Celebrating the life and legacy of PT Chandapilla

On the 26th of Jan, a special webinar was held by UESI to celebrate the life and the legacy of Rev. Dr. Podimannil Thomas Chandapilla, popularly known as Rev. Chandapilla who served as the first staff and first General Secretary of UESI. The panel of speakers consisted of Dr. Surendra Parmar, former GS of UESI, Mr. James Ratnaraj, former GS of UESI, Sis Prema Fenn, Retd Staff of UESI, Bishop Rt Rev Dr. C V Matthew from STECI, Dr. L. N. Tluanga, pioneer of UESI ministry in Northeast India and was moderated by Dr. A K Lama, VP of EFI.

Born on 18 March 1926 in a humble home of a Christian preacher, Rev. Chandapilla committed his life to Christ as a young student. After studying pharmacology, he worked for a year in a mission hospital and later as a pharmaceutical nurse in Saudi Arabia where a group of Christians sponsored him to attend Columbia Bible College, South Carolina, the USA in 1951. Having graduated and returned to Mumbai in 1955, he got married to Dorothy, a committed Christian, pharmacist, and alumna of Calvary Bible School, Allahabad.

God, in His providence, led them in 1956 to meet visionaries like Prof. Dr. H. Enoch in Chennai, an American theologian Dr. T. N Sterrett from IFES at Jhansi, the Engineering Educator Mr. CC Watson from the UK at Coimbatore, and the Medical Dentist from Australia Dr. John Moody at CMC Vellore. The Lord had brought them together to raise a massive evangelical student movement in a country like India. Rev. Chandapilla spent more than a decade working as the first General Secretary of the largest IFES movement in the world now known as the Union of Evangelical Students of India. He travelled all over India casting a vision for the student movement.

After he retired from UESI, he was actively involved in his church St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India, and the founding chairman of the Jubilee Memorial Bible college at Chennai, India. He was honored as the Vicar General of St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India. He also served as General Secretary of the Federation of Evangelical Churches of India. Columbia International University granted him Distinguished Alumnus status in 1988. In 1997, somebody described him as the one who lives like Mother Teresa but thinks like John Calvin. The Lord gave him as a gift and took him away on 4th Dec 2010. The torch of the gospel of light was carried forth well and handed down well to the next generation.

As we celebrate and thank the Lord for his life, here are some brief learnings from his life and ministry we should reflect upon

1. Regardless of our backgrounds and limitations, through the Lord Jesus Christ, we can enlarge our tents larger than ourselves. In addition to a sense of personal call from God, one would also need sincerity, simple life, dedication, sacrifice, love, and focused vision. These personal spiritual virtues are a prerequisite for serving in the name of God.

2. Impacting the lives of young students on the college and university campus is a strategic ministry. The ultimate impact is much larger than we can imagine. UESI not only became the premier movement for giving birth to many other movements, but it also raised many leaders for every faculty of the society and the Church within India and abroad. We have a fairly large number of Graduates serving and witnessing in secular set up in India and outside India. We must continue to launch deep and enlarge our tent wherever the Spirit of God leads. We must remember that our God is BIG.

3. Rev. Chandapilla envisioned a ministry that had a much larger reach than simply Southern India. He dreamt about the whole of India and travelled its length and breadth. Today, UESI is one of the largest movements in the world of the Evangelical Student movements of IFES. We must look beyond our language groups, tribal boundaries, and comfort zones of familiarity. Our country needs a vision of inclusiveness where we truly seek “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.” With the growth of UESI, though we shall continue to have the pull of regionalism, the leadership at the Center will have to look at God’s work much larger than themselves and their regional interests.

4. Though we did not dwell much about Rev. Chandapilla’s wife, Dorothy, and daughter Susan, and their contributions, it is apparent they would have made a great sacrificial adjustment to facilitate Rev. Chandapilla’s ministry, a key to success in his pilgrimage. If you are married, it is incredibly significant that both spouses and family together share the vision and support each other. As we reach out to the campuses to raise leaders for tomorrow, we must never undermine the importance of nurturing a visionary family within.

5. Serving Jesus embodies serving the body of Jesus Christ, the bride of Jesus Christ, the Church where we all belong as worshipping members. It was natural for Rev. Chandapilla to join the active leadership at his Church St Thomas Evangelical Church of India and make a remarkable impact. Our Churches, in our time, still need the help and support of the students, staff, and graduates. They are looking for someone like Rev. Chandapilla. Shall we rise to the need?

UESI Communication & Networking Department