It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words and in many cases that stands true. This is true after seeing pictures of Luke Meripo’s crusades in India, shown during a recent Cornerstone Life. Luke is one of Cornerstone’s newer Mission Team partners. His is a life of action propelled by Christian love and concern for all to come to know our Lord. His heart aches for unsaved patients during his hours as a Hospice Chaplain and nurse but his special concern and focus are for the people of India.
The Arranged Marriage
Luke was born in West Godavari, Andhra-Pradesh, a coastal state in the southern part of India. He was raised in a Christian home and his father was a pastor teacher. Luke was educated in India and received his college degree in theology. His life was focused on Christian ministry but he saw a real need to present the Gospel message to an area of deep spiritual need – the worship of multiple gods. The reality in India is that there are millions of gods, this would be Luke’s work as an evangelist in the future.
Nirmala, Luke’s wife was born in West Godavari and also raised in a Christian home with a pastor teacher father. In fact, Luke and Nirmala’s fathers were school friends and colleagues. Eventually, her brother Joseph thought a marriage might be possible. After consultation and approval from both fathers and families, the marriage was settled. Joseph set about making all the arrangements while Nirmala was in the US and Luke in Calcutta. The young couple was married in 1980 at home in Andhra-Pradesh and immigrated to the US in 1982.
Luke, a licensed nurse and Nirmala, a registered nurse, live in Garden Grove and make Cornerstone their church home. They have three sons: Isaiah 35, Justin 33 and married, and Jerome 30. Justin’s marriage was also an arranged marriage. With the approval of their families, Justin married a young lady who was a member of the first church Luke planted in India. This church is named the Greenville Country Church, but more on this later.
Luke’s crusades in India are dictated by the weather since the monsoon season lasts six months and the country is difficult to navigate due to wet and muddy conditions. For Luke and his team, January thru March are the best months to visit and put on the gatherings when the weather is pleasant and getting around is easier. His organization, Rock of Ages Ministries India, and community partners show the Jesus film in 100 or so Hindu villages and invite villagers to come learn more about forgiveness and hope in this current life and certainty for a future life with Jesus.
There is a tremendous amount of planning that goes into putting on a crusade and the ministry employs a driver, five laborers to set up generators, equipment, PA lighting and staging equipment. From pictures shown of Luke’s crusades one might conclude the crusades were for women only. Not so, Luke explained the well-established Indian custom that compels men to be separated from women in public places and events. Here you can see the picture of men at a recent crusade in India, standing apart from the women. The crusades draw as many as 7-10,000 people and many come forward to receive Christ. Pastors and Christian volunteers are trained to receive new believers and guide them to established churches.
Establishing new churches is another of Luke’s passions. In 1991 he established the first church and has since set up nine more. The money to purchase property is saved up over time from Luke’s salary and from a few friends who donate toward the building efforts. Once a church is finished and a pastor found, church begins. This most recent church has between 60-70 adult members and had 92 children attending VBS this year. Soon, village Hindus built a temple next door on the church’s own property, but as the Lord would have it, Hindus began to attend the church.
As in past years, for the 2019 season, Luke plans for two to three crusades and three days of training for new and old pastors. Last year 172 pastors attended. The pastors are poor and while some monies are collected during services, many are paid in produce and rice. It is especially lean during monsoon season although the weather does not stop Sunday worship. All the pastors have extra jobs to support their families.
The reality is that the needs are so great. Seminary training is very rare for these village pastors due to the cost and since most pastors are self-taught Luke is concerned that pastors have a firm grasp of core teachings. To that end, he puts on three days of training. Pastors are given 120 rupees for two meals a day, gas for their motor scooters and for that very British custom – tea and a biscuit in the afternoon.
The Other Ministry
Much time is spent planning for the Luke’s crusades in India but he has another just as exciting and more personal ministry. During most of the year, Luke is a hospice Chaplain, ministering to those close to death provided the patient is willing to talk with him. Luke is also a nurse and often has opportunities in this capacity as well, to bring some of his patients to Christ.
Very recently there was a 100-year old woman in hospice who, though very near death, refused to hear any spiritual message. Then one day Luke stopped by and asked her if she would like to hear a song. Yes, she said and Luke began to sing What a Day That Will Be:
What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see
When I look upon His Face, there is no more sorrow,
No more burdens to bear, no more sickness, no more pain,
No more parting over there and forever I will be with the one
Who died for me, what a day, what a glorious day that will be.
Her tears flowed and crying she asked him to recite the 23 Psalm. She prayed to receive Christ and soon after she passed away. Luke was so moved that he was able to bring her salvation in the last moments of her life. The hand of the Holy Spirit is in all these last minute acceptances and Luke feels so privileged to be there for such a special time in their lives.
Ministering Here At Home
When Luke and Nirmala arrived in Orange County, they attended Greenville Country Church in Santa Ana. This church is the oldest Protestant Church in Orange County, built in 1876. They began as members in 1983. Luke became a deacon, then associate pastor and has been its pastor since 2007. Luke has such a heart for this little church that he named his first church in India after this little oasis of worship in Santa Ana.
Although its membership is small and their religious backgrounds vary widely; 29 members attend faithfully. Son Isaiah, who learned to play the piano with a 100-year old teacher, provides the music for church. Recently, Pastor Terry and Debbie visited on a Sunday and Terry preached the sermon.
Luke’s ministry and crusades are mainly financed from his earnings as a chaplain and nurse plus the help from a small group of donors, but he really covets our prayers. Prayer is the underpinning of most activities at Cornerstone and no less for Luke as he plans for these crucial efforts in India, here at home, in hospice and hospital. As a result of prayer and discussion, God has provided financially and spiritually for Luke for this upcoming crusade season. Luke, with his son Isaiah providing the music, will be leaving in early 2019.
May the Lord continue to bless and provide for this wonderful and special ministry in India, a far away and exotic country where the Lord is working among the 4-5% of Christians in the state of Andhra-Pradesh and the many others who have yet to hear the Gospel.
To God Be the Glory! by Yvonne Troutman
"Luke is one of Cornerstone’s newer Mission Team partners. His is a life of action propelled by Christian love and concern for all to come to know our Lord."
"The crusades draw as many as 7-10,000 people and many come forward to receive Christ."
"Establishing new churches is another of Luke’s passions. In 1991 he established the first church and has since set up nine more."
"Seminary training is very rare for these village pastors due to the cost and since most pastors are self-taught Luke is concerned that pastors have a firm grasp of core teachings."
"Luke’s ministry and crusades are mainly financed from his earnings as a chaplain and nurse plus the help from a small group of donors, but he really covets our prayers."