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I was born and raised in a Syrian Christian Orthodox family in a small town called Calicut, Kerala, India. When I was young my parents thought that were no good schools in my town, so I needed to go to a boarding school.I was not happy about this, but they sent me to one in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India. I really didn’t want to go away to boarding school; at the time I was only seven or eight years old, and I felt lonely and miserable in this boarding school, which really affected me. I thought my parents sent me there because they didn’t like me. The reason that they actually sent me to boarding school was because the town in which we lived didn’t have any good schools in which people could even speak proper English, and they wanted me to learn English. Most of my cousins went to boarding school and so did most of my dad’s side of the family, so it was like a tradition. I didn’t understand any of that, though – for me it was like being put in jail.

I would do everything to try and get out of going back after holidays. I remember once I locked myself in my room because the car was about to arrive to take me to the school bus. My parents and the driver tried to open the door, and as they were banging the door from the outside, I stayed in the room and tried to keep quiet, pretending I couldn’t hear them. After the bus left, I opened the door and walked out, pretending nothing had happened. Much to my disappointment, the next day I had to go to school by car. Another time, we went on a holiday as a family, and from there I was supposed to go to school. Once again I decided to hide. I hid myself in the resort. Everyone was looking for me and no one could find me. I desperately didn’t want to be found; I didn’t want to come out and get in to the car because I didn’t want to be taken to school. To me it was like being sentenced to prison. My imagination would run wild with escape plans. I remember lying on my bed, looking up at the ceiling, and thinking ‘if only I could shoot the ceiling to get out and go back home’!

The competition was in a big auditorium, and when it was my turn they called my name out: ‘Rakesh Kurian!’ I had such a fear of forgetting the lyrics, I was still trying to memorise them as I heard my name and walked out onstage. Eyes still trained on the paper, I walked onto the stage, then past the stage, and went straight into the green room. I was so preoccupied with these lyrics I had completely forgotten where I was and where I was meant to go. From behind me I heard the auditorium fill with laughter and I quickly turned back and rushed onto the stage. I had seen everyone else hit the microphone, which was on a stand (to check it was working). I didn’t know why they did it, but trying to not look out of place, I thought I would do the same. I hit the mic and the mic fell on the floor. By now the whole auditorium was roaring with laughter. I picked up the mic and started singing. The first line came out, then the second line. I thought this was a breeze – and then I forgot the rest of the lyrics! I started frantically looking for my beloved paper with the lyrics on it but I couldn’t find it. When I finally found the paper, I couldn’t find what I was meant to be singing. All through this the laughter never stopped, until I finally got off the stage. This mortifying experience was the biggest embarrassment of my life. My family was in the crowd, and I couldn’t live it down because my cousins were there and for years after they would make fun of me. After that I decided I would never come on stage to speak or do anything in public, and I never did until the Lord restored me.

After two years at boarding school I decided I had to get out of that school; I didn’t like it, and they were too strict. My parents said they would take me to Bangalore, a new city, and put me in a new school. A lot of my family had been to this school, including many of my uncles. The school was called Bishop Cottons, and I joined in 4th standard (which is at nine years of age). I liked this school a lot more because we didn’t need to study. Instead I learnt the art of how to skip classes – I would bunk off night-study tuition and just go to an empty lab room with my friends and play around.

I really loved this new school for one reason – they had seasons of cricket, football and hockey. This is where I started playing all different sports; it was all about sport for me. As I grew up there was always this void in me, because I had the feeling that my parents didn’t love me and that’s why they’d sent me off to boarding school. Playing was an outlet and helped me escape these thoughts. Looking back, my motivation for a lot of things I did was to find an escape. Here I found my love of cricket, but I would play all sports and even received the ‘Best All-Rounder’ award. But still I would go nowhere near an activity that required me to be onstage. I never went up on a stage after the singing incident, until I came to the Lord. My parents were so shocked when they first heard me share the Word.

Eventually I had enough of this school as well, and my parents told me that if I studied well for one year they would bring me back home. So that year I studied really well, and they brought me back to Calicut. I had never studied for anything until then, I’d just wanted to come back home.

