From the editor’s desk
Fall is very much my favorite season. The start of fall is an exciting time for everyone, with visits to orchards and farms, and a ton of other fun activities for the whole family. It can also be a little overwhelming for some of us with school work gearing up for the kids and temperatures slowly dropping down.
This edition of the COMA newsletter has a lot of the usual items, but in addition has a very interesting interview with one of my favorite COMA patrons, our beloved trustee Jacob Vengal. His story is a true inspiration to all of us and teaches us the importance of giving back.
YWCA Host a Meal
The last COMA YWCA Host a Meal event of the year has been scheduled for Oct 11th Sunday. We are doing a breakfast this time.
This event has been sold out! A group of 12 volunteers, including 8 of our young adults will prepare and serve breakfast to around 150 people at the YWCA shelter in Columbus. This event is sponsored by COMA. Thanks to all of you that responded.
An interview with Jacob Vengal
Jacob V. Vengal is a current COMA trustee and has a longstanding history of being a very active COMA volunteer, leader, and patron. I was fortunate to have been able to conduct an interview with Jacob this week regarding his prison rehabilitation volunteering.
[Smitha] Can you tell us about yourself and your association with COMA?
[Jacob] We have been living in Columbus from 1996. We have been part of COMA consistently from that time onwards. Of course the name COMA was adopted only much later. Those days we didn’t have any office bearers or any “association”. All that we had was Onam and Christmas get-togethers. Four families would organize the Onam and another four families would organize the Christmas. It was in 1999 that Unni (Mavath) uncle asked my wife Meenu that we need to be one of the families along with Sethu, Veda, and a few other families to organize the 1999 Christmas. I was very angry with Meenu saying “how could you agree to this when Adu is only one year old, Nikhil is only 7, and you going to OSU. They need to find someone else for this, not us”. However, once we started organizing the 1999 Christmas, I enjoyed it so much that I never looked back. Now I realize that Unni uncle pushing us into this has also contributed in me developing my leadership skills. Today I am in leadership of several organizations, in addition to being the founder of two. I shared this story to encourage all of you to jump into the driver’s seat.
[Smitha] What exactly is the prison rehabilitation program, and how are you involved? How frequently do you participate in this program?
[Jacob] I work with Kairos International Prison Ministry www.KairosOhio.org. We shower God’s love on the inmates. Our goal is for 45 of us volunteers going in and serving 42 inmates at a time during a four day program during which, we go inside the prison at 7 in the morning and minister to the inmates till 9 in the night. We do that from Thursday through Sunday. That is our biggest program and we conduct it twice a year. There is so much preparation that starts around 8 weeks before each of them. Then there is also continuous follow up. Any mountain top experience will die out unless there is good follow up. That is one area where Kairos excel.
Those who attend the program are referred as Kairos graduates. All the Kairos graduates meet once a week for a time of prayer, share, and support each other. Then on every 3rd Saturday, we go back to the prison to rejuvenate them.
We have already started team formation meetings for weekend #9 (Nov 5 to 8). I have been doing Kairos for over 3 years now.
[Smitha] What’s been your most rewarding experience so far?
[Jacob] Prisons are supposed to be correctional facilities. The fact of the matter is most of them become bigger criminals by being there. Those getting out will mostly go back to their criminal background. The only difference is who gets caught and goes back to the prison, or stays out and continue their criminal activity, except for those attend faith based programs like Kairos.
After the program was over, one of them said – “I am scheduled to get released in 6 months. I had a reasonably good idea about where I was going and what I would be doing. That would have brought me right back into the prison. Now that I attended Kairos and submitted to God’s grace in getting transformed, I will not end up coming back to the prison.”
We have a highly structured program that devotes time for each and every topic that is important for prisoners. Forgiveness being the toughest topic, we have five sessions. Arthur, one of the inmates said that he struggled with this topic as he just couldn’t accept forgiveness or forgive others. At the end of the last session on forgiveness, with great relief he said, “I got it”. However, the very next morning he was attacked by two other prisoners who were not part of our program. One side of his face turned black and he had a big cut just below the eye. He also had many bruises all over his body as the attackers kicked him several times after he fell down. Arthur told me – “if this attack had happened before I came for Kairos, I would have killed both of them”.
I met Pete in prison during a Kairos Prison Ministry in 2013. Before that he had absolutely no one and no place to go. He was getting released in 6 months and requested me to organize a place for him to stay. Later he came to know that upon his release, he would be sent to a homeless shelter in the same county where he was convicted. Soon he wrote to me “Jacob, the opposite party has threatened to kill me, if I go back to that county. I will kill myself before they can kill me” . By God’s grace, I managed to organize a place for Pete in Akron OH, 150 miles away from the county where he was convicted.
On Jan 23, 2014 upon his release, I picked him up from the prison. On our way to Akron, we stopped at a Bob Evans and had a nice lunch. I was so pleased to see the glow on Pete’s face. This was probably the only decent meal he had had in several years, except for the gourmet food we served him during our prison ministry weekend the previous year.
The next morning, I drove back to Akron. I knew Pete had no driver’s license, picture ID, birth certificate, or social security card. Pete was hoping to get a state ID for $8. However, if he passed the written test, he could get a temporary driving permit for $22. Most of the guys after spending a few years in prison have their brains go rusty. I didn’t have much hope in Pete passing the written test. Still I told him, “Pete, pray to the Lord and do your best”. He said $22 is a lot of money. I said “don’t worry about the money”. By God’s grace he passed the test and walked out with a temporary driving permit.
