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Memoirs of Dr. Johnson C. Philip

RTI: The Unforgettable Memories Of A Great Institution — 012

The first year was a time of great expectations about future, excitement of studies, and also a time of anxiety. We all expected that RTI would grow to become a towering institution. Everyone was excited about the knowledge and wisdom that was being poured out to students. Everyone was anxious about the facilities in which the classes were held.

FBuilding

Pic: The first building in which men stayed and in which classes were held

We all loved the building in which the men stayed and in which classes were held. The Ammachi and aunty who stayed in a new building in the same compound were very loving and very generous. They often helped students and teachers in many way. In fact they were the people most generous to us during our sojourn through Thrissur.  However, things were not ideal for classes in this building – which had been slated to be demolished just before we occupied it. What is more, the main road was barely 15 feet away from the classroom. It had heavy traffic day and night and the sound of vehicles and their piercing air-horns (which they used liberally to chase away traffic and conquer the road) often made it difficult to focus upon studies which kept becoming increasingly difficulty by the day.

Each student had to memorize ten verses and twenty-five new English words a day. Each one also had to read aloud several chapters a day from the English Bible. This was in addition to Bible, theology, grammar, and Greek that they were getting in class every day. Miss Treasure understood our problem well and during summer vacations she put up a very large classroom inside the Rebhoboth property. It was just plain ground up to plinth level, and the floor was made of mud plastered with cow-dung. There was a thatched roof made of coconut-palm leaves.

The smell of cow-dung settled into our nostrils, books, and even to each cell of our body. Yet, none of us had any complaint. Having such a silent campus in the midst of 50 acres of land, having dense forest-like trees on three sides, for us that thatched hut was no less than paradise. During devotions we sat on the ground and during classes we had excellent chairs and tables. This shift to the silent forest-like facility gave a big academic, psychological and spiritual boost to us.

JMDavisBunglow

Pic: The Kunnathu Bunglow

The men were moved to the top floor of the Kunnathu Bunglow. I was moved to the ground floor and visiting teachers were also accommodated at the ground floor. By this time we had a spacious library made up of three parts: books that Dr. Saneesh and I had donated outright to RTI, my own private reference library, and Dr. Saneeh’s private reference library. A time-table was fixed so that the men and women students could use them without coming in contact with each other (as per the Indian social customs). This building was covered on all four sides with tall, lush green trees. For me this was a radical change. I develop very high blood-pressure in noisy circumstances, and the old building situated besides the road had given me many a sleepless nights. Moving to the new facility calmed my frayed nerves, and gave me a large amount of free time to meditate and write.

Toilet

Open toilets were built of aluminium sheets so men could take bath using water from a new well that was dug up specifically for RTI. With 200 inmates in the Orphanage, their water system was already heavily burdened and that is why the well had to be dug up for RTI. Men used this facility for slightly more than one year when the Lord made a concrete building available.

The only problem inside the campus now was snakes and civet cats, both of which considered it their kingdom at night. Snakes moved about the ground at night (though it used to be much more a few decades ago). Civet cats made home at the attic, and bathed us in pungent urine from time to time. None of us seemed even to notice that, such was the joy of staying in such a silent place that evoked all the spiritual passion in our hearts. Morning devotions in such an atmosphere became a time of great intimacy with God, and the evening faculty messages went deep into our hearts, now that they did not have to compete with loud traffic to make their messages heard.

Changes started to take at the administrative and academic level. At the administrative level, the Chairman VM John resigned. He felt that things were now going in such a direction that his presence in the Steering Committee was no longer needed. This was a great emotional setback to me first because it is he who took me to Thrissur, and second because I expected him to remain with RTI at least for the three to four years that I was planning to remain the Principal. The loss caused by his moving out haunts my memories even today.

I asked Dr. Varghese John (Thiruvanathapuram) to become the Academic Dean. He has always been a very beloved friend and fellow-teacher. Since he was an Engineering College Professor before he came into ministry, he was (and continues to be) one of the few theological teachers among the Brethren who had a good secular background. He would surely have made a good Academic Dean. He, however, declined much to my sorrow. The academic plan was to institute Dr. Saneesh as Vice Principal and Dr. Varghese as the Academic Dean. In the new situation I put forth a revised recommendation to the Steering Committee which immediately appointed Dr. Saneesh Cherian as the Academic Dean.

Saneesh_2002

Pic: Dr. Saneesh Cherian when he became the Academic Dean

Saneesh had been working for the first year including as the unofficial Vice Principal. Thus he was totally integrated with my vision and was in good control of the academic management. Thus transition to the official position of Academic Dean was totally natural and easy for him. With his BTh and MDiv from BBI, Pathanamthitta, and his DMin from IICM, Chennai, he hand undergone almost a decade of management training under me. During this period he was also mentored by many leaders including Abraham Thomas, Kochi. Thus he quickly rose to the occasion and took full official control of the academic side of RTI.

Though he was the person who always controlled the academic aspects  of RTI as per my directives, the official recognition helped him to become more forthright with quality-control. He asked all the faculty members to submit their teaching-plans, lessons outlines, and class-notes in advance. He also asked them to be faithful to assembly principles and the foundation of Sola Scriptura (Bible alone), Sola Fide (Faith alone), Sola Gratia (Grace alone) and Solus Christus (Christ alone). Some of the teachers resisted this move on the pretext that other Bible schools where they teach do not require such rigorous practices. They were told firmly that RTI is quality conscious and that RTI considered academic rigor and spiritual commitment as essential.

RTI was the first Assembly institution anywhere in the world that offered a residential masters degree for men and women and I was committed to make it the best. Dr. Saneesh was the person given this responsibility of academic rigor and his elevation to the post of Academic Dean came as a great blessing to RTI. His control over discipline was resented by many students who would have preferred a more lax discipline, but I was singularly happy about it. Of course, after they graduated from RTI many students did call up him and me to say how thankful they were for the strict disciple.

By the middle of the second year RTI rose to an enviable level in its teaching program and also in its spiritual ministration to students. Miss Treasure saw to it that a large number of visiting brethren were invited to the classroom and the chapel to share their testimony, insights and also academic expertise with the students.

Indus1

Around this time a shop became vacant close to RTI and both of us felt that this can serve as a ministry for both of us as long as we were with RTI. So we hired the room and put up a Bible book shop known as Indus Center. For the next two years this gave us an opportunity to sell thousands of Christian books and also distribute tens of thousands of gospel booklets and tracts.

Indus2

Some brothers donated used books to Indus, and we gave them away free to RTI students and also to evangelists in surrounding places. Many of them were able to build up a good collection of Bible study material in this way.

We stocked a very large quantity of gospel tracts in Malayalam, English, Hindi and Tamil. We ourselves printed many of them and the cost was sponsored by a number of believers. In addition, we also stocked free tracts from other publishers.

At that time Dr. Silas Nair sponsored 1000 copies of the Personal Workers New Testament of the Gideons in Malayalam. My wife Santha sponsored another 1000. These were also stocked at Indus Center.

The brethren in Trichur and surrounding areas were very active in sharing the gospel, and thus Indus became the major source from which they collected free material for their activities. Dr. Saneesh hired people to work there and managed the whole affair and for two years we had an unusually blessed ministry through Indus. We eventually closed it when we left Trichur, but always yearned to have a ministry similar to it. However, our main commitment being to serve churches to awaken them, we have never been able to put up another project similar to Indus.

The appointment as Academic Dean at RTI and the launching of Indus outside gave an unusual opportunity to Dr. Saneesh Cherian to demonstrate his leadership skills.

 

 

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  1. Very interesting. I enjoyed it.

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