Slumdogs’ Preacher

Marquise begins the meeting with a short exposition of a Bible verse and prays over each man, woman and child. At the end of the meeting, everyone stands up and patiently awaits his turn to receive the food packet.

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Marquise Daniel’s mission: Feeding hungry people and preaching Gospel!

By Robin Sam

AS a child, Marquise Daniel learned that charity begins at home from his benevolent mother’s love for the poor. He was born in a tea estate in Valparai near Coimbatore to Daniel and Jeyabakkiam. He did his schooling only up to 10th standard. His passion to work with the poor and the downtrodden made him seek openings in Christian organizations. He approached IEM (Indian Evangelical Mission) and was accepted by them in 1984. He worked with IEM till 1998.

Although he remembers his stint with IEM fondly, he says he could have been used in a better way by them. One of his postings was in Chennai – to work with the rag pickers. He came to the city primarily because he wanted to live a better life and not because of any burden for souls, he laughs.

However, his first port of call – in an extremely dirty and unpleasant place was a rude shock to him. Everywhere he turned there was human excreta and naked children were playing in the messy and dingy lanes amid scavenging dogs and pigs. Had he been alone on the mission, he would have either run away from the place or ended his life, he remembers. Such were the squalid conditions of the slum that he could not breathe properly and felt like throwing up always. Nights were no better as there was no electricity in the area and it was pitch darkness after 6 pm. Drunken brawls and street fights were an every day occurrence. Women, when they were not squabbling, wiled away their time playing thayappas or paandi.

He wanted to go back to Valparai but had no money. So he decided to grit and bear it for a month, take the salary and scoot.

One day, as he was walking in a narrow street in the slum he saw two children playing mom and dad. The girl beckoned the boy saying: ‘Come here, have your kanji (gruel) and rush to work.’ The mention of kanji brought back his childhood memories. Valparai or Chennai, things were the same for the poor, Marquise realized. The children were destined to live the same lives as their parents and that thought crushed his spirit. Don’t they deserve better? Who would help them? Unable to find comforting answers to those troubling questions, he decided to stay put and do his bit for the slum dwellers. Although it took time, his outlook changed and soon he was teaching them the importance of hygiene and sharing the Word of God along with his wife, Patsy. When things were looking up, IEM sent someone to monitor his work. Soon there was some friction between him and his supervisor and he quit from IEM.

However, Marquise and Patsy decided to continue in Chennai to do the same work. Thus was born SCRIBE ministries. He remembers with gratitude how Rev. Theodore Williams, the founder of IEM, asked him to arrange a meeting in Chennai. Theodore Williams came to Chennai from Bangalore for the meeting where he made an appeal to people to support Marquise’s ministry. As a result of his appeal, 10 families came forward to support Marquise and Patsy financially.

Sometime later, Marquise decided to introduce weekly meal packets to the rag pickers and slum children. Although feeding the poor alone is not fulfilling the Great Commission, he was clear that people with grumbling stomachs would not be receptive to Gospels. After all, does it not say thus in Proverbs 21:13: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”? His wife was not very receptive to the feeding program, but eventually she came around and was a great support to him till sickness forced her to be bedridden.

The feeding program paid results. People were now sympathetic to Gospel and the Word of God brought about a transformation in them. The couple put many slum kids into schools and made sure they finished school. On Sundays, Marquise would also talk to them about the need for faithfulness in marriage as there were a lot of people dying of AIDS in the area.

For the past few years, Marquise although alone now (his wife passed away in 2016 and his only son lives in Pune) cooks every day for at least 150 people. Right from chopping vegetables to cooking rice and packing food, he does it alone. A domestic help comes to clean the utensils.

There is no roster for the daily food. It is usually variety rice and on occasions he cooks up chicken biriyani. By 12 noon, the packing of food would be over. Thereafter, he loads the food packets in a rice bag, lugs it onto his Honda Activa and sets off. His area of operation is in and around Koyambedu, Maduravoyal, Arumbakkam, Padikuppam and Ambattur Industrial Estate.

He has five to six points where dozens of people wait patiently for him. As soon they spot his bike, they gather around him, sit or squat on the roadside. Marquise begins the meeting with a short exposition of a Bible verse and prays over each man, woman and child. At the end of the meeting, everyone stands up and patiently awaits his turn to receive the food packet. Some ask for two. Sometimes, Marquise would oblige. The meeting is over in 10 to 15 minutes. And, then he sets off on his bike for his next point where another group is waiting. Again, Marquise would open his Bible, preach a short message, pray on his knees and hand over food packets to his audience. By 5 pm, he is back at home where he would sprawl on the floor for a quick nap. By 7 pm, he is out again either visiting some rag pickers in distress or buying provisions for the next day.

His monthly expenses are around 50,000 rupees. “God is faithful, He meets the needs,” he says matter of fact. The rice bags alone would cost over 20,000 rupees. Then there is the rent for the house, electricity bills, groceries and salary for the maid.

“Whatever is the need is what God provides. Not a rupee more,” he laughs. “God sure knows how to keep His children humble.”

Marquise, sure, is a humble man. He knows his limitations. “I am hard of hearing in one ear, cannot sing Gospel songs or make a fiery sermon,” he smiles shyly. But still, he preaches and often through the work he does among the slumdogs.

Marquise feels he can feed even up to 500 people a day if he had a second hand van.

“I can cook, load the container directly into the van and carry use-and-throw plates. I can save time on packing food.”

Plus, with the ban on single-use plastic covers in Tamil Nadu he has switched over to plantain leaves and that has shot up the budget.

How effective is his ministry?

“The people have really transformed Earlier, they used to jostle and make a ruckus when food was being distributed. They have even torn my shirt and pushed me aside. Some have even grabbed the packets and run away. Now, they wait for their turn. They pray with me. Their eyes moisten when I preach Jesus or pray.”

“Often, they come to me with special requests. I cannot meet all their needs but at least I can provide one meal to them every day,” he says.

Marquise can be reached on Facebook Messenger. His page is: https://www.facebook.com/marcyindia

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