Bishop Ezra Sargunam is a second generation Christian. His father was a little boy when he and his non-Christian parents became Christians. Later in life, his father came under the influence of great missionaries like Amy Carmichael and Rev T Thomas Walker. Bishop Ezra Sargunam was born on July 19, 1938 in an obscure village in the State of Tamil Nadu, South India. He was christened “Ezra” because his father happened to read about the life and ministry of the scribe Ezra (Nehemiah 8), during his morning devotion several hours before his birth. At the age of 17, he accepted Jesus Christ and had the assurance of salvation at a Billy Graham crusade in Madras (now Chennai). Interestingly, Bishop Sargunam was a seminary student then.
He did his graduate and post-graduate courses in Theology in Madras, Allahabad and at the Serampore University as well as in California, USA and was conferred the “Doctor of Divinity” (honoris causa) degree for his dissertation on International Development and Church Growth. He became a Pastor in 1957 at the age of 19.
He was married to Mangalam, a wonderful woman of prayer, in the year 1962, who remained a great support to him in the ministry, until she went to be with the Lord on 29th February 2008. He has two married daughters and four grandchildren.
His Passion for Church Planting – from Nothing to 3500 Churches in 50 Years
Bishop Sargunam received the initial vision and passion for church planting quite early in life at the age of 19, when he was an evangelist at a village called Porur on the outskirts of Madras, where the first ECI church was planted during 1957-58. It is from this village the ECI church planting movement spread throughout the length and breadth of India. The Porur Church is now one of the largest congregations of ECI with a membership of over 2000. Almost 90 percent of them are first generation Christians. The believers have recently built their third sanctuary.
When Bishop Sargunam was a student in the Allahabad Bible Seminary during 1961-62, he and his fellow students had once gone to distribute religious literature to the pilgrims gathered on the banks of the Ganges for the Kumba Mela. This angered some of the Hindus, who beat them up and chased them away. In the ensuing stampede, Bishop Sargunam was pushed to the ground and trampled upon. With physical injuries, he had to walk all the way back to the Seminary (about 15 miles) because the bus that was arranged to take them back to the Seminary left without him in the haste to escape the ire of the militant elements among the Hindus. He was utterly dejected and even wanted to quit the ministry, as he did not see God’s whole purpose for his life at that time.
Later that evening, he went to the seminary library and his eyes fell on a large Bible sitting on a specially made desk. A Christian Sadhu had gifted this Bible to the seminary. As he opened the first page of the Bible, he saw Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders from Acts 20:24 written on it. He read it over and over again and it sort of became his life text.
‘But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of grace of God.’
After the Goal of a 100 .. 1000 and 2000 churches … a Centenary Vision of 100 thousand churches and 10 million believers
It was in 1972 when Bishop Sargunam was a Pastor of the Church at Kilpauk that he prayerfully set the goal of the first 100 ECI churches. ECI had less than 32 churches at that time when God gave him the promise from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 3 Verse 8:
“I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word and have not denied My name.”
The same year the Lord opened the way for Bishop Sargunam to go to USA to attend the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary.
After the completion of the first 200 churches in the Eighties, in a step of faith, ECI set a goal of a 1000 ECI churches by 2000 AD. And as we were moving towards this goal, God reinforced our faith with the promise of His Word to Bishop Sargunam from Isaiah 60:22. This verse also became the theme of our 1000th Church Celebration in January 1998 when 2231 converts were baptised and added to the ECI community – the largest mass baptism of the last century.
‘A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I, the Lord, will hasten it in its time.’
Then God gave Bishop Sargunam the vision for another 1000 churches before AD 2005, which we have been able to achieve through the grace of God. But this has not quenched the thirst of this aggressive church-planter. His ultimate goal in life is to realise the God-given vision of planting one church among every responsive people group of India.
Besides planting about 5000 ECI churches and 7000 house churches all over the country with a community of more than half-a-million believers, Bishop Sargunam has established over 100 educational institutions, including primary and high schools, a number of vocational training centres and 12 theological seminaries and colleges, during the last 30 years.
As we praise and thank God for His sheer grace that has enabled us to reach the goal of a 100, 1000 and 2000 churches and rejoice in Him for the over 12,000 churches He has given us at the moment, we are now prayerfully working towards the God-given goal of 100 thousand churches and 10 million ECI believers by 2056 our Centenary Year.
Never Hesitates to Lend a Helping-Hand to Victims of Calamities
Bishop Sargunam has never hesitated to rush to the aid of victims of natural calamities. He has single-handedly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid and has provided succour to thousands of victims of natural calamities like the super cyclone that ravaged Orissa, the earthquake that devastated Gujarat, etc, in the past. More recently, he has provided relief to thousands of tsunami-hit families and is praised for his pioneering efforts in building permanent houses for those who lost their homes and in restoring the livelihood of the fishermen by giving them motorised boats and nets. He has also provided relief to those affected by the great Bombay deluge.
Literary and Homiletic Achievements
Bishop Sargunam is in great demand as a conference speaker all over the world. He has addressed a number of international religious and cultural gatherings in countries like USA, the Netherlands, Thailand, Korea, Japan, South Africa, Singapore, Haiti, Kenya, Russia and Kazakhstan. He has successfully conducted a number of all-India religious conferences with over 10,000 participants in some of them.
Bishop Sargunam has authored, co-authored and edited a number of books, including Multiplying Churches in Modern India, Mission Mandate, Religious Toleration and Social Harmony, Perayar Nirubangal (Tamil), and has written various articles on theological, social and political issues.
As the Executive Vice President of the United Minorities Forum, Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry, and as a member of various inter-religious, cultural and social organisations, Bishop Sargunam has played a key role in promoting religious and social harmony among various peoples of India, especially in the South.
As a social and political activist, Bishop Sargunam has participated in various demonstrations in support of human rights and the rights of the Dalits (former untouchables), minorities and the oppressed people of India. Recognising Bishop Sargunam’s service towards religious and social harmony, the Government of Tamil Nadu appointed him as the Chairman of the State Minorities Commission for two three-year terms. During the six years in office, he was instrumental in securing employment opportunities in the government and private sectors for the socially and economically marginalised sections of the society and had resolved a number of problems of the minorities in the State of Tamil Nadu through negotiations.
Social Justice Movement of India
Bishop Sargunam is the Founder-President of a socio-political organisation called Social Justice Movement of India. SJMI organises seminars, conferences and demonstrations to uphold justice, liberty and equal opportunity for the oppressed and suppressed of India.
His fearless resolve to even lay down his life for the religious and social rights of the oppressed people was manifest when he braved the fascist Gujarat government and sat on a twelve-day fast in protest against the desecration and takeover of a worship place of the tribal Christians of Chhindia in November-December 2000. He was manhandled by the Gujarat police who forcibly evicted him and got him admitted to a hospital, where he continued his fast in his effort to become a voice for the voiceless.
Bishop Ezra Sargunam is a very compassionate, kind-hearted and humane person. People of all religions love him for his educational and social service. His motto in life is, ‘GOD FIRST, OTHERS SECOND, ME LAST’. He is a friend of almost all the leading politicians in India who stand for the cause of the oppressed and the suppressed.
Bishop D SUNDAR SINGH