By the time I came home I excelled at cricket. I started playing for the state team and then for the south zone, and that became my life. From morning till evening my world revolved around cricket. I would go to school, come back and play cricket. I started at fourteen, and when I was sixteen I was playing for the under-25’s. I started hanging out with the big guys and I started becoming known. My name would appear in the papers and I became state captain. It was a big break for my life and it was really exciting. My parents then said that since I was doing so well, I should go to a bigger city called Chennai, but when I went there, things were not the same. I still continued playing cricket well, but through my friends I got invited to a lot of parties, and so I started partying and drinking. Somewhere along the line I lost my way and went astray. One day while I was playing cricket, I had an accident where I caught the ball and hit the gallery and I broke my knee. With that my cricket career ended.

Then I came to a place where I realised that my identity had been all about cricket. When my cricket career ended, the same guys I would play with and hang out with didn’t respect me anymore. I didn’t get invited to any more parties. Then I realised that the people who were invited to these parties were either famous or popular in some sense or were wealthy business guys. So I decided I would get into business and make a lot of money so that I would be popular again. I took over my dad’s business and the business went into debt. Things went downhill from there and I started drinking, not because I wanted to drink but because of all the problems: again I needed an escape. I had to have at least a bottle of beer just so that I could get to sleep, but I wasn’t able to sleep properly and I would wake up at night because of cold-sweat nightmares, all because I was troubled and tortured. I would have one sickness after the other; when I recovered from one illness I would get some other illness.

During this time, I tried to seek religion – I was trying to seek anything that would get me away from my problems, because I didn’t know how to handle life. I tried to go to church; someone said I should go to the temple, and I went there too. I said I would go anywhere, I just wanted some peace. But there was no power in these churches that I was going to, so I thought that power was with the Hindus. Then someone said I should go to a palmist and I went, and he told me a lot of things that I thought was true. After that I went to an astrologer who also told me things that I felt were true. I thought these people had power because I didn’t see any power in the church. I didn’t know that this was actually witchcraft. I remember going to a numerologist and when he started sharing things, I was shocked. He told me that ninety per cent of his clients were Christians, which really surprised me. I came to a conclusion that the church did not have power but all those palmists, astrologers and numerologists did.

We bought a property which was previously a Hindu property that had had a lot of idol worship going on in it. The land was cursed, but we were told that the church or the priest could not do anything to break the curse, so we had to call a powerful Hindu priest because otherwise trouble would come upon the whole family. The priest had to do a ceremony and bury idols in the property in the hope that it would free the land and prosperity would be brought upon it. I started believing all these sayings because I never saw power in the church. I come from a traditional Christian family and for us it was all about traditions and how famous we were in the orthodox community; it was just religion. But I never saw any power or any fruit in anything. I don’t think my family themselves even believed in it. They were in the church because of tradition – because my grandfather had built the church or my dad was the trustee of the church – and that was the only reason I was going.

At this time I was in a depressed state, dependent on drinking alcohol and in bondage. I would go to a man with a parrot so that he could tell me my future, just so I could hear I had hope somehow. I wanted to hear some good news. But all these things such as parrot astrology were leading me to more bondage. I was going from bondage to bondage. I was getting even more miserable and it came to a point when, at twenty-six years old, I had great difficulty even breathing properly. I couldn’t travel in an air-conditioned closed train compartment or travel in a plane because I felt like I was being suffocated, I was so claustrophobic. This bondage had reached a place where I felt like I could not live any longer. I couldn’t sleep for more than two hours, and even then I needed to have a drink every night to get me to sleep in the first place, and I would wake up with nightmares.

It came to a point where the people I owed money to were after me. It was a horrible situation to be in – I was still in Chennai then and it wasn’t much debt at the time, but for me it was like an immovable mountain. If you get £100 and you need to pay £7,000, that’s a lot. It’s all relative. I reached a point in my life where I didn’t know how to live and I said to myself, I can’t continue like this. If I continue like this, I didn’t know what will happen to me. I felt like it was a hereditary curse: my dad was facing a lot of the same things I was going through, but he was fifty-five years old, and I was only twenty-six and going through the worst time of my life. I would wonder how he lived so long, when I could barely survive twenty-six. It was completely suffocating.