The Unseen Story


The Unexpected Church

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My name is Sam Chacko and I have the privilege of serving as a lead pastor at LOFT City Church in Richardson, Texas. I also have the joy of serving as a project manager with Stadia Church Planting where I coach, consult, and pastor church planters in a season before they launch their church. I’ve been married for almost 19 years and have three children and been in the Dallas area for 19 years as well. 

Where to begin my story as I was thinking about it, actually sharing a little bit of my dad’s journey, because he’s the very reason that I’m here. 

My dad, at a young age, came to faith in Jesus at the age of 15, or 16. His parents were adamantly opposed to him coming to Jesus. When he got baptized, he went to the pastor’s house, changed clothes into the pastor’s son’s clothes, got baptized in those clothes, and then changed back into his own clothes and went home hoping that his parents wouldn’t find out. But they eventually found out and he was forced out of the house. He left South India where my dad was born, and moved to North India to work there. But he felt like God was calling him to still love and provide for his family. So he would monthly send money back home in South India to his parents to take care of them. 

At the same time, while he was working, he was involved in ministry. He’s actually experienced persecution, been beaten; he’s a man of incredible faith. After several years of serving in North India and working there, he moved back to South India, about 30-40 minutes from where my grandparents lived, and started a job, worked there and at the same time planted a church where he pastored. 

In 1976, the year before he got married, my dad was in a jeep and his jeep collided with a big semi truck and he flung out of the Jeep and they did not think he would even survive for a day. For a day they didn’t do anything on him thinking that he’s not going to make it. Once they started doing stuff, they said that he would never walk again. His kneecaps were shattered, all sorts of bodily injuries, and they said that he was never going to be normal again. Miraculously, God healed him. 

The same doctors that said that he would never walk again, my dad had the joy of months later, going back and walking in front of them, running in front of them, and just showing that God could miraculously still heal. Through that, his unbelieving family, grandparents, brothers, sister, all came to faith in Jesus. So I come from a legacy of just seeing God move in powerful ways and just incredible faith of my parents.

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My parents migrated here in December of 1980. I was three years old when they came. We walked out of JFK Airport in New York, on a day when it was snowing like crazy. I remember having flip flops on and it was cold and not knowing where we were or what we were doing. We spent a couple months in New York and then they moved to Philadelphia where dad helped co-plant and co-pastor a church, an Indian immigrant church in the Philadelphia area. He pastored there for the last 40 years and the church grew to almost 100 families, all from India, immigrant families moving here, many of them not having any family close by. The church really became their home. So, church was family. 

From a very young age, my parents had me serving in different capacities. I lead worship, even though I cannot sing for the life of me, I played drums, and I was horrible at drums. I taught Sunday school when I was in high school for the little kids, and just was really active. But my faith was almost a performance. I think I loved my parents to the point that I didn’t want to do anything horrible to hurt them or offend them. Basically, I was living through my parents faith, I was doing whatever they needed to please them and keep them happy. 

In high school, God brought a girl into my homeroom who had the same last name as me, but was not related. We were in the same homeroom for four years and she was just really in love with Jesus. I mean, you could just tell by the way she lived, by the way she responded to people, the graciousness that she showed. I remember Junior year, one week, just sitting in homeroom and saying, “God, You either have to get this girl out of my life, or You’ve got to give me the joy and peace that she has, because she’s irritating.” 

I remember praying that prayer and that weekend, it was a Saturday night, we were at church. So the way our church did it, they had songs in Malayalam, that was our native language, and then, as soon as I was done, the kids would come up and I’d lead songs in English. I was leading songs in English and I remember singing, starting this song, and all of a sudden, I just could not contain it. Like, I just started weeping while I was standing there. I took the mic and handed it to my brother who was behind me, and he had no idea, – I was 16 and he was 14. – he had no idea what was going on.  

I walked out to the bathroom of the church, because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying, and sat in the bathroom stall. That’s where I finally just said, “Alright Jesus, You have my life.” and I surrendered my life to Jesus. 

