Chandler Church ties Indian culture into worship SanTan Sun News

Chandler Church ties Indian culture into worship

Chandler Church ties Indian culture into worship
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By COLLEEN SPARKS
Managing Editor

Cultural ties bind worshippers in a close-knit Chandler Christian church with roots in India that began with one family in an apartment and is now flourishing with nearly 200 members.

International Assembly of God, a Christian evangelical church, opened in 1997 in Senior Pastor Roy Cheriyan’s apartment, then moved several times before settling in its current location at 97 W. Oakland St.

Cheriyan, who was born in Kerala, South India in a Syrian Orthodox family, said that in 1987 he heard the Gospel from Mark, 8:36, “What is the profit of a man if he gain all the world and lose his soul?” At that moment, Cheriyan said he submitted his heart to “Jesus as my Savior.”

“It was a profound message for me,” Cheriyan said. “It really spoke to my spirit. I said, ‘If you are true, change me.’ That was the turning point to change my life, change my heart. I used to drink, used to smoke, but God turned me around. Since then I am a Christian.”

He went to Christian Life College in Mount Prospect, Illinois, where he earned an associate’s degree in Bible.

“From there God gave my wife and I the burden to come into Phoenix, not knowing one person in this place,” Cheriyan said. “It was God-given.”

He said God called him to open the Christian evangelical church in Arizona. Cheriyan said he encountered dairy farms and dirt in the Valley when he moved here in 2004.

He said after starting the congregation out of his apartment, another family that had moved from California joined.

“The congregation grew from those two families to five families that were members in 2004 and about 45 families or nearly 200 people today.

Cheriyan earned his bachelor’s degree in pastoral care from Western Bible College in Phoenix and his master’s degree in divinity from Ebenezer Theological Seminary in India, which he completed online. He is working on his doctorate in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he frequently visits.

He and his wife, Sarah have three adult sons.

Cheriyan said International Assembly of God is the only congregation of that denomination geared towards people from India in the Chandler area. Most of the members were either born in India or are of Indian descent.

Services are held Fridays at 7 p.m. and then Sundays at 10 a.m. and then 11:30 a.m. The 10 a.m. services are delivered in Malayalam, the regional language of Kerala, India, while the 11:30 a.m. services are in English.

“I know the taste of my own people,” Cheriyan said. “I know their culture. I know their language. That gives us unity. There is identity among us.”

International Assembly of God also has three associate pastors.

Instilling the faith in young people is a big focus of the church. Cultural changes are prompting many young adults to leave church, Cheriyan said.

“My challenge is how to retain them in our culture and our own churches,” he said.

“The dynamic of this church is we are one community so it is not for the people of Chandler, it is for the people of the whole state of Arizona,” Cheriyan said. “I have people from Glendale, Litchfield (Park), Scottsdale, Cave Creek.”

Shiny Daniel and her husband, Rev. Daniel Lukose, travel every week to the Tucson branch of the church, where Lukose delivers the service as he is the campus pastor there.

A chaplain for HonorHealth in Scottsdale, Shiny is the church’s Junior Bible Quiz coordinator. Sunny Kuruvilla is the general JBQ coordinator.   

For about 55 years, Assemblies of God churches have provided the Bible Quizzes.

“Assemblies of God has worked with children to instill God’s word, the Scripture into the next generation for the kids to grow older and have the word of God into their hearts,” Shiny Daniel said. “It’s a fun way of learning God’s word without getting bored and just reading a whole lot. It gives you questions and answers and makes it fun.”

Shiny Daniel was born in India but moved to Seattle, Washington, when she was 11 years old. Her husband, Lukose, an auditor for the Arizona Department of Transportation, was born in India but has lived in the United States for 20 years.

“We have a close-knit, family-like church and we just help each other and build each other up,” Daniel said.

“We mainly reach out to the Indian population but the doors are open for anybody,” he added. “We just come together every time there’s something going on and hold each other up through the struggles of this world.”

