This is one of three translations of the final three chapters from Carl Manthey-Zorn’s memoirs of his time as a missionary in India entitled, “This and That from the Life of a Missionary to East India.” For more information on Zorn, please see his biography.
“My dear Jesudasen,” I said to my catechist, “This may be hard for you too. We must go to Muttunadu tomorrow. Cornelius should be ready too. Tell him. And at six o’clock tomorrow evening send for a wagon and a good yoke.”
Muttunadu, which means “Pearl-land,” was, as we know, a subsidiary of Pudukottai, and the trip to it greatly terrified one of my mission servants. For it was not only forty miles away, which they had to cover by foot behind my wagon, but the last twenty miles were desolate heathen lands leading partly through salty swamplands and partly though large ponds. And then above all that, a race of man lives there among which they cannot eat just because they are a different race than they are. So my dear people always scratched themselves behind the ears very suspiciously when they heard about the trip, and also just wanted to be able to stay home “sick.” Therefore I always announced the trip to them as late as possible and usually first asked very sympathetically about their well-being, and when they unsuspectingly and kindly assured me they were very good, then I said, “To Muttunadu!”
At the arranged time the familiar cart stood before the door and was packed. Packed? Yes, that means a thick layer of straw was laid on it. In back was placed a crate with eighteen bottles full of drinking water, which pushed the straw aside to the floor of the cart. And on this crate was another one with cooking utensils and food and plates. In front was placed just a suitcase with clothing, robes, eating utensils, and batteries. The cook, the catechist, and Cornelius, after gathering up the clothing, arrived and hung their baggage on the wagon. Mattresses, pillows, and woolen covers were laid on the straw and then yours truly crawled into the wagon. I looked good. On my feet I had shoes with thick souls and the rest of them were made of canvass. They were actually supposed to be white and at one time they had been. My legs were in blue knickerbockers. A red shirt blazed above it with a leather belt wrapped around the waist on which a tobacco bag hung, but filled with cigarettes, a knife, and a lighter. And on my head I had a little velvet cap. The travelling sunhat hung on the side wall of the wagon. “To Ottu!” I cried. “Ho!” cried the driver, and we were off.
At midnight we came into a village. Its inhabitants were celebrating a little festival of idolatry and were still up. I had them stop, climbed out, and took in my hand my sugar bowl and a silver teaspoon. I had the men and youths sit down and stuck a spoonful of sugar into each of their mouth. “Does it taste good?” “Oh yes.” “But you cannot get more.” “Hmmm, well, it is also enough.” “But I will tell you a story.” And I told them about creation, the fall into sin, original sin, the heathenism which sprang from it, God’s wrath and damnation, the promise, the birth, Christ’s suffering and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, faith, being God’s children, and eternal life. Then commending this sowing to God I climbed into the cart and drove on.
At about five o’clock in the morning we came to Nedungudi, where one of my teachers resided and ran a school for heathens, by which I mean a school in which heathen children are instructed in Christianity, as well as in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Also in English. And this last one drew them so especially well that they attended the school in spite of the religion which they were taught. Having arrived, I set up camp in the school room, slept, woke up, bathed, ate, tested the school, collected rent payments—for the mission possessed estates there—and preached to the heathens. But there was talking and answering, remarking and refuting there, for the heathens there had already heard the Gospel many times and now “excused” themselves in the same ways which are read about in the Gospel.
In the evening we continued. But it was already four o’clock. And by sunset we had arrived in a great village whose name I have forgotten. Some ways beyond the village was a slope with a satanic temple. Packed inside the village was a small barracks, which earlier had served as a school, and also a great mighty tree. This place, with all its details, has engraved itself deep within my memory. There was also still a pond in it. I have often camped here, but always just at night when the fires and lights of the satanic temple shine a glowing red, when the satanic priests let the blood of chickens and goats flow, when the wailing clarinet accompanies the monotonous tom-tom and calls to the deceived people. I camped here today too. Under the branches of the gigantic tree I lit a fire, spread out a mat, and prepared my meal: tea, bread, and some eggs. Oh, how beautiful it was there! The moon and the stars sparkled through the leafy branches. A soft, balmy wind blew cooling to our hot bodies—but an Indian night cannot be described. You have to undergo the awfully hot day yourself under both exhausting work and a shaky trip in order to enjoy and understand the sweet night with its refreshments and reliefs. But the snake rustling through the dry leaves in pursuit of a frog was not necessary to remind me that the devil is active among men within God’s glorious nature. The temple nearby really preached that clearly enough. I called to Cornelius.
