I write this piece as a grateful man. I am grateful to my Creator. And my classmates. August 9 is a special day in my life. The reason? My birthday? Nope. The day I was Born Again?! No. It was on that dramatic I got on stage to proclaim God's Word. It happened in a special captains assembly in Ida Scudder School (Vellore) - 19 years ago - August 9, 1991, as a 16 year old.
I remember clearly how it all happened. After the list of captains and prefects was announced our Principal then Mr.MM Mathews asked School Captain Shameen to lead the assembly teaming up with the entire elected team of leaders. I remember Shameen walking up to me, the Lincoln House captain, and asking me to share the message on that day. I agreed with my knees knocking and my heart ready to burst forth. What made Shameen walk up to me still remains a mystery.
But I am glad for what happened after that. With fear and trembling I preached my first ever sermon from that wooden stage in Scudder School in Vellore Town in Tamil Nadu on 9 August. It was a sermon on hell, I recollect. I recollect my class-mate Neeta Wilfred read a passage from Mathew 18 before I went in. "Better to go to heaven with one eye and one hand rather than go to hell with two eyes and two hands!" was the text. I recall how one of the students fainted after hearing that message. Apparently, she was too stunned to hear such straight preaching on hell. It was really an unusual baptism into preaching for me. God was clearly telling me, "You've got to preach Duke. That is one of the callings I have placed on your life!" When I hit the rewind button I recall how many of you walked up to me to say that was not at all that bad (even though I myself know that what my flaws were then).
Did Roshni (Roshni Chandran) sing "Spirit of the Living God" as a solo with Babloo (Dr. Solomon Satish Kumar) on the keys before I started? I am not sure if that happened on August 9 - but it did happen on one more occasion I took the mike to preach in grade 12 in Scudder School. I thank God for what happened that day.
On an earlier occasion I could not even say two lines in a drama I had to do from that same wooden stage (a drama that featured some pretty girls and some of your are smiling!). I told the Lord following that fiasco that I would never get on stage for him. "I can set the mike for some other more talented and more charismatic person to get on stage to preach but I will not do it myself!" I told my Maker then. But thank God for unanswered prayers!
What I started to do that day I continue to do all these twenty-two years. I have some fond memories - preaching to a group of youth in Germany, preaching in the CMC chapel, preaching to 1000 plus youth from 54 corporates and 147 colleges in Hyderabad, preaching in MCC to hip youth who were ready to shoot me down and doing it okay, speaking inside MindSpace IT Park in Hyderabad to curious, cerebral IT pros from various faiths in an open-air theatre and having them spell-bound, hearing from an American School boy that he hadn't heard anyone speak with forthrightness as yours truly on the subject of sexual immorality, etc, etc. I remember the tears at the altar, the stunned silence, the crackles of laughter, the young man from Africa asking if he can have the mike I just preached from so that he could publicly confess the sin of porn addiction he was repenting from, etc, etc.
Even as I write these lines on 8 August 2013, I rub my eyes in disbelief to see over 100,000 hits on the youtube channel (www.youtube.com/visitduke) featuring my Bible talks on sex, love, marriage, misssion and more. I am floored that someone moved by the Holy Spirit would sponsor a unlimited pro Sound Cloud account (www.soundcloud.com/shoutaloud) to enable me to host audio sermons making it convenient for a wider audience to hear me.
I am truly humbled and teary-eyed to acknowledge this: even though there are many more eloquent speakers than me, yet God in amazing mercy chose me to be one of his fulltime spokespersons for the Google Generation and gave me a privilege to serve him in one corner in His Big Kingdom. I get goosebumps that I can now do full-time what I started to do that day - August 9, 1991 - so nervously, so unsure of myself. All by the sheer grace of God! Thank you classmates for the encouragement! Thank you Grabbing the Google Generation Mission (www.facebook.com/googleduke - the official page of the organization that Duke founded in 2006) partners and volunteers for standing with me. Glorious and precious are those memories!
Note about picture: This is me, donning the MC role in a Variety Entertainment Event in my school, the year being 1991/92. There were no pictures taken when I preached my first sermon on August 9, 1991. But this is how I looked - lanky, unimpressive, afraid, etc., etc., Recalling I Cor. 1:26 - 30: 26 For consider your calling, brothers: mnot many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”