She said the parents want to raise their children to “understand that God’s word is true.”

Daniel moved to Arizona in 2012 and has attended other churches but likes the fact the International Assembly of God is smaller than some other congregations.

“There’s a very limited (number of) churches for Indian folks,” she said. “You can go to any church but as big as the churches get, you just kind of lose community. You don’t have that personal connection. We want to be a community church and we want to do something on a personal level to address each person’s issues and not make it into a mega-church kind of thing.”

Crystal Pattaserial also loves the sense of family she feels at International Assembly of God. She and her husband, Johnlly Pattaserial, drive from Litchfield Park to attend services and teach Sunday school. Johnlly is the church’s Sunday school director and Crystal teaches the adult Sunday school classes. Crystal is on the worship team and she and Johnlly volunteer at the church often.

“It’s always been important to us to keep a portion of our culture and especially Christian culture within the Indian community,” Crystal said. “We have attended different churches that are non-Indian based. We find semblance and community within (the) Indian church.

A satellite group of the International Assembly of God meets every Saturday in the Glendale area at another church to focus on children. Crystal said the group there has a children’s ministry and prays with guidance of an associate pastor.

Crystal was born in the United States while her parents were born and raised in India. Johnlly was born and raised in Bombay, now called Mumbai.

“We don’t have any of our family here or blood relatives so our church has really become our family and our community,” Crystal said. “You’re in need and you call. There’s been times that I’ve been sick or had something going on and a lot of families have brought food or they’ve called and prayed. It’s definitely a tight community supporting each other.”

While parishioners will notice many similarities to other Christian churches, they will see some cultural differences including some songs sung in Malayalam, as well as other languages spoken in India: Hindi and Tamil during services, along with English.

While it is not the national language of India, Hindi is “a predominant language of India,” Crystal said. The church is predominantly Malayalam-speaking but does have some members who speak Hindi, Tamil and English fluently, Cheriyan said.

The congregation partners with Mizpah Ministries in India to run a theological seminary, elementary school and tailoring school, as well as to oversee many charities. International Assembly of God also runs a tailoring school and oversees seven churches in Tanzania and one in Puebla, Mexico.

“I enjoy that they reach out to the community and do ministry international,” Crystal said. “I believe that we are one body of Christ and we have to go out and not just take care of our home church but also be active in the community.”

Kalyn Valentine, 28, of Chandler is the youth director of the International Assembly of God and a teacher.

“For us, our heart is missions and we believe that every person should have the ability to hear about Jesus,” Kalyn said. “If you know nothing about someone else’s background or their world view it makes it very hard to be able to love on them in a way that they receive. It was an absolutely amazing experience. We were embraced and loved on (at the Chandler church).”

Kalyn said it is important for young people to build a relationship with Jesus Christ and bond with others who have similar faith.

“I had a period of time in my life where the faith that I grew up with and my daily life didn’t match and when I was in college I found a pastor who loved me and embraced me and was real with me,” she said. “We had fun but she also told me about the Bible and how to live it and how to do it authentically”

Kalyn grew up in California and moved to Chandler a little over a year ago and also works full-time as a second grade teacher at a local school.

She is organizing this summer’s Vacation Bible School, which will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Chandler church July 10-13. The theme is “The Incredible Race” and it is geared towards children in elementary school but open to youths through ninth grade.

The students will “travel” through activities to different countries “while experiencing the love of God,” Kalyn said. The youths can expect skits, dancing, singing, games, snacks and other activities.

“It’s a really great opportunity for people who may be are not really into church, it’s a cool opportunity to just enjoy and have a nice time even if you’re not super religious,” Kalyn said.

The Vacation Bible School is $10 per church member and those who are not church members can come for free or make a donation, if they like.

To register and get information about the Vacation Bible School, visit iag.myanswers.com/incredible-race. Information: indiachurchaz.org

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