hope of getting a little money by being quick in repeating texts, as Mr. Devasagayam used to give each boy a little present in money who did so.

In the year 1846, a severe disease having come on, I was near death. My father and brothers came and sat down by my side and wept. God, however, blessed the medicines given, and restored me. When I thought at that time that death was near, I thought much of my sins, and wept much, and prayed much. I made, at that time, the resolution, that as God had preserved me to be a good boy, I should henceforth not be a deceitful Christian, for I could not deceive God. From that time forward was consolation in my mind, and in my life was a change; and so I said to the Missionary that I wished to be confirmed, and to come to the Lord’s Table. After this, for three months he taught me much of the love of God, of Jesus Christ’s precious sufferings, in a manner that affected my mind very much. After this I received confirmation from Bishop Dealtry, and, by the consent of Mr. Devasagayam, I was admitted to the Lord’s Table.

About this time the Rev. T. G. Ragland, having come to Kadatchapuram, gave me, as prizes, Watts’s ” Scripture History” and Rhenius’s “Body of Divinity,” and also asked Mr. John Devasagayam to send me to the new institution, which was then formed for catechists in Palamcotta. When I heard this, I was very thankful, and rejoiced and gave thanks to God, who had had regard to the humility of his servant. Thus, by little and little, the dawn of piety, which by God’s grave had begun within me, gradually grew and was strengthened.

then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever [is] on the LORD’s side–[come] to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him.

Exod 32:26

In 1851, I was taken into the Preparandi in Palamcotta. The first Sunday I was there, Mr. Sargent preached on the text, Exodus xxxii. 26, and he showed the marks of those who were and those who were not God’s people in a very striking way. My heart was much smitten within me. I said, “Alas! I have not given the whole of my heart to God; the whole of that sermon was preached for me.” With this thought in my mind about myself and my own state, I went into my room, prayed, read the story of the prodigal son; wrote down all my distresses of mind in my little notebook; reflected how that hitherto my piety was altogether connected with outward duties and observances, and that the new heart was not mine; resolved that henceforward I would be a servant of God, and in every way deny sin, seeking, not my own selfish purposes, but God’s glory only, and not from others telling me, but of my own accord; and determined, with the aid of the Spirit of God, to seek a new heart from God. God assisted me to keep this purpose, which I had made with prayers and tears. Moreover, the hearing every week of Mr. Sargent’s sermons, observing his manner of life for two years and a half, and all the appointed rules, &c., were great helps to me with regard to the advancement of piety.

On September 28, 1852, I married Pakkiam, one of the girls of Mr. Sargent’s school, and this is an event for which I have always reason to be thankful to God. In 1852, the Rev. S. Hobbs sent my eldest brother Samuel to the Preparandi, an event for which I was very grateful to God. In 1853, my father became very ill, and having felt that his time was drawing near, and wishing me to come to see him, I got leave from Mr. Sargent, and went to his village. I was with my sick father for four days; and, having seen the tears he shed, the earnest prayers he made, his constant reading of the Bible, the good advice on religion he gave to both Christians and heathen, young and old, who came to see him; finally, the blessings he pronounced on his children, and the way in which he yielded up his spirit into the hands of God; I could not but exclaim inwardly, ” May God give me grace to die in the way in which the head of our family has died!”

In 1853, I was sent out, for the first time, as a catechist to Dohnavur, to Mr. Foulkes. Mr. Foulkes committed to my charge the congregation of the village of Dohnavur, and also the charge of twenty heathen villages around; and gave my wife the charge of the girls’ boarding school. I continued in this post till May 1860, asking God for the grace and wisdom and humility necessary for the discharge of it. Within those years- six Missionaries came to the district. I had some fruits from my labour, enough to be an earnest of a harvest hereafter. During these years, God was gracious to my brother Samuel also, in that he also was sent to the Preparandi, and afterwards became an itinerator in North Tinnevelly with Mr. Ragland. In these years, at Dohnavur, were born to me three children. The eldest, Daniel, God has taken away from us. The second, Jane Mary, seven years of age, is now learning in Mrs. Gray’s boarding school. The third, Edward, three years and a half old, is at home.

God in his mercy having done me great kindness, the thought came to me that I would like to go to other places and preach the Gospel. And so, with the consent of Mr. Sargent, and at the request of Mr. Foulkes, then in Madras, I set out for Madras. By God’s mercy I continue there to this day preaching to small and great, and bearing witness for Jesus Christ; and with his help I am resolved, until my spirit returns to Him who gave it., to continue his servant.

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