So, I love Jesus, but I’d never, I never wanted to do ministry. I was always like, I’ve seen the heartaches and the pains of doing ministry. I knew the challenges of not having enough. Like my brother and I did not have the nicest clothes and shoes, and we were constantly mocked at school. I was always of the mentality of like, I love Jesus, I’ll serve Jesus, I’ll go to church, I’ll pay my tithes, but I want to make sure my kids have the best of the best – they were taken care of. That financially, finances was not going to be an issue for us and so I pursued an accounting degree. 

I went to a school that offered a missions trip though. I signed up for a trip and spent two months in India between semesters. In those two months, we went from village to village sharing the gospel. We went to major cities where the host pastor had crusades, where there were tens of thousands of people showing up at these crusades. And I don’t remember much of any of that, but what I do remember is there was one day in one major city, the pastor took us to the Hindu temple. 

This was a massive temple. It was probably one of the largest temples I’ve ever seen. It was dark, it was crowded, and the pastor just wanted us to just stand there and observe what was happening. So we stood, we observed, and I watched as women were throwing money and grain to the statues, in the hopes that the statues would provide them a baby. Standing there, I knew that the Lord was calling me into ministry. 

So I came back. I had a lot of soul searching to do because I was a year away from graduating with my accounting degree, and I felt like God was telling me to finish. I finished that, worked in an accounting firm for a year, and started seminary part time. I started seminary not knowing what God was calling me to do. The one thing I told God was like I did not want a pastor. In seminary, one of my practicums was a hospital chaplaincy and I fell in love with hospital chaplaincy. I loved sitting with people who were in the midst of their grief, their pain, and it was hard. I mean, I sat with a young mom as life support was being pulled off of her son, who was 14 and caught in a drive-by shooting. It was just sitting there as she grieved the loss of her son. I worked at the VA and watched older men who had served our country faithfully pass in the middle of the night and just sat with their family as they grieved the loss of their loved ones. And yet, I found incredible purpose in caring for people in the midst of their pain and grief. 

I graduated seminary, met my wife, who was a student in Dallas, at Dallas Baptist University, and I was in Oklahoma at the time. Her family grew up in Dubai, and they came for the wedding. The week before our wedding, her brother, her dad, and sister were hanging around DBU while Ann was in class. There’s a lake by Dallas Baptist where he slipped in, he fell and he drowned. So we buried my brother in law the Saturday before our wedding and then we got married the week after. Mostly because Ann and I had decided that her parents came here for a celebration and we didn’t want them to leave with a funeral. It was hard. 

Ann lost her 17 year old brother, we started marriage in just a completely rocky place and yet, in God’s faithfulness, He has taken care of us. We just celebrated 19 years, just a few weeks ago, and God has been really good and faithful. But I realized that a lot of the hospital training of caring and ministering to people, little did I know that I was going to have to use that for my own family, as we just got married. 

So we got married, we joined what was safe for us, we joined an Indian church in our city. Ann had known a family in that church and that church loved us and took care of us.  While I was in seminary, I had numerous opportunities to travel the country and speak at various different Indian churches and conferences. My dad, being here for 40 years, a lot of Indians knew who he was. So when we joined the church, I immediately got opportunities to serve. Like week two, I was doing the main sermon. By the end of the month, I was teaching high school and college kids and almost every week kids are at our house. I’d come home from work and open the door and kids were sitting in our house because they figured out our garage code access and they would just show up and sit there. So we really got to invest into a lot of the kids there. 

Three years in the church asked if we would consider being the official youth pastors of the church. Ann and I prayed about it and felt like it made sense, because we had already built all the trust and relationship with the kids. They were already at our house all the time. So we prayed and we said yes. The church board said yes, the pastor was 100% on board, but there were members in the church that said no, and they became very vocal about it. One of the reasons they were vocal was, they didn’t want youth pastors. The reason they didn’t want youth pastors was because we didn’t have youth pastors in India and if we have youth pastors here, the moment we get youth pastors the kids will want their own service, they won’t worship with us. Then they’ll start inviting kids from the neighborhood and community and we’ll lose our culture, identity as an Indian church.

