By 1899 there were two Mizo candidates for baptism, Khuma and Khara. Khuma was eighteen years old and had previously heard the Gospel from Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’, though without showing much apparent interest at the time. Late in 1898 his interest suddenly grew and his desire to be a Christian was evident. On 25th July 1899 Khuma and Khara became the first Mizos to confess their faith openly in baptism. It was a very memorable day in the calendar of the Mizo church.
Khara moved some distance from Aizawl, and sadly, away from the influences that led to his conversion and he lost his faith. Khuma, on the other hand, learned to read and write and knew much of the Gospels by heart. His travels became legendary. He went alone through the wildest parts of the country to tell the message of God’s love in Christ and suffered persecution time and again. He later made friends with a young man called Duma and they went everywhere together.
Khuma usually visited every house in whatever strange village he was in, and, before sitting down to a meal, would ask one simple question “Have you accepted the Gospel?”
His dedicated efforts led to a tubercular infection and he died after a long illness, aged 36, respected and mourned by many, on 23rd August 1917. His fervour was the inspiration for many during the early years of the church and there are many stories about the two friends Khuma and Duma, two simple, unassuming, and devoted friends.
The Khasi and Mizo churches join.
Williams, Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ belonged to the same Welsh missionary society that had founded the Khasi Church (1). By the end of the 19th century the Church’s numerical strength was impressive. In 1901 there were 15,678 church members and 396 places of worship. These had been formed into the Khasi Assembly to which the Mizo Church belonged until 1923.
After the first Mizo baptism it was decided to attend the next meeting of the Khasi Assembly due to be held on 20-23 October 1899. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, Rowlands ‘Sapthara’, Rai Bhajur, Khuma and Khara undertook the long journey to Meghalaya and were warmly welcomed. At the Wednesday meeting Khuma and Khara spoke briefly, and both were reported to be full of zeal for the Saviour, especially Khuma. He said:
“If all the world refused to believe in Christ, I should still believe in Him, and I would die for Him if need be.”
The delegates sang a hymn in Mizo. They stayed on until 18th November. No new personnel were provided by the Khasi Church and Rai Bhajur decided to stay in his homeland. Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ is reported to have taken this as a sign that God wanted the Mizos to do their own evangelism. His confident interpretation proved prophetic as Mizo Christians soon took up the task of evangelising the land, tentatively at first, but with more confidence as time went on.
It was not easy. Wherever there was substantial growth the chiefs attitudes hardened against them. In the south Thankunga was imprisoned even before he was baptised!
The early growth of Christianity in Mizoram.
The church’s statistics show that in 1903 there were 46 communicant members. 11 were Khasis the rest Mizos.
Because there were so few of them a strong bond grew between them. As far as possible they celebrated Christmas together as a family. They felt too that discipline had to be very strict, and those who had quarrelled were not expected to come to the Lord’s Table unless they had been reconciled. Each member brought his own lantern to chapel. Later they had a communal lamp and each gave towards the paraffin.
We have a glimpse of the infant Aizawl church in a letter written by Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ on 17th November 1902, at the start of the winter.
“I am delighted to inform you that 9 Mizos and 1 Khasi and child were baptised by Mr. Rowlands and myself during this month. Three of them were from South Lushai. Today six young men went out two by two, to the North, to the West and to the East, to preach the Gospel throughout the land. I hope to go South in a day or two. I shall be away for a month or five weeks. Mr. Rowlands returned last week after spending a month in a village some twenty miles from here, where he preached and ran a school.” (Drysorfa 1903)
Moreover this church supported its workers from the first. As early as 1900 the Christians agreed to provide for their evangelists. Four were appointed on a salary of 3 rupees a month. To provide the required revenue the Christians gave a tenth of their income, and a great many have continued to do so to the present day. The evangelist’s salary was certainly small, but it was given by people who were extremely poor. In those days the only wealth in many homes came from the rice stored in the bamboo bin. Money was a foreign element and the Mizos can be said not to have entered a money economy until after the 2nd World War. The Mizo word for wealthy ‘hausa’ means having enough rice for the family for a year.
The first printed Gospel.
In strange villages evangelists were met with hostility. They would be offered ‘zu’ and the village toughs would challenge them to the traditional wrestling bout. This was hard on them as it would often come after a hard journey and without a meal. Yet over the years these experiences often proved precious and significant. L. M. Chhinga of Baktawng wrote as follows after a journey he made with Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ and others:
“...Before we had the Bible in the Duhlian (Mizo) language... ...we used to translate a few short verses and teach them to the school children. Pu Buanga (Lorrain) and his friend had completed the translation of Luke’s Gospel. They sent it to Calcutta to be printed and it was kept there for five months or so. O! how we looked forward to it, but the MS (manuscript) was returned to us, and then we had to send it to Britain. At the time, in the Lungleh area, the chiefs were persecuting the first Christians. On a preaching tour we thought to visit Thankunga and the others. We were all ready to go when the postman came and gave us a letter telling us that the St. Luke’s Gospel would be arriving shortly, so we postponed the tour. In five days the parcel arrived containing 50 copies. On the day following its arrival I took Vanchhûnga and Lianphunga and we went on a journey to the South carrying one copy with us. Wherever we spent the night we read the book. People were fascinated to hear the verses of the Bible being read in their own tongue. “So this is what the ‘Jehovah Book’ is like which you are always talking about”. They were eager to look at it. Some elders said, “We used to have a book at one time. It was made of leather, but it was left in the sum (the big wooden mortar used for pounding rice) overnight, and would you believe it, a dog ate it all up!”
“Just before the evening meal we arrived at another village, Darmaka’s. Vanchhûnga said. “It is a little early, but let us stay tonight at Darmaka’s village, the journey has been a tiring one and if we go on to another village they will be certain to challenge us to a wrestling bout. Darmaka is a little more familiar with other people’s customs than most chiefs. If aggressive youths take hold of us and dare us to wrestle he won’t permit it. I think we will be less interfered with here”.
“When we reached the space in front of his house there he was with his elders drinking from a beer pot. Without even putting my bag on the ground I told him “St. Luke’s Gospel in the Duhlian language has just arrived. I shall read you some of it”, thinking that he would be very pleased. I had just started reading when he said “Mm”, rose up suddenly and darted into his house. When he came out again he was leading his wife by the hand along with three others”. (Translation)
Even such a small portion of the Scriptures helped the work of the evangelists. It kept them faithful to the message of the Gospel and helped to gain credibility from their hearers.
They would have to wait until 1916 for a complete New Testament. A complete Bible was not published until 1959.
(1). The Welsh missionary society sent Thomas Jones its first missionary to the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, in 1841. The Khasi Church claims that year as the date of its foundation. The growth of Christianity was slow in the early years and opposition was violent. By the end of the first decade there were only twenty Christian converts. The rapid growth of the church only came about during the last two decades of the 19th century.
See: ‘The Presbyterian Church of India’ in Wikipedia.
See: Church-mission dynamics in Northeast India.