This is an article from the November-December 1994 issue: India

The Mizos of Northeast India:

Proclaiming the Gospel to their neighbors near and far

The Mizos of Northeast India:

The Mizos are the most solidly Christian people in all of India. They have been sending out hundreds of missionaries to surrounding peoples and countries for years. Patrick Johnstone, states, "No nation on earth has sent out a higher proportion of their people as missionaries than the Mizo." What is their secret for mobilizing so many missionaries and how can we duplicate these stunning results in other peoples and cultures? This is their story, written by an actual Mizo believer. --Rick Wood

One hundred years ago, in 1894, two Scottish missionaries--James H. Lorrain and Frederick W. Savidge--entered a remote, landlocked, hilly and heavily forested area of Northeast India known today as Mizoram. There they encountered an animistic tribal people of Mongolian descent who had no written language and had never heard of the Gospel. So the two missionaries developed an alphabet for the people and translated parts of the Bible into their language. The people they reached are known today as "Mizo," and the language they speak is also called "Mizo."

Four years after their arrival in Mizoram, Lorrain and Savidge returned home on furlough, and their wealthy but eccentric sponsor, Robert Arthington, Jr. of Arthington Aborigines Mission, decided to withdraw his support for further work among the Mizos. But Welsh Presbyterian missionaries took over the task that had been initiated and established their headquarters in the northern part of Mizoram. Then, a few years later, Lorrain and Savidge returned to Mizoram with the commissioning of the Baptist Missionary Society and set up their headquarters in the southern part of Mizoram.

There was one Mizo convert to Christianity resulting from Lorrain and Savidge's work in 1894. In 1899, the Welsh missionaries baptized their first two converts, Khuma and Duma. By the time the Baptist missionaries arrived in the town of Lunglei, where they set up their headquarters, they found 125 believers already there. There was good cooperation between the Welsh Presbyterian missionaries in the north and the Scottish Baptist missionaries in the south; they worked together in harmony, and within a period of about 50 years, the entire Mizo nation had been converted to Christianity. Today, Mizoram has the highest percentage of Christians among all the states in India, and the Mizos rank No. 2 in literacy rate in all of India.

The church in Mizoram can appropriately be called a "missionary church." The Kristian Tlangau (or Christian Herald in Mizo), a magazine begun in October 1911 and published by the Mizoram Presbyterian Church's Synod Press, reported that a total of 1,763 missionaries are currently being supported and sent out by the churches and mission agencies in Mizoram. Most of these missionaries are working among the surrounding tribal nations and other people groups in India, and 190 of them are working in mission fields outside of India. There are also missionaries sent out by individual sponsors that are not included in the total number mentioned above.

Considering that the entire Mizo population is less than a million-- about 686,000--the number of missionaries sent out is noteworthy. Patrick Johnstone writes in Operation World that "No nation on earth has sent out a higher proportion of their people as missionaries." The question that arises is how the Mizos acquired their remarkable zeal for missions. The answer lies in wise missionary practices and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

It is said that about ten years before the first missionaries arrived in Mizoram, a man named Darphawka had a series of prophetic dreams that foretold the arrival of the missionaries and the liberating effects that their message would have on the Mizos. In one of these dreams, he saw two white men from "the other side of the great sea" entering Mizoram, and he charged his listeners to embrace the message that these men would proclaim to them. Darphawka also predicted that there would come a time when Mizos would no longer be afraid of demons, and no sacrifices to them would be necessary. Consequently, when missionaries entered Mizoram years later, Darphawka's descendants were among the first converts to Christianity.

The missionaries undoubtedly taught their new converts the need to continue the work of proclaiming the Gospel. Mizos love to sing, and many missionary hymns from the Welsh and Scottish hymnals were translated into Mizo. And Mizo missionaries, who follow the example of the Western missionaries who came to their land, also teach and prepare their new converts to evangelize others.

The missionaries undoubtedly taught their new converts the need to continue the work of proclaiming the Gospel. Mizos love to sing, and many missionary hymns from the Welsh and Scottish hymnals were translated into Mizo. And Mizo missionaries, who follow the example of the Western missionaries who came to their land, also teach and prepare their new converts to evangelize others.

J. M. Lloyd, who served as a Welsh Presbyterian missionary in Mizoram for twenty years, from the 1940s to the 1960s, writes that "As early as 1900, the [Mizo] Christians agreed to provide for their evangelists. Four were appointed on a salary of Rs. 3 each per month. " In fact, one of the first two converts baptized by the Welsh Presbyterian missionaries, Khuma, became the first Mizo evangelist. He was reported to have gone from house to house with this simple invitation: "Come, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."

The spiritual revival that swept through Wales in 1904 was brought to Northeast India by the Welsh missionaries in 1905, resulting in a wave of revival among the Khasi tribe in the state of Meghalaya, which is to the north of Mizoram. On hearing about it from their missionaries, and going there to observe this phenomenon firsthand, the Mizo believers longed for the spiritual exuberance they saw in the Khasi believers. They headed back for Mizoram feeling disheartened since they had not received the Holy Spirit in such a joyous and dramatic way. However, while they were still a few miles outside Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, they decided to stop and earnestly pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. God granted their request, and they were reported to have entered Aizawl singing and dancing with joy; and the number of believers increased from that time onwards.

