Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” John 1:47 (ESV).
The first job I had was when I became National Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka in 1976. I still hold this job thirty-three years later. I had worked as a Summer intern while in Seminary, but this was my first job proper. How fortunate I was to have Victor Manogarom, whom we affectionately called Victor Annan, as my first boss. He gently taught this naïve leader many things that a leader ought to know. He was very humble in the way he suggested changes in my ministry and leadership practices and in my personal behaviour. So I was very happy to learn from him.
There are two things about Victor Annan that stand out in my mind. First, was the fact that this was a person who could be characterised by two words: NO SHOW. This is rare among top leaders in Asia. Our shame-oriented culture causes many people to maintain some sort dignity that is supposed to befit leadership. This causes the leaders to keep some distance from the people they lead. Not Victor Annan! Even though he was much older than me, we became good friends. I am particularly grateful that he was not ashamed to talk about his weaknesses. I learned many important lessons from the things he shared with me about the challenges he has faced! I still tell our younger staff some of the things he told me in my early days in ministry.
This “no show” quality also resulted in people being comfortable in his presence. It made his home a delightful place to be in. I have spent many happy days in the Manogarom home. His wonderful wife Chella greatly enhanced his ministry of encouragement. He was another person who represented the refreshing “no show” quality—we felt so at home in her presence. If she fussed about her hospitality and paid too much attention to it—we would have felt uneasy in her presence. But she exuded informality. Their home became a haven not only to me, but also to many people who went to Chennai from Sri Lanka (especially YFC staff and students), and to Sri Lankan refugees who fled to India because of the troubles here. I will never forget the sorrow response of some of our YFC volunteers in the Northern city of Mannar when they heard of Mrs Mano’s death.
For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor. 9:16 ESV).
The second feature that stands out is Victor Annan’s passion for evangelism. I think that it is in this area of ministry that I learned most from him. He was always dreaming about ways to reach people, especially youth, with the gospel. We had so many, many long chats about the theology and practice of evangelism. He told me so many stories about the great evangelists of India. I have always maintained, as C. S. Lewis says in his book The Four Loves, that one of the greatest joys in life is when Christians sit together and chat about all sorts of topics, but from a Christian perspective. This is something I enjoyed with Victor Annan.
He did not only talk about evangelism, he was also a great evangelist. I should know. My wife came to the Lord through his preaching!
I really miss this dear man of God. But I am so grateful that I came under his tutelage in the formative years of my ministry.