“Cornelius, God has given to you the gift of song in rich measure.” So I encouraged him, “Sing a hymn of praise to Christ our Savior with a bright, resounding, and still sweet voice. Call the poor people away from the idols and the devil and to him.”
And Cornelius sang in Tamil manner and tongue a hymn taught by the Spirit of God:
“What is the Light in the darkness of the earth, in the abomination of sin, in the night of death? What is the Sun which shines into our hearts and makes everything light and bright? Who is the Hero who fights with Satan and sets the captives free? Who is the Lamb who sacrifices himself and brings eternal reconciliation? You, O Jesus, are the Light, the Sun, the Lamb, and the strong Hero. Praise, praise, praise be to you, O Jesus! O Jesus, Light in the lies of the devil, the only true Way to heaven, who gives us eternal Life, whose Word gives us eternal satisfaction, whose Spirit bends our hearts to you, whose arms wrap around us, whose almighty power protects us from everything—everything. Praise, praise, praise be to you, O Jesus!”
So his song sounded out into the night and it lured several, then more, then many. And the tree became a temple, and converted heathens were preachers and they sang the praises of God and Christ and blind heathens were silent listeners. One of these last people, a police soldier, had even drunk sacrificial blood. The robe with which he dried his lips was still red from it. He laid it before us with a modest sermon from God’s Word in his mouth. We preached about the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world and about the blood of Christ which washes us clean from all our sins and about his death which gives us life.
Did such a sermon bear fruit? I have seen just a little. But as we sing, “The cause is yours, the glory, too, so hear us, Lord, and keep us true” (CW541).
At about eleven o’clock we went to the old school barracks with the intention of waking up at two o’clock and continuing on. Yes, my good people had forgotten this intention as soon as their first deep breath announced the sleep falling upon them, and I had to wake them, which means I dozed a little and looked at the clock every half hour. At two o’clock I made a spectacle. The oxen were harnessed, I climbed into the wagon, and the poor sleepers went behind. Do you believe, reader, that at such times I have envied from the bottom of my heart all those who were beautifully allowed to lie comfortably in good beds? Well, believe it!
And this time we got lost too. We should have reached our destination at six o’clock but at ten o’clock we found ourselves still on barren heathen lands in which the vegetation was sparse, every now and again there was a group of palm trees, and here and there little herds of hungry goats grazed. The sun burned down hotly and made me completely faint and miserable, for I had nothing at all in my stomach. Finally, finally, at about eleven o’clock we came to the mission chapel of Muttunadu. A welcome sight! And yet, truth be told, it was nothing lovely to look at. It lay isolated and abandoned in the middle of three little villages which the eyes could barely spot looking out from it. Four miserable mud walls, a palm leaf roof full of holes, a marshy saline floor—that was what it was. Cornelius ran for straw and poured it on the ground and I sank down on top of it. The catechist got a hold of milk which did me well. My cook cooked lunch. Everything was a blur—what lovely care reached out to a miserable man like me. But the natives could tolerate even more. I was already a frail jar back in Germany. At noon my poor, little, and very sad congregation assembled. What kind of people were they? I still don’t know them all individually. Sinappen, an adulterer, who often repented, at least outwardly, and always fell again. Maria, his barren wife, who herself always gave him a concubine. Saveriammal, this concubine, more often than not, as she herself said, was possessed by the devil. She happened to be the wife of someone with whom we will soon become acquainted. Saverimuttu, a red, good-natured, ignorant fellow, and his wife. A widow, Nondi Saveriammal, who ran very skillfully and quickly on her hands, for her legs lay withered on her chest and her knees stretched up to her chin. Another widow who always wanted to fall away. A young married couple, Muttu and his wife. And then these people’s children, both great and small. I preached to these people but I didn’t preach to them a sermon I had memorized. I gave them the first milk, drop by drop, still wondering if through it the Holy Spirit would nourish them for eternal life. After the sermon there were punishments, admonishments, and reconciliations. The catechist who was stationed there had run away. I promised them that they would have the best and most faithful of all my people and they received him too. God bless him for his faithful endurance in this desolate place where no one else would stay!
At five o’clock or so I went into one of the three villages and there experienced something which was both terrifying and encouraging at the same time and has made an indelible impression on me together with all the circumstances connected with it.