The second wave of revival came in 1913, characterized by ecstatic dancing that was quite different from the dancing of 1906, which resembled the dance of the Khasi believers. Then, in 1919, the third wave of revival arrived, bringing new and "contagious" manifestations of the Holy Spirit's presence. The number of believers grew with each revival, but missionary zeal was not kindled in the hearts of Mizo believers until after the fourth wave of revival, which began in the early 1930s and brought with it a distinct "assurance of salvation." This fourth wave of revival has never really died down--it seems to flare up every now and then, sometimes intensely, with new manifestations of the Holy Spirit's work and presence, and it marks the initiation and growth of the Mizos' missionary zeal and endeavor.

Soon after World War II, an itinerant Mizo evangelist named Robuanga and his father began what was called Chanchin Tha Dak (or the Gospel Post) to spread the Good News to the tribal groups living in the Chin Hills of Myanmar who had not yet heard the Gospel. This mission outreach involved passing a box of donations from village to village in Mizoram, beginning in the capital city of Aizawl, collecting from villagers whatever they could contribute towards spreading the Gospel to the Chin Hills--Bibles, Christian literature, etc. When the donations reached the border of Myanmar, Mizos living there would carry the boxes to the target people groups, most of whom understood the Mizo language.

Today, Mizos consider the task of proclaiming the Gospel their responsibility as a nation. Elder Lalchhunga of The Presbyterian Church of Mizoram expresses well their response to the Great Commission: "God has chosen and uplifted our nation, which is few in number and occupies a small land, to proclaim the Gospel. Proclaiming the Gospel is our responsibility--it is the greatest task given to the Church, so let us work harder than we are now in order to carry out this task. God will continue to lift us up physically and spiritually, and He will grant us progress, if we continue to increase our efforts. Even though we are a nation few in number, we will not be overwhelmed by larger nations if we do our task; but we will perish if we fail to fulfill our calling as a nation to proclaim the Gospel."

The missionary vision, therefore, permeates all teaching in the churches of Mizoram and the practice of Christianity there. Missionary hymns --many of them Mizo originals--and corporate prayer are emphasized in church services and Sunday schools. Children are told inspiring stories about missionaries and special missionary songs are written for them.

Contributions to missions is promoted and emphasized in some unique ways. Many women practice what is called buhfai tham--when preparing the family's meals, which always include rice, a woman will take a handful of rice from that which had been measured out for a meal and put it into a special container. The rice thus set aside is collected once a month from all participating households and sold at an auction at the church, and the money goes directly to missions. The same system is used with sticks of firewood set apart from each load carried into the family's home from the forest, and children are encouraged to bring in sticks of firewood for the mission firewood pile on Sunday mornings.

The Mizos' zeal for missions as a nation is also evidenced by the varying educational backgrounds of the their missionaries. Some go out with only a high school education, while some are sent after they have completed their doctorates. One notable example is Dr. Lalnuntluanga, a gifted mathematician with a doctorate in education, who was Director of Education in the state of Mizoram when he received his call to missions. He resigned from his prestigious and prominent government post to become a missionary.

Mizo missionaries are working among all people groups in Northeast India, as well as in neighboring Bangladesh, Myanmar, and other parts of India. Their first task on the field is to learn the language of the people group they are working with; once that is accomplished, they establish churches and schools, and in some areas, help with the agricultural development of the people. One example of their work is among the Tuikuk people living in the western parts of Mizoram bordering Bangladesh. Having established churches and schools for these people, Mizo missionaries are encouraging them to evangelize their own people, providing training for them at Aizawl Theological College in the capital of Mizoram.

The missionary efforts of Mizo Christians have been most successful among the tribal groups in and around Mizoram, and least successful among the Hindus in the plains of India. But, with training in new strategies for reaching Hindus and other unreached non-tribal groups, this pattern should change. There is no doubt that God has placed the Mizos in a strategic position to spread His Good News to the hungry millions of the Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist worlds.

Lalzarliani ("Zari") Hmar Malsawma was born in Mizoram and lived there until she was nine years old. She has lived in the United States since age thirteen and is an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Lessons to be learned from the Mizos.

There are many lessons that can be learned from the Mizo example and applied to missionary and mobilization work worldwide:

  1. The Mizo church was established through the cooperation of missionaries of different denominations and backgrounds. Cooperation, not competition, is the key to success. Most mission agencies practice this today.
  2. The missionaries to the Mizos translated missionary hymns and mobilized their converts with a vision to go to other peoples. The Mizos have followed this example by teaching their converts to go to the unreached peoples also. The message of the Gospel has been inseparably linked to the missionary vision of sharing the good news with other peoples as well as their neighbors and friends.
  3. From the very beginning, the Mizos supported their own missionaries and evangelists from their own resources. They did not become dependent on outside help.
  4. The task of proclaiming the Gospel became a part of their identity as a people. They saw the missionary task as their calling from God, essential for their survival as a people, and believed that God would bless them for their efforts.
  5. Missions is fully integrated into every aspect of the life and teaching of their church as being normal Christianity, not compartmentalized as something for fanatics.

All of us, whether at home or on the mission field, can learn from the Mizo example. If we want to see missions prosper, then all Christians must make missions and mobilization central to their identity as believers, their theology, teaching, preaching and worship. It must be an essential element of normal Christianity. The lessons of the Mizo example are clear. -Rick Wood


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