Then I drove to New Castle, PA to get his birth certificate. Much more happened after that, including how I helped him open a checking account when he had no money, sending money from Columbus to Akron in real time, and helping him get his medication – probably I can write a book on that.
February 22, which was a month after his release, was another big day as I drove to Akron to let Pete practice in my car and get a driver’s license.
Pete got a job as a driver. Needless to say, my helping him in getting the license became useful. He was taking the bus every day. Since the frequency of the bus is poor on Sundays, he ended up walking 2 hours each way on Sunday. I let him borrow my truck.
Six months later, I was tempted to ask him to return the truck as I wanted to use the truck to haul mulch, top soil etc. I told myself, I want the truck; however, his need was much more than my want as I have a car for transportation. Several weeks after I had full victory on the temptation. Out of the blue, Pete called me saying he is buying a truck from someone in church. The timing of him returning the truck was perfect. I thanked God for making it happen without me asking.
I think it was in December 2014, I got a call from a lady. She said “I am Pete’s ex-wife. Pete and I are getting remarried. We want to invite you”. My happiness was beyond what you can imagine. I have a fairly good idea about the circumstances that led him to the prison. His wife divorced him several months after his incarceration. His youngest daughter was only 6 years when he was incarcerated. 7 years later, can you imagine the happiness that young girl got in knowing that her parents were getting remarried?
You can hear directly from the prison inmates, if you go to either of the links below.
You may have heard the story of a small boy who was walking on a beach. He saw several star fish that got washed onto shore by the waves. He picked up each one and tossed it back to the sea so that it wouldn’t die on the shore. Someone told him, “You are not going to make a difference. There are thousands of star fish on this shore and there are hundreds of beaches.” The boy bent down and picked up one more star fish. Tossing it into the ocean he said, “I made a difference in this one’s life”.
Some of you may be thinking that only people like Jacob can do this, and that there is nothing you can do. Not true. Think about the firefighter battling the blaze on the front line. Even if you are not able to take that role, you can definitely support him by spraying water on him, so that he doesn’t get burned out.
If you are interested in helping the less fortunate, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also would like to invite you to the next graduation ceremony in the prison on Sunday, Nov 8 afternoon. Children below 18 years are not allowed.
I challenge everyone to stop complaining about the darkness and light a small candle.
[Smitha] Can you tell us about your family and how they support you in this activity?
[Jacob] God has blessed me with the best wife any man ever got. Meenu supports me whole heartedly in my ministry. Nikhil and Adu have been forgiving when I miss their soccer matches and other events. Without God’s grace and support from my family, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of these.
Thank you Smitha and COMA for letting me share this great experience.
How I made the Volleyball team – by Meera Unni
Hi, I am Meera Nair, and I am a freshman at Scioto High School. I would like to share my experience on the volleyball team. I am so proud to be a part of the Dublin Scioto Girls Volleyball. The selection criteria was a bit challenging. I worked very hard to earn this position. As soon as my school closed for summer, from the beginning of June till the end of July, we had our daily summer conditioning and practice sessions. During summer break, every day I used to wake up early in the morning for weight lifting and practice every so often in the evening. Our tryout for the team was on the first week of August for 2 days. The first day, the coach will watch everyone’s fitness and agility and the next day the coach will watch our skills of the game. At the end of the second day of tryouts, she will call out each player individually and will say if you made it to the team or not. I was very nervous and unsure on what was going to happen. Finally, the coach called out my name, and she told me I had made it. I was so elated. Out of 40-50 players that tried out, I was selected to be a part of one of the 11 team players on the freshman team.
I have been playing volleyball since 5th grade, and also I was in the middle school volleyball team for 2 years, that has given me lot of confidence. I was fortunate enough that my parents sent me to club volleyball during winter and spring time. My dad used to take me every other weekend to Cincinnati, Toledo, or Cleveland etc. for the games and twice a week for practices in Columbus. I am so thankful to my parents for their time and support.
Malayalam class 2015-2016
September 13th Sunday was the inaugural session for the COMA Malayalam class for 2015-2016. Head teacher Veda Warrier and the other teachers spoke to the parents as well as the children. There were also a few members from the 2015 EC team present.
This year, a total of 14 students have enrolled in the classes, and will be divided into two classes, based on their skill level. Each class will have two teachers, and classes will be on Sundays from 11 AM to 12 PM. It’s quite impressive that these volunteer teachers are ready to take a few hours off their Sundays to help our children learn the language of our state of origin back in India.
The COMA Onam program, that was held on August 29th, had a turnout of over 350 Malayalees. Sadya was served in three rounds. For photos and videos from the event, please check out our Facebook page.
COMA Christmas – Block your date
The executive committee is working on the finer details, but the date for this year’s COMA Christmas program is fixed. December 5th Saturday 6 PM – 9:30 PM.
Once the venue and other details are finalized, expect to get an email with more information.
Some of you often ask us what address you can mail checks to. COMA has an official PO box, and that’s where you can mail checks or anything else you need to send via snail mail.
PO Box 4141
Dublin, OH 43016