When I walked along between the houses, I suddenly heard a weak voice crying, “Eya! (Sir)” I looked around and saw an obviously sick man lying there in the middle of the street. As I stepped closer, I recognized him as Amarabadi, one of my Christians and the husband of that adulteress Saveriammal. An awful stench polluted all the air around him. He lay naked on the earth with only a tattered, dirty cloth covering him. “What is wrong with you, Amarabadi? And why do lie here in the middle of the street?” “They have laid me here,” he answered. “Why did you do that?” I asked his relatives who were hurrying there. “Hmmm, you will see that no one can stand to be in the house with him and that he will die today,” they replied and removed the dirty cloth from his legs. O the horror! His legs and his abdomen were already entirely decayed, dead, and rotting. The flesh had fallen from his bones as dirt and stench. Yes, of course there was no help. Death was already devouring him. An evil sickness, the wages of his vice, had brought him to this. He had not been admitted to the Lord’s Supper already for a long time. “What do you want from me, Amarabadi?” I asked. “The forgiveness of sins and the Lord’s Supper and salvation,” was his desire. “You shall have it,” I said and sent a man to the chapel a mile away to get the elements and utensils. During this time I wanted to take him into his house, but I could not get this idea accepted. He himself did not want it. He himself desired the fresh air. A crowd of heathens assembled while I sat next to him and preached to him from God’s Word about his sin, God’s wrath, and eternal damnation. He confessed everything. He heard and felt God’s curse upon his body and in his spirit. Then I also preached to him chiefly the Gospel that Christ has borne all his sins and is also cordially inclined to forgive all his sins and save him if only he would not push Christ away. And he would not push Christ away. I instructed him also about absolution and the Lord’s Supper. And he listened attentively.
The man came with the things.
I put on my gown, had rice paste placed across from the sick man, spread a clean handkerchief over it and placed the elements on it. The wine, however, I had to pour into one half of a coconut shell which I then set on the chalice, for Amarabadi was fatally poisoned and no one would have drunk from the chalice after him.
Before I began the solemn act I turned to the hundreds of heathens standing around and told them that they were indeed allowed to remain there, but they had to be completely quiet. No one was allowed to make a peep. So heathens formed the church wall and the open heaven formed the roof. There lay the poor criminal. When I asked him during confession whether he was a sinner, he said, “No!” with a loud voice. I was completely astonished and believed that the devil had again obtained all power over him. But he had not understood me correctly. He thought I had asked him whether he was still a godless unbeliever. That he wanted to deny. So then in Christ’s place I pronounced to him the forgiveness of his sins and gave him Christ’s body and blood to seal this forgiveness. And what was more appropriate than preaching about sin and damnation and Christ’s blood and righteousness to the heathens assembled there? It also appeared as if the people were moved. The next day Amarabadi died with the confession of Jesus on his lips. They dug a grave nearby, put his body on a cloth and dragged it on the cloth because they couldn’t really touch it, and placed it with the cloth into the grave. But the ground there was full of water so they had to lower the body with poles and threw pieces of grass and stones on it. But we can have hope that Jesus had shone into all this darkness and that Amarabadi’s soul now rests at Jesus’ breast. In this way in the heathen land the Lord brings his harvest home!
An even happier picture than the previous one is now shown to us when we view the death of Arulappen Pillay, who aspired for the holy ministry.
Arulappen had been a heathen until age twelve but was baptized with his relatives, educated in Leipzig mission schools, and prepared for mission service. He then became a catechist in his hometown of Pudukottai and as such became the actual caregiver for the souls of the Christians scattered in the land and the nurse of the entire mission itself, because for a long time Pudukottai had not had its own missionary stationed there. But also when one was stationed there, he was the missionary’s right hand man and faithful mainstay. I was only with him for about half a year. In the fall of 1872 he came to Tranquebar to the theological seminary already a mature man, head of a family, with six children. For three years he studied diligently and was already near his goal when he came down with a serious illness. They tried every cure in Tranquebar but they had no effect. They hoped that the air of his hometown would do him best and thought the see air—Tranquebar lies close to the coast of the Bengal Gulf—was especially harmful for him. So he reached the end of October 1875 with us as a weak, sick man. The change of air had not, however, had the effect wished for.
At the end of November his end was near. He lay in a little empty room (typical for natives) of his mud house on a mat spread over the mood floor, a little pillow under his head, a white robe spread over him. I had visited him every day and offered Lord’s Supper to him, together with his wife, on November 28, at which time I expounded upon Psalm 23:4 for him because he was always lamenting over the fear of death. Rightly joyful and blessed he lay there as the nearing death was leaving its stamp on him. After the ceremony he asked that the verse, “Oh, joy to know that you, my Friend, are Lord, beginning without end, the first and last eternal!” (CW79) be sung, and those of us who were present did so.
