Mrs. Starla Luke Granddaughter of Pastor Chacko Vice-President of IBC & Seminary
Kumbanad Married to Major V. I. Luke
“Chacko Garu” is how our Appachen, Pastor P T Chacko was fondly and respectfully addressed by the Christian community of Andhra Pradesh. Pastor P.T. Chacko, my maternal grandfather was handsome and always well turned out. His was an unassuming personality that never failed to impress anyone.
My earliest memories of dear Appachen is that he was a stickler for perfection – be it in literacy matters, public speaking, cleanliness or evangelism. Doing well and whole heartedly whatever he undertook was his life goal. I had the privilege of being raised as his fifth grandchild imbibing some invaluable lessons by just observing him on a daily basis. Living with Appachen in the same home, my siblings – Valson, Molly, Shirley and I grew up learning a lot more in our ‘faith home’ in Secunderabad, than what one would in a good finishing school and seminary put together!
Our family devotion times, every morning and evening, were held punctually at our home in Philadelphia, Secunderabad. On school holidays the family prayer was held in the afternoon as well. Each time we were made to read scripture passages out loud with proper enunciation. Appachen corrected and drilled us until he was certain we got it right. Appachen insisted that our reading of God’s Holy word must give first time listeners a good understanding of the scripture. He did not want people to lose out on any opportunity to hear or respond to the gospel message simply because of slackness in Bible reading.
Appachen often quoted to us this old adage when he wanted to teach us to put things in their proper places- ‘Matter in the wrong place is dirt’. We learnt from him to keep ourselves and our surroundings neat and tidy. He had us scrub the wash basin and toilets until they were sparkling. It was clean enough for Appachen only when he could read the name of sanitary company inscribed on it! He instilled in us a great sense of responsibility towards the property we lived in, since it was also a worship place; tardy or sloppy maintenance was never excused. I am reminded of Jimmy, our pet black Alsatian dog. Much as everyone in the family loved him, we all dreaded our turn to pick his ‘royal’ droppings from the Philadelphia grounds. So, Jimmy’s ‘relief’ time, was our ‘drill’ time!
Walking down a street with Appachen was another experience altogether. As we walked under the Oliphant Bridge – he made us hold our handkerchiefs against our nostrils to keep the smoke and dust out. Appachen also made us pick up any banana peel off the street or footpath – lest anyone coming after us should slip/trip and fall.
He did not waste anything – not even the used bus tickets. He saved them to make interesting drawings or write a brief message to hand out to the next person he met.
Just three days before Appachen went to be with the Lord he was talking to my husband, Georgie. Appachen told him that he should not serve two masters – he must chose to serve either the government of this world or the heavenly government. He was indicating God’s call upon my husband’s life to serve the Lord full time. The next morning (22 August, 1988) around 6.00 o’clock Appachen spoke to Georgiechayan just before he was to take the train to Rajasthan where he was then posted. Right after the early morning family prayer, Appachen although physically very weak, sent Georgie to his work place with these words, “May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob go with you and bless you”. This was Appachen’s last verbal conversation/communication and thereafter his health started failing even further. On 24th August at 5 a.m. family members were present around Appachen’s bed singing and after family prayer, Appachen breathed his last and entered eternal rest!
His spirit of evangelism was very contagious ! He very often declared that none of us had a right to eat a meal until we had witnessed Christ to someone. He believed that ‘testimony time’ ought to be held on the streets and not inside the four walls of the church. Appachen made sure the church went out right after Sunday worship service (a time when one was most hungry!) to the street corner, to call out a few Bible verses and sing. One of his favorites songs was –
‘Hindu Desham anthayu eppudu Yesuku Swantham
Aguchunnado? Andhakaaram Tholagi Velugunchu
Kaalamu Thondharalo Raavali’
(When will I see Hindustan (India) belong to Jesus? May the Light dawn speedily, wiping out all darkness)
And another much loved song was ‘
‘Megham Meedha Yesu Swami Vachuchunnadu …’
(Jesus, our Lord comes on the clouds…)
Evangelism, in Appachen’s understanding, was neither a call meant for pastors alone nor a mere Sunday affair, He taught us that it must be a daily practice. As school kids, while getting ready for school, Appachen often had a pack of gospel tracts ready for us to give away. That is how we were taught ‘tract distribution’.
