Sadhu Kochu Kunju, an apostle of South India

Sadhu Kochu Kunju Upadesi, an apostle of Christ from the South India, was born in a village, called, Edayaranmula, on the river of Pampa in the state of Kerala during 1883. He dedicated his life to the Lord Jesus, when he was 11 years old. Since the child marriage was the order of the day, Sadhu Kochu Kunju was married when he was 12 years old. A year after his marriage, he lost his mother. His father was a poor agriculturist. He also expired later when Sadhu Kochu Kunju was twenty years old.

In stature Sadhu Kochu Kunju was unimposing. He was more than 5 feet tall, with a lean body. His forehead bore wrinkles. His eyes alone showed hints of some exploding thoughts. His attire was so simple that it deceived strangers into thinking that "here was a man of no consequence". Dhoti (a typical dress of a Keralite or a Tamilian in the South India in place of a pant), shirt and a shawl - all in white - constituted his dress. One hand carried an umbrella while the other kept the Bible close his bosom. This was the live figure of Sadhu Kochu Kunju, the man with the aura of a saint.

Kochu Kunju was a very distinctive person in appearance. He always wore a white shirt and a white dothi. He was 5 feet 9 inches tall and had a very thin and frail body. His eyes appeared to be meditative and his forehead was frowned as though in deep eternal thought. He always carried an umbrella and his favourite Bible where ever he went. His saintly life, self control, self denial, and commitment for social service made him a unique person.

A life of great struggle and of loneliness

Sadhu Kochu Kunju did not want to spend his life on agriculture or business. He had to make a bitter struggle for existence. Poverty was rampant in his family. He was a man of prayers. He took a decision only after his prayers.

Child marriage was common during those days. At the age of twelve while he was still a student Kochoonju married Aleyamma of Vattapara house, Kuriannoor. After his marriage he studied two more years in the Poovathoor English School. At the age of fourteen onwards he started helping his father in agriculture. But the thirst for reading was always within him. He used to carry Bible portions with him where ever he traveled. At the age of eleven he accepted Jesus as his personal saviour during a meeting held in his home parish. While he was 15, his mother died and the burden of looking after his sick father fell on him. Income from the agriculture was not at all sufficient for their living. So he had a hard life and was forced to do many small jobs to make both ends meet. He did textile business, and for some time he taught in a school. His wife’s parents were very helpful.

He was in the isle of loneliness due to severe ordeals in his life. Physical strain, mental torture and financial crisis converged on him to intensify his misery. He fell a prey to various ailments. All his contacts with the outside world were severed. He confined himself to a dim dungeon. His wife had gone home, taking the children with her. There was no one to help him. Those who were dear and near avoided him. Relatives and villagers alike sneered at him. But there were a few to lend him a helping hand. To him, they too were a thorn in the flesh. Acute pain and constant grief and dejection kept him company. Bible reading, meditation and prayer sustained him. He liked to spend time alone in meditation. Much of his time he spent in reading the Holy Scriptures and devotional books. After many days of solitary confinement, meditation and prayer in his house, he committed his life, his wife, children, all his property, possessions, responsibilities, time, future and all his desires to God. He decided to serve the Lord as a full time evangelist on behalf of his home parish, Lakha St. Thomas Mar Thoma Parish, Edayaranmula. His commitment to the Gospel restrained him from all worldly pleasures.

He was a Sunday school teacher for many years. At the age of 17, Kochu Kunju started his gospel work, which was mainly centered in and around his home parish as he had to look after his sick father. After a day’s hard work in the agricultural fields, he used to visit houses in the evenings with a lantern lamp and a Bible in his hand. He arranged area prayer meetings and children’s meetings. His parish priest Rev A. G. Thomas and his classmate Mr. K. V. Simon were his strong supporters. Kochu Kunju was the secretary of an association called Edayaranmula Christian fellowship. Bible study classes and open air meetings were held under the auspicious of this association in the neighboring villages and parishes. While he was 20 he lost his father.

The rudest shock of his life came with the demise of his second son Samuel Kutty. He had fervently prayed for his son's life. But God had willed it otherwise. He was convinced that God was offering him the goblet of grief. He knew that he was bound to accept the goblet willingly.

