Grace Iris Ministries is proud to enjoy a very rich and full history of faithful Christian service. The history of what is today Grace Iris Ministries began almost a century and a half ago in October of 1878 with the missionary work of Rev. George and Matilda Churchill. The Churchill’s were Canadian Baptist missionaries sent out by The Baptist Foreign Mission Board and part of the “serving seven” who left the shores of Canada on September 25th 1873. Their original destination was the nation of Burma, but after brief stays in Siam (Thailand) and Southern India (Kakinada) the Churchill’s finally settled into what would become their life’s work in the small town of Bobbili, India. The Churchill’s served faithfully and sacrificially through many hardships including opposition from local villagers, severe sickness, and the death of three young children (a daughter who died at birth [April 1875], Willie [Sept. 1881, 6 years old], and Georgie [July 1888, ~4 yrs old]). Yet through all their hardships and endless obstacles the Churchill’s were faithful in establishing a Christian boarding school, planting churches throughout the region, and carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ into remote surrounding areas where the gospel had never been heard.
The Churchill’s continued their work from 1878 until the sudden death of Mr. Churchill in 1908 (after 30 years missionary service). Mrs. Churchill along with her grown daughter Elizabeth (Bessie) carried on the work until she returned to Canada in February of 1921 (after 43 years of missionary service) at the age of 81, where she lived until her death in 1924. The Churchill’s inspiring sacrifices and labors are chronicled in a book entitled “Letters From My Home In India” (see links below) based on a compilation of Mrs. Churchill’s letters written throughout her missionary experiences.
The work continued on after the passing of the Churchill’s with a partnership of Canadian Baptist Missionaries and local Indian Christian converts until 1969. In April of 1969 the Canadian Baptist Missionaries were forced to leave the country. It was at this time that the ministry was transferred to Vimal Kumar Sharma Vinjamari (Sharma) and his wife Iris Rajitham Vinjamuri (Iris). Sharma had been the business manager for the Canadian Baptist missionaries, while Iris had been the headmistress of the boarding school since June of 1964. Sharma and Iris would answer the call and faithfully continue the work of educating local children within the boarding school, spreading the gospel, planting churches, evangelizing the lost, and training pastors and church leaders for the next 26 years. As the Lord was using Iris and Sharma over the years in teaching and making disciples he was also using them to train and prepare their eventual successors.
A young girl named Vasantha came to the boarding school in 1974 and the age of 11. It was at the boarding school where Vasantha became a Christian (along with the rest of her family over the coming years). It was also at the boarding school that Vasantha met her future husband Vijay Kumar Vinjamari (Vijay), Iris and Sharma’s youngest son. Vijay and Vasantha were married on February 17th, 1982, and moved to Neelayamm Choultry (Sharma’s native home place) where they established a church and boarding school. Vijay also started his own fish hatchery business in order to support himself, Vasantha, and their two young sons Anil Dev Dutt Vinjamari (Anil, 1984) and Ananth Raj Sharma (Ananth, 1987), as they continued to carry on the local ministries. In 1988, after transferring the ministry at Neelayhamm Choultry to Vijay’s elder brother, Sukumar, Vijay and Vasantha returned to Bobbili where they became increasingly involved in the ministry there. In 1989, Vijay and Vansantha suffered the loss of all of their businesses (Cyclone [Hurricane]), but took this opportunity to become more focused on the ministry at Bobbili. It was at this time that Vasantha began training under Iris as a schoolmistress in overseeing the boarding school and care of the children, while Vijay followed in his father’s footsteps managing the business affairs of the school, planting churches, working with pastors, and reaching remote villages that were previously unreached with the gospel. This work required Vijay to travel great distances outside of Bobbili by foot and later by bicycle. Some of the villages and communities were initially very resistant with some villages taking over ten years to finally gain an entrance to share about the love of the one true and living God and the good news of Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, to date, Vijay has personally planted over 100 churches in rural communities and village areas surrounding Bobbili. Many of these churches are now fully supported and self-sufficient as they reach out to other neighboring areas with the gospel of Christ. It was also around this same time (1990) that Dr. Louise Gann (see biography on “Our Board”) began making annual trips to India with International Mission Board (IMB) led medical and dental teams. Year after year Dr. Gann found herself increasingly drawn to the children at the boarding school, and began transitioning her trips to focusing on the needs of the children. She also established a child sponsorship program that would partner sponsors in the East Tennessee area with children, opening the door for more children to attend the school.
In 1995, after much contemplation and prayer Vijay and Vasantha fully surrendered their lives to the continuation of Grace Iris Ministries (named after a combination of Vijay and Dr. Gann’s mothers). Vijay and Vansantha have served faithfully for the last 21 years seeing many people come to faith in Jesus, planting churches, training pastors and ministry leaders, and helping thousands of children receive a free education along with a strong knowledge about God and His Word. Despite all that Vijay and Vasantha have accomplished they are always looking and investing towards the future, to further strengthen the effectiveness of the ministry. In addition to overseeing all the various ministries, Vijay and Vansantha also own and operate a private school in downtown Bobbili as a personal business (with ~1,200 students), to provide income and support for themselves, therefore allowing them to be self-sufficient and keeping the ministry expenses as low as possible. Also, their sons Dr. Anil (Dentistry) and Dr. Ananth (Orthopedic Surgeon) have both recently completed their medical training with a strong desire to use their advanced training and expertise for the work of the ministry and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Please pray for the future and continuation of this ministry long into the future.
Short Biography of Matilda Churchill
Letters From My Home in India - Full Biography of Rev. George and Matilda Churchill.