August 1, 2015

A Cup of Water

, editor, Ministry magazine

Paulraj Massillamony, ministerial secretary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Singapore Conference, grew up in the small village of Kanniseripudur in south India.

His father was a government schoolteacher. Their family religion was a mixture of animistic Catholicism mingled with popular Hinduism. To supplement their family income, Paulraj’s father practiced mesmerism, hypnotism, palm reading, and communicating with the dead.

Even as a small boy, Paulraj noticed his father’s special powers. His father could control people’s movements, compelling them to turn to the left or to the right. On one occasion, a person came to the house suffering from a severe headache. Massillamony placed his hand on the person’s head, dragged the pain through the person’s body, down to the foot, and then “threw” the pain out of the body. On another occasion, a neighbor brought some cookies to their house during a Hindu festival. Paulraj watched as his father commanded the basket of cookies to tip and spill some cookies onto a plate.

Paranormal activities were not unusual in the Massillamony household. The father believed his special powers came from Mother Mary and their village saint, Xavier. His devotion to scores of gods, saints, and the spirits of his ancestors locked him and his family in darkness.

One evening there was a knock at their door. Jeyaseelan, a lay Bible worker, was visiting their village, part of an evangelistic team holding meetings in a town 12 miles (20 kilometers) away. He asked for a cup of water. Massillamony showed no interest in interacting with the stranger, but because this act of hospitality was expected in their culture he consented.

After Jeyaseelan drank the cup of water, he went on his way but returned the next day. He expressed his thanks for the cup of water the previous day and asked if he could pray for the Massillamony family. Paulraj’s father was not receptive to the idea but finally agreed since he also was a professing Christian.

This persistent lay evangelist returned the next day, asking if he could read a text of Scripture and offer another prayer of blessing for the family. Jeyaseelan returned again the next day asking if he could explain the Scripture he had read the previous day.

Paulraj Massillamony, right, ministerial secretary of the Singapore Conference, with author Derek J. Morris at a preaching symposium in Indonesia this week. (Photo courtesy of Derek J. Morris)

After a week of relationship building, Jeyaseelan invited Massillamony to attend the evangelistic meetings in the neighboring town. He agreed. As he listened to the presentation, he was deeply moved by the powerful message from God’s Word. He returned again and again for more than a month, excited to learn more about the truths of the Bible.

But Massillamony was also experiencing intense internal conflict. The Word of God was challenging his long-held traditions and superstitions. There was an intense tug of war. Was this new teaching really the truth or just another person’s opinion?

One day, while walking to his schoolhouse, Massillamony encountered a whirlwind on the road. He was unable to proceed. Then a gentle voice called to him from out of the whirlwind: “Massillamony, I am with you. I call you. You are on the right track.”

This divine revelation gave him courage. His fellow villagers, however, were upset with his newfound faith. They threw rocks at his home, breaking tiles on the roof. His children were ostracized and expelled from the Catholic school in the village.

But Massillamony was not discouraged. He had fixed his eyes on Jesus and he would not turn back.

Convicted by the Spirit of God, Massillamony encouraged his wife and seven children to embrace the truth he had recently discovered. Using his gift of teaching, he also shared with his neighbors and friends. Within a year more than 50 villagers had accepted the Adventist message and a small church was established in the Massillamony home. After a few years, land was purchased and a permanent church building was constructed in their village.

With an Adventist education, Massillamony’s three sons all became Seventh-day Adventist pastors, including Paulraj. His eldest brother, Dhanapaul, serves as a pastor in south India, and his middle brother, Jeyapaul, serves as a pastor in Beirut, Lebanon. All together, 33 family members are involved in active ministry for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paulraj told me this remarkable story over breakfast this week at a preaching symposium in western Indonesia, where we both were presenters. I asked him about his own family. He has two children, a son, Ben, and a daughter, Betty. They are both studying to become missionaries.

What a legacy! And this great miracle of God all started with a cup of water. Does that remind you of another story in the Gospel of John?

Derek J. Morris is editor of Ministry magazine and associate secretary of the General Conference’s Ministerial Association.