Barred from all worldly contacts, Kochu Kunju was doing penance in the dungeon of his house. When he came out, he had acquired the insight of an ascetic. He had gained confidence and fortitude from his stay with "Him whom my soul loveth". He had meditated on the Songs of Solomon and viewed the Songs as heavenly music revealed to his soul for its delight by his beloved Rabbi at a time when divine grace had led him away from all worldly pleasures. The gloomy dungeon became the cradle of divine revelations.

Kochu Kunu observed: "A Christian can attain perfection in Christian life only after stepping out of the world. In a wide open place, mind tends to be open with no hindrances. In the same way, a Christian who sees not or looks not at anything of the world, steps out of the world to wear the cosmopolitanism of eternity".

A man of a very simple life with simple food habits

The aversion Kochu Kunju had for worldly pleasures had sprung from his passion for a life of devotion. He extricated himself from sensuous enjoyments. Even in the prime of youth, he had departed from sensual pleasures.

He had also exercised great caution in the choice of food. If he had felt a liking for any particular food, he had eluded it. Day time was spent in fasting, eating nothing and drinking only water. At a time he ate only three items. He restricted the number of meals to nineteen times a month. Each time he had only a handful of rice usually taken after ten at night. After having meals for nine consecutive nights, he would forego food on the tenth day and dink only water. This was his mode of offering the tithe of food to God. In those days he would give a minimum of twenty sermons. He never touched fish or meat. These were the rigorous practices he had followed before he was thirty years and he continued them unfalteringly for more than thirty years.

Ministry of gospel and of social work

Throughout the length and breadth of Kerala and in many parts of South India, the voice of Kochu Kunju was heard pronouncing the message of the gospel. For 30 years he traveled ceaselessly to preach the gospel. His work was not confined to the preaching of the gospel alone. He also blew the trumpet of social reformation. He spearheaded a movement against dowry, a social evil. As a prophet, he raised his voice against the social evil of dowry, a long standing practice amongst the Christians of Kerala to give dowry for the marriage of their daughters.

He did not spare the selfish traders of his time. He formulated guidelines for business ethics. He urged businessmen to be thoroughly honest, gentle, kind-hearted, and to be evangelists. He took the lead in establishing shelters for the old people. He always cared for the poor and the destitute. He encouraged the establishment of orphanages.

His heart was full of compassion for the poor. He was particular that none in his village should go to bed without supper. He supplied the poor, who could not afford supper, with rice and other things. He also provided for the supply of these things to them from one shop or other. The shop keeper was asked to give the poor what they needed and to debit it to his account. He helped the poor in building their dwelling places. He gave monetary assistance to poor parents who gave away their daughters in marriage.

Sadhu ministered to the poor saints. During a convention, he collected contributions for helping one Eapen.

One night, it was raining heavily. The wind was like a tempest. A young boy was out drenched in rain water. He knocked at many doors for shelter. No one admitted him in. Sadhu took the boy home. The boy was bathed and was given dry clothes and food. He was also a given a cot to sleep. Sadhu sat by his side, patted him gently and embraced him.

Cholera ravaged Southern Travancore. Every house was deprived of three or four members. People fled their villages in panic. They did not remain there even to bury the dead. Dead bodies lay unburied and babies lay sucking the breasts of dead mothers. Rescue operation of the Government was not forthcoming. Sadhu and his team boldly set out on relief operations. Ignoring the danger to their own lives, Sadhu and his team visited the afflicted people in their houses and nursed them. They buried the dead and looked after the orphans. In Marthandam, Tamil Nadu, he started an orphanage to take care of the destitutes.

As a result of his meetings, habitual drunkards, men of abominable iniquity, rioting or witchcraft, and ex-convicts were awakened into a sense of deep guilt. With tears and wailings, they proclaimed their repentance and openly accepted Christ Jesus. The songs composed by him in Malayalam were equally effective in bringing about spiritual awakening amongst the people.

He was one of the few evangelists who fully depended on God for all his needs. Once while conducting a gospel meeting, the parish members presented to him a gold ring. He returned the gold ring saying that he was serving the Lord for things much more precious than gold. His home parish people were willing to pay him a monthly salary but he refused that too. He could not think of such a thing. He considered Gospel work as his duty and for which he was not willing to take any remuneration or salary. In 1915 the Mar Thoma Metropolitan gave him the authorization to preach and to do gospel work in all the Parishes of the Church.

In the beginning, his meetings were not well attended. Once while conducting a ladies meeting in his home parish there was only one old lady to hear his sermon. But God used this same man to preach to the millions all over South India and Sri Lanka for almost thirty years.

