East Fort, Thrissur, Kerala, India
During 1895-96 the Rev. Father Kuruvilla used to preach repentance in the Chaldean Syrian ‘Big Church’ in Thrissur. Unlike the other priests, Rev. Kuruvilla held the Bible in his hands and preached repentance and regeneration clearly from the Gospels. Church members were encouraged to read the Bible. Eventually, nineteen men testified to being born again. These nineteen, along with their families, started gathering in homes every Lord’s day after the normal church service. When the home group really began to grow, the church prohibited it and posted Rev. Kuruvilla to a distant place.
Yet, the families continued as before. In 1901, a child of Mr. Antony Puthukatukaran died. The church officials refused to bury the body in the church cemetery as Mr. Antony was the leader of the now prohibited home group. Mr. Antony buried the body of his child in the backyard of his own house. In 1902, twelve families withdrew from the Home Group being afraid of remaining independent of any organized denomination. They joined the Marthoma church. The remaining seven families were excommunicated by the Chaldean Syrian Church. Still, the group went on as a Home Church under the able leadership of Mr. Antony.
As God would have it, Mr. Antony happened to meet a Mr. Volbright Nagel of Germany. Mr. Nagel was originally a Lutheran missionary working with the Basel Mission in Malabar. His personal study of the Bible guided him to leave the Mission and work for the Lord independently, looking to the Lord only for all his needs. (The story of Mr.Nagel is so fascinating that it resembles the events of the apostolic days!) Later, he met with Mr. Handley Bird, an English missionary in South India. He was baptized by Mr. Handley Bird. Thereafter, he worked tirelessly and established assemblies in several neighbouring towns. Mr. Antony invited Mr. Nagel to Thrissur. He came and taught the home group the New Testament truths of baptism and separation. Four persons from the seven families were baptized by Mr. Nagel and in 1903 a gathering to celebrate the Lord’s Supper was started.
The assembly is now 105 years old. The believers gathered in rented buildings from 1903 to 1909 and due to the powerful evangelization of Mr. Nagel and his coworkers many souls were saved and baptized. Then, in the will of God, in 1910 Mr. Nagel bought a plot of land in the East Fort area and built a mud-walled and thatchroofed hall. After about fifty years, a large terraced hall replaced the old one. Presently, we are prayerfully planning to erect a new building with better facilities. We have submitted the plans and are waiting for the sanction of the civil authorities to start building. We hope to complete the building by 2010, exactly 100 years after the first property was purchased by the assembly. We are looking to the Lord for the finances.
When the assembly was started in 1903, Mr. Nagel arranged for Mr. A. M. Ittoop to be the minister of the assembly. Mr. Ittoop was one of the firstfruits and a coworker of Mr. Nagel in the town of Kunnamkulam. Mr. Ittoop shepherded the assembly until 1950. He then stepped aside because of old age. The assembly then recognized Mr. M. J. Paul as the responsible elder. Mr. Paul was a high-school headmaster. After retirement, he used much of his time shepherding the assembly. When Mr. M. A. Joy was called to full-time ministry in 1974, the assembly asked him to assist Mr. Paul. By 1976 Mr. Paul had became ill and the assembly entrusted full responsibility to Mr. Joy.
In 1992 the assembly recognized the need for a plurality of elders among them. At present we have seven elders formally recognized by the assembly. We have about 250 believers in fellowship who attend the Malayalam service and about 70 others in the English-speaking assembly. Both these services hold the Lord’s Supper on Sundays at different times. So, our assembly has about 320 believers breaking bread.
By God’s grace our assembly is very active in evangelization and from time to time we choose a particular village and concentrate on working there. During the last thirty-eight years the Lord has established nine new assemblies within a 30km radius of the East Fort assembly. All are going on well and growing. At the moment we are concentrating our outreach work in two villages with the hope of starting new assemblies there. Please do pray for us.