A Friday evening, a group of college students meets at 190, Poonamallee High Road, Madras – the home of Prof H Enoch. This continues week after week, growing in number and in spirit. Little does the group or the Professor imagine that this is to grow into a nationwide movement of evangelical students and graduates. At roughly the same time, little groups of believing students meet in prayer cells in Christian Medical College, CMC), Vellore and in Government College of Technology, (GCT), Coimbatore with similar faith and conviction. The union of these 3 groups at a retreat in Katpadi near Vellore gives birth to Union of Evangelical Students of India (UESI) in 1954. Professor Hannington Enoch was a teacher of zoology in Visakhapatnam Medical College in Andhra Pradesh. He believed that the Lord was encouraging him to raise a student movement which would be true to the Word of God. In 1949 he was transferred to Presidency College, Madras. Prof. Enoch shared his concern with students and senior friends from different churches in the city. The prayer meeting in Madras was the result of his inner urge to begin a fellowship of university students, though he was unaware of the work of God abroad through evangelical student movements like Inter Varsity Fellowship (IVP), now Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) of UK and Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) of USA. He did not realize that he was being instrumental in initiating a student witness in India. A little fellowship group was brought into being and it met in the home of Prof. Enoch. He invited other Bible-believing leaders to attend the fellowship that met in his house. Among them were Ms H Eckmann, David CC Watson, and M D Paul.
In 1950, Bro.Bakht Singh told Prof Enoch about Dr T Norton Sterrett, then a teacher in a Bible School at Jhansi, U. P. Prof Enoch also heard that Dr Sterrett was in touch with International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) and was keen to pioneer evangelical student witness in India. He invited him to come to Madras to help with the work. Dr Sterrett came to Madras in 1951 with the Moody science film, ‘God and Creation’. The film, which was screened in many colleges, caught the attention of the students and helped the seniors to find those who were interested in the things of the Lord. They had a real breakthrough in Stanley Medical College which gave them many contacts. The persons contacted through film shows were encouraged to join the Friday Prayer meeting at Poonamallee High Road. As the number of participants for this meeting grew steadily, they formed many small prayer groups in Madras. The constant interaction and prayer among students and graduates led to the formation of the committee for Inter Collegiate Evangelical Union (ICEU) of Madras in 1951. A student magazine, entitled The Evangelical Student, began to appear with Watson as Editor. Tom Thurley, a veterinary student, became the first President of Madras ICEU. This group in some ways had the most encouraging beginning as it was mainly started through student initiative. ICEU was a small group of students meeting regularly for prayer at Prof Enoch’s residence. Some of the students included Sam Kamaleson (now Vice President of World Vision International) Nesarathina Carunya (now Administrator, Dohnavur Fellowship), C T Rajarathnam (Philadelphia, USA) and Ebenezer Christadoss (Tennessee, USA). Three or four students in a Government College in Madras had kept faith, stood for the Lord by means of weekly Bible study. They brought in their friends students to hear the Word and won some for Christ.
“Fear Not, Little Flock…”
Sometime early in 1948, a small gathering of about half a dozen students of CMC, Vellore, without any senior adviser felt the need for a deeper fellowship than what was provided by the existing Christian organization in the College SCM. There was a growing discontentment among the few believing students on the SCM committee. In March 1951, the President – Meena Biswas, Vice President – Sarala Elisha and Secretary – Annamma Varghese resigned with a strong conviction that they could not be in SCM and witness for the Lord effectively. These Christian students were asked to give their reasons for their resignations. After much prayer and claiming the promise. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” Luke 12.32, the President read out the resignation with reasons. It was accepted without much discussion. Another Staff member advised her “to be with SCM and leaven the lump”. But she decided to obey God rather than man. Those who left the SCM had a great longing to start a witnessing evangelical group. Their struggle were not over with separation for they could feel Satan as a very real person. “There were struggles within and without”, for some born-again Christians were opposed to the formation of an evangelical union. It was felt, however, that it was desirable to unite as an evangelical union for effective witness. God sent Dr. John Moody from Australia in 1950 to be on the staff of the C M C, Vellore. He had been actively involved with IVF movement in Australia during his student days. He held a regular Bible study for the members of the fellowship and gave advice in times of their struggle and despair. The members grew in