Unfortunately, our names were caught up in the middle of it and these guys started saying that [I] was teaching Mormonism and Jehovah Witness theology, and Calvinism. How you can put all three of that together still amazes me. But it got to a point where it got so hard to do ministry at that church that I felt like it was time for us to leave and so we made that decision March 2007, in the hospital, when our son was born, we sat there the day after, and we were just like, we don’t want our kids to grow up in this environment so it’s probably best for us to transition out. So that weekend was our last weekend at our church. 

But what was really hard was the Indian community was so close knit, so what happens in Dallas, people in India find out about it within minutes, right? So not only did ministry cease for us in the local church, but overnight, we stopped getting any invitations to speak anywhere. It was almost 12 years before I was invited back to the Indian church context and so for almost 12 years, I was just completely shunned by my own community, my own people.

So we left, but a few months in, some of the kids from that same Indian church came to us and were like, “Hey, our church is a mess. We’d love for you to continue doing a Bible study with us. Would you consider doing that?” So we started meeting up on Thursday nights at our house. Did that and a few months later, one of the kids basically communicated that he was moving to Denton to go to school and his parents were making him come home every weekend. He just simply asked the request, “Could you consider moving the Bible study from Thursday to Sunday and would you also consider moving it to a more central location?” 

Our church is located in Richardson in a shopping center, and in that same shopping center was another church, a North Indian church. We knew the pastor there and he graciously let us worship there on Sunday nights and do a Bible study there. We started meeting there in 2007 and God just explodes this Bible study. It goes from 6-7 kids to almost 150 in like six months. God just starts bringing all sorts of kids, mostly second gen. So God’s blessing this thing, God’s growing this thing. We’re constantly hearing, “We’re not a Bible study, we’re a church.” And Ann and I are like, “No, no, we’re not a church, we’re Bible study. I have no desire to pastor a church.” This is still just not even a year after we got kicked out of the church, so the wounds are still there, the pains were there. 

So we did that for three years and God just continues to bless it and it gets to a point where our leadership is like, “Hey, we are not a Bible study. There’s people here that have gotten saved here. There are people here that are not going anywhere else for church. Either we have to send them somewhere else for church, or we’ve got to take discipleship seriously and consider that we’re a church, not a Bible study.” So a lot of soul searching, a lot of wrestling, praying, we felt like that was where God was leading. So we make that decision. It was amazing the ways that God showed up in that season. 

The storefront that we’re in right now, it opened up the week that we said yes to Jesus. The landlord was gracious enough to say, “Hey, if you sign it, we’ll give you a really good deal.” Honestly, for 10 years, he never raised rent on us. This was the first year here in 2022, that rent was raised. We had a really good landlord that took care of us. The people inside the Bible study came in and did all the renovations in the building that needed to happen for it to look like a church. And I mean, there was just so much momentum and so much excitement of things that God was doing there.

We got ready to launch March of 2011. We planned for 150 people, print out 150 bulletins, and we get 20 people for our opening service. No one came. We had no idea what happened, but we found out later that there were pastors in our community, and families in our community that basically got up on their stages and said that, “Hey, if your kids go to LOFT, or if your family members go to LOFT, Sam is a cult leader, don’t send them there.” All of these people who we thought were coming, ended up facing all sorts of opposition at home, discouragement at home, where only 20 people came. Some of them were college kids, so they had no finances. We had a couple of families that had income, and then we had a few single guys who had just graduated, just started working. 

For two years, in a sanctuary that seated 150, we could barely fill the first two rows. I thought we had missed God. I was angry at God because I told Him I never wanted to pastor and now we had signed a five year lease on this, we had promoted this, and I really felt like God had disappointed us. In those two years, we tried to merge with another church and that fell through. Ann and I tried to move to Dubai, because our family was there and it was an invitation from a missions organization to possibly do a house church movement there. We did a vision trip there and that fell through. 

