The effect of the ‘Welsh Revival’ on the Khasis.
In February 1905 two prominent ministers from Wales, Rev. W. S. Jones and Rev. Maurice Griffiths, paid a visit to the Khasi Hills and attended the Assembly at Cherra. There is no information as to whether this had any direct link with the coming of the ‘Revival’ to the Khasi Hills. However, we do know, from J. H. Morris’s book ‘The Story of Our Foreign Mission’, that Khasi Christians had for some time been holding day and night prayer meetings ‘to ask God to remember the children of the Mother-Church’. A foretaste of it was experienced in the Cherra Assembly held in February 1905. Three weeks later Revival began in earnest in the Pariong Presbytery and one of those most deeply affected was Rev. Dr. John Roberts, Principal of the Theological College for Pastoral Training, and chief translator of the Bible into Khasi. His enthusiasm infected many others.
Mission work by the Welsh Presbyterians had been continuing in the Khasi Hills since 1840. By 1906 the ‘Khasi Revival’ is estimated to have brought in an estimated 4,000 converts within the space of a year.
Mizoram sends delegates to Mairang.
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, as was natural, was following with interest the course of the ‘Welsh Revival’:
‘We used to receive newspapers giving accounts of the miracles of grace occurring in Wales and had letters from friends naming some of our acquaintances who had known the power of the Spirit. We gave a resumé of these in weekly meetings and it aroused in us a deep desire to see something of this nature in Mizoram’. (translated from Welsh)
Thanga, one of the earliest of the converts, was in his mid-twenties in 1905 and something of a leader in the Christian community in Aizawl. In the rainy season of that year he was seconded, along with Dala, to work in Lunglei with Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ because they were short-handed at the time. He writes:
‘I happened to mention to Pu Buanga the fact that we were holding prayer-meetings in Aizawl to ask for the Holy Spirit to revive us and he thought it a splendid idea. So, in Serkawn too, we had prayer meetings (from July on) asking for revival’.
Hence Jones’ ‘Zosaphluia’ and Lorrain’s ‘Pu Buanga’ readiness to send a joint north-south party to the Khasi Hills Assembly to be held in Mairang in March 1906. The annual assembly included not only Khasi Christians (who formed the great majority) but also Bengali Christians from the Plains, together with Mizos and other tribes. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ resolved that some Mizos should attend. Neither he nor Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ were able to go. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ selected three women, Siniboni, Pawngi, and Thankhumi. Khuma was the fourth. Siniboni, a Khasi Christian with years of Bible experience, was an obvious choice as she knew the way to Mairang and Khasi was her native tongue. She could also find the necessary accommodation for them.
Thanga had already been to Shillong and knew some Khasi and Bengali. Unfortunately he was unwell and could not decide whether to go or not, but a sudden mysterious compulsion made him resolve to go at the last minute. Chawnga heard of his intentions and decided he would go along too. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ sent four, including Thankunga, Parima and Zathanga, from the South. They collected Vangchhunga on the way to Aizawl. The other member from the South had to drop out because of a leg injury. When they arrived in Aizawl they found Siniboni and the others had already left, so they caught up with them at Sairang, arriving after dark. The following day the ten of them set off on the long and arduous journey.
Mizos experience Revival for the first time.
Arriving in Shella in the Khasi foothills they then made the steep climb to Cherrapunji (1) 1,200 metres above sea level.
They spent the night at Cherrapunji and had their first encounter with the ‘Khasi Revival’ of which they had heard so much. Thanga relates the incident:
‘That evening before nightfall we were singing hymns and as we did so our hostess began waving her hands about and her children began to wave them too. We couldn’t make it out. Were they trying to irritate us? We didn’t like it in the least’.
They were to see other mysterious actions at the Church meeting which they attended that evening. During the singing of a hymn they saw three people shaking like leaves. “What on earth is this?” they said to themselves. “Have they been frightened by some horrible apparition?”
There were only two days left of their arduous journey. As the Mizo Christians set out from Cherrapunji a group of revivalists caught up with them in the main street. “What country are you from? We can easily tell you are Christians”. “Yes” they said. “We are Christians from Mizoram, and we’re on our way to the Mairang Assembly”. “So are we” the revivalists said. “Let’s go together”.
The group came to a house where there was some singing and again a man was there trembling and shaking. Their new-found friends disappeared into the house to join the singing. Thanga and the others went on some distance and sat by a little stream to eat their meal. Soon the others joined them, and with them was the man they had seen shaking. “What did you see that made you shake so much?” they asked. “I saw nothing to frighten me. The Lord made me see lovely and joyous things. That is why I was shaking... You don’t need to be afraid. If you are, you won’t receive the Holy Spirit”.
As they arrived at Mawphlang to spend the night they began to realize what lay ahead. Enormous numbers were gathering from all over the hills. The Mizos had never seen so many Christians. Numerous missionaries were also among them. When they reached Mairang they found a place to stay right by the Chapel.
