Goodbye, Jaya

Chris Cook

Chris Cook

Director of Care Initiatives
Jaya died.

I was on my second day of a silent retreat when I got that two-word text from a friend, and everything went sideways. Our friend Jaya had died – suddenly – and the news opened an unwelcome and still-not-understood space in my heart and life.

It often takes me a bit to really let news of loss sink in; and like many, I’m a master of delay. Let’s just say I took full advantage: I had duties as a member of Jaya’s nonprofit board. There was the team to send for the funeral. There were media requests and tribute videos to string together. There were conversations to be had about the way forward for the organization. There were prayers for the family and friends left behind.

It’s been three months since I got that message and I’m still having a tough time getting my head around it. Why?


Because Jaya Sankar was God’s primary instrument of glorious disruption for a guy who was leading a successful, comfortable, and relatively low-impact life.

It wasn’t as if I wasn’t engaged in life. I had a lot going on. In May, 2000 when I met Jaya, I was gainfully employed in the auto industry. Jesus had snatched my heart a few years before and I was leading one of the largest singles ministries in the area – on a volunteer basis.

But then a request came from the church office to take a visitor from India out for a meal and talk ministry.


I was happy to. After all, I had learned a lot in the year I’d been leading. And I loved Indian food!

Jaya and I met for lunch a few days later and I took him to my favorite local Indian buffet (which he politely described as very authentic). My presentation on singles ministries never got off the ground, though. He kept showing me 4×6 glossy photos of the good happening back in India – church plants, support for the elderly, a sewing school and so many orphans being cared for.

I started to understand that I had nothing he needed in the way of ministry advice. And there was also the slow realization that I was trying to give singles ministry advice to a guy whose culture generally practices arranged marriage.

There was a long, uncomfortable pause as our eyes locked over plates of tandoori chicken. Not knowing where to take the conversation, I awkwardly stated the obvious:

“You don’t need to know how to start a singles ministry.”

Jaya’s smile widened and his coffee-brown eyes sparkled. He responded with four words that changed my life:

“You need to come.”

I was thunderstruck.

India? Impossible. I had a firm bargain with God on the “no third world missions” thing.

It took me a second or two, but I gave him the canned Christian answer to an unwelcome challenge:

“Well, when God calls me, I’ll come.”

Perfect.

I dodged the invitation and still made it look like I was following God. I could file those four unsettling words away under “not gonna happen” and return to my well-crafted life.

Jaya accepted my answer. God did not. I didn’t get left alone about it for months. The invitation showed up uninvited in my conversations, my prayer life and occasionally made getting to sleep a challenge.

It wasn’t until a midweek service, communion elements in my hand, that I finally relented…

“Okay, I’ll go.”

I didn’t know how it would happen – and I certainly wasn’t going to take any active steps; but the posture of my heart changed, and Jaya’s invitation moved from “not gonna happen” to “I’m open.”

That openness of heart initiated by Jaya rippled through my life. More and more, God asked me to pray audacious, even “dangerous” prayers of surrender which were followed by an abrupt end to my career in automotive and a long, scary season wrestling with what was next.

It was nearly a year into that confusion and uncertainty when I acted on Jaya’s invitation and got on a plane to India. The experience was far too intense to fully explain within these confines, but here are a few highlights:

Rides to and from Jaya’s house with mile after mile of unimaginable poverty…

Medical clinics for two and a half days where I was pressed into service to run the dispensary. I individually prayed for over a thousand people as I filled their prescriptions…

Tent rallies lasting into the night with thousands of people, longing to hear just a little message of hope…

The faces of scores of kids saved from street-survival getting a meal, an education, and some actual time just to play…

And through all the overwhelming and tearful moments that tried to convince me to harden my heart, my friend Jaya was there – tirelessly encouraging a careworn mission team and working at a pace I would have thought unsustainable. As our friendship grew, I often asked myself where his seemingly boundless energy came from. I understood more as he shared his story.

After his encounter with Jesus as a teenager, Jaya and his wife, Lakshmi, left a comfortable life in an upper caste family and founded Christ’s Evangelical Mission (CEM) to make their life among the people their culture would deem the least worthy.

It started with a sewing school for women needing a way out of the stark career choices of hard manual labor or worse. CEM soon grew into whatever the needs the community presented – including kids in unstable or absent families and the elderly abandoned by their families.

