Felix Immanuel

Disciple of Jesus Christ

A native catechist's account of himself

Written by Felix Immanuel | 17 July 2018
This testimony was published at The Church Missionary Gleaner - Page 93 in August 1862. The writer is describing about the conversion story of his father Sandhosham who is also my great-great-great-great-grandfather, my direct paternal ancestor. This is the story of how my ancestors who were once in thick darkness, worshiping devils and how they were led into the light of Life, Jesus Christ.

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.

My father's name, before his conversion, was Thalanay-thethár-appen. His native village was Satthankullam, in Tinnevelly. My mother's name was Kaliáni. 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, every thing 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 Suppeam. My father sent us all, from time to time, to a heathen school. We all have had 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, &c.; 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 '" 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.

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 Sandhósham. 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 grace had begun within me, ually grew and was strengthened.

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 note book; 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.

Vedhamanikkam Sandhosham, Assistant catechist, Madras, 1862

Below are the list of short biography of missionaries mentioned in the above testimony to give the context of missionary work. The biographies were taken from the following link. I thank God for sending all these men as missionaries to deliver my ancestors from clutches of satan.

WILLIAM GRAY was born in Ireland in 1829. He was a Scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, and graduated B.A. in 1852, being Gold Medallist of the year and taking a first class in Logic and Ethics. He was ordained deacon in 1854 at Norwich, and priest in 1854 at Cork. In 1856 he was appointed Vice-Principal of the Doveton College, Madras. In 1858 he offered his services to the C.M.S.; they were accepted, and he was sent to North Tinnevelly. From 1858 to 1866 he was secretary of the Corresponding Committee at Madras. In the latter year he returned to England. Subsequently he became Rector of St. Paul's, Lincoln, for a short time; and then Secretary of the Home Committee. This appointment he held from 1874 to 1894. Source: CMS Missionaries (Rev Frank Perry, The Church In Madras 1904)

CHARLES BLACKMAN Born at Chatham 1801; educated at the C.M.S. College, Islington; ordained at London; arrived at Madras 1830, and appointed headmaster of the school for the sons of missionaries; in 1831 he succeeded Sawyer as head of the Perambore Mission; in 1835 he was sent to Palamcottah to assist Pettitt to restore order in that mission; returned home and resigned 1842. He became Vicar of Chesham Bois, Bucks, and died in 1868. Source: SPCK Missionaries 1805 to 1835 (Rev Frank Perry, The Church In Madras 1904)

COLIN THOMAS TUCKER was born in England in 1818. He was at the C.M. College, Islington, 1839-41; was ordained deacon 1841, and priest 1842, by the Bishop of London. In 1842 he went to Tinnevelly and worked there for 24 years. He took the Rev. John Thomas, of Mengnanapuram, as his model and worked as he worked. His centre was the village of Paneivilei. There he built a large Church; and in the district round about he built 48 village Churches. He died in England in 1866. A memoir of his life and work was written by the Rev. G. Pettitt. Source: CMS Missionaries (Rev Frank Perry, The Church In Madras 1904)

THOMAS DEALTRY was a son of the third Bishop of Madras; he graduated B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1847, and proceeded M.A. in 1850. He was ordained deacon in 1848, and priest in 1849, at Norwich, his first curacy being at Raydon, in Suffolk. In 1850 he was appointed a Chaplain by the Court of Directors. He served as Domestic Chaplain to his father from 1850 to 1858; then he did parochial work at Bangalore till 1861, when he was appointed Archdeacon and returned to Madras. Upon his retirement in 1871, he became Rector of Swillington, near Leeds, 1872-78, and Vicar of Maidstone, 1878- 83, in which latter year he died. In Madras he suffered some what from his early promotion; for he passed over the heads of many seniors, among them being such men as F. G. Lugard and J. Richards. Source: Chaplains in the HEICS 1836-58 (Rev Frank Perry, The Church In Madras 1904)

THOMAS GAJETAN RAGLAND was born at Gibraltar in 1815. He graduated B.A. from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1842 as fourth Wrangler. He was ordained deacon and priest at Ely the same year, and was elected a Fellow of his College. He proceeded M.A. in 1845, and took the degree of B.D. in 1853. In the year 1845 he accepted the position of secretary of the Corresponding Committee of the Society in Madras, and he retained that appointment for nine years. It was not till 1854 that he commenced direct evangelistic work. In that year, assisted by two younger Cambridge men, David Fenn and E. R. Meadows, he founded the North Tinnevelly mission. In 1858 he died at Sivagasi, the indirect cause of death being exhaustion from over-exertion. A memoir of his life and work was written by the Venerable Archdeacon Thomas Thomason Perowne. (A Memoir of the Rev. Thomas Gajetan Ragland: Fellow of the Corpus Christi published 1861). Source: CMS Missionaries (Rev Frank Perry, The Church In Madras 1904)

EDWARD SARGENT was born in Paris in 1815. At an early age he went to Madras with his parents. Their regiment was quartered at Poonamallee and was ministered to between 1822 and 1830 by the Rev. W. Sawyer, the C.M.S. missionary at Perambore. During this period Sargent's father died, and the boy was adopted by Sawyer, who arranged for his education. His kind patron, who was appointed a Chaplain in 1830, died in 1832, when the boy was seventeen years old. He appears to have been trained at the local missionary seminary as a teacher, and to have been sent to Palamcottah as a Lay Agent of the Society in 1836. There he came under the notice of the Rev. George Pettitt, who recommended that he should be sent to England and trained as a missionary. He joined the C.M. College, Islington, in 1839; was ordained deacon in 1841, and priest in 1842, by the Bishop of London; and returned to Tinnevelly in the latter year. There he laboured for forty-seven years and there he died in 1889. He was consecrated Assistant Bishop of Madras in 1874 witfy the learned and revered Bishop Caldwell. Source: CMS Missionaries (Rev Frank Perry, The Church In Madras 1904)

S HOBBS could either refer to SEPTIMUS HOBBS or STEPHEN HOBBS who are brothers. STEPHEN HOBBS was born in England in 1815. He was at the C.M. College, Islington, 1835-37; was ordained deacon in 1838, and priest in 1839, by the Bishop of London. In 1839 he went to Tinnevelly and worked at various places in that District for 17 years. In 1856 he was transferred to Mauritius. He became Archdeacon of the Seychelles in 1871, and Archdeacon of Mauritius in 1873. He retired in 1877. after a missionary service of 38 years. He became afterwards Curate-in-charge of Warlingham in Surrey, and died at Winchester in 18936. SEPTIMUS HOBBS was born in England in 1816. He was brother to Stephen. He went to the C.M. College, Islington, in 1838; was ordained deacon in 1841, and priest in 1842, by the Bishop of London; and went to Tinnevelly in the latter year. After thirteen years he was transferred to Ceylon to superintend the Tamil Cooly mission. In 1862 he returned home. He became later Rector of West Compton, Dorset, and afterwards Rector of Compton Valence, Dorset. Source: CMS Missionaries (Rev Frank Perry, The Church In Madras 1904)

THOMAS FOULKES was born in Wales in 1826. He went to the C.M. College, Islington, in 1846; was ordained deacon in 1848 by the Bishop of London, and priest by the Bishop of Madras in 1851. He worked as a missionary from 1849 to 1861, first in the Tinnevelly District, then in Ceylon, and then in Madras; but his heart was never in his missionary work; his translations of Tamil literature were of no use to the missionary cause. He died in 1901. Source: CMS Missionaries, Chaplains in the HEICS 1858-62 (Rev Frank Perry, The Church In Madras 1904)