David Evan Jones ‘Zosaphluia’.
David Evan Jones ‘Zosaphluia’.
It was to be a young man from Llandderfel, North Wales, who was the next to arrive, and whose life’s work was to leave the deepest impression on the Mizo Church. He served from 1897 to 1926. Jones (1) proved to be a patient, painstaking man, simple and systematic in all he did, with a sensitive understanding of how to meet the needs of a growing Christian community. His native Wales gave him little recognition but Mizos had a good appreciation of his qualities. They had a deep respect for him. Before Jones was thirty years old they were calling him ‘Zosaphluia’, or the ‘old’ missionary.
On the farm he grew up on his father often read Bible stories to his seven children. They would gather on a Sunday evening in a sunlit field, high above the River Dee, to sing their favourite hymns and would often be joined by friends from the neighbouring farm. The minister of his chapel was an enthusiastic advocate of missions and lent him copies of ‘China’s Millions’ and ‘Regions Beyond Mission’ which he eagerly devoured. His quiet conversion, which he called a ‘Timothy’ conversion, took place when he was seventeen. He offered his services to the Mission Secretary in Liverpool who advised him to first have some college training and pastoral experience. He entered nearby Bala College (2), and though not yet ordained, accepted the pastoral charge of three churches at Newtown, mid-Wales, where he settled happily for fifteen months. In 1896 he saw an appeal in the Presbyterian weekly which convinced him God was calling him overseas. A short extract from the appeal reads:
“On several occasions attention has been drawn to the need for a missionary to go out to Lushai. This is a mountainous country to the south-east of Sylhet and south of Manipur, about three days journey from Silchar. If we, in real earnest, intend to take possession of this field, someone must be sent there without delay. In view of the state of the country it is unlikely that the Government will permit a European woman to settle there. But is there not, among our young ministers, someone who is prepared to offer himself? For one who has the necessary qualifications there are unique opportunities to work for Christ and bring knowledge of salvation to those who have never heard it...” (Translated from the Welsh.)
Early in 1897 the Mission Committee accepted Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and he was sent to Scotland for training.
Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ were still in Aizawl and were increasingly aware that their time was running out. They were eager for a missionary to come to India at least a few months before they left so that they could pass on their knowledge of the country. In view of this Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ was asked to go to the Lushai Hills as soon as a passage could be arranged.
Before he could leave for India news arrived of a great earthquake in Assam. The Khasi Hills and Sylhet Plain were devastated and the missions there were in ruins. However, the Mission authorities refused to change his arrangements and Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ set sail for India on 26th June 1897. He reached Calcutta on 25th July. There he bought enough stores to last twelve months and then travelled to Silchar, where he was joined by a well educated Khasi Christian called Rai Bhajur, who was to be his colleague. They set off for Aizawl and were met by Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ between Changsil and Sairang. The party arrived in Aizawl on 31st August 1897.
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ settled down in Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge’s ‘Sap Upa’ house on the Tea Garden Hill. Before long the three missionaries moved to a Government erected thatched house on the site of the present Mission bungalow two miles away, at the southern end of Aizawl. Soon after Jones’ ‘Zosaphluia’ arrival Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’, assuming that as a Welshman he would be a good singer, took him to the nearest village to try to sing hymns there. The attempt was a failure, perhaps because Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ was unfamiliar with the Moodey and Sankey hymns. Later he saw how Mizos loved the simplicity of the words and the swing of the tunes.
When Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ left Mizoram at the end of 1897 Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ felt very much alone. Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ had encouraged him to learn ninety Mizo words a day, but the language was strange to him, and so was the country.
Before Mizoram was invaded, Aizawl (named after a small rare flower, the Ai flower) was a small, unimportant village. It became important when the village was chosen by the army as their headquarters. It was originally called Fort Aijal. From that time Aizawl grew and became the centre of government for the district of Assam, then called Lushai.
The original Mizo village melted away from the presence of intruders, but gradually grew back again. Various other races, apart from Mizos, came to live there, and each contributed to the growth of the town. Generally each race provided a different skill and occupied a different ‘vêng’, or area of the town. In the Khasi Vêng lived skilled carpenters, some of whom were already Christian. Ghurka soldiers lived in the Ghurka Vêng, with their neat and pretty houses. Bengalis filled Government administrative offices. Santalis were sweepers, carriers, or dirt removers. The Assamese were generally policemen, and in the Chaprassi Vêng were Government messengers. All of these races, from outside Mizoram, communicated with each other in some form of Urdu or Hindustani. No wonder Mizo villagers visiting Aizawl called the journey ‘vai-kal’, or ‘going to the place of foreigners’.
