Vicar General Very Rev P T Chandapilla, fondly called Bro. Chanda in UESI and other circles, was a man of deep dedication to the Lord, of simple life-style, having great and unparalleled vision on people and ministry, having concern for individuals more than groups. He was dynamic in his expressions from the depth of his heart and non-conformist to anything other than the ideals and views he upheld for the cause of Christ. His powerful words attracted many to yield to the Lord and to his service unconditionally. His motto of “servant leadership” was not lip service but practical in his life, imitated by many young people. He gave his whole life for the transformation and spiritual maturity of the students across the country through his ministry in UESI and contributed greatly for the ministry of St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India and the Indian churches at large.
My association with him starts in May 1960 when I attended the second State level UESI students’ general camp at Kompady Bible Institute, Tiruvalla. I never expected that the camp will make such an impact in my personal life resulting in every major decision in my life for the cause of UESI ministry.
Chanda told us that when he decided to leave his job as Staff Nurse in ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia (1948-51) to go for ministry and for theological studies in Columbia Bible College in USA (1951-55), one of our uncles, who was working with him in the same company as a Pharmacist, strongly objected his decision as he felt it is foolishness. And Chanda told us what difference the future of both of them made when our uncle made wealth and passed away in 1970 but Chanda could be a humble partner in the great ministry of the church in India and internationally.
When Chanda decided, after his studies, not to yield to the opinions of his very dear close friends in USA and to leave the comforts of USA for the cause of the ministry in India, God had a great plan for his prime young age to be used as a gift for the ministry of the young people of the country, through UESI. He joined the UESI ministry in 1956 March and continued till 1975 May (with a break of one year working with Rajnandagaon Christian Fellowship in 1957-58), as staff and then the first General Secretary (1959-1975). In its early days of struggle of UESI for survival and when many Church leaders reacted to UESI (preferring SCM), Chandapilla gave a dynamic leadership to stand above the struggles. Later the churches in India and Kerala realized the contribution UESI has made for the growth, mission and spirituality of the various Churches.
He taught and adopted the Scriptural pattern that a Christian and a minister has “great gain in godliness with contentment” (1 Tim 6:6) without luxuries. Many young men and women were attracted to the life pattern of the Bible through Chanda’s life.
He was always for ‘quality’ and not ‘quantity”. He was after individuals and exhorted the constituency to follow up individuals untiring. The Sishyashram in Anna Nagar, Chennai developed in the land purchased from the gifts he had personally received for his use, expressed his heart and soul for discipleship of individuals and families. Now the Chennai Tyrannus Hall (Students’ Discipleship Centre) functions in this Sishyashram to accommodate 21 University students undergoing studies in different colleges, giving emphasis for the total development and maturity of the students (Academic, physical, personality and spiritual) from any denominations.
His convictions and experience in his life are expressed through the books he has written, especially the Master Trainer, My Mother My Teacher and Servant. These books and his other wrings and talks made great impacts in the lives of believers and theological students across the country.
Chandapilla was strong about his stand on his personal convictions and sometimes went to the extremes in not tolerating those who had a different view with him on the ‘non-essentials’. This has pained some of the staff workers and graduates. At the same time everyone knew about his sincerity and commitment even in these. As against the practice in most churches, at the time of such difference of opinions, UESI showed the model of tolerance and understanding to differing persons.
After his getting relieved from UESI, Chanda was the General Secretary of Federation of Evangelical Churches of India (FECI) for 4 years. He was also part of the IFES and EFI ministries, Board Member of UBS (Pune), one of the main speakers of Urbana Missions Conference 1964 (with John Stott and Billy Graham), Visiting faculty of Columbia International University, Visiting Faculty of SAIACS (Bangalore)
Towards the end of his ministry in UESI, he used to share with Dr. M. C. Mathew and me (members of STECI) about his deep concern for his Church (St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India) when it was going through divisions and court cases.
As with the UESI policy that UESI is not a church, nor a substitute for a Church, but every member of UESI is to be active in his own church, he desired to be actively involved in the Church ministry and finally got ordained in 1977 December identifying with one of the factions of the Church. His national and international connections and acceptance has contributed a lot in development of the ministry of the Church. Hoping against hope, in the midst of uncertainties and unexpected situations, but with deep convictions, he was active in the development of the Church ministry. Through the establishment of Jubilee Memorial Bible College in Madras in 1987 hundreds of young men and women across the country from many states and different denominations have undergone spiritual leadership and theological training and also getting vision for pioneering ministries, through the last 25 years.
Even Though he joined one faction of the Church through ordination, he was craving for the reunion of the Church. After the reunion by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, the Hindi Belt Mission was formed under his initiative and leadership in 1999 to care for the ministry in the Hindi speaking states and the Lord has honored his vision and the ministry in 7 Hindi states is fast growing.
His wife Dorothy went to be with the Lord in 2001 after 45 years of blessed ministry together. When he was sick and admitted in Oddanchathram hospital, he said he is fully satisfied about his life and mission in spite of his personal sufferings, ill health, family problems and even tensions of the ministry in the Church. But as his grandson Susheel shared in his testimony at the funeral function on 8th December at STECI Head Quarters (and his younger brother Sidharth was present with him), Chanda told him that he will be with them (his grand children) on the face of earth till they are able to stand on their feet and till he is getting married. Susheel got married on 10th July 2010 and Chanda was taken to glory on 4th December 2010.
He is survived by his only daughter Susan and 4 grand children, two girls in USA and the two boys in Pune. His favorite and constant message was “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
He lived in JMBC hospital room during his last days, when he was laid up, under the care of the faculty and students. He went to his heavenly abode, in the footsteps of his Master leaving ‘no house, nor bank balance, nor property, nor car, nor any valuables but only a khadi clerical gown and stall and a few khadi shirts and dhotis’ given by JMBC Administration.
Prof. John Zachariah