Appachen never desired for position or power in any sense. He carried himself with dignity and people looked up to him wherever he went. He did not need the props of a title to lean on to. He was a great personal evangelist who remained obedient to his call until his end. He was very forthright and yet was very pleasing in manners and decorum. His messages were very simple, direct and always talked of the perishing souls and passionately urged believers take up their responsibility towards such people. He often challenged all age groups in ways they most easily understood without hurting any sentiments and therefore earned much regard and respect from each believer. He spoke Telugu as well as any native did and therefore identified very well with the local people. He loved the land and the people of Andhra Pradesh. He loved them enough to teach them God’s eternal Word and be buried amidst them.
He was much loved for his terrific sense of humor which he used well to strike a conversation with strangers. In 1984, my sister Shirley with my friends Archana and Shagufta were accompanying Appachen by train from Secunderabad to Kerala to attend our wedding. There was a bunch of youngsters in the same compartment, some of who were smoking. Appachen engaged them in a conversation, advised them against the dangers of smoking and light heartedly told them that if God intended for man to smoke cigarettes, he would have created man with a chimney on his head. This broke the ice and from there the conversation moved to other areas. After making them comfortable and seeing their hearts open up to him, he shared with them the message of salvation.
Appachen was editor of The Gospel Herald – the first Christian monthly publication in the English language from among the Kerala Pentecostal community. He kept his language very simple yet conveyed powerful thoughts. He always corrected others in their spoken and written English, Malayalam and Telugu languages–this he did on a personal level without causing offence.
His drive for perfection in writing was not limited to his own articles–he corrected spelling mistakes even on shop name boards and billboards. He initiated me into ‘proof reading’ as a young girl when he took me with him to the press where the ‘Gospel Herald’ was being and printed. I even remember a couple of instances when we had to manually correct spelling mistakes or even punctuation marks in each copy of the printed magazine before they were mailed out. Sticking the wrapper around the folded magazine, neatly writing the addresses and gluing the stamps to the wrapper using a homemade gooey paste (a good old ‘glue’ substitute) were the jobs we grandkids did to help with the ‘literature ministry’. All of that training I received as a young girl has stood me in good stead, both as teacher and as I work with the revive magazine today.
It was in August 1983 that my husband, Goergiechayan, first visited us in the Faith Home. He was on Annual Leave from the snowy mountains of Sikkim, where he was serving in the Indian army. He was visiting his sister and family in Hyderabad when he came to the church service at Philadelphia. Georgiechayan was attracted to my grandfather seeing his zeal for the Word and burden for the lost souls. Both of them took an immediate liking to each other. Appachen had a charm and charisma that was rare. The grace of God was naturally evident on his face that always remained radiant.
Appachen’s spirit of evangelism appealed to Georgiechayan the most. The earnestness with which he called passers-by to the gate and told them about Jesus stirred up in him a greater passion for the lost. Appachen’s anecdotes and life experiences loaded with humor, made it all the more appealing to learn how God opened up strange ways to share the gospel to unbelievers. Stories of how he faced persecution from religious fundamentalists motivated believers to preach Christ without counting the cost.
Some of quotes he used often, that impacted many lives and that inspired us have been scattered throughout this book on various pages.
Appachen used acronyms to explain Christ, making it easy for us to remember the message. His favorite and most striking one is:
We desire to serve God unquestioningly and with a passion that will only increase each day. Appachen’s love for the Lord, His Word or his passion to win souls did not decrease with age, health or time. Similarly, it is our prayer that we too will love Christ, His Word and the unsaved with a greater love each passing day.