While Papa always placed the family first, he was also involved with the church community at both the local congregation level and within the bigger Mar Thoma community in Malaysia.

            He did all he could to help the church and Mummy was always enthusiastic in church and all its activities. In fact, of all of Papa’s activities, she was most supportive about his church-related activities. Papa came from the Mar Thoma Church and Mummy from the Jacobite Church in Kerala. Both churches were rich in its many traditions.

            Having been brought up as the son of a Mission school headmaster, to him, service was the outward expression of his faith towards God. He was also usually more committed to the external affairs while the spiritual development of the family at home was left to our Mum.

            Our brother-in-law, Mamman George also made a perfect observation when he pointed out that our Papa was one who believed in putting service above self, having been raised in the Keerikkattu family. As we look back, this explains why most of us are in the Government service and why Papa did not devote much of his time to building his business, as compared to the time he spent giving his service to the community. Mamman puts it in his own words:

 

“As I analyse it, within the Mar Thoma church, there are these two divergent ethos at work. On one hand, there is one group that was after status, money, materialism, while the other group like Papa was more altruistic.”

 

            It can be said that his was a simple faith based on the teachings of his Mar Thoma heritage.  He only had a rudimentary understanding of the Christian faith, but what he had was a simple faith and commitment. We had little “theological issues” which we quarrelled over.  He was not at all overtly legalistic on issues that we raised as children, as we grew up and matured.  He accepted Ravi’s marriage to Doreen, who was an American but was committed to the Lord, and also accepted Vijayan becoming a Catholic with no qualms. In fact, Mummy and Papa also made a convictional stand on an issue that we are all proud of – the fact that they chose not to follow the Malayalee tradition of accepting dowries for girls given in marriage to their sons.

 

 

As a church leader

 

 

            In those days, the Mar Thoma church service was held only once a month in Sungai Petani. As a family, on other Sundays, we used to attend Sunday service at the nearby Anglican Church. As a habit, Mummy and Papa would always be among the first people to arrive for worship service. Papa would be well dressed and made sure that we attended church every Sunday. As a church leader himself, he was never late for church services and meetings.

            We have been taught from young to believe in the Almighty God, honour the priesthood and respect the elders in the church. All our family homes, including our last one at 903 Taman Kg. Raja, Sungai Petani, were the places where priests and bishops could visit and feel the warm welcome. They were treated with great honour and reverence and given all the comforts and conveniences the home could provide. The favourite Kerala dishes were prepared for meals and the bishop or priest was always given the place of honour at the dining table. Such was the hospitality shown by Mummy and Papa towards God’s servants.

            In the Mar Thoma Church government, the Parish Priest is always the President of the Church Executive Committee. Papa was elected and served as the Vice President of Mar Thoma Church in Sungai Petani for over two decades. In short, he was the de facto lay leader of the Mar Thoma community in Sungai Petani. He was reliable, trustworthy and dependable. As one of the senior leaders in church, his opinion was always being sought after. He had also served as the Zonal Representative of the Sungai Petani Parish for more than fifteen years as well as the Executive Council Member of the All Malaya Zonal Assembly for three years from 1956-8. Following his footsteps, Mohan himself also served as the Vice President of the Sungai Petani Parish from 1992 to 2004, when he was working with the Department of Irrigation and Drainage in Sungai Petani and Alor Star, Kedah.

            Being always a community leader in the Mar Thoma Church and a trustee of the lands as well as a Diocesan representative for Sungai Petani also meant that everyone throughout the Mar Thoma Community in Malaysia and Singapore knew him, at least by name. When Mummy passed away, a number of the church leaders and members of the Mar Thoma Community came for the memorial service. It was an expression of the solidarity of the Mar Thoma Community in Malaysia.

 

 

Building a new church

 

            In 1992, the small Sungai Petani Mar Thoma congregation decided to put up a community centre in a one-acre piece of land belonging to the Mar Thoma Parish. That choice piece of land, just two kilometres away from the town centre and near to the Christian cemetery, was purchased in 1955 for a sum of RM4000. This was also at the initiative of our Papa and other church leaders; their strong desire to see the Mar Thoma congregation established and growing gave them the foresight to invest in that property. He was also involved in the purchase of the first house for the Priest at No. 1-A, Jalan Kolam Air in Sungai Petani. 

            One of his life-long dreams was to build a Community Hall for the Mar Thoma Church in Sungai Petani. It could only happen because he and Mohan became an unbeatable pair for the Lord. It was then in 1992, together with Papa, that Mohan worked hard in raising funds to build the Mar Thoma Community Centre (MTCC) for the use of the Mar Thoma and other Christian congregations. The leaders called it a ‘Community Centre’ in the spirit that all church buildings belong to the Bride of Christ, or the “one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” We are only stewards of the assets assigned to us.

