By Chris Martin and Jeanette Windle
Hyderabad, India (BCM World) — “I prayed like Moses prayed. I said ‘Lord, why did you give me all this? Leave me alone!’”
When Chris Martin received word that Rev. Dr. Vararuchi Dalavai had passed into the presence of his heavenly Father on January 14, 2014, in Hyderabad, India, he remembered vividly sitting across from Vararuchi several years earlier, listening to those statements.
And his own surprise.
After all, Chris had been assigned this interview as a new BCM journalism intern because Dr. Vararuchi Dalavai was BCM’s Senior Executive Vice-President of International Ministries. It had been under this man’s leadership that BCM India alone had grown to more than 16,000 churches, 400,000 baptized believers, and nearly a half-million children in Bible clubs and Christian education. Vararuchi went on to explain himself.
Unlike most families in his homeland of India, the Dalavais represented Christian roots three generations strong. Vararuchi’s great-grandfather had been a Hindu priest who, after accepting Christ, stepped down from that position to become an evangelical minister. His father served faithfully as a minister for 67 years. Because of harsh sacrifices his family experienced, Vararuchi opted for a different occupation. After a fine education, he settled into a high-paying office job, which allowed Vararuchi, his wife Veronica and three children to lead a comfortable lifestyle.
But as with Moses, God had different plans for Vararuchi. “Of all people,” Dr. Dalavai shared, “Moses was called by name and asked to lead the people of Israel out of bondage, the greatest challenge a human being could face.”
Vararuchi’s own ‘burning bush’ experience did not come until he became seriously ill. While lying prostrate and helpless on a hospital bed, he told God, “I think I’m done. You win. You do what you want.” Later he would say, “That’s where I made my commitment. When I came back, I resigned and never looked back.”
This conscious decision to follow wherever God called led Dr. Vararuchi to study God’s Word in Canada. The cold climate, different food, and loneliness were a struggle. He would see his wife and children only once during the whole three-year period. But Vararuchi came to see God’s purpose. “That was what God did with Moses. He had to train him. Though Moses went to school in Egypt, God had to bring him back to Mt. Sinai so he could be more fit to lead the children of Israel out of bondage.”
After receiving a degree in Bible from Winkler Bible Institute in Manitoba, Vararuchi returned to his homeland. In 1974 he joined BCM International, then the Bible Club Movement, becoming BCM’s second appointed missionary to the subcontinent of India. Vararuchi’s first ministry assignment was teaching children’s Bible Clubs, bicycling to schools and churches. His goal was simple—to effectively teach God’s Word and win young children to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Soon, he found himself teaching 24 Bible Clubs every month.
Despite this apparent success, a problem was causing increasing restlessness within Dr. Vararuchi. Hundreds were accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, but there were no spiritual leaders to pastor them. In 1982, Dr. Vararuchi responded to this dilemma by expanding his ministry from Bible teaching to church planting. With no local church model to follow, he began by organizing prayer cells among groups of believers. As the Holy Spirit began to work within them, prayers cells grew into Bible Study groups, which eventually emerged into thriving congregations. The movement spread like a fierce wildfire until a church was being planted every month, then every week.
The fire spread when Vararuchi reached out to neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, then into the continent of Africa. Vararuchi would eventually preach and teach in 51 countries on five continents, baptizing personally more than 100,000 new believers over the course of his ministry.
Vararuchi received his Doctorate in Theology (Th.D) from Clarksville School of Theology, USA, and Doctorate of Divinity from Hindustan Bible College, Chennai, India. Appointed in 2000 as SEVP of International Ministries for BCM, he gave leadership to BCM ministries across Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America.
“He was a giant for the Kingdom,” states accurately one of BCM’s international board members.
Current BCM board chairman, Rev. Johnny Henderson, who had the privilege of ministering for decades with Vararuchi, adds: “Because of its worldwide scope with more than seven hundred missionaries serving in over fifty countries across five continents. it has been said that ‘the sun never sets on BCM ministry.’ One of the reasons that statement is true today is in great part due to the vital work of Dr. Dalavai.”
Though serving God was not always easy or safe. During his decades of ministry, Vararuchi was beaten, shot at, smuggled out of town in the dead of night under a death threat, slept on dusty roadsides. Whether experiencing persecution, overcoming obstacles against his ministry, or even problems with coworkers, it seemed not a single day went by absent of some form of difficulty.
As Vararuchi shared with Chris Martin, it was at times like these that he identified so emphatically with Moses’ desire to be released from the weight of his calling. Was he losing the battle? Was he even in the right ministry? Just as Moses walked through the desert with the nation of Israel, many times Dr. Vararuchi found himself simply walking, desperately clinging to the faith that God was indeed leading him to a place where he could effectively serve the Lord.
Yet through it all, he was able see God’s faithfulness. To Dr. Vararuchi, the most rewarding aspect of his ministry was observing firsthand thousands of churches emerge from nothing, hundreds of thousands come to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. And to witness the profound impact of Jesus Christ on countless lives.
In his later years, Vararuchi occasionally considered the possibility of retirement. Those who knew and loved him didn’t take it too seriously. At age 73, he was still tirelessly preaching, teaching, and traveling in ministry when a routine surgery in Hyderabad, India, turned into the infection that took his life. During his forty-day illness, family members traveled across oceans to be with him, including his three adult children and their own children, all living in the US.
Vararuchi’s youngest son Sanjay shares how even in illness his father never ceased his concern for the churches and believers, how he prayed with his children and grandchildren, his joy in the hymns his young grandchildren sang for him in the hospital room. “My father was not just a great ministry leader and visionary. He was a family man. He loved his family. He left a legacy to our family to allow God to work through us, to follow up with how Dad has lived his life.”
At midnight on January 14, 2014, Vararuchi stepped into the presence of the heavenly Father he had served so long and passionately. Honoring his request, he was laid to rest at Ebenezer Prayer Center, BCM India’s central camp and conference center outside of Hyderabad, not far from the prayer tower where he’d spend so many hours. Hundreds traveled to participate in the ceremonies, including BCM president Dr. Martin Windle, president emeritus Dr. Bob Evans, and BCM board member Dick McIntyre. Countless more from twenty-two countries as widespread as the UK, Italy, Ukraine, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Peru, USA, New Zealand, Brazil, Haiti, France joined in through a live streaming of the services.
Vararuchi Dalavai’s legacy will not soon be forgotten. A memorial statement from BCM’s International Board sums up that legacy for hundreds of thousands who knew him:
“Through his many years of faithful service, Dr. Dalavai has touched lives, churches, and nations. Dr. Dalavai was a man of honor, of integrity, a visionary. His insight challenged us all to reach beyond ourselves and to depend on God by faith in order to accomplish the extraordinary for God’s Kingdom. His dedicated service to the spread of the Gospel, to missions, to evangelism, to church planting, to discipleship has been a display of tireless commitment. His unwavering faithfulness to his Lord and to the work of the ministry inspired each one of us. His resolute convictions based on the Word of God helped to guide us, his enthusiasm encouraged us, his uncompromising courage in the face of adversity amazed us.
We loved him as a brother and a friend, respected him as a colleague and were privileged to partner with him in the vital work of the Lord. As we remember our dear brother, we as the BCM International Board, gratefully remember the life and legacy of our colleague, and do commit, in partnership with each of you, to further the work of Christ around the world as set forth by the command of Christ and the faithful example of our dear friend, Dr. Vararuchi Dalavai.”
In furtherance of that commitment, the “Reach India Dr Dalavai Memorial Fund” has been established, dedicated to evangelism, church planting, children’s ministry and other outreach in India.
Originally Published in BCM World February 2014