In addition to being the seat of Government Aizawl was ideal for spreading the Gospel, as Mizos from distant villages often met there. Mizos were appointed to maintain recently built roads, and villages were built at ten mile intervals to ensure the roads were kept in good repair. Villagers from many parts of the land came to Aizawl because it was virtually the only market town. A place where salt, clothes, soap, and other necessities could be found. Hindu festivals were held in Aizawl and Mizo sightseers came to watch the Puja ceremonies which were so different from their own.
These visiting shoppers and sightseers provided the missionaries with natural opportunities for preaching the Gospel.
Evangelising in Aizawl’s ‘zawlbûk’.
An unpopular Government measure was to demand the labour of able-bodied Mizos, from time to time, to carry heavy loads for one or other of the officials. This was necessary as the roads, apart from one 14 mile stretch from Aizawl to the river, were not suitable for wheeled traffic.
The Mizo carriers used the large Aizawl ‘zawlbûk’ in the Rahsi Veng as their hotel. Visitors often stayed just a night or two. It had in fact been erected by the Government. The usual occupants of a ‘zawlbûk’ were local youths between puberty and the age of marriage. Older men were welcomed but women were not allowed to cross the large smooth log that lay across the entrance. ‘Zu’ was not allowed to be drunk in the ‘zawlbûk’, otherwise, they were free to do as they wished, and only the chief was allowed to throw stones at the roof to tell them to tone it down.
The hut provided a semi-captive ‘congregation’ and a frequent visitor was Rai Bhajur, the Khasi evangelist. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ described one such visit. When he entered he saw most of the men (government carriers) sprawling around the huge central fire, which the younger lads had to keep well stoked. The men smoked their pipes while others cooked rice for the next day’s journey. Intermittent conversation went on about the next day’s journey and general village gossip.
The singing of hymns usually caught their attention and the reading of the message would be sandwiched between the hymns. It was all new to the young men and they found it quite entrancing. It was also something to think about while travelling the next day with their heavy loads. The story of the death on the cross touched them deeply. Though they had a well deserved reputation for being hard and cruel men they reacted very sensitively to the story of the Passion. Liangkhaia records that as a youth who had just been taught to read and managed to get hold of the story of the Crucifixion, which he read and wept over, time and again.
But it was the hymns they found most interesting. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ had translated and published a dozen simple hymns during their stay in Aizawl. One of them told the story of Jesus from the time of his birth to the Resurrection. A hymn was easier to remember than a sermon and hymns preceded missionaries and evangelists to many places.
At a later time, while on a tour in a strange village, Edwin Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ was astounded to hear two little boys playing on a swing and singing a hymn he had translated. A hymn of thanks for the Gospel... ‘Aw Pathian, Nangman Chanchin Tha min pe’.
On his birthday, 15th February 1898, Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ opened a school on the verandah of his house. Soon after thirty boys and girls came to be taught. Attendance was irregular at first but enough came to justify erecting a small hut in front of the bungalow. It was an all-purpose building, for the day school, for Sunday School, and for worship. In 1900 a larger building was erected, further down the slope, which served as a church-cum-school until 1913. Raj Bhajur, a trained teacher, took most of the classes. He remained in Aizawl for two years and was early proof of the interest Khasi Christians took in evangelising the Mizos. Many of the Khasis in Mizoram were Christians, or had come under the influence of the Gospel at some time or other. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Raj Bhajur held services for these Khasis every Sunday.
With better weather Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ was able to visit new villages and appears to have made one of the longest of his early trips to the eastern side of the Chalfilh range. Pastor Liangkhaia (who died in 1979), then a lad in one of the villages, remembered the illustration Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ used which has since become very popular among the Mizos. He compared the Gospel to a banyan tree. It grows around another tree until the original tree dies completely. So too does the Gospel replace sin in our hearts when once it begins to grow.
The arrival of Edwin Rowlands ‘Sapthara’.
On the last day of 1898 another missionary called Edwin Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ (3) appeared in Mizoram. He was a Welshman from Pensarn, North Wales, and went on to work in Mizoram for ten years. He had a potent influence on the infant church. Of all the missionaries it was he who best grasped the genius of the Mizo character from within. His hymns show his unequalled skill and precision with words, idioms and phrases. As a lad of sixteen he had emigrated to the United States and had been a schoolmaster in Texas for some years. In a photograph taken in Mizoram he can be seen with a splendid handlebar moustache and sombrero, instead of the topee worn by other missionaries. In time he married a Mizo girl.
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ worked well together. They were very different in character, but their strengths and weaknesses complimented each other. There was much for them both to do. In the autumn of 1899 Raj Bhajir felt he had to return to his own Khasi people, the Bhoi tribe. His loss was felt keenly and it was hoped the Khasis would send a replacement, but none was forthcoming, though the well-established Khasi church continued to take an interest in the Mizo work.
