A Story for His Glory
God transformed me as a lad of seventeen into a mighty arrow to reach the tribal nooks of the great nation of India. I consider it an honor to share what God has done and is still doing in my life.
I was born the eldest son with three siblings in the city of Vijayawada, State of Andhra Pradesh, South India. I live in the same place today, a neighborhood of the Dalit caste (the broken people, the untouchables). We live on one side of the street, right next to the train tracks, on a piece of land about eighty square yards. The property was given to us by the government, one of many slums for the poorest to struggle to live in. Twenty-five percent of the population of Vijayawada live in slums, trapped in poverty with little hope of change.
As is common in India, my father struggled to meet our daily needs. My greatest humiliation came when I was ten years old and my father was unable to pay my school fee on time. The headmaster sent me home on many occasions until I could bring back the fee, so I missed most of my classes and fell behind in my studies.
As a result, I didn’t do well in mathematics. This brought the attention of the principal who cursed me in front of the entire class. “When you grow old, you will be a cow dung basket carrier,” he said, which meant that I would be good for nothing and my life was doomed.
I’m certain he does not remember that incident today, but my heart is still scarred by it. In India, teachers are considered next to gods. Nobody wants to be cursed by them or receive any ill-spoken words by them.
Following the same feeble pattern of education, I passed each year only by the mercy of my teachers. But in tenth grade, the government conducts the exam. I failed math, English, science, and Hindi. I would have to wait a full academic year to retake the exam. My father had a good friend who was a pastor and visited our home every week. When he heard of my dilemma, he suggested my father send me to a Bible College run by the Church of God. It was located in a city called Kakinada, situated along the Bay of Bengal, in the southeastern part of India.
The school ran a tight schedule starting with prayer every morning at 5:00 a.m. and ending with prayer at 10:00 p.m. I did not adjust well to the long hours of religious activities; reading the Bible, classes, manual duties, simple food. And I did not receive a deeper knowledge or relationship with Christ.
Growing up, my influences were the Catholic Church from my father, and the Hindu religion, as my mother was a strong devotee. So, everything at this school was going over my head and my heart. I felt like I did not belong there and was wasting my time.
Two months later, I decided to run away. On the 21st of August, 1994, my plan was clearly hatched in my mind. I slipped into sleep but woke when someone clearly called my name. "My son, Jayakumar.” I looked around to see who called me. My roommate was asleep, so I checked outside, but nobody was there. I went back to bed and believe about twenty minutes passed when I heard the same clear voice once more. “My son, Jayakumar.” I roused my roommate and asked if he had called me. He said he didn’t, so I shared what was happening. He suggested that if I heard the voice again, to kneel down and pray.
I didn’t like his suggestion as I still harbored ideas of escape. I went back to bed, but around twenty minutes to midnight, I heard the same voice again. “My son, Jayakumar.” He spoke my name as distinctly as if he communicated with me on the telephone. Without thinking, I knelt beside my bed. The voice continued speaking. “My son, Jayakumar, I have chosen you before you were formed in your mother’s womb.”
“But I am a child,” I said.
“Don’t say you are a child. Read from the scripture, Jeremiah 1: 4–10.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then said I: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.” 7 But the Lord said to me: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8 Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord. 9 Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me:
“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. 10 See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.”
I had never read from Jeremiah before and while contemplating this, a fireball, that would have fit in my hand, fell in front of me. It was not a figment of my imagination, my blanket burned where it had fallen. The fireball divided into two parts, one to the north and one to the south, both two meters distance from the other.
And then it vanished.
I knew the Lord was saying to me that He was going to take me to the north and south part of my nation, to places I had never been before. At the same time, I prayed. I confessed all of my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.
I dropped into a deep sleep and saw a vision of myself standing in front of a harvest field ready to reap. A man dressed in white-handed me a sickle to gather the harvest. So I did, and when I finished I was very tired. The same man in my vision said, “Now go and rest.” At the same time, the bell for morning prayers rang and I awoke with great relief. I felt like a huge burden had been removed from me and inexpressible joy filled my heart.
By God's grace, I finished my three-year course and received my diploma in 1997. But I still wanted to learn more about the Word of God and pursued higher education in theology. While I prayed about this, an opportunity came to me from the northern part of my country. At the same time, my family faced its toughest time. My youngest sister, Tabitha, suffered and died from leukemia in 1996. The illness strained our family emotionally and financially. And then my father tore down our thatched roof house in hopes of building a new one, before finding out he was not eligible for a bank loan to rebuild. So, he constructed a temporary, smaller thatched roof house.
