Mission Stories: CELM

From snake worshiper to Christian pastor

David Beckman

He was born the son of a snake worshiper. His mother led villagers in the worship of the cobra. Nahgah is the word for cobra in his native language. He still knows the song of praise to the cobra, a god in Hinduism. Deekoo, deekoo, deekoo, deekoo, nahgah, nahgahna! His mother taught this song to all the children of the village, her son included. They sang it as they walked out to the cobra nests on the edge of the village.

This trip to the cobra nests was a part of their indigenous ritual. Their brand of Hinduism chose to venerate the cobra as a god. They believed a cobra could give them blessings. Therefore the worshiper had to keep the snake god happy by offering it gifts. The worshipers would place little bowls of milk and honey near the cobra hole. They would offer songs and prayers to the snake. This was especially important for young girls. If they offered their gifts and prayers faithfully, then the snake god would make it possible for them to have children later on in life. No gifts, no children, so they said; so they believed.

Download a PowerPoint slideshow showing the WELS mission work in India.

Sometimes the snake god would visit one of their homes. He would slither into a corner of the house and curl up. “What a blessing this is,” they said. “A god is visiting our home!” But in one of the homes a ten-year-old boy got too close to the guest god. The cobra bit him. He was dead in less than 20 minutes. So it goes with false religion. Satan giggles as people worship “gods” that kill.


Into this satanic trap, Badavathu Balaji was born. But he did not remain there. Our gracious God led him out of the trap of Hinduism and cobra worship and placed him into the gracious arms of Jesus. We now know him by his Christian name—Pastor Yacob Naik. The path to get there was not an easy one.

Yacob is a “tribal person,” India’s version of indigenous peoples. Their residence in South India predates peoples who migrated from the north. A skilled eye can still pick out a “tribal.” Their features are slightly different. They have their own dialect of the local language. They dress differently. Most noticeably to an Indian is that they are on the bottom rung of the caste “ladder.” Most live in the hill country. Most live in poverty.

As if life wasn’t difficult enough for Yacob, he faced a severe health issue at age nine. A blood vessel in his brain was bulging, and he needed brain surgery to survive. The surgery left behind not only a scar on his head, but it also impaired the use of his left arm and leg for life. Yacob walks with a limp, and his left hand is nearly useless. But God had a plan to make this young man strong!

When Yacob was 15 years old, a Christian preacher visited his village. He gave Yacob a Bible. Yacob started reading it, and he found a gracious Savior. The words drew Yacob into that Savior’s loving arms. No longer did Yacob have to live in fear. No longer did he have to offer gifts to a snake and hope for the best. Yacob believed that God’s Son crushed the serpent and all of the devil’s power. The Holy Spirit led Yacob to believe that he is God’s child through faith in Christ’s forgiveness.

God’s first task for Yacob was to lead his own family to Christ. The gospel did its miracle, and Yacob and his parents were baptized into the Christian faith.


But God wasn’t finished with Yacob yet.

Another pastor came to Yacob’s village—a Lutheran pastor who knew about the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries (CELM) seminary in Guntur. CELM is the Lutheran group assisted by WELS in India. The missionary urged Yacob to attend, but it was a long way away from his village. It was a seven-hour bus ride to get there. It was also a long road to finish the training—seven years of part-time classes (one week per month for two years, and two weeks per month for five years). In spite of the long bus ride and the years of study, Yacob attended faithfully and completed his seminary training, graduating in July 2012.

It wasn’t easy for Yacob. Each month he had to leave behind his young, growing family of a wife and four children. Sometimes he would miss the bus and have to hitch a ride with a truck driver. Imagine climbing up into the truck’s cab with an impaired left side, a book bag, and duffel bag slung over your shoulder. Even in the classroom, the matter of keeping two Bibles (Telugu and English) open while writing in a notebook was a major task. Yet nothing could hold Yacob back. He was determined to finish his training. His family supported him. He has a passion to release people from Satan’s grasp. He knew the tragic bondage of worshiping other gods. He had been there. He knew how sweet that release is!

Gifts from WELS make it possible to reach and teach people like Yacob. These gifts also enable Yacob to reach others. Shortly before his graduation, Yacob’s new church building was dedicated to the glory of God. It’s a simple structure in the village of

Kuchipudithandi. The price tag was quite low. The dividends, however, are as high as the heavens. In that simple church building Christ is preached.

Pray that Yacob’s faithful proclamation of Christ leads many others to “change their tune”—from Deekoo, deekoo, nahgah to “Glory be to Jesus!”

Dave Beckman serves as a friendly counselor to Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries in India.


Christ Evangelical Lutheran Ministries

Baptized souls: 5,500
Congregations: 120
National pastors: 45
Gospel workers: 48
WELS friendly counselors: 2 couples
Seminary students: 16
Pre-seminary students: 24

Unique fact: WELS individuals and groups support seven children’s homes in India, which care for the physical and spiritual needs of more than two hundred children. They also fund Gentle Shepherd Lutheran School, which provides a Christian education for 220 children.

Learn more at wels.net/missions.



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Author: Dave Beckman
Volume 102, Number 10
Issue: October 2015

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