But it didn’t stop there. When a premature baby girl was delivered in the CEM clinic and abandoned in the night by a young, scared mother, Jaya and Lakshmi used an empty fish tank as an improvised incubator to keep her alive. They eventually adopted the baby as their own.

Deepthi Grace is now 17 years old and dreams of being either a businesswoman or an archeologist. Amazingly, they did it again a year later with another abandoned baby girl. Keerthi is 16 and attending secondary school with her sights set on a career in medicine.

In every interaction I had with him, Jaya’s very demeanor was a reminder of the challenge he had made to me: “You need to come.”

But even in the hard moments of misunderstanding and exhaustion, as our team spent itself to be a small encouragement in an ocean of despair, we all knew great joy and satisfaction as well. In the week I spent with Jaya and the people he cared for, I experienced a fearsome, beautiful way of life unlike anything I had ever known.

And I came back a different person – a little sadder, and just crazy enough to step into daunting challenges with a little less terror and a little more anticipation and curiosity and conviction.

Years later, I came across a quote from philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard that summed up the experience most succinctly for me:

“The organ of spiritual knowledge is obedience. As you open your eyes to see colors, you know the presence of the kingdom of God by obeying.”

I came to understand that Jaya “opened his eyes” to God’s kingdom more fully than any other human I’ve ever known. And he invited many others into the adventure of mysterious fulfillment that comes from letting go of self and serving others.

Not long after my return from my first trip to India, I left my industry career for the surprising joy of vocational ministry. I walked alongside my mother and father in their declining years, and my wife and I pushed back against the uncertainty of frightening diagnoses of a daughter with special needs. And I’ve been back many times to see my friends in India, who remind me – just by the way they live – to follow God’s lead and engage in the mystery and true beauty of life.

Jaya’s challenge to me was more than just “You need to come.” It was a call to vulnerability – to lean into sometimes heartbreaking experiences, yield to the pruning and strengthening that comes with it and abandon myself to the possibility that a deeper love for life and people is on the other side of the invitation. And in that obedience, let myself become a little more of the person that God originally had in mind.

Jaya was simply passing along to me the call that God put on his life. I’ve known few who pursued it with such confident abandon as he. I can never thank Jaya enough for the steely gift of courage he inspired me to embrace. And though I’ll not hear his voice again on this side of heaven, I can’t help thinking that the challenge he left with me will echo through the rest of my life and beyond. And when I’m faced with the next season of invitation and challenge (oh, it will come), I’ll somehow hear in my bones the familiar refrain:

You need to come.

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Titus 1

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior, 4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. 5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless– not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. 10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach– and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

Other Helpful Passages:
Ephesians 4
1 Corinthians 12-13
1 Peter 5
2 Timothy 2:2

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Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. 8 In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. 14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

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We will have several grief and trauma specialists on site this Sunday evening at our Orion Campus (4640 S Lapeer Rd Lake Orion, MI 48359) from 5-6:30pm and will have a night of prayer, worship and an opportunity for students to process with each other.

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We will be offering a time for our congregation to gather after each service for a time of corporate prayer in the Greatroom. Prayer will be offered at 10:15 am and 12:15 pm. (25000 Hall Rd, Charter Twp of Clinton, MI 48036)

This Sunday at 3:30 pm as a community we want to gather, pray and mourn together. We are all looking for answers and wondering why tragedy happens but we can find hope and peace in Jesus. 

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Join us Sunday night, December 5th for a Community Prayer Vigil at Kensington Church at 6:00 pm. Invite friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers to come together for a time of hope and prayer. 

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The Marriage Course includes seven sessions, designed to help couples invest in their relationship and build a strong marriage. Some couples do the course to intentionally invest in their relationship, others are looking to address more specific challenges. Either way, the course offers essential tools and practical ideas to help you build a relationship that lasts a lifetime. The Marriage Course is based on Christian principles but designed for all couples with or without a church background.

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What is my purpose? What value does the Bible have in my life? How do I pray? How can I grow in confidence to share my faith? These are the big questions that are at the heart of what it means to have a relationship with God. Alpha is a space to explore life’s big questions, to say what you think and to hear other people’s points of view. Over ten-weeks you will explore and discover while listening to weekly topics, participating in table discussion, and developing community. Alpha courses meeting in-person gather around a meal.

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