There was one Khasi whose work will not be forgotten. Babu Sahon Roy was a government contractor working on the paths that were extending outwards from Aizawl to the extremities of Mizoram. Sahon Roy was involved in much of this work and he shared his Christian faith with many of the villagers he met.
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ toured alternately, with one staying to look after the growing numbers showing interest in the Gospel in Aizawl, while the other toured taking several Mizos as companions. Pupils at the school were willing to help and were familiar with the hymns and scriptures.
The missionaries were often suspected, sometimes despised, and frequently misunderstood. Metaphors were given a literal meaning and references to being saved through the blood of Christ led to Mizo suspicions of sorcery.
In Mizo social life long speeches played no part. Conversation was their art and they were puzzled by long speeches from the missionaries. Men could not wait till the speech ended and Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ records unexpected questions being thrown at him like “Where did you get that tie?” or “How much did you pay for your shoes?” His strange foreign accent baffled the listeners.
The land was slowly pacified and Mizo chiefs largely resigned themselves to the permanent presence of outside rule which, paradoxically, increased and stabilised their power. Not many privileges were taken away and inter-tribal hostilities virtually ended. The new government paths, though only five feet wide, were regular, though arduous and made travel easier. Permanent bridges were built over turbulent rivers.
Villages, however, still tended to be large and far apart. The paths between were still comparatively long and rough and the missionaries found travelling arduous and exhausting. However, they were still young and a growing confidence spurred them on. After a twenty-mile journey over slippery rocks there could hardly have been a sweeter sound than a village cock crowing in the distance.
Between 1899 and 1905 they made very extensive tours. Northwards to the border of Manipur, eastwards to Champhai overlooking Burma, westwards through thick jungle to Tripura, and the longest journey of all took them south. The language Mizos spoke wherever they went varied little. Despite persistent opposition they found a few willing listeners in almost every village. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ would always sell hymn books, typically for four eggs, to remind purchasers of their value. It would also feed the missionaries.
The response of young people.
The young men were quickest to respond, which is why the ‘zawlbûks’ were so important. Pastor Phawka, the first pastor in charge of the West District, first heard the Gospel from Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ in a remote village ‘zawlbûk’ in the west. Rev. Challiana, a senior Baptist pastor, first heard the Gospel message from Rowlands ‘Sapthara’. He had asked all who didn’t want to listen to go outside, to those who stayed he promised a story. This was how Challiana heard the story of the Lost Sheep and how it was found.
It would be nearly two years before the first two young converts were baptised.
Baptism meant an unprecedented break with the past. Then, and for many years to come, there were two indications a man was sincere about becoming a Christian. He gave up drinking ‘zu’, which meant much more than abstinence as it involved giving up traditional Mizo religious and social rites. Secondly he surrendered the ‘kelmei’ amulet. This was the tuft of the tail of a goat that had been specially sacrificed and was intended to ward off evil spirits. To Mizos these spirits were everywhere and it was very significant when the ‘kelmei’ was put to one side.
The convert would bring the ‘kelmei’ to Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, whose custom was to place it in the safe of his office, duly docketed, just in case the owner changed his mind and wanted it back. But if he didn’t it was duly destroyed.
(1). David Evan Jones was born on 15th February1870 at Llandderfel, Bala, North Wales. He was a pastor briefly at three churches near Newton, Powys, and was ordained at Menai Bridge, Anglesey, on 16th June 1897. He was appointed by the Missionary Society at Rhyl, North Wales, in 1897 and arrived in Aizawl on 31st August 1897. He was a pioneer missionary and translator. He married the Sylhet missionary Katherine Ellen Williams (born 10th September 1868) at the Scottish Church, Calcutta, in December 1903, and they had one son Alwyn. Jones retired to the U.K. early in 1927 and lived at Liverpool and Prestatyn, North Wales. He died on 10th August 1947. His wife died on 20th May 1950.
(2). See: Bala-Bangor Theological Seminary in Wikipedia.
(3). Edwin Rowlands was born at Abergele, North Wales, on 15th March 1867. He was appointed by the Missionary Society at Newport, Gwent, South Wales, in 1989 and arrived in Aizawl on 31st December 1898. After dismissal by the Mission Committee in 1908 he worked as a freelance missionary in North-East India and Burma. He established a small mission in Peletwa, Burma, and married a Mizo called Khumi, probably in 1928. He taught in Rangoon where he died on 6th August 1939.
Edwin Rowlands ‘Sapthara’.
Bawngkawn, Aizawl and Brigade Field.
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A Public Works Department Inspection Bungalow.
The footpath from Chakhang to Chheihlu in south-east
Page 4: David Evan Jones ‘Zosaphluia’.
D. E. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and his wife with a group of Mizo evangelists in 1916.
© Synod Publication Board 1991.
Bala Theological Seminary.