I knew that for him to send me to seminary was monetarily beyond him. But my Aunty Navaneetham who was a close friend to our family, not a related aunt, loaned him the money to pay for my travels and school. I ventured to northern India to Emmanuel Theological Seminary in Kota, Rajasthan.
After a thirty-six hour train ride, I arrived in a state with a distinctly different culture. India is a multilingual, multi-ethnic country, with many differences between each region. Everything was foreign to me; the language, the people, the cuisine. But the weather was the biggest change. It was freezing! I was used to the hot and humid weather of southern India. The food served by the seminary was very poor, mostly Roti (like a flour tortilla) and lentils. And they were very behind in technology. We didn’t have a phone, a letter took seven days to reach home, and email had not reached that corner of India yet.
I had to think twice to call home on a telephone, long-distance was very expensive. My pocket money was equal to US $2.00. It was all my dad could afford and barely enough to buy soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. I started attending the classes and a team from Liberty University was there to teach a curriculum called, Bible Training Centre for Pastors (BTCP). It was my first experience with American teaching and I found their accent difficult to understand. At the same time, I became very sick and was diagnosed with typhoid fever. I had no money for treatment, no phone to call home, and I also feared failing the semester because I could not understand the Americans.
My temperature climbed dangerously high and I began to vomit in the night. But everybody was sleeping and the seminary did not offer medical care. I left the room to vomit and thought, I should leave, this is not the place I belong to. Then I heard the same voice as before. The Lord said to me, "No, you are not going from here".
“I am sick, Lord, and I do not understand the language,” I said.
He told me to read the Bible in English and in my native language, Telugu, together. And then my temperature dropped as he healed my body at the same time. I obeyed the words he spoke to me and read the Bible in both languages. I referred to a small dictionary many times, and through that process, I learned to speak English.
The same year, I had the privilege of meeting and translating for Mark Gonzalez, a Compound Pharmacist student, from Yorba Linda, California. Mark was on a mission trip with World Help Organisation. We developed a close relationship and are still good friends today. God continued to bring more people into my life; Pastor Sam & Sherry Holliday of Skyway Church in Goodyear, Arizona, and Pastor Larry Whitehead of Grace Family Church, Alvarado, Texas. God has used all of these people in key ways in my life and ministry.
Going back to the seminary, God gave me very good knowledge and command of English. Because of this, I was blessed to be able to interpret for renowned speakers that came to the seminary. It remains one of the greatest privileges of my life. I did well on my thesis and graduated in February, 1999. Out of four-hundred-fifty graduates, I was one of the few asked to stay on as faculty. I stayed and worked there for two years and then heard the Lord’s voice again. He told me to go to places in India where no one had reached with the gospel.
My resignation upset my superiors at the seminary, but I had to listen to what God was saying to me. I entered full-time ministry in 2001, and began to reach the tribes of; Koya, Yerukula, Lambadi, Banjara, and Kondareddy, among others. These remote tribes are simple, not well developed, and can be quite barbaric in their culture. For one example, some still observe infanticide, believing their goddesses are pacified with that.
We have now trained eight-hundred-fifty tribal young men and women for the ministry. We send them back to their respective villages and provide bicycles for them to travel and share the gospel. It is a challenge every day. In their journeys, they constantly battle evil forces and heal people who were slaves to darkness. But the anointed walk with the authority of the Lord. They are reaching people, healing the sick, teaching the Word of God, and plant churches.
It started in 2001 within a county, now the wings are spread into three different states of the country. I have dealt with many issues; spiritual, physical (malaria three times and typhus once), problems with the government and law enforcement, and life-threatening Hindu radicals. I survived a catastrophic automobile accident with a minor injury to one of my toes, suffered from thirst, hunger, and spent many nights freezing in the jungle. But God has remained faithful through it all.
He blessed me with my beautiful wife, Vijayakumari Salluri, and two boys. Our first was born fourteen years ago as a special gift. He was born premature and we named him, Sam Holliday. Sam was declared dead in the womb, but by God’s grace, he was born alive and is now in ninth grade. Our second son, Mark Jay Holliday, was born on August 2, 2018 and is just over a year old.
Each day often brings a life-threatening situation. But leading with faith, the journey continues with a broad vision to equip more and more people to reach every nook of the nation of India.