Kotchu Kunju Upadesi always wore simple white clothes as a symbol of his holiness. He always used to carry his Bible holding it close to his chest. He was particular that Christians, especially Christian women should be modestly dressed and should not follow the worldly examples.

He became a popular evangelist very soon. His meetings were held in many places in Kerala. He even went to Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Sri Lanka. Irrespective of creed and caste, people used to attend his meeting. During the Cholera epidemic of 1928 which killed thousands in South Travancore (South Kerala) he worked as a volunteer. Mr. C. M. John who later became the Metropolitan of the Church (Yohanan Mar Thoma) was another volunteer who worked with him. He used to conduct parish conventions from Thursday to Sunday and for almost thirty years he followed this form of preaching.

He always considered himself as a foreigner and sojourner on earth. He was a pilgrim. He had a special relationship with God and God was his one and only refuge and trust. His relation with God was so intimate that he used to call God, Appachen (which means Daddy). His messages were very simple and easy to understand. He showed the common man the greatness of the Cross in the Calvary. He was a sharp and powerful instrument in God’s hands. His life itself was his sermon. He could spread the love of God to all who heard him. His life was an open book. He used to speak 2-3 hours at a time. He used to quote parables and examples from every day life in his sermons. He was humorous too. His deep knowledge in the Scriptures made his words more powerful than a strong hammer. He taught new Hymns during his sermons. Millions were saved from their evil ways through his messages. His presence itself was a blessing to many of them. He had a large group of disciples. With the courage of a prophet, he fought against the social evils of his time. He had a deep concern for the unsaved.

Even though Sadhu had little education, he wrote 11 books in prose and poetry and published three weeklies. His books were appreciated by all contemporary writers and critics. Through his books he attacked the social evils of the day. He wrote against the dowry system which made life of many Christian families miserable. In another book he wrote in detail how a Christian should do business. He was always faithful to his Church and his writings never went outside the parameters of the mother Church. Sadhu Kochoonju Upadesi is always remembered through his Hymns. He wrote a book named “Aaswaasa Geethangal” (Songs of Consolation) in which 210 of his hymns are included. As the name indicates, his Hymns still give comfort to thousands who are broken hearted and in grief. Within 25 years of its publication, more than 50,000 copies were sold. Almost all the Christians irrespective of their differences in faith and creed use the Hymns of Kochu Kunchu Upadesi in their prayer and worship books. His hymns have a divine power and are still sung all over the world in Malayalam worship services and family prayers. His hymns have the power to give hope for the dejected, cure and comfort to the broken hearts, assurance to the faithful worshippers and salvation to the sinners. Most of the hymns are the outward manifestation of his deep spiritual life and experiences.

Kochu Kunchu Upadesi was the General Secretary of the Mar Thoma Voluntary Evangelists’ Association from 1924 to 1945. He was also the Manager of the Edayaranmula English Middle school for some time.

People of all religions loved and respected him. He practiced what he preached. He had absolute faith in God. He never earned any worldly riches for his children. The glowing Grace in his face was sufficient for his audience.

Sadhu kochu Kunju was a contemporary of Rev.T.Walker, the English man, who was the chief evangelist of the period of spiritual awakening and who resided in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. Dr.Stanley Jones of USA and Tamil David were his other contemporaries.

His continuous travels and restless gospel work made him sick many times. But in 1945 November he became very sick. He was aware of his home call. He was sure that he was going to his ‘Daddy’s home. He requested his relatives not to cry when he was called home. He was never afraid of death. As he wrote in his Hymn:

(Soon I am going to be with the saints to rejoice with them. I don’t want the world or anything in it. I want to be in the presence of my Lord)

He was called home at 8.45 am on Friday 30, November 1945. He was buried in the Lakha St. Thomas Church Cemetery on Saturday afternoon 1 December, 1945. The funeral service itself was a great honour for him. Two Bishops, more than 100 priests and more than 40,000 people participated in the funeral service.

If you happen to pass by the house in which Sadhu lived i.e. the Moothambackal House, you will notice a chapel in his memory and a rocky pillar with the following inscriptions engraved on it:

"For the honor of the name of Jesus

Travelers who are in difficulty can spend the night here.
(ISAIAH 58:7, MATHHEW 5:13-16)
Observe the Sabbath"

I pray that the Lord may raise up many apostles like Sadhu Kochu Kunju in these last days. Are you one of them?

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