I finally just came to a point of realizing, and just surrendering, and saying, “God, alright. God, if You’re calling us to pastor 20 people for the rest of our lives, as long as You provide the funding, we will be faithful, and we’ll do what You’ve called us to do.” And that was probably a hard prayer because one, I realized immediately that full-time ministry wasn’t in my picture. I was going to have to be bi-vocational. Then two, seeing where the Bible study was just months earlier with 150, a lot of excitement, a lot of vibrancy, to now like, Ooh, we’re this group that barely can survive and can barely keep our doors open. 

So we make that prayer of surrender and I just remember in 2013, two things happened: One, I spoke at an InterVarsity event at UTD and there was a young Mexican girl that lived in El Paso that had never been to church. She sent me an email that night saying, “Hey, I’d love to come to church. Can someone give me a ride?” And so I pick her up thinking, you know, she’s going to come, she’s gonna see 20 Indians and she’s going to see there’s no college kids here and she’s gonna leave and never come back. But God began to do a work in her. Within months, she’s baptized. She’s saved, she’s baptized, and she becomes this gospel light bulb that just starts inviting people left and right to community. But the other thing is, I had an opportunity with East West to go to Kenya. We spent a week in Nairobi, and then a week with the Maasai community. 

I remember Sunday morning at the Maasai community, our team leader was like, “Hey, we’re going to church, you need to get ready.” So I’m getting ready to go to church thinking we’re gonna go into a building and we literally worshiped under a tree. I have a picture of that tree sitting in my office. But the joy and the happiness of those people not having a building, not having equipment, not having instruments, but the way they loved Jesus just really convicted me of what church was, and the priority of the gathering and the importance of making Jesus the center of the gathering, not the show, not the music, not the serving, but really just delighting and enjoying in Jesus. 

I came back and I’m just really renewed, refreshed, just knowing God would take care of us, God will provide for us. God has brought to us, at this moment, we have almost 30 different ethnicities in a crowd of 150. Many of them have come from non-Christian backgrounds. We have former worshipers of Hindu idols, we have Buddhists, we have atheists, that God in His grace and kindness has brought to salvation through the ministry of LOFT City. We are about to send out our 14th person to either plant a church or service on staff at a different church. 

God’s brought incredible leaders to our community, that have been trained there, equipped there, and it’s just been a joy to see God just take our folks and send them. It’s been hard because we always lose good people. But it’s been a joy to see that LOFT is almost like a training ground for people in ministry and God’s sending them out. 

I think, reflecting back on the church planting story, the two hardest seasons for us were when we were forced out of the Indian Church. The realization that if that church wasn’t that mean and they hadn’t said those kinds of words about us and all those ministries, doors that just shut for us, Ann and I probably would have easily just left that church and joined another Indian church. But you realize that even in the midst of that, God was working. Then launch Sunday, when realizing all these pastors said all those mean things [about] us and we lost majority of our audience. The realization that if we had started with 150 Indians, it would have been incredibly difficult for us to become a very diverse community. Even seeing God’s sovereignty in hand, in the midst of what those pastors said, and how He took even that and turned it out for good. 

Now you don’t know who is the majority race in our community. You have every ethnicity standing next to each other worshiping Jesus. You have doctors holding hands with homeless people as we do the benediction. It’s just a beautiful community of what the kingdom looks like and the realization that would not have happened if this pain point did not happen. So realizing there are pain points that are used by God for His glory and honor as well. 

It has been a journey of realizing this son of an immigrant pastor, that God would use me in ways that I would never have dreamed or imagined. Like if I had written my story, I would have thought I would have always stayed in the Indian church, made a lot of money. I’m so glad the way that God writes His story is so different from ours and just how beautiful His story is.

You don't know who is the majority race in our community. You have every ethnicity standing next to each other worshiping Jesus. You have doctors holding hands with homeless people. It's just a beautiful community of what the kingdom looks like.

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