spiritual nurture. Sound doctrine was taught and good literature was spread, to make the Word known more clearly. Battles were fought and won. This deepened the spiritual lives of the believers. In August 1951, they decided to have regular Gospel meetings during weekends. The first meeting was held on 26 August 1951. The Lord, they believed, had His own seal on it. The following week, the fellowship members met together for prayer again. Some suggestions were put forward by those who felt that an organization was necessary, to affirm their position as evangelicals. There was growing conviction in their hearts that those who knew the Lord as their Saviour had a great responsibility to those around in the college. So it was necessary to have a well organized group of those who were ready for the task, based on firm and sure grounds, such as the doctrinal basis they had accepted. Regular gospel and prayer meetings went on till end-1951. In November 1951 Dr Sterrett paid a visit to Vellore on request by the members. He along with John Moody helped members form an Evangelical Union. The doctrinal basis was discussed in detail. The whole Constitution was drawn up and the name Evangelical Union was accepted. The first CMC EU Committee consisted of Joanna Gurupatham (President), Meena Biswas (Secretary), Samuel Devadatta (Treasurer). On 2 December 1951, a letter was sent to the CMC Principal requesting the College to give the EU an official recognition. It was not received well. However, the Medical College Committee met on 13 February1952 and decided to give E.U. official recognition. There is further evidence of God’s leading in the fact that the seniors and students associated with the formation of Madras and Vellore Unions were entirely unaware of each other’s existence until they met sometime in 1951. The first step towards coming together was made when the Vellore Union, after formulating its constitution, adopted the Statement of Aims drawn up by the Madras Union five months earlier.
Union Of Evangelical Students Of India
The third EU to be formed was Coimbatore. In 1948, D Jayapaul, was a student of the College of Engineering, Madras. He was a regular member of the prayer cell functioning there. The following year he moved to GCT, Coimbatore as a second year student. He had no Christian fellowship. However, he used to go out into the open field and pray that the Lord would raise up prayer cell in G C T hostel. In answer to prayer, the Lord sent H S Ponnuraj (then a student) from Madras, for his second year, to Coimbatore. His coming to G C T hostel was a great help and due to his dynamic leadership and zeal for evangelism, the Lord raised up a small prayer cell which grew up steadily. He was nicknamed “Little God” for his stand for the Lord. They showed the film God and Creation to all hostel students and staff. They did some outreach in the nearby colleges including the Agricultural College. Later, in 1952 with H S Ponnuraj’s initiative, the Coimbatore ICEU was officially inaugurated. There were now three similar groups in three different places. It was then felt that the three groups should be united. Both Moody of Vellore and Ponnuraj of Coimbatore were invited by the ICEU Executive Committee to come to Madras. The aims and objectives of the three prayer cells were found to be similar. As a result of a united conviction that it would be good to have a movement for students covering the whole nation, the 3 groups from Madras, Vellore, and Coimbatore – alongwith senior friends – met for a retreat at Katpadi Farm near Vellore. There was a full discussion on the name to be given to the national movement. Finally it was decided to adopt the name Union of Evangelical Students of India to distinguish this from other students movements in India and to underline the indigenous origin of the movement.
The Spreading Flame
The groups at Madras, Vellore, and Coimbatore had a burden and vision not only for their own places but also for the other students in India. The representatives of these three groups launched UESI as a national movement on 18 September 1954, with M D Paul as President and Vijaya Benjamin as Secretary. As they gathered from time to time, the leaders shared the convictions which the Lord had put in their hearts. M D Paul, Dr Sterrett, Joe Devadatta, M Selvaraj, Vijaya Benjamin, Leela Martin, and David C C Watson participated in the Central Committee in Madras in 1954 and a Constitution with by-laws was adopted. Apart from the emphasis on the Word of God and rebirth, the three unions felt that they should look to God in faith for their financial and other needs. They believed that since his movement was of God, He would supply not only workers but also money and every need the work required. Earlier at the General Committee meeting in March 1954 at Coimbatore, The Evangelical Student was accepted as the official magazine of UESI. Till then for a number of issues it had been a periodical published by the Madras ICEU. Later the magazine was renamed as OUR LINK and is now published as CAMPUS LINK, the national magazine. Campus Link is a bimonthly campus magazine, It seeks to sensitize believing college students to reason out issues, and stand for Christ, creating an awareness of UESI ministry and leading them to maturity and involvement.