The years ending in 1905 were years which sowed the seeds of a transformed nation. The people now had a printed alphabet. They had a few scattered primary schools. There were also a few books available for the already literate, of which there was a surprising number here and there. The sale of books was usually a system of barter for eggs or often, as Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ recounts, for hairpins.
The three books of the New Testament, Luke, John and Acts, in a single volume, was probably the most popular. There was also a catechism which Christians learnt.
The little hymnbook begun before Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ left in 1897 was constantly expanding. There were hardly any Mizo compositions then, but a surprising number of that small band of early converts turned their hand to the translation of the various hymns they knew in English and Khasi. Khasi men and women living in Mizoram such as Siniboni and Omia Nu contributed a number of valuable hymns. Often the hymns were very simple with choruses. It is certain that almost all Christians knew all their hymns by heart. Both Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ composed hymns which are still sung, but Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ was by far the most talented of the missionaries. Hymns and other songs flowed from his pen with amazing fluency. In 1905 he successfully translated a large number of favourite Welsh hymns, many of which have never yet appeared in English except in very stilted renderings.
Warmth of fellowship.
C. Pasena has written about his early recollections of that period. This is important because he had known the Mizo church in all its changing moods up to his death in December 1961.
When he came from Khawrihnim to the school in Aizawl at the age of seven the atmosphere prevailing among the Christians impressed him deeply. They were only a few in number, and a minority everywhere. They had great patience with those who treated them unfairly, reminding themselves that this was done through ignorance. Their affection for one another was strong and warm.
Strict Sunday observance.
This warmth of fellowship was matched by self-discipline, and a very careful, even rigid, code of behaviour. They had been persecuted for their loyal observance of the Lord’s Day, which they called God’s Day. In Lunglei some had been put in prison on this account. It was no wonder that they continued to observe the day with unusual strictness. Sunday observance was taken as a hallmark of Christian living, but it also added a new dimension to their life. It protected the times of weekly worship and served to cement Christian families and friendships by giving them a relaxed day at home in the village. Indeed the time thus set aside was a sacrament.
Perhaps the past too had its influence in unexpected ways. Under the old animistic religion no Mizo was allowed to leave the village on a feast day. This discipline was applied to the Christian Sunday. The rule formulated was that no one should travel to another village on a Sunday unless he could return the same day. Even pastors and evangelists on their preaching visits would take the utmost care not to breach this rule.
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
For the first sixteen years (till 1913) the only ordained personnel were the missionaries. The Lord’s Supper was only given on rare occasions. It was prepared in great solemnity during the previous week, in the homes of Christians and in a special meeting of the congregation. If they quarrelled with a brother or sister and failed to make it up they were expected to stay away from the Lord’s Table till reconciliation had taken place. The need for mutual and sincere reconciliation was to them a very important aspect of Christian love.
Difficulties for private prayer.
Prayer figured largely in their lives. Since the traditional single-roomed Mizo house, with its bamboo walls, was a poor place for privacy and because prayers were seldom silent, some Christians went daily into the jungle to pray. Some, in an endeavour to follow the command of Jesus to go to a room and shut the door to pray actually built themselves a small prayer hut to which they would withdraw.
Thoughts of the past.
How much of the fear of the evil spirits remained in the mental background of these early Christians it is difficult to say. The strength of superstition among other peoples who have very long Christian traditions proves how tenacious our past influences are. No doubt the thought forms of the past were hard for Mizo Christians to be rid of.
Mizos clung above all to the truth that God is great, more powerful than any evil spirit, that Christ has come from God and that there is forgiveness and cleansing through Him. The verses of Scripture which they knew by heart, and the hymns which they knew even better, fashioned their theology. They were ‘babes in Christ’ but they knew what they believed, and in whom.
Abstinence meant more food.
They practised total abstinence and this has continued to be a rule among Christians. All Mizos had always made their own beer and spirits. This was brewed from the rice they had harvested. In every home ‘zu’ absorbed a considerable part of the huge rice-basket in the corner of the house.
By their abstinence Christians had more food for their growing families and better nourishment. Even though, as often happened, the chief victimised the village Christians by giving them the poorer land in the annual allotment. Yet by thrift and temperance the Christians managed to survive. Non-Christians themselves were aware of the benefits of such temperance and were attracted to Christianity because of this part of its way of life.
Joy and pride in memorising the Scriptures.
Mizo Christians thus took their new faith very seriously. Pasena recalled with wonder, and not a little admiration, the memorising feats of those early Christians. Their joy and pride was to learn a piece of Scripture perfectly by heart. This practice remained popular for at least thirty years. A paragraph of Scripture of between ten and fifteen verses was commonly learnt and then recited at the church meeting. There were instances of forty or even eighty verses being learnt by heart. It was the young of course who were capable of such achievements. Older people were allowed to learn a mere one or two verses.
This learning by rote of lengthy Scripture passages is now discontinued in many churches, including the Mizo Church, but it most certainly served its purpose at the time. It helped people to learn and savour the words of the Gospel. It also helped Christians who were unable to read the Scriptures for themselves.
By 1906 the first period may be regarded as coming to a close. It would be followed by a revivalist spirit and great outbursts of enthusiasm that came from the origins (in 1735) of the Methodist and later Welsh Presbyterian denomination of which the Mission in Mizoram and the Khasi Hills was a part. Mizo Christians were aware of the ‘showers of blessing’ that had fallen on Wales and the Khasi Hills in 1905, and were to embrace them wholeheartedly in 1906.