The Baptist Missionary Society enters South Lushai.
As soon as they had resolved to station a missionary in the South Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ went to look for a suitable site for a house. It was not long before he fixed on one near Fort Lunglei. The local Government Agent was agreeable. But it was not to be.
By 1901 the Baptist Missionary Society had turned their attention to South Lushai and its possibilities. In September 1901 they gave instructions to Baptist Missionary, Rev. George Hughes (1), to proceed to Lunglei and enquire about the possibilities of a European missionary being stationed there. They already had mission stations not too far away at Rangamati, on the Karnaphuli River, and an important mission station at Chittagong. Hughes was given a very kindly welcome by the Christians he found at Lunglei and returned to Rangamati to report to the B.M.S on the prospects of starting missionary work in South Lushai.
Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ heard of Hughes’ visit in early 1902 and went to Chittagong to clarify matters. It appears Hughes convinced him that the B.M.S was going to take over the South Lushai Hills. When they heard the South and the North were going to be separated Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ telegraphed the Home Board of the Presbyterian Church of Wales expressing their disapproval of the plan. But the Home Board had the impression, according to Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, that the North and South were totally different countries.
There were other factors involved. The Home Board had no immediate plans to send additional missionaries from Wales. The great Assam earthquake of 1897 had placed severe financial burdens on the Welsh Missionary Society. At the time, and for many years to come, the Board regarded the mission in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills as their main work. The other factor the Board had in mind was that the B.M.S. was a larger and wealthier organization, with more manpower to deploy. At a meeting in Liverpool in the summer of 1902 the Welsh Presbyterian General Assembly readily accepted the Board’s request to transfer the South Lushai Hills to the care of the B.M.S.
The return of Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’.
In a later recorded interview, given in Serkawn, Zathanga recalled it was Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ who first suggested to the B.M.S. that Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ should return to Mizoram. At the time they were working among the Abor-Miri (2) people in North Assam [near the border with Tibet].
When the B.M.S came to Mizoram in 1903, according to Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, there were 30 baptised Christians in the South and a Christian community of 125, including children. The Aizawl missionaries specially recommended Thankunga as the Mizo Christian who would be the most help.
Of the 125 Christians, 19 went to Demagiri, the river port on the Karnaphuli River, to welcome Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ on their return to Mizoram, and to accompany them to Lunglei. The Mizo Christians were especially happy to have two missionaries who could speak their language and of whom they had already heard. Both Mizo men and women willingly helped to carry their baggage to Lunglei. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ arrived in Lunglei on 13th March 1903.
Unanimity and loyalty develops between
Presbyterians and Baptists.
Denominational rivalry was a very real and stubborn element in British Church life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Similar rivalry could have made for a disastrous beginning for the separation of Mizoram into two missions. It is fortunate that the endemic rivalry between churches in Britain did not transplant itself to Mizoram, and the four missionaries were able to co-operate in comparative harmony.
Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ was widely travelled and his experience as a teacher in Texas no doubt gave him experience of people from many different backgrounds. His later work in Manipur and Burma shows how ready he was to co-operate with others in the service of Christ. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ had already worked alongside the Welsh Mission both in Silchar and Aizawl. After they established themselves in Serkawn, near Lunglei, they readily co-operated with Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Rowlands ‘Sapthara’, and later with other missionaries in the North. All four men were obviously close to each other in their faith, in their views on church organization, and on the best method for missionary work. It is believed that the influential Government Superintendent, Colonel Shakespear, was also a factor as he apparently invited the missionaries from both North and South to his bungalow to discuss the extent and nature of co-operation between the two areas, although no records survive. Rev. Zairema, a Presbyterian minister, wrote the following in 1978:
“A Baptist or Presbyterian migrating to the other area becomes automatically a member of the church in that area, and no question arises concerning change of denomination. A Baptist minister may baptize infants if parents so demand. The highest church court of the Baptists at one time was called a Presbytery which is now changed to Assembly, perhaps due to teasing of their co-baptists in other parts of India. Many of our people did not know to what denomination they belonged — they knew, however, that they were Christians and that their duty is to spread the good news. The Welsh Presbyterian Mission is supported by a small Church and could not afford to spend their money lavishly in erecting impressive buildings and institutions, but when the last missionaries had to leave the country in 1968, due to political disturbance in Mizoram, they left a church not only self-supporting, but very much missionary minded”. (‘God’s Miracle in Mizoram’, Zairema.)
Communications between North and South.
For many years those who went to Calcutta from the B.M.S. Centre at Lunglei travelled west along the Karnaphuli River to Chittagong, a comparatively easy journey, and there was no inducement to go via Aizawl. Similarly the Aizawl people found their best way to Shillong and Calcutta was north via Silchar, never via Lunglei. This was the case until 1950. The only contact between the North and South was by letter. In view of this it is remarkable how closely they managed to co-operate with each other.
(1). ‘George Hughes was born at Llanfair Caerereinion in November 1866. His early training was as a teacher and it was while working in a school at Birmingham that he felt his call to missionary service. He gave up his position and went to Haverfordwest College to prepare for his new work.
Accepted by the B.M.S. for service in India, he sailed in 1890 and with four young missionaries (W. R. James, T. W. Norledge, G. W. Bevan and W. Davies) was located in the Barisal area. From 1895 to 1899 he served with the New Zealand Baptist Mission in Chandpur, East Bengal, but returned to B.M.S. staff in 1899 and was again stationed in the Barisal district.
George Hughes was a essentially a pioneer and when the Arthington Fund made new work in East Bengal possible he was selected to open up work in the Chittagong Hill Tracts where, with Dr. Orissa Taylor, he established the station of Rangamati for work among the Chakmas, and later secured the site at Chandraghona for the building of the hospital and the schools, thus opening the work among the Maghs and Tipporahs.
When further extension became possible he went on a lone expedition to Lungleh, in the South Lushai Hills and as a result of this pioneering survey Mr. Savidge and Mr. Lorrain were sent to open up work in this area in 1903.
In 1910 George Hughes was appointed Pastor of the English Baptist Church at Lower Circular Road, Calcutta and there he laboured most effectively, but his heart was always in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and amongst his beloved Chakma people.
He returned to that field after his furlough in 1913 and continued to work there, travelling through the villages, translating hymns and parts of the New Testament into Chakma, both native script and Roman character, to meet the need of those who could not learn Bengali (the official language of the district). The translation work he continued for some time in this country [the UK] after he retired, for reasons of health, in 1924. Because of his love for the Master and his concern for the people of India he was an enthusiastic missionary advocate to the end...’
Rev. George Hughes. Died 23.5.1957 aged 90.
Resolution of the General Committee of the Baptist Missionary Society. Tuesday, 2nd July, 1957. Courtesy Norman Keech, husband of the granddaughter of George Hughes.
(2). Abor is an old name for the Adi tribe (or Bangni-Bokar tribe) who live in 50 hill villages in the Himalayan hills of Nyingchi Prefecture of Assam, around the area of the Indian border with Southern Tibet. ‘Adi’ in Assamese means mountain top. There are 15 subtribes within the group.
See the Abor or Adi people in Wikipedia.
See Abor in the ‘Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World’, Volume 1, in Google Books.