La Porte City American Lutheran Church would like to introduce the community to our new pastor by sharing this letter he sent to our congregation. Pastor Selva will start leading worship services at the beginning of February 2023. As he and his wife, Leema, get acquainted and acclimated to their new home, we hope you’ll join us in giving them a warm welcome to La Porte City!
Letter from Pastor Selva:
Greetings to the community of La Porte City!
I am Selvaraj Periannan, 65. I would like to be called Selva.
I learned seven languages, including two from my native country of India, two from Africa, two from Seminary and one from France. I learned English to do seminary studies but never spoke or preached until I was sent to serve the diocese of Winnipeg, Canada where I began preaching my sermons in English.
I was ordained as a Franciscan Capuchin priest in 1988 after completing 11 years of learning at the seminary. I then served five years before working in Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso, Africa. I had to return to India because I had a severe malarial attack that deteriorated my health. Upon my return to India, I was given a new parish with 170 families attending services in a palm-roofed hut church that expanded within three years to 300 families and a new church building.
Throughout my career, I have traveled as a mission delegate to speak with congregations in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Singapore. I always liked moving to different countries and places as a missionary.
I arrived in North Dakota in October 2006 to be a parish priest in the diocese of Bismark. This was my first view of the United States and while I refrained from driving on the icy and snowy roads, I was delighted with my new assignment.
MY EARLY LIFE
My journey to the priesthood illustrates my faith which I inherited from my wonderful Catholic parents. I was born the youngest of three sons to peasant parents who never stepped into a school to learn. Our family lived in a rural South Indian village where farming and physical labor made for a satisfactory life.
Education was not valued in the community, but for some reason, my parents who never went to school, decided their children should go. There was no need for education and my parents never had any reason to go beyond their village. As a child, I didn’t see any reason for school, either. To go to school was an embarrassment. School was a strange thing, but here they were forcing us to go.
My studies in the first five grades were haphazard, merely for signing in rather than for teaching the children any subjects. Many times, the students were left unsupervised for most of the day, to play or wander until the time came to walk home. Two of my older brothers were sent to boarding school. But I stayed with my family where I helped with the cattle and the farming and the duties around the house, including carrying 30 gallons jars of water from the village well for use in the house and for the livestock before going to school every day.
I was forced to go to church at least once a month, walking seven miles. I never saw a Bible until I joined the seminary, but the faith that I inherited from my parents was so strong. I remember my parents begging me to read the rosaries, stations of the cross and prayers for them. As much as I disliked church and school, I had affinity, even as a child, for people at the edges of society.
I continued going to school, despite pressure from the other villagers to stop. When I entered 6th grade, I made the daily, 5-mile walk barefoot from my home and across a river to the town to high school. I landed here without learning elementary lessons to read and write! I struggled with my subjects, especially mathematics and English, and found excuses to lose my books in the river’s flood waters or even nap on the riverbank. I was inferior, shy and fear engulfed me. The teachers and classmates bullied, teased, and ridiculed me for being dumb and least in the class.
A JOURNEY TO PRIESTHOOD
Going to school was a constant battle. One day on the eve of Christmas at midnight Mass, I found an answer to all my struggle of learning. I would become a priest like my parish priest. I thought to myself, “the priest says masses just looking at the book and reading, I can do that. Then I won’t have to I struggle to go to school. If I become a priest, I can escape my studies!”
I got the address of a seminary from my parish priest and wrote to them my wish to become a priest at the Franciscan Capuchin Order, without knowing who they were and what they would ask me to do! A reply came from the director of the seminary that I would be invited if I passed all six subjects to complete twelfth grade. That reply from the director disappointed me very much, so I gave up the thought of going to the seminary. But from that time onward, there was an inner voice telling me, “Selva, you can do it. Why not you? Don’t give up!” Going forward, I began to like school, worked very hard, sacrificed a lot to achieve my goal of passing 12th grade, and went to the seminary at the age of 18. Still, I am studying and learning!
I served as a priest for 29 years before becoming a rostered minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). It was after struggling with myself for three years, that God gave me the courage to make the transition to ELCA. I found peace and grace to grow in good faith.
In all my life, I have never been bored. I keep busy like a bee, occupying myself in creative work. My hobbies are reading, listening to music, gardening, fishing, housekeeping, and visitation. I have read the entire Bible four times. In 2012, I started a free evening high school with 60 students employed with two teachers and it is still running successfully. This life-giving education ministry to God’s kids is my purpose-driven priority of mission. “Do anything and everything with love.”
This is my passion to kindle the fire of faith in God’s believers, to connect with people in peace, to give joy, to give care, to give hope, and to increase faith in every way possible. The gospel is to be preached down to earth to be effective in this current world more than ever. I am sociable and adaptable. I am open to learning. This is my philosophy as a pastor, to focus on the practical and existential side to connect and communicate with the people of God. “Just bloom where you are planted.”
Thank you all for your warm welcome!