            The decision to build the MTCC was made after many hours of deliberation by church members and a whole day of fasting and prayer. The majority of the members who were worshipping at the rented church building were young people. There were only about six or seven working members.  Bible studies, prayer meetings and Sunday School classes were part of the church activities. In those days and as is the practice today, whenever the priest was there, they had a Holy Communion, but in the absence of the priest, the church would carry out a Divine Service where no communion would be served. Mohan and the other young people started a second service in a month, a Divine Service, from May 1993 and finally, upon completion of the MTCC, brought the number of services to a weekly meeting.

            It wasn’t easy to raise the building fund to RM450,000, but God had His own way of seeing His house being completed on time. While there were times when no contributions were coming in, one day, Papa received an envelope through the mail. The letter was addressed to Mohan, but there was a second envelope within, which had Papa’s name written legibly on it. When father and son opened the envelope on that afternoon, they were surprised to see some RM4,850 cash in the envelope. It was rare that money in the form of cash could be sent by normal post without being stolen, but God’s hand was apparently overseeing the delivery of the amount to top up the building fund.

            As Mohan describes it: “Just the day before, we were discussing how we could meet the commitment of RM450,000. After so much efforts, we only had some RM100,000 in the building fund. It was a real miracle! Until today, we do not know who the sender was. It had a Petaling Jaya postmark. All that we know is that God had used the incident to remind us of His faithfulness.”

            The building project took three years to obtain the approval from the local authorities and another year for construction. Someone had suggested to Mohan that they offered some bribes to expedite the approval process, but Papa and Mohan were convinced that since God had approved their project, the whole process for completion of the project should honour him. In God’s own timing, after receiving the approval from the authorities, God also prepared the right contractors to help build the church. The project was awarded to a Methodist contractor, John Ooi, who took it upon himself to build the Lord’s house.

            The architect, Kang Pee Kim, and the quantity surveyor, Ong Tok Min, were also Christians. Mr. Kang charged the minimum cost for his consultancy and Mr. Ong completed his task at no cost. After one year of hard work, finally, the beautiful community centre, which had a seating capacity of 300, was completed in December 1997 at the cost of RM450,000. The official opening on January 3, 1998, attended by some 300 members, was graced by the Right Reverend Thomas Mar Timotheus, who was the Diocesean bishop in charge of the Mar Thoma community in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

 

Burnt Down, Time to Rebuild

 

            In 2001, Papa, who had been conferred his Datukship, was attending the Senior Citizen’s meeting one morning. The phone rang. “Datuk, I am sorry to inform you that your church is totally burnt down,” the OCPD of Sungai Petani broke the news. When the OCPD realized that Papa was turning emotional, he immediately comforted him, “Don’t cry, Datuk. We will do our best to investigate and bring the culprits to face justice.”

            Mohan was then working in Alor Star. He, too, rushed to the scene. When the fire started early in the morning at about 5am, the Fire Brigade arrived but failed to save the building. When all the church members were gathered there that morning, Mohan was dumbfounded. His tears rolled down his cheeks as he looked on the ashes: “I could not help crying because we had all put our hearts and souls into the building of the Mar Thoma Community Centre.” The efforts which Papa and Mohan had put into were gone in a few hours!

            According to eyewitnesses from the Sixth Malay Regiment located just next door, the church was attacked by arsonists, who had thrown the Molotov cocktails into the building. The arsonists were suspected to be Muslim extremists known as the Kumpulan Militant Muslim (KMM). Arson work by the KMM was also happening in other parts of the country. Later, it was clear that they were not the people involved, but until today, police investigation has not revealed the party at fault. In fact, the day before the church was burnt to the ground, there had been one other failed attempt to destroy the church. Despite a police report being lodged, there was no action undertaken to protect the church building.

            Inspired to rebuild it, a determined Mohan and Papa quickly swung into action again. For the first time, Papa wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the Government immediately contributed RM100,000 towards the building fund. Another RM200,000 was raised from the compensation paid by the insurance company, but it wasn’t enough to start building. Somehow, by God’s providence, money started pouring in to rebuild Mar Thoma Community Centre. While the building was being built, the congregation was meeting in Vijayan’s home, which had been left vacant for some time. The community centre was finally rebuilt to a better building in 2002.

 

In Retrospect

 

            Much of our Papa’s service to the Mar Thoma Church was out of his traditional faith in GOD passed down for generations. As Mohan observes, Papa’s faith and hope always made him strive on even when the situation was bleak. He never believed in giving up and found ways and means to overcome the problem. To Mummy and Papa, God is an all-encompassing and ever present reality in their lives! They never questioned nor doubted God. Even at 80 plus years old, he was one who went early to open up the church for others to worship. He was a simple and humble servant in the eyes of God and of men. It was only later in life that Papa had an assurance of salvation in a very personal and private way.

 

 

 

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