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.