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Profiles of Mennonite Faith

No. 24, Summer 2003

Tarnikal: “Jesus is Coming Again to Our Village”

“Jesus is coming again to our village,” said Bala Mysaiah. Bala was not talking about the Second Coming of Christ, but rather about the return of a Mennonite Brethren congregation to her village after a thirty-five year absence. Bala Mysaiah is about 55 years old. He is a poor, daily laborer in the village of Tarnikal. He was drunk when he spoke these words, but he was speaking accurately about the past. “Yes I drink,” he said. “Do you know why? Since the death of our pastor thirty-two years ago, there has been nobody to teach us, and we went astray. Now we are once again very happy that Jesus God is returning to our village.”

Tarnikal is a small village of about one thousand people, located in the Andhra Pradesh State of India. Aaron, my grandfather, was the first evangelist to the village in the late 1940s and subsequently became pastor of the village church until his death in 1968. After gaining a seventh-grade education and some pastoral training Aaron, traveling by horseback, began to evangelize among several villages, including Tarnikal. In addition to sharing the message of salvation he taught many to read and write. He encouraged many youth in various villages to pursue education. People in the village who came from the lowest strata of society today testify that they were able to obtain good positions because of the path of light shown by Pastor Aaron.

Though Tarnikal was a small village, it seemingly was a favorite among North American missionaries. Herman Warkentin is said to have baptized about forty-five people who received the gospel through the ministry of Pastor Aaron. For many years the village enjoyed regular worship services with an attendance of up to seventy persons. North American missionaries came to celebrate special events and those occasions are still recalled by the villagers.

Pastor Aaron and his wife had five sons and two daughters. They all left the village to pursue education and various vocations. After the death of their father in 1968 they seldom visited the village. This resulted in an end to regular worship services until January 2000.

The motivation to revive the ministry in the village came to me during my visit to North America in 1999. I began a talk to a gathering at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno by saying that “I am a third-generation Christian. Both my grandfathers served as pastors of Indian Mennonite Brethren congregations.” There followed a gap of silence on my part and tears rolled from my eyes. I do not know whether the audience understood that day what I meant by that statement. I remembered and thanked God for my grandfathers, who were some of the first converts from the bottom levels of society and who came into full-time ministry and served the Lord faithfully until their deaths. At that point, I realized that it was through the blessings of my grandparents and parents that God had raised me and given me such opportunities.

When I returned home to India, I shared with a group of students at the Centenary Bible College in Shamshabad my vision to restart regular worship services in Tarnikal. In November 1999 I visited Tarnikal along with others who had a desire to renew a Mennonite Brethren ministry there because of the blessings that had been received through the ministry of Pastor Aaron.

During that initial visit we met Mariamma, an eighty-six year old woman. For the past thirty-one years Mariamma’s ambition and prayer had been to revive worship and build a church in the village. God heard the prayers of Mariamma and several others and opened the doors of Tarnikal to once again experience God’s love. On January 16, 2000, we held the village’s first worship service in over thirty years. The worship took place on the deserted site where Aaron’s house was once located and where he died.

The initial service was a moving experience for the forty people who attended. One person who is unable to read brought a sixty-year old Bible given to one of the villagers by Pastor Aaron, which he said was always under his pillow at night. The most joyful moment was when thirty-year-old Devaiah, son of the widow Mariamma, indicated his desire for full-time Christian ministry.

The seed of the Gospel that fell in the tiny village sixty years ago was not planted in vain. Jesus is coming again to the village of Tarnikal.