A mighty chorus of prayer.
Raja Kine Singh, the Syiem (2) of Khadsawphra, was probably the most prominent Christian Chief among the Khasis. He made a very generous gesture. “I invite whoever wishes to come to the Assembly which is to be held in my village (Mairang) and I will provide meat and rice for three days free of charge for all who come”.
In the late afternoon a prayer meeting was held. It was thronged with people with even important government servants struggling to enter. In time the Mizos themselves became infected with the revival atmosphere. In one meeting Khuma was weeping. In another Vanchhunga was suddenly smitten and began to breathe with difficulty. He clenched his fists and became rigid. Afterwards he said, “I felt my inside to be more blazing hot than fiery embers. It was almost beyond endurance”.
For the Mizos, however, the greatest event of the Assembly was the meeting held on Sunday afternoon in the open air. Missionaries, church-leaders and preachers for the day were seated on an elevated platform. Robert Evans, the local missionary whom Mizos called ‘The Stammerer’, shouted out “Mizo friends, come and stand in front of this table and we shall offer prayer for you”. They stood there in a bunch. “Now”, he said to the congregation “let us join together in prayer on behalf of these Mizos and their land”. The congregation was estimated to be over 8,000. Thanga writes as he looked back on the event. “At once all the people present were united in a mighty chorus of prayer. We stood there weeping and trembling. Not one of us remained unaffected”.
The long journey home.
Monday morning gave them a rather rude awakening. The Assembly was over and the Syiem’s hospitality abruptly ended. Their sense of exultation vanished and depression took its place. They were far from home in a strange land and a long return journey lay ahead.
They decided to visit Shillong, the capital of the area, and it rained the whole way there. They returned to Cherrapunji and the rain continued, dampening their spirits as well as their clothes. But Cherrapunji revived them and a little before their departure their Khasi Christian host laid his hands on them, blessed them, and prophesied:
“One of you is still not completely clean. You are now homeward bound and the Holy Spirit is going with you, but so is Satan! Be careful and keep guard on yourselves, otherwise you will have a great deal of trouble on your way”.
The called at the house of the Principal of the Theological College, Dr. John Roberts. He gave them some money for their journey, probably by arrangement with Jones ‘Zosaphluia’. They went along the ridge before making the steep descent to the Plains and halted at the rim of the great cliff (see right), a famous and wonderful vantage point. There they sang a hymn and stared over the vast Bengal Plain with its many thousands of villages.
They then proceeded to Sylhet and Karimganj and completed their journey to Silchar by rail. They continued on from Silchar by foot but a sudden and bitter disagreement arose between them. The cause is unknown but it was enough to prevent them speaking to one another. They proceeded mute and unhappy until they reached Kukipunji, the first village in the Mizo foothills. They preached the word of God there, without any effect, and plodded on to spend Sunday in Bilkhawthlir, but here again things were not much better.
After a week of travel through thick jungle they came to a high village within eleven miles of Aizawl. By then some spirit of reconciliation was emerging. They began to question themselves to find the cause of their discontent and discovered there was not the slightest reason for being angry with each other. They were suddenly filled with delight. They sang and never stopped until they had gone through the gap in the mountain, beyond Durtlang. From here the end of the journey was in sight and by the second milestone in Chaltlang they stopped again to offer a short prayer of thanksgiving. It proved to be more than that. First one prayed, then another, and then, until the very last of the ten had prayed. Zathanga remarked:
“While the first of us was praying I was aware of a streak of flame, very high above us. And, as each one prayed in turn, the flame descended lower and lower and, as the last one prayed, it disappeared. I am sure it went inside us”.
They felt so sure that the Lord had forgiven them they made up a little ditty about forgiveness and sang it repeatedly for the last two miles until they were in the heart of Aizawl.
(1). Cherrapunji, or Cherrapungee, is also called Sohra by the inhabitants. It is the home of the Syiem of Sohra and a centre of Khasi culture. The Welsh Presbyterians established a Theological College there in 1888 (Cherrapunjee Theological College). Cherrapunjee is above an escarpment at 1,484 metres and faces south towards Bangladesh. It receives both the north-east and south-west monsoons and the combination of the warm moist air from the Bay of Bengal meeting the cold air from the Himalayas makes Cherrapunjee, according to the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’, the wettest place on earth. It has received the highest ever recorded rainfall in a year... 905 inches. By comparison the average yearly rainfall in Mizoram is 100 inches; at Crib Goch in Snowdonia, North Wales, the wettest place in Britain, the average is 176 inches.
(2). Syiems, Dollois, Wadadars and Lyngdohships had existed from time immemorial and were the traditionally elected chiefs of the Khasi, Jaintia and the Garo communities. See: The Lyngngams and their Folk Dances’.