Mrs. Eloise and Dr Sterrett: Life and Legacy

On May 21, 2022, UESI Finance and Administration Department and UESI Communication and Networking Department hosted a special webinar to remember and celebrate with gratitude to God the life of Dr TN Sterrett and Ms Eloise Sterrett. The panel of speakers consisted of Rev Dr Arthur Hope, former GS of UESI, Dr A Arjunan, a retired Professor of English from Madurai and the author of the biography of Dr T N Sterrett, ‘The Tale of a Legend’, Prof Tali Alinger, who was the pioneer of the UESI ministry in North East India, Ms Shirley Christopher, former staff worker of UESI, Mr Cyril Kunder, Bangalore who served Ambassadors for Christ for several years, and Ms Jennifer Sterrett Boll, granddaughter of the Sterretts. Dr Joseph John, a Professor and graduate from Mumbai moderated the program.

Dr T Norton Sterrett was born on 10th Nov 1912 in Urumia, Persia (now Iran) to missionary parents Rev Charles Clarke Sterrett and Susan Reid Norton. Since his mother’s health was failing, his parents left Persia when Norton was four years old. Norton graduated from Columbia Bible College, South Carolina, USA. Later he completed his Th.B, Th.M, and Th.D from Dallas Theological Seminary with high honours. In the summer of 1929, while listening to a missionary speaker at a Bible Conference at Keswick Grove, New Jersey, the Lord spoke to Norton of His missionary plan. Norton married Eloise on 10th June 1938, who was his class mate in Columbia Bible College. Eloise also shared the missionary vision of Norton. Initially, they were planning to go to South America. But the Lord turned their hearts towards India. In 1939, a year after their marriage, Norton and Eloise reached India. From 1939 to 1948 the Sterretts had their base in Kanpur, UP. During this time their two children Gerry and Anne were born in Kanpur. Also, during these nine years they studied Hindi & Indian culture, and ministered in villages. They served as IVCF staff with IFES and as a part time faculty of the Bible School at Jhansi, UP, teaching God’s word and partnering with other missionaries.

In 1950 Brother Bakht Singh introduced Dr TN Sterrett to Prof H Enoch, who invited Dr Sterrett to speak in meetings organized by Madras EU with the Moody Science Film – “The God of Creation”. Prof Enoch, John Moody and HS Ponnuraj were challenged by the simplicity and deep commitment of Dr Sterrett. The Sterretts were among the founding members of UESI. They also became the first Staff Workers of UESI.

After the death of his parents, Dr Sterrett inherited a modest amount by disposing of the property in the USA. In 1959 Dr Sterrett bought the Highfield property in Kotagiri, The Nilgiris from Stanes family who were keen to sell the property only to Christians. In 1966 the Sterretts gifted the Highfield property to UESI. “In this place I will give peace” (Hag. 2:9) was the promise given to Mrs & Dr Sterrett. Highfield continues to be a blessing to the UESI. For more than 60 years, hundreds of students, staff workers and graduates as families, and individuals from all over India were trained in life of faith, servanthood and discipleship and sent to different places. Many still cherish the sweet memories of Highfield.

In 1971 Dr Sterrett authored the book “How to Understand Your Bible”, which was written primarily to help Indian students. This invaluable book has been translated into several languages and is still in publication.

Dr Sterrett was an excellent Bible teacher. In 1971 he started the Asian Bible Study Centre in Highfield, Kotagiri. The Sterretts were also well known for their servant leadership. They also believed in team work and were adaptable. They loved and served Indian students, graduates and Staff workers. They served everyone with humility. Dr Sterrett was also well known for his integrity in all matters. He was transparent and quick to ask for forgiveness.

Music ministry was another major area of influence of the Sterretts. Dr Sterrett was particular to teach and train students, graduates and Staff workers to mean the words of the songs they sang. Dr Sterrett used to get up early in the morning and blow the trumpet and wake people up… to call them to their rendezvous with God. His trumpet sound was sweet music to the people at Study Centre and to the patients at the nearby Kotagiri Medical Fellowship hospital. When the UESI was going through a tough time where the relationships and fellowship were affected, he composed the song, “Jesus Commanded Us Something to Do” based on John 13:34. This song is a loving reminder of the life and ministry of the Sterretts.

The Sterretts left India in June 1975 after ministering over 36 years. Dr Norton Sterrett went home to be with the Lord on 9th Feb 1978. Ms Eloise Sterrett came to India in Dec 1979 and attended the UESI Silver Jubilee Conference. On May 6, 1991 Eloise died quietly in her sleep.

Following are a few major takeaways and learnings from the life and legacy of the Sterretts.

1. ‘All things to all men’ (loving people, giving themselves fully to them)

2. Life of integrity

3. Servant leadership

4. Committed to teaching Bible accurately

5. Music ministry – singing meaningfully

Dr Joseph John, Graduate, IIT Mumbai