Then he had himself helped up, and leaned against the arms of his older brother Njanasigamani, a member of my congregation. Turning to his relatives, namely his nephew and my fine catechetic Njanarettinam, his old mother, his sister, his wife, his children, and also to me, he delivered with a relatively loud and powerful voice a formal farewell address probably more beautiful and lovely than I have ever heard. The main content, yes, many of its treasures, are still memorable for me.
He began, “I, a forty year old, sinful sinner, am now going to the rest of the Lord. I used to be afraid of death, until just recently in fact, but now I have attained complete peace. During my life I have often chased after vain things, if not earthly possessions, then at least earthly fame among mortal men. I wanted to be thought of as a zealous servant of God. Now I have given up every other longing. I only wish for one thing: to have the forgiveness of sins and to view the face of God. But I already have the first and the second will be become mine soon. I no longer take care of my wife and children or pray for them, for I have already done that and God knows everything. He will provide for them. I ask the missionary to pray for me that the Lord may give me a blessed death and a beautiful inheritance, not without good reason. My beloved teachers, Mr. S. and Master B. and my godfather” (here he began to weep) “Schwarz, old father Schwarz, and you, the station ministers.” Here he laid both hands on their foreheads saying, “I greet the first three of you I named humbly and in old love, also Missionary O., who kept me for a year when I was a child. Yes, he kept me for a year when I was a child. I ask them and you to pardon me of all the wrong which I have ever committed against you.” He then turned to me and said, “I know my relatives want to drag me to Wailocham” (his birthplace, which was ten miles away from Pudukottai) “and since most of my relatives are Catholics, they will then do Catholic heathen practices at my burial. But I declare before you that I do not want to go there! I want to be buried here by you. I am God’s child. My body is also redeemed by Christ. It is holy and will rise to eternal life. I will not let it be shamed in a devilish manner. My tongue has preached Christ. It is holy. My lips have given testimony to his name. They are holy. They belong to Jesus just like my soul. They shall not be shamed as if they were the lips of heathens and Catholics.”
How excellently had the man grasped the hope of the resurrection of the dead and learned the saying: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body, be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23)! His faith had become his very being and life and he also wanted to testify even after his death against all ungodly character and to the hope which had enclosed him in heaven.
He then asked me further to have patience with the Christians in Pudukottai, for they are indeed ignorant as he also had been. May he now go to his fathers, which are the departed believers. “O my dear relatives, mother, brother, sister, wife, children, follow me!” He then prayed, with his arms raised to heaven, for the people of Pudukottai, both heathens and Christians, and especially for his relatives. He said many other lovely things, but these are the main ones.
It pained my heart that we should lose such a man. During the entire address he was free from all contrived and sentimental character, and with a very grave face, which had often smiled happily, he leaned against his brother’s arms. But now a weakness descended upon him. With the words, “Lord, open to me the door through the forgiveness of sins! I am not afraid, for you are with me!” he sank back onto his bed.
The next morning an unpleasant scene took place. Some fifty people from Wailocham came with a litter to bring the dying man there and leave him no peace. They were Catholics and heathens. Even his relatives belonging to my congregation bombarded me with petitions to persuade him to be carried to Wailocham and let himself be buried “ceremoniously” by all his numerous relations. He belonged to a very respected family from a higher cast. I went to the sick man and asked him, “Arulappen, do you want to go to Wailocham or not?” “No,” he said. Oh, how I then ran among the people and rejoiced that through that education of princes I was set so that I could do that with success. By the way, his relatives also realized that it was better for him to remain in Pudukottai.
On December 1 he lay there mourning. But when I spoke and prayed with him he became still. That night I was fetched. He said, “I am going to the Lord.” He asked that the verses, “My Savior, then be near me when death is at my door” and “Lord, be my consolation, my shield when I must die” (CW105) and the hymn “Come, sleep-like death” (which is very beautiful in Tamil) be prayed for him without interruption. And that happened. But I saw well that death was not yet imminent. He took leave from his own children, and kissed and blessed each one. He made his nephews swear on the five holy wounds of Christ that they would not let his death be disturbed by the howling which is customary in India. I too promised to keep things quiet. Later in the night he said that he felt his mental capacity fading and could not pray. I prayed for him and he repeated it with a beatific face. To the question of whether he understood everything he said, “Not everything.” “What do you understand and know then, Arulappen?” I asked. “Jesus has suffered for me. He loves me. I understand only this and nothing else,” was his holy answer. He then fell into a peaceful sleep and I went home.
The next morning his speech left him but he clearly understood what I was saying. At one-thirty I went back there and saw that death was near. They said to him, “The missionary is here!” Then to greet me he laid his cold hand on his forehead full of the sweat of death. When he heard my voice in prayer he turned his face toward me and his lips moved as if they wanted to praise the Lamb of God who was innocently slaughtered for him on the tree of the cross. I went out for a moment. Then his oldest daughter called me, “He is dying.” I hurried back inside. His brother was holding the jaw of the dead man. He had just taken his last breath. I closed his eyes, knelt down with all those present, and prayed and praised God for such a gentle, sweet, and blessed death. He had died imperceptibly. I prayed and talked for a very long time in order to, as I had promised, let his body become cold in complete silence and without shouting. I then laid him down in a fine Christian manner and was already highly pleased that the people had given up the old heathen custom of mourning. The women wept silently.
Suddenly I heard a penetrating scream and booming blows. Some female relatives had ripped the clothes from their bodies and the body of the widow, torn their hair, punched their breasts and bodies and screamed as if possessed. “Njanarettinam,” I said to my catechist, “Do your duty!” He got up and, attacking the women with zealous fists, threw them out the door. That is exactly what happened. The screaming changed into scolding. But the catechist thought of the petition of the man as he was dying. The oldest daughter of the man who had passed away, a child of thirteen years, went out to the evil women and said, “We are not heathens. We are Christians. And my father is with Christ in heaven. We do not want to scream and howl, but rather thank and praise.” With that tears flowed upon the dear girl’s cheeks.
My wife and I went in the evening into the dead man’s house and found the people very composed. His old and honorable mother said, “I do not weep. My child is with God. I lie quietly at his remains.” With that she stretched herself out next to his body, face to face.
Sinnammal, his sister, a widow and a dear Christian, sat at the head of the dead man. She wept softly and lamented in the touching way customary of the Indians. She sang, “O my brother, O you kingly child, oh, where have you gone? Are your eyes broken? Is your mouth silenced? O you pearl, O you sunshine of my life! O my brother!” These last words blended into a—pardon the expression: it really was so—a melodic weeping. She continued to sing, “O little brother, I carried you in my arms when you were little. I have cared for you as a mother! O child of the great King, you are blessed. And this member will rise. Oh, I follow after you, for I believe in Jesus. O my kingly child! O my little brother!” She sang like this during the evening and the entire night.
On the following day, December 3, was the burial. It took place at ten o’clock in the morning. An enormous crowd of people had assembled, for the deceased had, as I said, many relations and was known and respected far and wide among the heathens. Protecting my gown and head from the burning sun with a thick umbrella, I went to the funeral home, which was located close to the mission farmstead. The body was set on a stretcher made from bamboo poles in a sitting, somewhat leaning back, position. It was elegantly clothed in white robes, on its head a turban. But stuck in each ear and in each nostril was a tiny bouquet of flowers! Of course you have to let the tastes of the natives rule. A canopy made from more bamboo poles and richly decorated with flowers and gold sequins was lifted above the body. When I arrived, four gravediggers from a lower caste lifted the stretcher with the body on their shoulders. I placed myself at the front of the procession. The four pallbearers followed me and the relatives, carrying banana leaves and palm branches in their hands, but otherwise in dirty clothes and without turbans. The women went at their sides and followed with unkempt hair. Two men spread robes on the earth in front of me, picked back up again after the body, and after the other two had done the same, they came back to the line. They did all this so that neither I nor the pallbearers would touch the ground.
Next the procession went into the school. The body was set in front of the table which had been refashioned as an altar. Thick vapors of incense filled the entire crowded room. I delivered the funeral address and spoke about the day of eternal rest, the Sabbath of the Christians.
Then we processed into the graveyard in the same way. The body was taken from the stretcher and laid next to the grave cut into stony ground, much too short and very narrow. The stretcher was smashed and scattered. Two of the pallbearers climbed into the grave and placed themselves at the head and at the feet. They grabbed the body and folded it together so that the feet came towards the face. They took the jewels from the ears and handed them to the relatives and then let the body down. A pillow was laid at the head and then both men climbed out. When they let go of the body, its head fell on the pillow and the feet on the ground. It was a sad sight and even the men could not ward of tears. I had a robe thrown on his face and the body covered with flowers. Soon a mound was raised over the mortal remains of Arulappen—of which after four hours certainly nothing more was left than a white skeleton picked clean by the ants.
While going home I asked Sinnammal, the sister, whether she was comforted. “His soul is with Christ and we laid earth into the earth. And it will not keep it forever. Why should I still be mourning?”
Even in the heathen land the Lord brings his harvest home!d
Reflections on missionary work in India.
Mar 5, 2011